Coping with the really tough days.

Today is one of them, the really tough days when my legs and stomach ache from the struggle I go through with my PTSD symptoms and when I sit quietly with my hands on my body in the painful places, grief like an ocean rises up.  My symptoms seem to have flared up after a treatment yesterday with a body worker, it has taken me five hours to get out of bed, have a shower (huge panic attack while in the shower which seems to trigger all my pain), make breakfast, feed the dog, clear up dishes and get dressed.  Its now nearly 2 pm and I woke at 7.15 am.

On these days life seems too hard.  Yesterday I touched base with the feelings of profound sadness, fear, desperation and powerlessness I experienced following the bike accident in 2005 when I went over the handlebars and hit my head open on the iron foundry on a busy Cambridge street.  I didn’t remember the impact, just awoke some hour later with an ambulance officer looming over me and most horrible pain in my head and nausea running all through me.  For the astrologically minded of you it happened when transiting Chiron was conjunct my natal Mars, Saturn, Moon in the 6th house on the first anniversary of my husbands decision to walk away from our marriage.

I had gone back to Cambridge hoping to start a new life there, where we had tried to settle three years before.  I was boarding with a family who would only allow me access to the kitchen and bathroom, not the living areas of their home.  I don’t know why I settled for this arrangement and later when I started to express some of the grief I was undergoing they made it clear such feelings were not acceptable in their home.  Their daughter had lost a best friend to addiction a few years before and they didn’t want her faced with any additional sadness.  It was an old familiar dynamic.  Anyway I ended up having this crash and it was plain to me they were not prepared to offer any support so I took myself off to a retreat in Glastonbury.

Its a far longer story.  I spent a lot of my time in severe disorientation due to my PTSD and I spent a lot of time crying.  I did make some supportive friends and I joined a Five Rhythms dance group where I could express my feelings in free form dance.  I look back at that time and see the pain was precursor to a potentially new life, but I felt too far flung out into space with no safety net, so about 6 months after my accident I made the decision to return to Australia.

What came up for me yesterday were all the feelings of powerlessness, compassion for myself at having been treated with lack of compassion by that family and the compassion of the therapist who shared with me how much she feels for people who suffer a traumatic accident which ruptures the fabric of a person’s physical integrity and leaves huge psychological scars.  I know that if you have not been through trauma its impossible to understand how it affects you.  The loss of continuity, the difficulty feeling real, the sense of profound displacement and the strange impact on the body where the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems get forced into full flung hyper arousal that cant be quietened over time.

This week I have been reading about the neurobiology of trauma in Babette Rothschild’s book The Body Remembers : The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment.  What strikes me is the nightmarish quality of it all and the powerlessness we sufferers experience as the body takes over launching us into a world of painful symptoms which are difficult to understand and manage.  Then the double wound which hurts even more deeply when we as sufferers are faced with the lack of empathy and understanding we meet when others don’t want to be bothered by our pain which is seen as a hindrance and the lack of proper emotional support which leaves us so very isolated and alone.

Profound feelings of rage can be one consequence and I know these led me to abort two previous attempts at body work and trauma healing.  I am now with a body therapist who is able to contain this rage and see that it is a symptoms of powerlessness, not a cause to punish me further.  I have compassion for the pain that underlies it.

Writing this is, I now understand, a way for me to manage the pain I feel on the really tough days.  Speaking about it, even just to a blank page helps.  I long to connect with other sufferers as I know they would understand me and I would understand them.  I feel isolated at times.  I have few friends who are willing to understand.  I have a house to cope with and manage while trying to manage all my symptoms.  Some days I cope but on others like today I find it really hard.

One interesting thing that I have read in Babette’s book is that trauma affects the ability of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps us to make sense of events, in an adverse way.  It can shut the hippocampus down when it is severe while it amps up the limbic system, that part of the brain that has profound control over body function, enervation of nerves and muscles and over emotional reactions.  Healing involves engaging the hippocampus through story telling, therapy, writing and other methods which help us to make sense of the trauma and its impact on our lives.

I am only a short way into the book and will share about it more later as I learn more.  For today I need to go gently on myself, to have compassion for the traumatised self who sometimes judges herself by standards that relate to the non traumatised.  I didn’t choose this and at times it feels like a curse, but I have to live with it.  As the Sun and Mercury have passed in opposition to my natal Chiron in the seventh house which aspects Mars, Saturn and Moon, while conjunct natal Pluto in my first I am reminded that this is part of my destiny.  Chiron was wounded in the ankle by a poison arrow left lying around by Hercules after he had fought the nine headed Hydra in one of his major labours.  The pain of the loss of my husband drove me on a quest and I got injured as a result.  Chiron never healed his wound but he did become a teacher and healer himself with profound insight into the nature of the wound and how to tend it, lovingly.  I take this insight to heart today as I consider the loving thing to do on one of the really tough days.

Also I am questioning today whether it might be advisable to give the body work a break for a time.  After my accident I went to an astrology consultation with the astrologer Melanie Reinhardt who explores the mythology and psychology of Chiron in the lives and stories of people and places.  She advised me at that time that I would gain most by living a quiet, interior and centred life in which I developed compassion and understanding into the nature of my wound.  Melanie also came close to death following an accident (as I did in an early accident at 17) and she explained to me that such a trauma leaves and imprint few, even many therapists fully understand.  She mentioned that one of the dangers of reliving the trauma over was in being stuck there.  Being stuck is such a big part of PTSD anyway, especially as the freeze or immobility state is one of the response to life threatening trauma.

How to come out of freeze?  Firstly to know when we are in that state, feeling trapped, holding our breath, making poor decisions due to trauma.  Going for a walk, even if we don’t feel like it.  Choosing to engage even if may feel dangerous, loving ourselves even when frozen and feeling compassion, may all be ways.  Writing about it, talking about it, understanding it.  Not as something to be ashamed of that makes us less than but something that even in being painful is a form of education of the soul..

Reflections on reactivity following a hurt

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I wrote this blog a few weeks ago.  Injury has made me much more present to the here and now.  I am undergoing physio to work with the injury and maximise my healing.  And this blog has been slumbering in draft.  Today I release it like a butterfly.

I awoke after a long and fairly peaceful sleep, this morning.  It was filed with powerful dreams and images and my body was twisted around due to the ankle injury I sustained last week, but the twisting and turning that goes on when I try to push myself out of pain stopped, I rested quietly with the breath.  I am conscious that the building pressure of the Mars Pluto conjunction was beginning to loosen.

I had a challenging day yesterday.  I reached out the day before to someone, then had second thoughts then they rejected me or my need because they wanted to handle the situation in a different way. I wasn’t gracious about it.  In fact I was really, really angry and I let them know.  (Always a scary thing for me.)

I did a double take when I realised the Moon was opposite not only Pluto but Mars too.  Maybe this was a time to get powerful insights into my own Moon Mars Saturn conjunction that has a lot of intensity around it, due to the connections with Chiron and Pluto too.

Relationships have always contained a lot of pain and difficulty for me.  As a growing person I did not learn to negotiate feelings in relationship.  I did not see healthy confrontation and conflict modelled in relationships.  I was not mirrorered, due to the way my parents treated me when I was angry and due to the way I saw conflict modelled (or not modelled) in the home.  Outbursts from my Mum never led to any kind of resolution.  There was this pool of seething frustration in the atmosphere I did my best to negotiate warily around, by trying to do the right thing so as not to get in the way of a bullet.  I also probably didn’t learn very effective ways of understanding and controlling my impulses.  After many years of mixed up development I landed in recovery, a binge drinking alcoholic.

Over the years of my recovery I have began to realise that I learned that anger was a powerful and dangerous emotion that was best repressed or kept under wraps.  That method did not work, since anger would erupt.  Anger is intimately related to our self assertive drive to express ourselves effectively in the world.  If our method of self expression becomes blocked in some way we end up with a backlog of repressed energy and the anger banks up.  It took me many years to understand that anger could come out when other emotions, feelings, wants, needs and perceptions were not really understood and being expressed by me. Anger could be the eruptive force that hid a softer side, that softer side was being protected by the full force of anger thrown out, that then had the effect of alienating others, who did not really know how to cope.

It was not possible for me to say.  “Listen I am feeling really scared at the moment and I really need some comfort and reassurance.”  Or “I’ feeling really confused, I don’t really understand how to do that/what you are saying/how you are  feeling/why you are treating me like this/what this all means.”  I would either retreat and stuff it, because that is what I watched my Dad do in response to my Mum, or when that method didn’t work explode in a rage, just as I saw my Mother do.  I grew into an adult, but inside was a child that didn’t have a lot of skills to negotiate the world.

I have talked with another friend around my own age in recovery and we have discussed how its a bit of a generational thing for us born in the 60s, we grew up pretty mixed up around feelings, raised by parents and institutions short on emotional intelligence and surrounded by peers undergoing their own struggles and sometimes acting them out on us.

It is apt that Neptune is currently stationing on my Chiron in the seventh house, as old pain around relationships has been triggered a lot over the past few weeks and as I come to further realisations around Mars issues, since Mars and Chiron aspect each other in my chart.  Good things are coming out of these transits, but injury has accompanied it.   A recent function brought me and my nephew closer together.  We both struggle with the Mars Saturn conjunction and we both struggle with feelings of rage and powerlessness which are tied up with deep feelings of grief.  It felt good to be able to share about it.  A few days later I wrote a blog on Not Magnifying a Hurt.

While writing this I am thinking of what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain body.  According to Eckhart some people have a much stronger pain body, it is more easily triggered.  I would equate this with a person who, having had painful experiences in the past can easily find this old pain triggered by a seemingly (to others) un noxious event (someone with a strong Pluto energy.)  I certainly relate to this.

Last year a friend confronted me about my tendency to explode.  Often this kind of explosion is associated with some lack of compassion and sensitivity (not necessarily to me only) but to those who are more vulnerable.  The fighting warrior comes out in me and flies into full protection or defensive mode.   People around start to feel really uncomfortable.  Grief may then come following the said explosion which is cause for more concern from others, frightened, horrified or shocked looks.  In exploring this issue with someone similar to me, he gets my response totally.  Doesn’t really see the need for judgement at all.  Never the less I can come away from such interactions feeling judgement and then feeling a bit peeved at the lack of understanding.  But I am beginning to see this as a bit self centred too, many people struggle with expressing their own anger so mine challenges them.  We are all only human.

Over the years I’ve explored the idea I might be a person with Borderline Personality.  I fit many of the criteria when my addiction was in full flight.  Recovery has helped me to address some of those characteristics.   But on some level I am not sure if that diagnosis totally sticks.  I have also explored the concept of being both Highly Sensitive and Highly empathic.

In the end the bottom line exists in knowing myself.  In having some kind of idea of the things the irk me and get me fired up, of the things that bug me and trigger me and accepting that.  Of looking at my reactions, questioning myself, sharing with others, reading about anger, finding out about projection and learning to stay in touch with my insides, finding avenues to express my feelings (especially through journaling and blogging).  And reaching out to others who are more likely to be empathetic than judgemental.

For many years I had the idea there was something wrong with me for feeling and reacting the way that I did, and I most certainly did need to learn to grow in understanding of myself.  The truth is my feelings and reactions show me more about my at times unconscious history and sensitivities rather than being a sign of something wrong with me.

I  think if I could have achieved this level of insight and self acceptance sooner, I would have had an easier time of it.  The truth is too, that sometimes it would be better to let go of the irritant that is causing my pain body to ark up or to find ways to self sooth in the face of what grates and grazes on my soul.  Many of my feelings are only magnified by further negative thoughts which act as salt put into a wound that is already smarting.  Instead I need to apply the healing balm of something that soothes and calms the irritated pain body, when faced with tasks that seem massive and overwhelming I can make them more digestable if I bite a little off and chew them piece by piece.

All these tools help to become less reactive, or at best able to deal with and recognise strong reactions when they occur.  This process for me has taken a lot of years.  Looking back now I can see that I had a backlog of desire and need that wasn’t really fulfilled in childhood.  My parents did the best they could.  For me it wasn’t enough and traumas occurring in my late teens and early twenties made growing up and negotiating the challenges of this passage all the more difficult.  Things that happened during this time, and most especially the accident that nearly ended my life at 17 and saw me confined in hospital for three months,  left both wounds and a developmental arrest of sorts that have at times made change challenging.

Lately I am mindful of the Saturn Mars Moon theme that in some way brings me up short, when approaching the brink of change.  Just before I am about to move through to the next  stage some incident happens which brings me back, to the injury at 17, to the arrest, to the circumscribed circumference of a circle that is like a ring pass not fate has ordained for me.  Inwardly I travel far and wide, while being holed up with injury and perhaps the experience which has made it necessary for me to reach out more for help, has been good for me.  My Saturn Moon often tries to tough it out and go it alone.  I am aware that emotionally I need to sustain myself, but connections, too are so very important when we are feeling vulnerable.  Friendships from an unlikely place have been given to me during this past ordeal with my ankle that show me I am not totally alone.  And yet I get frightened by Saturn at times, thinking that planet has some power not only over me but over the entire collective of my family.  I watched my sister struggle with incapacitation following a cerebral bleed and become bed ridden in the last few years of her life.   She also had the Mars Saturn aspect.

I think of the lessons that Saturn may be here to teach me.  To be aware of my tendency to over reach (which is a family trait), to stay grounded and in touch with reality.  To accept the differences between myself and others with good grace.   To put protective and effeive boundaries around my feelings, while respecting the limits of others and to realise that although I am a spirit, matter is the principle through with I must manifest and which I cannot escape as long as my soul is incarnated in this physical body.

And as I look at my swollen ankle and face the fact that the damage sustained to it may not be reparable, I think of Chiron, the wounded healershot in the foot by an arrow that contained poison from the Hydra’s den that Heracles had on its tip from his encounter with the Hydra, that many headed Scorpionic (Plutonian) beast.  The injury I sustained happened after some poisonous family secrets were shared with me following my mother’s 90th in early November.  The profound power of both astrology and mythology to define soulful archetypal truths is strongly with me.  Our family has had a Hydra its heart we have all been affected by the multi generational demon of alcoholism.  Battling that has proved useless, understanding it has been more important and in the end that understanding has probably come from the battles that failed or wounded us. The scars remain, they need tending and healing.

In mythology it is only when Heracles gets down on his knees and raised the Hydra to the light does the awesome beast reveal its jewel.  So in the end some kind of fail, or fall or injury makes possible surrender of a kind, and makes time for the necessary healing.

As the words flow out from me in this blog which, as usual is revealing another face I get out of the way and let it flow, I get closer to some answers or images which rise up and reveal their truths.  And I have felt a particular cleansing and healing over the past couple of days.

I read a beautiful piece of writing this morning by the poet Mark Nepo.  In it he spoke about how life is an ongoing migration of a sort that carries us across shifting oceans to ever new experiences and realisations.  He uses the powerful metaphor of the ocean swell being akin to the process we undergo in living and journeying each day.  At times we are caught up in the belly of a wave, at other times we are cresting.  While in the belly we cant see much and things can get scary, but then another day reveals to us insights we did not have before and so we are riding, for a time, on the wave’s crest.  In closing I will leave you with the following quote which really resonated with me deeply.

The life of the soul on Earth has us bobbing on a raft of flesh, in and out of the view of eternity, and the work of the inner pilgrim is to keep eternity in our heart and mind’s eye when dropped in the belly of our days.

April 30, Our Constant Arrival, The Book of Awakening

Kissing the broken places

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I tend to write a lot about feelings. I tend to read a lot about them too, probably a legacy of a childhood where what I felt wasn’t really mirrored and I did not have the tools or support to make sense of feelings.

My recovery from co-dependency and addiction has taught me that in order to be a whole human being, awake and alive in the moment it is so important for me to understand what my feelings and emotions are.  I see emotions as energy in motion and they are the energy that propels my spirit forward into life and expression, while at the same time being a guide into my inner truth and reality, giving me instinctive information about the environment and my current inward state.

Guidance often comes to me when I need it from a source, some others call that source a Higher Power or the Higher Self.  I call it intuition and Mercury is currently opposite my natal Uranus in the first which some say rules intuitive insight.  Yesterday as I was facing a major conflict that needed to be discussed with someone I was urged by my intuitive voice to read page 137 in a book called Addiction as an Attachment Disorder by Philip J. Flores.

The particular page was on attachment styles, specifically those outlined by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, expanding on the work of John Bowlby.  It outlined the four major types of attachment and spoke about the importance of protest as the child expresses his feelings to relation to the comings and goings and actions of the parent.  I won’t outline the four styles in depth here, but the point made was that securely attached children were not necessarily the ones taken up in to mother’s arms most frequently and for the longest period.  Rather they were the children who had mothers who were able to respond to their cues to be picked up or put down as the child needed, that is they had mother’s who were more in tune with their unspoken needs.

Consistently unresponsive mothers were more likely to ignore the child’s distress and often intruded on the child when they were playing happily.  They were less attuned to the child’s emotional states and unspoken needs.  These mothers had ambivalently insecure children.

Lack of warmth and brusqueness or gruffness was the characteristic of Insecure and avoidant mothers who then raised avoidant-insecure children.

In the disorganised responsive and insecure disorganised group, explored by Ainsworth such mothers were those who were suffering great distress and had a high incidence of abuse in their history.  These mothers were unable to be consistent and so their children suffered a similar disruption to attachment.

Quoting psychologist J. Holmes, Flores writes:

Parental attunement on one hand and the ability to accept protest without retaliation or excessive anxiety on the other hand form the basis for secure attachment. … through parental attunement, the child must be able to feel she has “created” the object, that the world is her oyster.  This is the basis of healthy narcissism and self esteem.  Second, the child needs to be able to feel that her parents can survive her rage, and so be able after an angry outburst, to say.  “Hello… I destroyed you.” … these primary attachment and separation experiences provide a nucleus for the development of the capacities for intimacy and autonomy, respectively.”

A few pages back, Philip Flores narrates the story of Paul, an addict in recovery who through early experiences of difficulty with attachment became disconnected from his deeper feelings and as a result became sexually compulsive.  Flores mentions while discussing Paul’s case a paper by John Bowlby entitled “On Knowing What You Are Not Supposed to Know, and Feeling What You Are Not Supposed to Feel.”. Here I felt was the intuitive guidance for me with what I was struggling with, in learning to respect and honour my own feelings not being attuned to by the person which whom I had experience conflict.

Flores writes:  “Paul compounded his dilemma by trying to keep his own feelings and knowledge secret even from himself.”  He became sexually compulsive acting out old repressed feelings in this way rather than deal with them directly.

Contemplating all this this afternoon I was drawn to page 213 in the Language of Letting Go, where  Melody Beattie writes:

Since I’ve been a child, I’ve been in a antagonistic relationship with an important emotional part of myself: my feelings.  I have consistently tried either to ignore, repress, or force my feelings away.

I’ve denied I was angry, when in fact I was furious.  I have told myself there must be something wrong with me for feeling angry, when anger was a reasonable and logical response to the situation

I have told myself these things did not hurt, when they hurt very much.  I have told myself stories such as “That person didn’t mean to hurt me”…”He or she doesn’t know any better”… I”I need to be more understanidng.”  The problem was that I had already been too understanding of the other person and not understanding and compassionate enough with myself.

I didn’t succeed in my attempts to control emotions.  Emotional control has been a survival behaviour for me.  I can thank that behaviour for helping me get through many years and situations where I didn’t have any better options.  But I have learned a healthier behaviour – accepting my feelings.

We are meant to feel.  Part of our dysfunction is trying to deny or change that.  Part of our recovery means learning to go with the flow of what we’re feeling and what our feelings are trying to tell us.

We are responsible for our behaviours but we do not have to control our feelings.  We can let them happen.  We can learn to embrace, enjoy and experience – feel – the emotions as part of ourselves.

I will give power and freedom to the emotional part of myself.

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The meeting I had to have yesterday was with a person who had caused me a great deal of upset several weeks ago and then tried to turn the tables and blame me. This person is a therapist. Last Monday she had rung to make an apology last and ask if we could meet to discuss what had happened between us.   I suffered a lot of anxiety for the entire day leading up to our meeting, a lot of which I now know came from the backlog of feelings around our conflict I had to hold inside for a number of weeks.

For much of the scheduled half hour that we met I must say I cried, while expressing to her my truth and deep feelings and the sadness in my soul at what she had done.  It all just flowed out of me and it was difficult to stop the movement of energy that was releasing.  There was not really a lot she could say, except that she felt upset I was sad.   It wasn’t only that I had been hurt, though it was a great weariness I felt yesterday for all the broken attachments, deaths, lack of attunement, misunderstandings, loss of connection and the inability to heal any of it experienced over many years as well as for the lack of recognition or apology to date. Deeper down I guess there was also grief for the loss of the hope of healing in a relationship which two years had proved incapable of being repaired and sustaining a deep and true intimacy, due to another person’s very deep wounds. As I write I am conscious this is real transiting Saturn in Scorpio conjunct my natal Neptune territory!

Today I realise the tears I shed were not only for all the disappointment of what had occurred between us since the end of January, but for so many other losses and deep disappointments, that for so long I have to deny and had buried deep in my body.  It was a lifetime of banked up protest and feeling, I guess, that I was uncovering yesterday. It left me quiet spent and tired.  But today I feel grateful for the opportunity to express it.

Mercury has been stationing on my natal Chiron for the past week or so…  I’ve been under the influence of my Chiron return in the seventh house of relationships for over four years now.  My Chiron in the seventh opposes Uranus in the first and Pluto there too and Chiron semi-sextiles my Mars/Moon/Saturn conjunction, emotional connection and understanding has been a fraught and sensitive sore spot for most of my life.    So I do believe all of this in on schedule and an inward alchemy of a sort is occurring deep in my soul.

Today has been a day of peace at home with my puppy after all the tearing and anxiety of yesterday, pre confrontation.  In a short while Jasper and I will head out to the park to play and be in the healing power of nature, a place where I can experience lightness, joy and peace. These are the balms that do my soul a power of good.

In the tears shed yesterday something very deep was uncovered and released.  It felt good to be able to surrender to that experience and not to have to keep in place the defences I felt against the pain this incident had caused.     I’m not entirely sure why this personal blog was headed out by the quotes and information on attachment styles by Flores, but there is an association that I am sure someone will understand….

In the absence of protest and attunement we get driven into a lonely void where there is no place to know what we know and feel what we feel.  At 5 am this morning I awoke with so much from the past, especially my last relationship in which we were both hurt deeply going around in my head. In the midst of this the following thought came into my mind:

“We are powerless over what we are unconscious of and until we become conscious of it we are prisoners who do not know that we are in prison.”

Consciousness into our deeper selves and our past experiences may come in an avalanche, like it did for me yesterday.   Or it may come more slowly.  But once it comes and is released there is a sense of an entirely new freedom and possibility opening out, one that never existed before.  There is also a  feeling of coming home despite or, perhaps more aptly, because of the pain, sadness, longing, loneliness and despair we have had the courage to face, feel, admit, accept and release.

Recently I came across the following quote:

Therapy is not about healing what is broken but about kissing the broken places.  I would change the word therapy to healing.

Today those words resonate with me deeply. Life might not always go according to plan or fully meet our hopes, expectations or ideals but in the end sense can be made of it and healing can come if we are prepared to kiss the broken places.