The loving gaze

I wrote this post earlier in the week.

As a child we need the loving eyes of the mother to connect with, to mirror us. I had a powerful experience in today’s body work session as my therapist was working with my spine.  I was standing upright and she was touching me gently around the heart, one hand on the front and the other behind.

As usually happens, she was reminding me to breathe. At that moment I had trouble breathing and then I was pulled deeply into a past traumatic time/memory  :  I am in the car with my lungs crushed by the steering wheel and my teeth broken, legs cut with car pieces inside them, searing pain although me, struggling to breathe as my lung is pierced by a rip and fluid flows inward, paramedics behind me with a mask trying to put it over my face which I wanted to fight and twist to push off.

My therapist kept her gaze on mine and I felt anxious at connecting to her gaze being so powerfully drawn in by the trauma and in the session, her gaze became for me an anchor to connect me with present time. My tendency is to dissociate back into the trauma which obviously still lives for me on a body level.

As she was looking into my eyes with love and telling me I was safe a huge well of emotion rose up. Trauma takes you into a lonely place where it seems no one else can accompany you. It is about a split or a removal from a place of connectedness and love where you are flooded with pain and no one can help you or reach you. You feel yourself to be so alone.

On the day of my accident all those years ago I was conscious enough to be able to give the paramedics my mother and father’s telephone number. Mum came to the site of the accident and rode with me in the ambulance. I was lucky to be found. At the time I was so caught up in my own experience I had not consciousness of its impact on others.

I have relived this event in another cranio-sacral session many years ago after which I had a bike accident and the pattern was repeated, except this time I was on the other side of the world with no support, only my ex husband and his mother who didn’t want to have to really be bothered with me. It was a dark and lonely time.

Glimpses of light came. The beautiful girl from my Dad’s home down in Holland who came to help me with my shopping and be a companion when I needed it. I don’t know how I would have survived without her.

And yet then again the family I was with were unable to cope and I made the decision to take myself to Glastonbury and an ashram away from the support of my friend.  This is a pattern for me.  Uranus and Pluto in the first house.

There are imprints and echoes for me at this time of year which represents the time I was in hospital in 1979 in the final term of school unable to attend my graduation and of that journey to the underworld over in England later in 2005.

It takes time to integrate the overwhelming nature of trauma. I am still deep in process. I seem to be making progress.

Last week was hard. I had four days where the trauma pulled me in, what pulls me out each time is talking to someone, my best friend, my Mum or the Lifeline counsellor on the days no one else is answering the phone call.

Without love and connection there is nothing to form  a link into the traumatised reality and the fact it scares others, since we are undergoing enormous fear means we can be abandoned again. As a trauma sufferer who has often lashed out I am grateful for those who understand and don’t abandon me. I think of the times I was alone as a child and there was no set of eyes to see me. To hold me in a loving gaze.

It is something my recently deceased sister used to give me, in the absence of my Mum’s care she was there, until she married and went overseas. In later life in the care home she would often gaze on me with love. She too was traumatised, she was stuck, it’s a family pattern.

I am not entirely sure where this blog has gone. I just came home from the dog park where I have not been able to connect with the group I usually connect to. They are caught up in an easy banter and joking that on some days I just cannot participate in.

I need to just play with my dog and have some simple time together where we are not frozen in place by conversation but are free to move about the park. I am aware today how important movement is for me.

The longing for the loving gaze from the wrong quartes is not as strong now I have the therapeutic support. Being seen, held and understood makes it easier to do this for myself.

For now I want to write about the experience as it so important that those living within a traumatised reality are understood and attempts made to connect with them.

You do not know what even a kindly smile can do for a person who may not have seen or been able to connect with anyone else all day. In the end its love that heals, its non judgemental awareness and presence which makes trauma bearable for us.  Even if you cannot understand, even it scares you, please try.  And if you cannot, please try to be kind.  Do not devastate us more with your misunderstanding, fear and judgement.

Lessons in regret and self forgiveness

Ever noticed how many different perspectives there are to take on certain feelings, issues and events?  This morning I was listening to a radio programme which was dealing with the subject of regret:  those things we do and say that we wish, with the perspective of hindsight we never said or did, but are left with the at times all so painful truth that we can never undo or redo.  We often struggle with the knowledge that they had certain consequences which at the time we could never know (although we may be in denial about this if we are being too hard on ourselves).

At the time we did what we needed to, or at the time we may have had an intuition that the said thing would hurt ourselves or others, but we went ahead never the less.  In this case the regret can be even more powerful, because somewhere we sensed that it wasn’t the right thing to do and we struggle with that knowledge.

The talk back programme today involved psychologists, an interviewer who had recently spoken to two people on her radio programme The Spirit of Things who had lived lives, made choices or done things which caused heartbreak for themselves and others. One of the people was the radio interviewer who made a prank call to the hospital in London where Princess Kate was being cared for following the birth of baby George. The outcome of this call was that one of the nurses ended up committing suicide. The person being interviewed on Sunday night struggled for a long time with feelings of guilt and depression over her actions which had unintended consequences which she had to work really hard to overcome. The second interviewee was a woman who through her addiction to heroin became a prostitute to support her habit.  This path took her down a very dark road which eventually led to sobriety and recovery and a complete transformation.   (On an astrological note its interesting to note that the planet of transformation though such dark experiences is currently slowing to station forward after five month retrograde).

Both people ended up being able to use the pain of the regretful experience to turn their lives around and the key to transformation in both cases led through introspection and pain to self compassion and self forgiveness at the end of a long road.

How often do we beat ourselves up for that thing we did which ended in painful consequences for ourselves or others that we could have in no way foretold? Or we may have been committing actions we were not fully conscious of due to certain beliefs which were false. In both cases the committing of the regretful action was necessary to growth and growth could never have been achieved without the insight of self awareness and forgiveness, also compassion for the self, who at that time was not fully aware of so many things.

I took great comfort from the programme today and the lesson I took away was that it was the perceptual filter through which we are able to view these experiences was what made all the difference in whether regret became a destructive inward implosion into self abuse and castigation, or a transformative experience which led to deeper understanding of and compassion for self and others.  In the end it is all a matter of perspective and a journey along the road of coming to peace with the very human condition of imperfection, vulnerability, ignorance and mistakes.

Early into my own recovery from addiction I was lucky enough to come across the writing of Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman who has written a wonderful book called Addiction to Perfection. In it she explores the lives of her analysands who were raised by an ethos of unrealistic perfection, many of them learned to bury and deny their own humanity and imperfections in a quest for control of the uncontrollable.   One of the loveliest questions in this book that stays with me so many years later is inspired by a poem by W H Auden : “Can I learn to love my crooked neighbour with my own crooked heart.” (and perhaps more importantly can I learn to love my own crooked heart and accept it as it is?)

Not all of us get the opportunity to grow straight, tall and true. We may have learned to bend ourselves out of shame (that was a typo but I will leave it here, I meant to write shape… mmm)..to get the love which in the end we need to find within in. In the face of much external criticism we learn to criticise ourselves with the same perfectionistic, unreal standards.   No one has struggled with this more than me.

For a long time I struggled with the inner accuser who I internalised from school and home and this voice could lay me to waste. I attracted it in many of my relationships and absorbed its painful judgements wholesale. It is only in the last six months or so that I have been able to challenge this voice with a voice of compassion and love.

Many listeners of the programme on Radio National this morning expressed gratitude for the opportunity to hear the perspectives of others on the programme. One person spoke about the painful consequences that follow when we keep our regrets buried or hidden inside and struggle with them silently.

In my twelve step programme there is a way to make peace with these kind of regrets, through sharing with someone else and through making amends if that is necessary, either to ourselves or others. What a lovely awareness that we don’t need to struggle alone, that we can open up and reveal our very human vulnerability and be loved anyway.   A very precious gift.

I took a great sense of peace into my day today after listening to so many callers on this programme sharing their experience, insight and hope.  It inspired me to share it here too.  So I hope it touches someone’s heart.

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..

The Light within the Dark

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Deep down in here it is dark

But somewhere the light is shining

Shadows are being thrown over things

By a past that was full

Of so many painful experiences

Hurts, betrayals, losses and endings

Trauma, smashing ups, crushing pain

The consequences of difficult decisions

And the deep tearing of much life taken

I carry the memory of all this

And the cellular imprints

Deep within

And wake each morning

Struggling to breathe

Holding fast on the knife edge of pain

Paying attention to

And loosening the contraction

Of this prolonged dark night

And re-birth

And yet there is light

In the sweet kindness that is shown

In the sunny greeting of my little dog

Doing his joyous “where’s breakfast?” dance

In the sparkle of sun on water

In the compassion and empathy you show

In the recognition that pain is pain

Deep, dark and difficult at times

But with its own gifts too

Now is growing the understanding

That this pain can be held

In the sweet embrace of love

When you look on me tenderly

And with compassion

And when I do the same for me

And for others too

Then a powerful light grows

Deep within the darkness

And I realise the pain of holding on

Is recognised in the light of understanding

And released in the light of that recognition

I open my clenched fists

And take deep breaths

And surrender to the love

That wants to enter

That love does not erase the memory of pain

But holds it tenderly

And is the soothing balm

That will work its powerful alchemy

Helping the sting to fade

With time

Through this opening

I find the courage to move out

Into the light

Where love can be found

Deep within the hearts

Of those who have suffered

And let love win

And made their peace with nature

And life

In all its terrible beauty majesty and mystery