I am honored and eager to connect with each of you. I feel especially urgent to build a relationship through writing during these unprecedented times. I have been integrating resources for seven years on how to best support and heal myself. Spending intentional time alone, in therapy, and reaching out to others has allowed me to build my resourcing muscles. There are many things I want to share with you, however, today I want to go straight to the roots. Seven years ago, my CPTSD symptoms began to rage out of control. I spent six months alone with flashbacks and nightmares, body memories, denial, fear, and a lot of sobbing. I had built an online community through my poetry blog at the time. I was unable to be entirely open and vulnerable, but I was moved and inspired by others who were sharing their pain and stories, and prevailing.
Through that time, I continued my habit as an avid reader. In December of 2013, I found the book “The Invitation.” The author Oriah Mountain Dreamer spoke about finding healing in somatic experiencing which involved building a relationship with your body. I found a therapist trained in somatic experiencing near me and began my journey. The tools I learned uprooted and saved me. Before introducing some of these resources and where to find them I want to first ask you to assess a few things. I had a rough road because I did not have a support system outside of therapy, I was in a dire financial situation, and I pushed myself too fast wanting a quick fix solution.
First, I invite you to make a list of people, besides a therapist/mentor/life coach that you know you can talk to. This can include people in a support group online, it can look like your high school friend, a cousin you have been too busy to reach out to, etc. Then I want to invite you to sit with your inner child. Have a conversation with where you are now and that wounded, yet resilient child you once were. Let this child know you want the pain to end quickly too but that it may take a bit to navigate through. Let the child know that it is okay to take time, building trust with yourself when it was the very thing you had to sacrifice takes honest communication and realistic expectations. Lastly, I invite you to take the resources in this article and go to the links, evaluate what resonates with you and talk it over with your therapist.
These somatic resources may sound simple, yet many of you know how scary it can be to be in our bodies where the trauma lives. Be gentle with yourself, invite curiosity, try something a few times, or try it once and if it is hard to do something else you can always try it again later. As we shift and change our resources to grow and adapt. Our capacity for certain things changes based on the circumstances of our physical health or our outer world. It is okay if something goes back to being hard, there are other tools to be had.
1. Where are you in the middle of anxiety, chaos, and everyday routine life?
I lived with severe dissociation. You may know the signs. You drive home but do not remember the drive. You brag about a huge pain thresh hold, you are highly intellectual or simply very busy all the time. You do not know you are sick until it is so bad you can barely roll out of bed. Your body is simply a skin suit that walks you around everywhere.
The first somatic exercise I did was encouraged by my therapist, but I have since found similar practices through trauma movement specialists and trauma-informed guidebooks. Since my hands were on the steering wheel of my car while driving my practice was to feel my hands on the steering wheel, say to myself in my head or out loud, “I feel my hands on this steering wheel,” then actually feel it and breathe regularly during the entire practice. I would repeat this a few times or consistently. I did this practice with feeling my feet in my shoes as I would walk or feeling my bottom as I sat on a chair or couch. Slowly, my body began to feel more solid. These tools were meant to meet me right where I was. Seven years later, this practice is a reflex. When I wake up from a nightmare and get ripped into a flashback, sobbing, I can also feel my body on the bed. I can feel my body. I know where I am and embody the present moment. Those nightmares and flashbacks are now wounds I can soothe and tend to. In the past, those nightmares and flashbacks destroyed me, stole me away and left me an empty haunted vessel looking for a new home. Now my body is my home. My refuge.
2. Who is with you?
Dear reader, you are the one who chooses to do the work or not, but you are not meant to do this alone. Many studies show that our primal instincts during threatening moments are to look around and see who is there. If we find someone there with us our nervous system slows down a bit. Jane Clapp discusses this in her COVID-19 co-regulation support sessions (she offers free zoom support sessions right now once a week more info at www.janeclapp.com). We are in this together as survivors and now through this pandemic. People I know live alone or with someone who is not supportive. Another resource I did early in my somatic work was to have a picture of my best friend near me. I seat-belted her in the passenger seat and watched movies with her picture on the couch next to me. I could imagine her with me and feel my body slow down and feel more internal support. Decorate your space with as much love as you can. Hang photos of people who love you and encouraging sayings or words. If you are not somewhere you can, put them in your pocket.
3. Shake it out.
If you have or know someone with a dog, they often shake their whole body when they stand up. Dogs are constantly in the present moment. It is also an animal’s instinct after a life-threatening event to shake it out. I learned this in the book, “Healing Trauma,” by Peter Levine and again through my yoga teacher training. I understand the importance that shaking our bodies has for the lymphatic system and releasing stress. Shake it out gently, let your body lead, see what feels okay. Here is a shaking meditation led by Rachel Brathen for free that I recently took.
Thank you for reading. This is a lot to think about and maybe try out. I hope you can have fun with some of this too. If you try any of these and find them helpful let me know!