Changing The Ritual: From Self Hatred to Self Care
I haven't known how to share what I've been going through since hitting rock bottom a couple of months ago, but I think I'm finally ready to at least attempt articulating my thoughts. I can't tell you how many times I've sat down at the computer, ready to connect and open my heart and tell you everything...and then nothing comes out. I can't write. I can't even think. So I close the computer and keep on doing all of this intense daily work with myself, and keep waiting for the time to be right to talk with you about all of this big (for me!) stuff I'm experiencing. I'm admittedly a share-a-holic, and it has been torture feeling like I haven't had the best words - or any words - to express myself.
But I woke up today eager to connect with all you lovely souls and I had all these words buzzing around in my head and then it hit me, I've gotta blog! It seems my season of silence has ended, so, let's talk!
The last blog post I wrote was right before I started therapy again. I was so excited to get back into it after a several years long break! As it happens, my excitement wasn't in vain. Resuming therapy turned out to be a giant missing puzzle piece for me, and all of the work I've been doing since I was last in therapy started rapidly falling into place. It's been intense, to say the least. My new therapist practices body psychotherapy, which I'd never heard of before walking into her office, but it became clear to me during the first session that this form of therapy was going to be a game changer for me. I've been doing mindfulness work for about a decade now, but no matter how much I've practiced meditation and my understanding of mindfulness, I have always felt so disconnected from my body. I've been tending to my spiritual health here and there throughout my adult life, but not with nearly the intensity or dedication my wounded soul was begging for. Where there should have been an harmonious union between mind, body, and spirit, there was great disharmony, and it was manifesting itself in extreme anxiety, panic, fatigue, muscle soreness, back problems, and all kinds of other uncomfortable physical, emotional, and mental issues. I was downright exhausted! Life was beginning to feel unbearably long and tiresome, and on a regular basis I felt angry that I still wasn't "better."
In spite of waking up every day for the last decade and a half to face my demons and survive another fourteen or so hours, I've never actually felt consistently awake. In certain moments, I've experienced what it feels like to be present and grounded and maybe even almost-whole, but those moments were short lived and fleeting. I have never been able to maintain a peaceful alignment with myself, and it had gone on for so long that I figured it was just my cross to bear. The thought of hating my body and feeling this grey, dull disconnect for the rest of my life, though, was almost too much to deal with. It felt suffocating. And then a few months ago, in a moment of desperation, I picked up the phone and called one of the local therapists I've recommended to a handful of other abuse survivors, and I scheduled an appointment. Thank goodness I did, too, because this new form of therapy has truly opened my eyes to the world of how trauma lodges itself in our bodies, and more specifically to how much trauma my own body was still holding onto. "Mind blowing" is a word I've used a lot in these last nine or ten weeks. The knowledge I'm gaining has nearly overwhelmed me on the daily, and I am so glad to finally be in a place where I can begin writing about it. Sweet release!
I'm a storyteller, not a researcher, so this blog post is not going to be full of therapist lingo and explanations of the concepts behind body psychotherapy or mindfulness - that's not my realm so I won't pretend it is. I'm also not going to tell you why you should be doing exactly what I'm doing, because I don't think you necessarily should! What I feel called to do is to give you a lens into the daily work I'm doing to sever those thick, calcified attachments to my past of pain and trauma - the work that's allowing me to finally become a whole and healed woman, present in my own life. Finally awake. I want this post to be practical because I want you to be able to do it, too.
We each have our daily ritual, right? Even if you don't realize it, you probably have a fairly strict ritual that you follow each day. Your schedule, your personal hygiene habits, your self talk - all of it is part of your daily ritual and all of it does something. It all has a profound effect on your overall health and well being. For years, I have put so much energy and heart into the way I raise my children, the way I run my home, the way I treat my husband, and the way I relate with others, but I constantly fell short. I always came back to a place of Not Enough, because you and anything you do cannot ever be enough when your daily ritual reinforces your own inadequacy day after day after day.
My own personal reinforcements had become really solid. My brain and body were chugging along doing exactly what they had done for years, and as it happens, doing exactly what I needed them to do at a certain place in time - surviving. Not thriving, mind you, just base level surviving. Over time, my healing seemingly halted in a lot of ways, and then I began moving in a distinctly backward direction. This was maddening. I'm an abuse victim's advocate, for crying out loud, I'm not allowed to have a banshee-style panic attack in the bathroom at the martial arts gym where I'm a member. Not allowed. Right? (I am allowed, technically, but right before I was launched into this transformation I was particularly out of control and spiraling into some really old coping mechanisms. Not fun, and definitely not where I want to be.) Through a series of what I can only describe as Divinely inspired and very humbling events, I came to see how much I was making myself suffer and how incredibly unhealthy and destructive my own daily ritual was. So I rolled up my sleeves and I set myself to the task of changing my ritual.
How did I do it?
By using the techniques I've been learning in therapy and combining it with my own daily practice of early morning quiet time, yoga, mindful eating, meditation, and - a huge one - changing my self talk, and I'm doing all of this religiously and with dedication, because that's what it takes to recover from all the abuse inflicted on me. And just to be clear, I'm talking about all the self inflicted abuse, too, because you know it's true! So often, we pick up where our abusers left off and I've been no different in this regard. When I allowed myself to fully realize the level of my self abuse, I wept deeply. It was as if something cracked open inside of me and light shone into a place that had been dark for a very, very long time. I've since come to understand that cracking, light filling sensation is my true self emerging from behind those thick, calcified attachments I've formed to my past experiences. Okay, I see those blank stares. I'll reign it in, I know this sounds weird. Anyhow, breaking all of my old, self destructive habits is exhausting on multiple levels, but each time I see a spark of success in training my neurons to fire differently and take new, healthier paths, I feel a tiny bit more alive. Each time I look in the mirror with intentionally loving thoughts toward myself, I feel more familiar and comfortable with the woman looking back at me. I am beginning to see a braver, brighter Natalie emerging. I really like her, and I can't imagine going back from here.
Changing my daily ritual has not been an easy task. It's actually been really difficult and taxing at moments, and I've definitely wanted to give up many times, but the way I see it, I was already doing so much work before; why not just do different work? I used to expend loads of energy talking horribly to myself all day long, being hyper critical of everything last thing I did, and setting completely unrealistic expectations for myself so I could fail to reach them and then beat myself up for it. If I exercised, I did it with a spirit of punishment and unkindness toward my body. When I ate food, I actively thought of how it was making me fat and disgusting. When I spent time with friends or family, I directed my energy toward waiting for the next, more exciting thing to come along. All of this work was filling me with more self hatred and inevitably, that hatred would spill out into my interactions with my loved ones. I was putting so much daily effort into abusing myself and sustaining my attachment to suffering. My body and my mind had become my enemy, and my soul was crying out, "Time to do different work, Natalie. What you're doing is not working. You're getting worse."
This time I listened.
This phase of my journey, while profoundly meaningful to me, is not all rainbows and butterflies. I'm still working on breaking my attachments to fear, shame, and worry, and I'm reminded of those attachments on a daily basis. I'm exhausted by the end of the day, because spending all of my waking hours using my brain very differently than I ever have takes a lot of energy - I'm learning that any in-depth conversations after about 8pm are not a great idea. I wish I could have coffee with the older version of myself and ask her if this gets any easier. Unfortunately, I can't do that, but I did ask my therapist. She said, yes, it gets easier.
Also, just in the spirit of being totally real here, I do not traditionally have much of that magical thing they call Free Time. I have four young children, and beyond my advocacy work and performing music, I've held down a part time job for the last several years. Life is busy, really busy. But if I can take the time to mindlessly scroll through my Facebook feed for ten minutes when I wake up, it would make sense that I can instead choose to pull up a ten minute yoga video on YouTube. It's my time. I get to choose how I spend it, and I speak from experience when I say the time is there somewhere, it's just a matter of finding it and using it intentionally. Choosing to spend my free moments in ways that feed and nourish my body, mind, and soul is the greatest gift I have ever given myself, and it doesn't cost a penny.
I really can't finish this blog post without saying that you can do this, too. You don't need permission from anyone. Even though the support of a partner, if you have one, is helpful, it is not necessary. You deserve to feel good - body, mind and spirit - and you have access to everything you need to begin doing it. Set your alarm a little earlier. Roll out of bed before your family and begin learning how to sit with yourself. Find the time and carve it out. Find a gentle physical routine that grounds you in your body but be kind. Enough tough love, enough pushing yourself until your mind and body break, enough putting yourself dead last. You don't have to do that anymore, and if you're anything like me, that feels like really good news.
I know this journey of healing looks different for each of us, and I'm not suggesting there's an exact formula for freeing that unbroken, luminous self that lies within each of us, but I also know there is healing power in stories, so I'm telling you mine. Maybe body psychotherapy isn't right for you at the moment. Maybe you hate yoga, and that's okay. That's the wonderful thing about stories, the details don't have to be the same for us to find connection and meaning in them, or even to learn something from them and apply it in our own lives.
I don't know all that much about this phase of healing I'm in, it's still really new to me, but I do know one thing and I know it with absolute certainty:
I am not broken.
The depth of my suffering drove me to finally do the only thing left to do - turn and dive into the pain - and when I did, I found that just past that searing pain is a peaceful, never ending meadow where all the harm inflicted on me by other suffering souls doesn't mean anything anymore, and in that place I am as whole and unscarred as the day I was born.
"I'll meet you there." -Rumi
Below are some resources I utilize every day. I share them with you in the hope that they may at least help to guide you toward establishing your own healthy ritual of self care and cultivating that mind-body-soul connection.
Yoga with Adriene - these yoga videos come in all different lengths and levels of difficulty. Adriene is spunky and down to earth, and really fun to do yoga with. She also talks a lot about connecting mind, body, and spirit, which is my spiel right now. I do yoga with Adriene at least two times each day, and I love every video I've done of hers! If you have sleeping issues, checkout her bedtime yoga videos. They are so gentle and calming, and have helped immensely with my insomnia!
Eckhart Tolle writes about mindfulness and being present in a way I find really accessible and kind. I'm a fan of anything he's ever written, but more recently his book The Power of Now, has been really instrumental in me moving toward balance and happiness.
Candles, essential oils, incense, soft music. I use each of these in my daily ritual. Small movements like lighting a candle, misting my morning space with essential oils, walking slowly around the room with a stick of sage or incense, closing my eyes and listening to peaceful music - these all help me to become more intentional in my daily life, especially when I coordinate the movements with taking deep breaths. They're also very peaceful, calming actions that help quiet my mind. What's not to love?
Affirmations. Saying affirmations out loud to myself has proven to be a powerful tool in helping change the habitually negative way I have spoken to myself for years. I have a lot of work to undo, and directing empowering, kind, positive words at myself does so much good. This website has some beautiful ones, but you can create your own (just speak from your heart!) or find one of many other online resources for positive affirmations. There are even apps for positive daily affirmations!
I have other resources like prayer, meditation, dance, etc. that I will share more about as time goes on, but I know this post was long so I don't want to get too overwhelming! I hope something I've shared today flies to someone who needs it and offers some hope for healing.
As always, you are not alone. You are held in the arms of Love, and you are whole.
Love & Light,