Self Care & Trauma: Doing The Things That Bring You Peace

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I had an interesting therapy session recently. I’m not sure if it was the delivery of the message or if I was just more ready to receive it, but my viewpoint of “Self-Care” was transformed in this short space of time. The concept of “Self-Care” had suddenly become more defined, palpable, and even attainable. I had always approached taking care of myself as somewhat of a chore, as if these are the things that I need to do over time that might someday, in the far off distant future, have some elusive benefit. I saw self care as the mundane activities of life: like exercising, brushing my teeth/flossing, maintaining adequate sleep, etc. Many more times than not, I failed to practice self care consistently because the benefit wasn’t immediately available to me. Routines and consistency are difficult for me as I am wired a bit differently. I was diagnosed as ADHD in 1976, years ago, and have always struggled to maintain order in my life.

However, this time, what I heard, prompted me to pause and rethink the concept of Self Care. My therapist noticed that I am often “burning the candle at both ends”. I don’t give my system the space and time to be still and at rest. Yet, it was what he said next that transformed this concept further for me. He said in short, do what makes you feel good and relaxed. It was a simple message. One I had probably heard in variations a million times before, but this time, when it hit my ears, it registered and it stirred my imagination. It actually hit me rather deeply.

I knew instinctually that the reasons for being constantly keyed up and unable to relax was the result of the hardwired hyper-vigilance that resulted from years of trauma in my childhood. Although, I have completely forgiven the adults in my life and acknowledge that there was no real intention of doing harm in their behavior, I was still left with the task of healing from it. Letting go and relaxing initially has always felt scary and even dangerous. What if I let down my guard and something happens to me? As an adult, I realize these are irrational fears. They still come.

I have spent years “running” and essentially distracting myself from relaxing because it never felt safe to do so.

What immediately washes over me is sadness. Grief.

Relaxing and being still always initially brings up the loss of time that I spent avoiding the feeling that I wasn’t worthy enough to be protected from some of the things I endured growing up.

I was only a little girl and what I needed was to be held more, encouraged to express a wide arrange of emotions, and given the opportunity as a child to master difficult emotions with support. Instead, I was forbidden the expression of anger for fear of retaliation. I didn’t get the space to assert myself. Instead, my emotions were suppressed and turned inward. Speaking up and showing any defiance would have resulted in consequences that I was unwilling and too fearful to endure. And so, I remained hyper-vigilant and on guard, always trying to win love with my good behavior. Even so, there were times I said things wrong or sighed too loudly, which was misinterpreted as defiance. My older sister was the complete opposite of me and would rebel often, and thus, my parents became harder on me as an attempt to avoid a repeat the turbulence.

And so, when my therapist mentioned that I needed to slow down and exercise self care, it brought up a lot of emotions. But, what stirred me the most were his words: “do things that felt good to me”. He acknowledged my grief and pain and encouraged me to slow down, relax, and do the things that elicited feelings of well being. Examples he provided were meditation, taking a relaxing bath, singing, writing, etc.

I thought a lot about this simple advice. He had mentioned in doing these exercises of self care, your brain and body will be rewired to a calmer state and that will in time allow for more motivation for the “self care” that perhaps I considered more “chore related”.

I honestly never thought of self care as having an immediate benefit. I always felt I had to do things consistently and over time and then one day I might reap the rewards of doing so. Reframing this concept in this way has helped me to let go and relax a little more. My focus is now on doing the things that bring me joy, peace, and comfort. I am not seeing self care as a chore and as a result I am starting to feel more excited about practicing self care. This doesn’t mean that I should “leave out” the essentials of self care, like flossing/brushing teeth, bathing, exercise, adequate sleep. It instead places the focus of self care on the things that are immediately gratifying and feel good. Doing so actually makes me more motivated to do the others.

Sometimes, it is the simple concepts that become over-complicated in our minds. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed. Doing any activity that brings a sense of peace and stillness to the self is going to free up energy for the more laborious tasks that are sometimes put off.

Yes, for some of us who are hyper-vigilant and on guard due to past trauma, relaxing can seem scary and daunting at first. I feel it’s best to be realistic, go slow, and do what truly brings comfort and ease. This will allow the adrenal glands to recover and practicing self care in this way, over time, can make a huge difference.

I am actually excited about trying different things now and am a bit more hopeful. I feel it is all about connecting back to the self, acknowledging that I am safe now, and cultivating compassion and love for the self.

I hope this is helpful to someone struggling. It has helped me to shift a little bit and not be so overwhelmed. I am just taking it one step at a time. I know one day in the future I am going to feel a lot better. From this point forward, I will embrace self care as a way to reconnect and commune with myself and do the activities that bring me peace.

Love and light on your journey towards wholeness.

Amy

Reframing Loss: Cultivating My Own Garden

I know loss. I know it intimately.

I know it’s heaviness. I know how it stings, like the bitter coldness in winter, wondering if you’ll ever feel warmth again.

I know how it drains you physically, lulling you into a deep slumber, leaving you numb, vacuous, empty.

I know the kind of loss that leaves you disillusioned, humbled, and meek.

No, I haven’t “inherited the earth”.

But, perhaps there is something in loss that frees you.

I am no longer distracted or preoccupied with the needless worry of pleasing someone or obtaining something. I am no longer clinging to hope or fortune. I no longer look to others to measure my success or lack there of.

I have acquired my own “space”. The endless space surrounding me that is all mine, with no disruptions, no demands, or “chatter”. There is silence and stillness in this space that I call mine.

My long laundry list of losses redefined me. As my world crumbled around me, I had no other choice but to let go and rebuild.

Like so many others who have experienced loss, I hung on for years, not wanting to leave the ruin and rubble that surrounded me. I desperately avoided the impact of the losses in my life by leaning on old coping mechanisms. This inevitably created more loss and ultimately left me both physically and mentally sick.

It rained. It poured. For years, I sought shelter in fragile spaces with others who were also desperately fleeing. We were running to and from each other, but never truly connecting. It was lonely.

I began to loathe myself and became more entrenched in endeavors that only served to alienate me further from myself and others.

I was hurting so bad that the desire to end the pain became greater than the desire to keep running away from it.

I decided it was time to sit with my pain, to feel it.

I processed a lot. In the space that was mine, I cultivated compassion for myself.

I outgrew my ineffective and old coping mechanisms.

Instead of finding ways to disconnect and distract myself, I found myself intentionally and purposely connecting to myself while sitting in the stillness. My desire to let go of what I could not control and become fully present in my own life began to grow.

And now, I only want peace. I want to feel more alive and connected in the moment.

I have very little as I lost so much: financial security, employment, relationships, health, etc.

And yet, the vulnerability I was left with has lead to personal growth, gratitude, and self love.

Years ago, I prayed for two things, humility and healing. I can honestly say that I got exactly what I prayed for.

In losing so much, I can clearly see what is mine to hold. I can look back and see what I released and “let go” of.

I honestly haven’t written in a long while. I’ve missed doing so, but my energy was being taken up by the consuming process of shedding my cocoon. I was releasing a lot and, and, at times, I was shrouded in darkness.

I am ready to reclaim my life, spread my wings, and take flight. I want to add color and light back into my life.

I accept all things that have made me whole. As hard as it was to lose so much for so long, I have gained invaluable life lessons and love.

Love and light everyone! I know for so many, these are difficult days. Please hang on through them. Cultivate your own garden and spend time lingering there to feel the warmth on your skin and breathe in the scent of honeysuckle. You alone are enough and you alone are love.

Peace.