How often have you driven to work and not remembered the drive? You planned dinner for the night. You ran through your “To Do” list. You were just on autopilot. You go every day, so you just know how to get there. You don’t really have to think about it. You just do it.
Or how about brushing your teeth each night? Do you consciously think about each tooth, scrubbing away the remnants of dinner? Or does your mind wander to what someone said at work that day and after a few minutes when your mouth is full of foam, you realize you need to spit and move on with the bedtime routine?
These are forms of dissociation. Our bodies are able to complete tasks while our minds are doing something else. While these are very mild (and common) examples of day-to-day dissociation, those who experience severe abuse often have much more extreme levels of dissociation. I am one of those people.
Taking refuge in the mind
My abuse started at a very early age. My tender mind and my fragile body could not reconcile the traumas that were being imposed upon me. So I began to disconnect from my body. My body could be participating in horrific events while my mind developed the ability to be somewhere else, disconnected from the pain. This served me very well for a great deal of my life. It was how I survived.
I simply could not be physically harmed on a daily basis and develop an attachment to my body. I needed to see my body as something that did not actually belong to me. Otherwise, the pain was too much to bear.
The body holds the story
I have multiple marks upon my body that are reminders of the abuses I endured. I have a scar along my back nearly 2 inches long. I was told during a ritual that I was being cut open so that they could insert a tracking device. A physical warning that I would never be allowed to leave the group. That I was always being watched. The “doctor” that sewed me up left a scar that looks like a preschooler’s lace up toy.
I have a triangular scar on the upper part of my abdomen. A clothes iron was placed against my flesh. Branding into my skin the constant reminder that I deserved punishment.
And because of the amount of sexual abuse that I endured from such an early age, my hip joints formed in a way that would make any ballet dancer jealous of my perfect “turn out.”
My body holds the story of everything that happened to me. Every. Single. Abuse. I hated my body. I felt like it was constantly betraying me. I was unable to recognize that my body was not the betrayer.
I had lost the ability to hear my body
My body was constantly communicating with me, I just could no longer hear it. My survival required that I not turn inward, not hear what my body was saying. But that also meant I could not hear what it needed. I didn’t know how to take care of it. And I definitely didn’t know how to heal it.
I would starve myself simply because I could not register my body saying “I’m hungry.” My body would reject certain foods by causing bloating and stomach pain. I ignored these desperate cries for help, instead forcing foods into my system that were seen as toxins. My weight was like a rollercoaster. Sometimes way too low, other times way too high.
I struggled with ongoing back problems. I would ignore it as long as possible until my back would literally stop working. I would lose the ability to walk for periods of time. I finally went to see an orthopedic surgeon. Upon examining multiple x-rays, he asked me how many car or motorcycle accidents I had been in. My answer…..none. He looked at me with confusion, furrowing his brow. “You have multiple injuries from previous breaks and fractures.” When I told him that it was the result of years of abuse, the look of horror on his face was unforgettable.
My body kept talking
I developed depression, anxiety, and insomnia that were relentless. I went to a psychiatrist who put me on every antidepressant that ever hit the market. I took everything just as she prescribed. Never more. Never less. My depression and anxiety only worsened. The side effects were terrible. Nothing was working. I was begging for someone to help me. At the same time, my body was getting louder and louder. And nothing was changing. I wasn’t listening.
The psychiatrist just kept increasing the medications. I eventually developed serotonin syndrome. My nervous system literally said “no more.” I ended up in the ICU for 5 days and was removed off all of the anti-depressants to stop the seizure type spasms of my muscles. They replaced the anti-depressants with benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medication) to keep me in a state of semi-sedation while my system tried to heal.
The withdrawals from the anti-depressants and the benzodiazepines were debilitating. I would feel electric shocks throughout my head. My hands would shake. I felt like my skin was crawling. Nausea would come over me in huge waves. I can only akin it to what it must feel like for drug addicts as they detox. I wanted to run away from myself. I couldn’t understand why my body was continuing to betray me.
Finding the answers
What I wasn’t realizing was that my body wasn’t betraying me, it was communicating with me. It was trying to tell me what I needed to do, what I needed to change. That all the answers were right there, inside of me.
As the medications were leaving my body, I began to hear that inner voice again. Reminding me that the answers to my healing were IN ME. I just had to find them. I was using an exorbitant amount of energy to keep my body and mind disconnected. And it was making me sick. My body had been tortured. It held my story on a very deep level. And the answers were locked inside my body……which I had rejected so many years ago.
I HAD to reconnect to my body
I made the conscious decision to reconnect with my body and listen to what it was saying. But how do you make friends with something that you have purposefully ignored for almost 4 decades?
I had never really done yoga before, but I knew that I didn’t want some new-age-make-your-body-into-a-pretzel type of yoga. I just wanted to feel better.
My yoga teacher, Shanon, was a divine gift. I didn’t really search for her. I sent one text message to one person to see if they knew a yoga teacher who could teach me “real” yoga. I was given her name and she agreed to work with me.
Because of the issues I had with previous therapists, I was very guarded with Shanon. I didn’t tell her very much about my history. I didn’t want to fall back into the same pattern of looking for someone to save me. I admitted that I had an abuse history. I admitted that I struggled with feeling my body and listening to the signals that it gave me. That was about it.
Coming back into my body
The first practice that she developed for me was simple. She just wanted me to breath. It sounded silly. Turns out though, I couldn’t breathe! I took in minimal amounts of air. When I would try to breathe deeply, I would start sobbing. There was so much trauma locked away in my chest.
She started having me do simple asanas or movements for my body. Movements that would help calm my nervous system. I didn’t like it at first. I didn’t like being so aware of my physical body. Being in my body required that I acknowledge what all my body had been through. I had to start looking at the story that my body held. There were days when I would grieve through my entire practice. But the awesome part was that she also had me doing a kriya (a type of meditation that includes guided visualizations). To this day I believe those meditations were one of the big keys to my healing. So much of my programming revolved around the messages that my mind and body were “bad,” “worthless,” and “something to be used.” These meditations and visualizations were a form of deprogramming. They helped me see my beauty. How much light I have within.
Programming and abuse separated my mind from my body. Meditation and yoga brought them back together.
It took nearly a full year of practicing daily, but I will never forget the night that I became aware of my legs. I could actually feel them. I felt the strength that they held. I recognized them as mine. I was proud they were mine. I felt gratitude for their stability. This feeling of gratitude began to become much more common as I continued to befriend my body. The hatred that I had for my body slowly began to blow away.
I did not miss a single day of practice for almost a year and it changed my life. As I began to move and reconnect with my body, I began to really understand all that I had survived. I began to understand that most of my back problems were due to my fear of moving forward. I began to understand that my anxiety and depression were left over programming and false beliefs. And as I learned how to listen to my body, my mind began to slowly unearth the next stage of healing.
We are integrated beings – body, mind, and soul. Abuse and trauma can separate us, we can disconnect. But healing cannot occur until we reconnect. I find it sad that so much of the medical community does not recognize this. The body is always communicating to you. The only question is –
Are you listening?
If you are struggling with a physical or mental issue, I urge you to begin to ask yourself what your body is telling you. Your body holds the story. If you have depression and aren’t sure why, it could be a nutritional deficit. If you have back pain and don’t know why, it could be a fear of what is to come. You don’t have to accept physical or mental pain as your reality. With compassion, begin to ask questions. Allow your body to guide you to greater understanding and well-being.
It is through complete integration – body, mind, and soul – that we are able to heal and grow. And experience the beauty that is life.
Have you ever wished you could break the chains of fear and step fully into love? Shanon and Kim share their journey of healing from trauma, abuse, and programming through acceptance and love. Do you want to step out of fear? Subscribe and follow their journey.