Monday, April 13, 2020

The Low Hum of Imminent Danger

The low hum of imminent danger pervades our societal atmosphere with the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, invading human bodies, using its RNA to replace ours; and the line "we won't be replaced" sings in my head when I think of this, from the song Hell Or Highwater by The Rescues. 

It's complicated and simple. Shining a light to social inequalities, judgement, scarcity thinking; to how vulnerable the vulnerable among us are. It sucks. 

And yet. 
When this all first started that low hum of imminent danger felt familiar, almost comfortable due to its familiarity. I've lived with this before. Every day of my life growing up since I was about seven years old. 

I thought, oh, I know how to live with this. I will be fine. I remember reading briefly that oh hey, people who experienced trauma are at an advantage. Reading that reinforced. 

But I forgot that over time I could feel my body shatter my experiences into little pieces to survive. I forgot that once my body tracks the now with the then she responds as if the now is the then. But I was comfortable, confident, and complacent because familiarity made me think I was just fine and would continue to be just fine.

The first time I had a post-traumatic stress dream during quarantine it didn't have much weight, and I thought, oh, wow, I must be really healing well then. And then the pervasive thoughts of, "I'm a bad girl, I'm going to hell" and other deeply shaming disempowering things entered my mind. I thought, oh, okay, it triggered these thoughts again. So, as I agreed to do, I told my husband and the telling made it go away.

But then it happened again. And again. And again. But I would brush it aside, and just deal with the moment, just do what I can in the moment, I got responsibilities, I gotta fulfill them, I'll tell my husband as soon as I'm done with xyz, just a little meditation here and there, I'm fine, I'm safe, it's all good, go for a walk, take a nap, breathe;  until suddenly it wasn't all good.

The dreams were more and more frequent, and I was losing more and more control of them, waking up and going right back into the horrible upon my return to sleep instead of being able to choose something different. And they began to be present during naps.  My quality of sleep was wrecked. Thoroughly wrecked.  Crash and burn. I could no longer function. 

The cards two weeks or so ago said to watch my dreams, the warning signs there. Right there. But I didn't see them. I was too busy spiritually bypassing. To busy rubbing at the problem not seeing I was rubbing it raw and making it worse. 

I was not okay. 
I managed to do the morning meditation with people in the morning (something I'm doing every day this month in my meetup group, Tarot Energy Healing). 

I tried my hardest to be fine, because I had a remote Reiki level 2 class to teach that day, but I wasn't fine. I was PTSD triggered, and it would take more than a 20 minute nap, a meditation, grounding etc, to get to the point where I could be fine. 

I had learned previously that when I'm triggered, I need to stop. I learned that the hard way because I took a massage practical after being PTSD triggered and I did not give that woman my best. 

And I knew I had to say no. 
I had to admit that I was not okay. 
I had to not push myself to pretend to be okay.
I had to stop. 
And engage in the self-care that I needed to do. 

So I canceled the class last minute. I took the day off, refusing to look at notifications, email, FB, etc. I wrote in my journal about it, the special journal that I started after shelter-in-place began. I cancelled the Tarot class I had scheduled for the following day as well, keeping only the morning meditation/prayer of empowerment scheduled. I figured if I could hold it together for 30 minutes that morning I could do it again the following morning. 

I felt in my body, bone deep, that I had made the right decision to cancel the classes. But doubt crept in and it was oh so hard not to pull an Odysseus and look back. Oh it was so hard at times to not go into judgment. I talked to my husband about things. I slept. A lot, relying on him to take care of the household.

The following day, I was able to figure out how to handle rescheduling things for my students, (and it turned out to work well for them, my Reiki students in particular). I was able to take time for myself, recharge, reset, and stay out of judgment, reminding myself what my body felt like when I had made the right decision and followed through with it. I would have been useless to my students.

A lesson I see in this is that I can keep my commitments to others and take time to care for myself, that the people wanting to learn from me won't hate me for doing so. 

Another is it's okay to admit that you're not okay. It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to stop, to slow down, and take time out for yourself. Time out is not a punishment in adulthood. Just like naps. Kids hate naps, but as adults we like naps! Kids hate time out but as adults we are like yehhhssssss time out! 

And today, today I am much better. 
Yeah, this all happened on Saturday the 11th of April. Yesterday was good as I solved problems, consulted Tarot, got my plans ready for the day and the week, etc. Slept. A lot of sleeping. 

I set up some oracle cards, crystals, to help, but then added an avocado pit next to my bed to store any horrible dreams, trigger dreams and unhelpful energy. My sleep has been more restorative as a result. And the PTSD dreams have been quiet. Blessedly quiet. 

Note: To learn more about how the body breaks up trauma memories please read the book, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. It is amazing! Click for link to book

Also note: I only did light editing. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

An Unexpected PTSD Triggering Experience

This is an awkward first post but right now, it is the most salient one because it's what I 'm going through right now. So, here it is without much context of me or my life. 

I received some news that triggered a post-traumatic stress response. (I have PTSD due to childhood sexual abuse.) I found out a well-respected family in a congregation I used to go to is dealing with a son who sexually abused his students in his role as a middle school teacher and even made the news. The father of said son was recently arrested for sexual misconduct when he was a Bishop (Mormon version of pastor). The mother was my seminary teacher, and I have always seen her as a spiritual powerhouse. I knew her other son in high school and got to know one of her daughters. I believed that this family was a normal good family with normal problems like any good family. 

For whatever reason, this has caused a cascade of triggering events in my life. 
  • The news affected sexual intimacy with my spouse via intrusive thoughts (which I talked to him about.) 
  • I have been taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, something I had recently gotten under control in the last couple of months via Kaiser's sleep class (if you have Kaiser and are unsatisfied with your sleep I highly recommend this class). 
  • I took my massage practical exam early and while I still got a good grade I am disturbed by the basic things I forgot (like how to apply proper pressure for lymph drainage). I wasn't able to be present, and several times she expressed discomfort and a couple of times pain. Her experience was ultimately unpleasant it seems to me. Since I have massaged her before and done lymph drainage on her before, she knew something was off with me that  was more than just test jitters. She was very compassionate when I told her what was up.
  • I had to postpone meeting up  with one of my energy healing mentors for coffee. I was in panic mode.
  • I panicked and rescheduled a healing session I was to do for a wonderful woman, a massage on her rotator cuff muscles and some energy  healing. 
  • I lost work time. I am working on writing my novel, writing oracle cards, and other works. I have a lot to do to prepare for several upcoming events and for school. I have been unfocused. And when I do try to focus I can't seem able to sustain that focus. 
  • I have had two migraines this week, which has prevented me from working and from exercising and doing powerlifting. 
I feel fundamentally dirty, like I shouldn't be touching people. I'm ashamed that my massage teacher experienced me triggered (she was very compassionate). I didn't want her to see that piece of me. I'm supposed to be healed enough to be able to set it aside and just do the work. I have dont that in the past without a problem, but those were other hardships, not PTSD triggers. 

I was able to give my husband a couple of massages this week, but it felt subpar, it was so hard to listen to his body. I don't think I did a good job. I spent so much of my energy managing symptoms. 

It feels like because I have this triggers that could happen at any time, like I am somehow horrible and evil and shouldn't ever touch anyone ever again. That my hands are poison; like I'm Winnowill from Elfquest, a healer turned inside out. 

I had had a vision of part of  my little girl self during the beginning of my Soul Retrieval journey, one that I'm still on. I saw her rocking back and forth, crouched and filthy, muttering. When she saw  me, she leaped up and put her back to the wall, terrified. She reminded me of Gus Gus in Disney's Cinderella. She wouldn't listen to a word I said, staying away from me. My spirit guides said there was nothing I could do for her right there. I had thought she was afraid of being hurt. 

However, this PTSD triggering experience has made me realize she isn't afraid of being hurt, she is afraid of hurting others; like Rogue who drains people's life energy away.  I know I will need to find a way to get her back, but I don't know how, not yet. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Younique Foundation Retreat

In the last week of  August this year, I went to The Younique Foundation retreat in Utah. The retreat is held nearly every single week Monday through Thursday, and is for women who experienced sexual abuse at the age of 18 or younger. You have to be 18 and out of high school to attend. The actual retreat itself is free. You just have to get yourself there. They will even pick you up from the airport. All food, and lodging, and supplies and everything else is free because the wealthy owners of the estate pay for it. Bessel Van der Kolk who wrote the Body Keeps the Score and is an expert in traumatic experiences reviewed the program to ensure it is properly trauma sensitive.

I wasn't sure about this retreat, I just knew for some reason that I needed to be there. During dinner the first night, I had a de ja vu moment, a reminder that I was where I needed to be. I was unsure what it could offer me because I am so well read in the area of childhood trauma and PTSD, and that I have been getting PTSD specific therapy since January of 2016.

Quick note on the food: the staff is high key sensitive to dietary needs. People who were gluten free or vegan would have alternatives made for them. I have foods that give me migraines and they made sure there was always something for me. I didn't have to use any of the emergency food I brought with me!

The first day was rough. I wanted to go home. On the drive to Utah I wanted to turn back. While stopping at a hotel before continuing one, I cried, feeling terribly homesick. I wanted Robert, my spouse of 19 years, the man I have been dating and intimate with for 21 years.

There was an activity that I just could not do, but for others it was exactly what they needed so I decided to let it lie and not participate in the first activity. I was not forced to do the activity, or any activity.  They simply checked in to make sure that you weren't triggered and if you needed extra support.

That night I started shaking uncontrollably. It wasn't too cold, so it was out of the ordinary. I kept shaking, but I was able to get up and down from bed (I was on the top bunk, my little girl self gasped in delight at being on the top bunk so I was like, okay, let's do it). I had read in  Bessel's book and Peter Levine's book In An  Unspoken Voice, that allowing the body to shake it out is one of the key components to not trapping the trauma, that it has to pass through. So instead of trying to stop it, I allowed the shaking to keep going and I just cuddled down in the blankets with my tardigrade stuffed animal, and the extra comfort blanket TYF gave us to take home and stayed cozy while shaking my arse off in bed, despite the temperature in the room being wonderfully cool.

The following day was okay, and I felt better after taking a nature walk outside on the estate grounds. I also took a nap. That day was also the first day of group therapy with my group (there were three groups of eight) that took us off the estate grounds which allowed me to call Robert really quick just to hear his voice and I felt better just from that. I felt a little less homesick. I also started writing a letter to Robert, each day, in a sort of prose way, for each day. It really helped. That night, I slept well, and I slept well for each day.

I completed an art piece in art therapy that I was proud of. Robert hung it up over his computer. I enjoyed Muay Thai and hope to get into it next year and see if it works from me outside of a trauma sensitive environment.

While some good insights came from this retreat, the best part was the kinship that developed between me and the other people in our group. All eight of us now text one another and support one another. It's really quite wonderful.

I have been to group therapy before and it was fascinating to see that we all understood the symptoms of PTSD - nightmares, hypervigilance, constant fear, etc - no matter if it came from being a war veteran, child abuse, domestic violence, car accident, refugee. We all understood the symptoms even if our triggers were different.

At TYF we had people with the same kinds of symptoms to varying degrees but everyone had the same type of trauma and that was an interesting experience. We didn't have to do any explaining. We understood in a more intimate way what was going on.

I highly recommend this retreat to any woman* who has experienced childhood sexual abuse. One person in my group had never had any kind of therapy for it before, and it was a great experience for her. And then there's me, already well versed in many of the things offered, and there was still something for me.  There's also a retreat in Georgia now. So,  hope you check it out and can get yourself there. Whatever your healing path, I hope you find the love and support you need. You deserve it. We all deserve it.

*I know, some men would need this too, same with nonbinary peeps. I hope you can find support in other ways.