Have you ever had one of those years where you look back and say to yourself, “How the fuck did I ever make it through that?” Well that’s pretty much where I am right now. I have spent the past year doing some pretty intensive trauma work with my therapist. When I walked into her office a year ago, I thought maybe she would just give some new healthy coping skills to use and then I would be on my merry way and life would be great. I didn’t realize that in order to “fix” my problems, we would have to address my childhood.
I was severely sexually abused from the time I was about 5 years old until I was 11. I never really thought that those early experiences had anything to do with my current “issues” though. So, at 27 years old, I went to see a therapist because I felt like it really wasn’t appropriate for me to still be cutting myself. I mean, after all, I am a mom, a wife, and a highly successful professional. But for whatever reason, despite the slew of healthy coping skills that I had learned over the years, despite being a recovering alcoholic with several years of AA sobriety, and despite rapidly approaching 30, I still really struggled with self-injury.
I’ll never forget my first session with my therapist. The very last question she asked me was if I had any history of trauma or abuse. I slowly nodded my head yes. I was so offended that she had asked that, especially since I had worked hard in that session to keep it all together and look like I was pretty much “normal.” After a couple of months of seeing her weekly and reading a few Brené Brown books, I decided that maybe I was ready to delve into the memories of my childhood trauma.
During the past year, I have recounted the worst memories of my life with her – many of them several times. I have struggled with flashbacks and nightmares, and some of the most intense anxiety I have ever experienced. However, I have also found amazing strength and hope. And for the first time ever, I finally feel like I truly love and respect myself for what I have been through and who I am today.
In the beginning of our trauma work, my therapist suggested that we incorporate restorative yoga and breathwork to help alleviate the PTSD symptoms that I was experiencing. I was a little bit hesitant, but felt immediate relief after our first yoga session. At the time, I had no idea the important role yoga would play in my life.
My therapist would always tell me to show myself compassion in the days following a difficult trauma session. I didn’t really understand what it meant to “show yourself compassion.” All I knew was that drinking, drugging, and self-injury didn’t fall into that category of showing compassion. What does self-compassion look like? Well, according to my shrink, it looks like treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who were going through a similar situation. Ok, now I’m an egotistical alcoholic and friendship has never really been my strong suit, so we need to break that down a little more.
I can tell you that showing myself compassion when I am having a difficult day has been quite the process. It started with Starbucks. Every time I had a bad day, Starbucks was the solution. Then I realized that while I enjoy my $5 latte, it doesn’t really change the way I feel. Next I tried shopping. Maybe if I bought myself a new shirt, I would feel better. This actually backfired. I spent most of my teenage years struggling with anorexia and body image issues, and I still get very discouraged when I go shopping and can’t find anything flattering to buy. After a few yoga sessions with my therapist, I realized that maybe I was putting my efforts of self-compassion in the wrong places. Perhaps, instead of buying myself expensive coffees and new clothes, I needed to take time to just be present with myself during those moments of despair.
Restorative yoga became a part of every trauma session with my therapist – starting and ending in poses supported by blankets and bolsters, weighed down with sandbags for grounding. I began practicing these poses at home when my anxiety would creep up to those high numbers. Any time I felt dysregulated, instead of reaching for a razorblade, I started gravitating towards a restorative child’s pose, restorative bridge pose, etc. Instead of blaring bands like Chevelle and Disturbed, I turned on soft classical music to slow my heart rate and my mind down. Finally, after months of just practicing yoga with my therapist or at home by myself, I signed up for my very first yoga class.
Every time I go another 50 days without cutting, I celebrate. For making it 150 days without cutting, I decided to celebrate by going to a yoga class at a local studio. It was a beginners’ class that focused on the foundations of yoga. It was my first time doing anything other than restorative yoga. I was instantly hooked. I loved the way that practicing yoga made me feel – quieting my mind, but also energizing my body. I began going to yoga classes weekly.
“This is it,” I thought, “This is what it’s like to show yourself love and compassion!” Finding things that make you feel good, things that you are passionate about, and taking the time to do those things for yourself. I had never really had a “hobby” before. I had never had something that truly made me feel good about myself. I am not super athletic and I certainly don’t workout or run. But I could practice yoga and feel successful.
I’ve spent virtually my entire life feeling like I am not good enough, like I am not important, like I’m not even worthy of living. I never realized how much my abusive past impacted my personality and my struggles with self-love. I mean, at 27 years old, I didn’t even know what it meant to show myself compassion! To be fair though, I had never really had anyone show me compassion. My childhood was rough, to say the least. However, I’m currently 246 days without cutting, over four years sober, and going to a variety of yoga classes almost daily. I take time for myself when I need it now. Every time I step onto my yoga mat, I think of the little girl that I used to be, the one that he hurt for so many years, and I dedicate my practice to her. Through yoga, I celebrate the person that I am today, my successes and failures; I celebrate my growth and the progress that I have made. Trauma work is, by far, the most difficult thing that I have ever done. However, without it, I would have never been introduced to yoga; and yoga has truly transformed my life. Because of yoga, I am able to love who I am.
***After spending most of her life struggling to overcome a traumatic childhood, alcoholism, and self-injury, the Courageous Yoga Chick decided to reach out to a therapist for help. After a year of working through memories of sexual abuse, she decided to find meaning in her suffering. She created a blog designed to provide hope and strength to anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, self-injury, and/or PTSD. She wanted to use her experiences as a survivor of severe childhood sexual abuse to help others. The Courageous Yoga Chick’s writing showcases how she has learned to thrive with Complex PTSD through incorporating yoga into her life.
Read more of her writings HERE!