I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline the other day when I saw this quote:
‘The habits you created to survive will no longer serve you when it’s time to thrive. Get out of survival mode. New habits, new life.’
It immediately resonated with me, because this is exactly the challenge facing those of us who’ve suffered rape or other trauma in how we rebuild our lives. What we needed to survive holds us back when we’re ready to move forward again, move on, rebuild, and, yes, thrive.
I remember sitting in my psychiatrist’s office, her palpable frustration that my coping mechanisms had become so engrained and etched deep within my neural pathways that they now needed some intense re-wiring to let go of what was keeping me back.
When I speak to my clients about the work I ask them to do, the repetitive nature of being consistent in that work, I talk about laying new track, so that the pathways in our brain can reconnect in ways that were broken. I talk about taking time out, so that the existing survival-mode brain can learn how to relax and breathe again, to make space for that new track to be laid.
In the immediate aftermath, we are in shock, we recoil from the world, we hit the world with anger, we get by in whatever way we can. We feel nothing, and we feel too much. To survive we need to self-soothe, and that means distracting ourselves from the pain that is overwhelming and putting our systems into overload. In my case, and for many of you, that took the form of binge-eating, drinking, drugs, casual and random sex, vegging out on the sofa immersed in someone else’s reality. The script running in our minds is one of self-blame, we could have avoided it if we’d only done this, that, or the other. We’re angry at ourselves, we’re angry at the world. We take solace in our righteous hurt, focusing on what was done to us, that put us in this state. Connection hurts too much, we detach, disassociate, numb ourselves, splitting mind from body and body from mind.
And we need to do this. This is how we survive. This is how we manage to make it through, from one day to the next.
Yet if we do this for too long, we can start to forget what it was to be connected, what it was to feel joy. When we live one day at a time, we forget how to dream. And when we forget how to dream, we cannot envisage how to go beyond surviving, and actually live. This is what is meant when we say ‘we’ll never be the same’, that ‘we’ll never get over it.’ Those lies trap us in survival mode.
In order to heal, we do need to protect ourselves from the traumatic overload, and our survival coping mechanisms have a valid, and needed, place in that process. As I emphasise in my guided self-rescue programme, Taste of Recovery, whatever it is that we do to survive is absolutely fine – because it helps us to survive. At some point, though, we need to recognise that we have survived, and that it is time to re-learn how to live.
Only the individual, only you, knows when that point arrives. It might slip up on you unnoticed, but one day you’ll recognise you’re ready. The comfort zone we’ve built for ourselves, getting by from day to day, is actually incredibly uncomfortable; that ever-present fear of the impending panic attack, that feeling of being broken and fragile, that inability to plot and plan our future. It’s not pleasant being in the survivor’s comfort zone, not one bit. When it’s time to take that tentative step into what feels like a stretch zone, stretching the size of that comfort zone, with the aim of making the uncomfortable comfortable, it is helpful to have support around us to feel safe enough to do that.
It is my intention in developing the Healing Pathways to the ReConnected Life that we can all have that much-needed support at every stage.
Survive. The Taste of Recovery provides the tools and techniques that will help us be our own rescuers during the Survive phase. It might be a 3-week mini-course, but those tools and techniques are there for a lifetime’s work. I used to feel really aggrieved that I had to continue to work so hard for what I regarded as my recovery – until I realised that actually what I was working hard for was my life. The top performance coaches, entrepreneurs and ‘successful’ people do the same; they write the intentions, they say the mantras, they meditate, they practice the self-care and resilience-building exercises. I tell my clients we’re superhumans because we get through life with everything else we’re carrying too; it’s reassuring to me that those who are the superhumans with outward success are also doing the same to get there, and to stay there. Being diagnosed with MS hit me for six. I forgot that I had to continue doing the self-care and consciously work on my well-being. The Taste of Recovery is the toolset for life.
Live. The ReConnected Life Experience bridges that gap between self-rescue and self-realisation and is the route-map to living again. It has been developed to specifically support in those steps that sometimes seem insurmountable when leaving the comfort zone of survival. It’s the culmination of my realisation that there are four distinct jigsaw pieces that need conscious intention applied to move out of surviving and into living, whole and full, not small and narrow. Those are: to rebuild the trust in our mental well-being, to know we can rescue ourselves and therefore have nothing to fear; to rebuild our sense of identify and self, and who we want to be now we’re not the victim anymore; to reconnect into our body and know we can feel feelings again;, and to reconnect into our friendships, relationships and communities, to know that we’re not alone, and we have a village of support behind us. Those jigsaw pieces look different for us all. And it can help to have support to colour them in, in the way that works for each one of us. I feel so blessed to be able to hold the space for my clients, as they design the life they want to live.
Thrive. ReConnected Power takes us from merely living, to actually thriving; from self-realisation to self-actualisation. It takes everything from the ReConnected Life Experience and allows us to embed them on an even deeper level. Re-wiring the brain to serve and nurture us, neuroplasticity by another name, can happen at the depth where the trauma had been.
When we move from Survive, to Live, through to Thrive, we need to let go of what was keeping us alive, and trust that we can replace those mechanisms with new ones, ones that will give us more room to breathe, to live again, to thrive. So, where once our habits were to distract from reality, we build habits that help us to connect with reality. Where once we might have binge-ate, perhaps now we’ll practice mindful eating, and take the time to carefully prepare the meal from scratch with fresh ingredients. Where once we numbed ourselves through drink, or drugs, or over-exercising, we’ll instead dance through our emotions, and take ourselves into nature. We’ll be attuned to the sensitivities in our body, and we’ll know what it’s saying to us too. Where once we distrusted everything and everyone, we’ll start to trust that life will support us, we’ll see possibility everywhere. And, crucially, we’ll be able to feel all the feelings, sitting in our hurt when it happens, and watching it pass; engaging in our joy and feeling the gratitude for a life deeply lived.
We’ll be able to ride the wave, take the highs & the lows of that rollercoaster of life, and dance in the storm.
Survive. Live, Thrive. Wherever you are on your healing pathway, there is a ReConnected Life programme for you. More details are here.
Has this resonated with you at all? I’d love to hear from you. Drop a comment below, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With love, xx
THE SURVIVOR'S SURVIVAL KIT
The key tools to survive the everyday
This kit provides you with the start of some tools and techniques you can call on to help you feel able to rescue yourself
ARE YOU READY TO STOP SURVIVING AND START LIVING?
I developed the ReConnected Life Experience to help people just like you move from a place of self-blame and disconnection to a place where they can look forward to what the future holds, with a happy, hopeful heart.