I’m a very clever girl. I created a new trigger for myself. After being able to say I haven’t had a panic attack in about 3 years, I managed to re-create the conditions for something that felt very much like a panic attack, but which I will not label with that name. Because I like to be able to believe that I haven’t had a panic attack in over 3 years.
The first time I had that realisation, I was frozen in time.
I talk about it. It’s the major denouement and crescendo of my story of recovery. It’s why I have the programme I have, and it’s what I teach my clients. It wasn’t just any aha, it was ‘the’ aha that is defining the path I’m living.
Perhaps naively, I thought that by having that realisation, and working form that moment onwards on reconnecting to my body, that that would be the end of it.
Recently I was in the same place, about to do the similar and the same exercises that had caused me to be jolted into clarity. And once again I froze.
And broke down.
It was from the first exercise.
A simple exercise. Simply, walk around the room. Take someone’s hand. Look into their eyes. Take them for a walk. It was a safe group. Only women. Women I knew and had already connected with. But the idea that I had to hold someone’s hand. The idea that I had to look into their eyes. I felt stripped back. This pushed right against my boundaries. There were no words allowed in this exercise. The concept of being asked, and giving permission, was not permitted in this exercise. It was an exercise in trust. And whilst I did trust, my body had a very visceral rebellion against not being allowed to consent.
I felt like an alien in that group, in that moment. I felt like there was something wrong with me, that I couldn’t just play along and do the exercise. It wasn’t a problem for anyone else, or at least, no-one else was showing it. Two of my ex-clients were in that room, and they were fine with it.
I felt like a fraud.
How could I have been their guide to their reconnected life, when they had leap-frogged in their recovery over me? How could I not be recovered and yet be teaching the reconnected life?
And the exercises continued. The one where I’d had the initial realisation, with everyone pretending to be lions & tigers had me in uncontrolled giggles, laughing at the irony. Here I was, still trapped in my corner, unable to break free and participate.
And then there was the exercise where we were encouraged to idolise and worship another as a Queen – and one of my ex-clients insisted I come out of my corner so she could worship me. Me, who was curled up in tears of shame that I couldn’t participate. Me, who felt like an absolute fraud and a hypocrite that I had taken her money and been her coach, and why would she want to show me this respect when I was so unworthy?
It was overwhelming and so beautiful at the same time.
She didn’t feel I was unworthy, she felt I had helped her, she was saying thank you.
In my corner, I was having this outer-body experience. Watching the room. Watching me. Watching me in tears. Watching my fear of opening up. From a distance, I looked down and started to process what was happening, figuring out what was happening, and why it was happening.
And this is what I figured out.
The initial lightning bolt had been momentous.
And I needed to honour it. I’d merely responded with ‘doh, of course, that’s it’ and moved on. I’d been doing the work, yes, to integrate its learnings. But I hadn’t honoured it. I hadn’t done it the service it deserved. And I also noticed too that the initial trigger wasn’t about connecting to my body – those exercises came later. The first one, the one that had caused me to breakdown and sink into the panic abyss that I hadn’t sunk into in so long, that exercise was about connecting to others. That was a very intimate exercise, intense – looking into someone’s eyes whilst holding their hand and walking. Try doing that with your best friend – it’ll feel deep.
And I still don’t do intimacy all that well. To be expected to do it with someone I’m not intimate with… It stepped right on a still-open sore.
I hadn’t realised there were sores that were still open. I’d thought my sores were scarred over.
This exercise removed the power of consent and required intimacy. All at the same time.
I realised, staring down at myself huddled down in my corner, that it was absolutely ok for me to not want to do that exercise. Yes, my response was more visceral and rude, even, in the context of the group I was in, than I would’ve wanted. I would’ve wanted to be able to calmly say, I’m going to step aside for this one, it’s not for me. And instead I collapsed into tears, followed by an internal dialogue of self-hatred for not being ‘better.’ But actually, it was ok to not want to do that exercise. It transcended my boundaries. And it might’ve been my unconscious that responded with the answer but it was the same answer my conscious would’ve given, if only a little less impolitely and dramatically.
Ironically, one of the later exercises of the night was about boundaries, and saying no with authority. And it was that ability that had been taken away at the start.
I feel so badly that I hurt my mentor who was leading those exercises that night. She is my guide in being bodyful. If it were not for her, I would not have had my realisation that I was even disconnected from my body, and needed to learn to reconnect to move forward.
I owe her everything.
She is the reason I feel able to do the work that I do. I hope she knows how grateful I am to her that these exercises push on my boundaries, stretch me into spaces I didn’t know I still had to go, create transformations in understanding of myself.
It’s ok that I still have work to do. What would life be without there being room for improvement? It’s ok that my past clients have leap-frogged me in their journey towards their reconnected life; that’s the ambition of every teacher for their students to surpass them. And it’s ok that I sometimes still break down, that the panic abyss isn’t yet a stranger to me – it makes me that much more grateful for my recovery thus far. And it does get better. Because that panic abyss was brand new, and not the one which took me back to the rape.
(If you’re struggling with any of this, take a look at the Taste of Recovery; it’s packed full with tips, techniques and tools that will help you stay empowered and develop deeper resilience).
In solidarity and love, xx