After my fall into the abyss, the welling up of self-hatred, and certainty that I was a fraud and a hypocrite; after my outer-body realisations that this was ok, that I wasn’t those things, that there were solid, sensible, rational reasons for my reactions and my self-forgiveness that responding as I had were ok because it was ok to still be on a journey towards recovery, to sometimes not be reconnected, that the winning is in the self-awareness that reconnection needs to happen, I fell again only two nights later.
I feel that this was a huge, humungous, gigantic, extremely big and momentous, step forward in my healing journey.
I talk a lot about self-rescue.
That, when we can learn the tools and techniques to rescue ourselves we no longer need to fear the slip into the abyss, the panic attack, the pull back into the past. That, when we can learn how to ground ourselves into the present, or even distract ourselves from the present, we can start to live a fuller, less narrow life. This is why I created the Taste of Recovery to curate the best of those tools & techniques to be practised and applied so that we can be empowered by being our own hero.
It’s also why I never hold any judgement for those times when we find our emotions too painful, those times that in order to feel grounded we need to numb the intensity of what we’re feeling. It’s why I teach the rituals that we can practice day in and day out, that will help us build the resilience to not get sucked into the depths of the emotion, that enable us to replace living in a numbed-world with living in one full of feeling. Because, when we numb our emotions, we numb all our emotions, including joy.
And yet, for me, when things get tough there has still always been an element of trying to push that uncomfortableness away.
I might not numb it in the ways I used to, and I might acknowledge its existence – but I’ll choose to do something like go for a walk, or turn my attention to some work that needs doing, or connect with a friend, instead of examining the emotion, looking for the trigger, looking for the meaning I’ve made from what’s happening and the mood that has resulted. I think now to self-heal we have to learn to sit with emotion, without judging it bad or good, painful or joyful, just a feeling. And feelings pass.
My psychiatrist tried to instil this in me, those years ago. No feeling can last more than a few seconds. With the passage of only a short period of time, its state changes. Feelings are like waves, coming up on the shoreline, drifting back again. They change, they’re fluid, they’re not one constant. And if we can just observe those feelings without being pulled in under the waves, then we are free.
But, it wasn’t until that event, two days after the re-triggering into the abyss, that I learned this most powerfully. And now I know there is a route beyond self-rescue, to one of self-healing, where nothing remains to be rescued from.
It was a journey into love and self-acceptance.
The exercise was a powerful guided meditation, set to a profoundly meaningful musical track list. We were all instructed to close our eyes and move our bodies in the way we wanted to, however the music, or the words, made us feel. I thought at first I would just sit, and let my unconscious do the work. I didn’t want to push myself, I was still feeling the fragility of my surprise of having been re-triggered previously. And yet, my body did want to move. And so I moved. And I danced. And I probably danced like a crazy thing, but it was ok, because no-one was watching, everyone was doing their own crazy thing, in their own worlds. There is something so freeing in being with people but not with people at the same time. By myself, counter-intuitively, I would have been more self-conscious.
I felt the love. The words of the songs were speaking to me. I felt like I was flying. I felt liberated. I felt strong and powerful and like I could achieve anything.
And then, a song.
I wish I knew its name, but I think it’s good that I don’t. It slammed me back down, cold, hard, face down, on the floor, back to my marriage.
My marriage is something I don’t tend to talk about. It wasn’t a good marriage but at the time I didn’t recognise it as what it was: emotionally abusive, an egg-shell environment that was a very likely high determining factor in why I developed PTSD the way I did from the rape; I was already living in a disassociated state. Yet, even knowing this, I’ve always shrugged off the need to recover from my marriage, and have merely been focusing on the need to recover from the rape.
That song. It made me weep with the realisation that I was still so hurt by those previous years too. I felt the overwhelm of grief, and resentment, and anger, and grief again for the me that endured, and survived, and was then hurt again, and survived. I felt the pressure, the habit, to push away that pain, to shrug and try to move on, back to that feeling I’d had only moments before, to ignore it. And I decided not to.
A voice inside me said no.
It was like I had this massive realisation that the only way to move forward was to acknowledge the pain and let it be. And so I did. I sat there, and I cried. And I rocked with the emotion that was being let out of me. It felt like my soul was being pulled apart.
After a while, another voice rose up. This was the voice of my adult self, my now self, comforting the child part that was so hurt. And she gave my inner child love. And then my child part got to yell and scream and say it’s not fair, and my adult self said yes, it wasn’t, and it’s over now. And I gave myself the gift of the strength I know I have, and I gave myself love, and slowly I could feel the grief easing, and the pain sink away, and the feeling of overwhelming love that I had been feeling was returning, yet bigger, prouder, stronger than ever before.
The really odd thing (amazing, transformational, profound, magical thing) about this experience, this tidal wave of emotions that sunk from high, to deepest lowest low, to high again in what must have been the space of only a few minutes, is that I cleared away some of the deepest hurt I was holding onto in my soul. By facing in, and not pushing away, by being with, and not distant from, the pain, I have let go in a way I didn’t ever dare imagine might be possible.
For me, my lesson is clear. When we are strong enough, we can find the strength not merely to accept that there are things that are painful in our lives – but we can discover the strength to stand in the eye of the storm, not blink and watch the tornado whimper to nothing. There is a place beyond self-rescue to a point where we have self-healed and there is nothing to rescue ourselves from.
There is a place beyond the battle for recovery, where we can just be.
Of course this is not to say that there aren’t other challenges too. I am not suddenly only experiencing a zen-like state in my relationship with the world and with living. Yet I do feel empowered knowing that I no longer need to push away any uncomfortable feeling, and that by choosing to turn into it, I can conquer it far more quickly and more absolutely than the previous strategy of trying to ignore it, or minimise it. And this knowledge that I can heal myself, that I have nothing to fear, not even fear itself, that I can stare down anything, is everything.
Addendum: On Recovery
Perhaps you’ve been reading these two companion pieces on my experiences at this retreat, on re-triggering myself, and on discovering self-healing, and perhaps you’re wondering, does that mean she’s not actually recovered, does that mean she still has work to do? And my answer is, yes, I am recovered, and yes, I do still have work to do.
My definition of recovery might not be yours; every person’s definition will be different. My definition used to be that I could go back to being what I was; but now I don’t want to be what I was, I want to be better. My definition used to be that I would have control over my sanity and not be a slave to the panic attacks, but then I got that and still didn’t feel recovered, so I had to change my definition. And now that I know the three essential parts to being reconnected (reconnection to our minds, reconnection to our bodies, reconnection to our selves) my definition of recovery is simply that I feel that I am connected to myself and the things around me, and not disconnected. My definition of recovery is that I choose to define myself as recovered, and to live a full life that isn’t restricted by fear.
Recovery isn’t the promised land. Living still has its knocks, its twists and turns. We can’t go back to where we were before, and we can’t live on a bed of roses. But we can choose what our recovery looks like and choose to live our lives beyond mere surviving. We can choose to live full and reconnected. And that is what recovery is to me.
In solidarity and love, xx