Recently I read a blog on a well-respected, professional website about healing trauma using one’s imagination: but surely using our imagination is not Truth?
In my past I have built scenarios, happy scenarios, whereby I would dream, or would rather settle down to dream about beautiful homes in the Highlands of Scotland, surrounded by the songs, scents, noises and patterns of nature; of better cars; better, more respectful jobs; and of course, a little more good fortune! But as I manipulated these storylines, I would inevitably introduce family members: and then my delightful scenarios would come crashing down as I realised that their success was dependent on others’ responses, over which I had no control, nor should.
And how could I possibly allow my imaginings to influence other people and their lives?
So, I came to realise that this behaviour is not me; it’s not real. It is a cheat; and the only person I am cheating, is me.
These imaginings were escapes from my life of terror and anxiety, commencing early on, which set me up for 50 years of poisoning anxiety: feeling the acid rising from my stomach and racing through my veins – burning and causing yet more panic. In those days it seemed that I was constantly alert, always anticipating trouble.
I set myself up early in life to accept abuse as normal, in reaction to my late parents’ behaviours. And so it continued through my marriages with life-threatening, physical abuse in the first, and passive, mental abuse in the second: each managing to convince me that I deserved it.
I poured all my attention, initiative and application into my work as a means of denying what was actually happening to me in my life, and at some places, yes: it worked; but not all.
At some establishments, I would sometimes feel awkward and uncomfortable around certain members of staff who would taunt or resent me for my quality of work and the plaudits it received. Other forms of behaviour I invited for myself, as I was ingratiatingly respectful, in a submissive way, mindful that trouble was anticipated…
There was both sexual harassment and discrimination, which I found disturbing and frightening; and eventually I realised that the pattern of abuse I had experienced in my family was also being repeated in the workplace. I finally put a stop to this specific level of abuse, following a stream of intimidating behaviour from one of the managers. I remember my whole-body trembling as I stood up to him. I remember how his eyes changed as my words resonated deep within him. We became friends and he backed me in my decisions thereafter.
There followed 11 years of solace and introspection, living on my own and re-discovering the beautiful qualities of the young girl I had disconnected from 50 or so years previously. By experiencing the trauma from all those years ago that back then my adrenaline had anaesthetised, and through learning to understand and appreciate the physicalness and physiology of my body, I am now returning to it, and accepting it as more truthful and reliable than my head, which can be fed thoughts that revel in all the drama and anxiety, and which are now gradually being side-lined.
There’s been a reality in my life that I had been avoiding, because it was unpleasant and forgotten. Years of silence when I was being picked-on, with subsequent thoughts of justice racing around my head; my nonsensical responses because I was frightened, nervous, feeling awkward and unable to speak coherently or sensibly. Silly little deeds in order to be noticed, or done to spite a sibling, parent or partner …
Such psychological abuse set in motion chemical releases around my body to set me in flight mode; to run, my body taut, overrun with adrenalin and ready to spring into flight – but nothing happened. There was no release of this chemical overdose and no trigger or activity to use it up. It remained toxic within me slowly causing damage, becoming a sign of physical damage that I was doing to myself, despite no one actually touching me.
Then one morning, a year or so ago, I ended up on all fours in excruciating pain, unable to move for the fear of yet more pain. It was exhausting; and on gaining relief as I was helped onto a sofa to lie down – slowly relaxing and allowing the spasms to lessen, I began to realise just where this pain was.
I paid attention and felt my womb, ovaries, appendix, bladder and lower intestines; and I felt their pain. The bruising and shock, the jerking and friction of being jolted and jostled into one another. The subsequent pain and relief as they slowly returned to their original and correct juxtapositions, slowly relaxing out of their contracted state.
It was a stunning revelation to connect to the assault that happened to my body over 40 years ago; and in doing so, understanding that I hadn’t actually experienced the pain then, because I had promptly passed-out. I was feeling it now, 40 years later, because I was beginning to allow the release of these truly awful traumas; and with the letting go, came the childhood memories of abuse that had been triggered by jealousy.
Yes, engaging more with my body brought me back to reality – to the truth of the matter.
Because I had retreated from my fear and panic as my body was finally relaxing and returning to its natural physiology, I too started stressing less; and this allowed me to eventually relax and to focus on my sore organs. I remember feeling a deeper understanding for them, and as I paid them this long-overdue attention, it was as though they started opening up to me. Not only did the pain go, but all the trauma around that incident was released, because I understood and accepted why it had happened.
I was certainly not condoning the abusive behaviour, but I was understanding how it was borne of an ugly reaction to what must have been seen as a joyful day when compared to a black day at work. That reaction was not mine, nor was it my responsibility.
Rationalising from my head as an adult was the way I thought that I had moved on from these abusive scenarios, but the truth is, the trauma of the abuse had remained buried in my body.
Learning why I used to verbally lash-out was part of an adopted belief that being fore-armed was being fore-warned; in other words, being on the offensive was the best way of defending myself from being hurt. But my silences in response to my parents’ hurtful taunts encouraged more taunting as my silence condoned the behaviour. My little protests encouraged more goading. I learned to avoid possible scenarios, and avoidance became one of my serious escapes. Study and work became my focus and my distraction from my uncomfortable life.
This recognition, the awareness, and the settlement that this brought to my body washed over me in a deep resonating warmth through my veins. This embodying allowed for a healing and a letting go of those old habits of being too dedicated to work, complications, protection and distraction.
I am learning that the way to truly heal trauma and its addictions, in my case abuse and anxiety, is to deepen my own self-love, to appreciate me and all that it is that I do and how I do it, for myself, not selfishly-so to the detriment of others, but inwardly-so for myself and my health, well-being, and body and to re-set the balance.
I am learning to appreciate that my body is not a machine that can continue doing everything that I want it to do. It is an integral part of me, without which, I wouldn’t be able to move through life as I do.
I am beginning to realise how much I lived in distraction and complication because this gave me an excuse to invest and divert more of my concentration into the problems and issues in my life; or sometimes for my own self-recognition.
And yes, we often take care of our cars better than ourselves; until, of course, some life-threatening situation forces us to stop and reappraise our lifestyles and priorities.
So now I do my best to prepare a drink, not just when I feel thirsty, but also, what I feel my body actually needs; to prepare what my body wants when I feel hungry and not when it’s convenient to me; to recognise that my eyes need more drops to moisten them; to rest when I feel drowsy; to accept that I am not as young as I once was – and that I actually cannot keep going for as long as I used to, let alone perform the heavy or arduous tasks I once did (probably self-abusing actually!).
It now feels supportive to go to bed when tiredness starts to knock, not waiting until the end of the programme, or when others want me to; even to visit the bathroom when I feel the urge, rather than putting it off. I’m learning to not eat foods that give me headaches, make me feel racy, bloated, or even ill; to appreciate that my body is not a machine: that it needs to digest and process all that I swallow, and from which it then needs to recover. So, I am now learning, by its responses, to choose foods that are gentler on my digestive system so that I am not burdening it so much, that my body needs rest too.
By feeling the sensitivity in my body, I am becoming aware of sensations that I would not previously have felt or recognised, such as milder aches and pains and feeling that actually, yes, I have had enough to eat, or oops, there might be something wrong with that gum or tooth; so that I can seek the proper advice before something more serious develops.
I’ve begun adjusting my routines so that they support me throughout my day and support my sleep, even down to choosing which pillow: firm-down, soft-down or even woollen! And sometimes preparing a day or two in advance for an event, so that there is no last-minute rush, panic or anxiety.
I am learning to deepen the way I walk in a way that my whole body moves harmoniously, until each step is a willing and effortless spring into the next; and to feel the joy that whole-body-synchronicity brings as I realise that in those moments, this is joy – like I really am coming home to me, settling down in my body, truly so, for the first time in a very long time.
My new best friend. My body and me.
By Maggie Rogerson