How animals can help

In my last blog, I wrote about the issue of touch.  About how uncomfortable it used to make me feel and how I mostly needed to find the right people to hug.  This blog, I want to share with you some more techniques that have helped me find touching and being touched easier.

First of all, establishing boundaries is very important.  Decide where you are and art NOT comfortable being touched, and stick to those limits.  It all goes back to establishing your boundaries, that I wrote about in an earlier blog.

Establishing and sticking to boundaries is one way to become more comfortable with the issue of touch.  But there’s also another way; a cuddly, fluffy, bundle of fun way.

That’s right, I’m talking about animals.  There are times when I don’t know what I would do without my parents’ black lab/german shepherd mix.  His name is Blue.  He is an enormous dog, weighing almost 100 lbs, but is the sweetest, biggest baby who is even scared of thunderstorms!  When I had my knee surgery, Blue never left my side.  When I felt lonely, Blue was always willing to cuddle.

And did you know that petting an animal can lower stress?  And help manage cholesterol?  And help Autistic people get in touch with their senses?  Owning a pet can be a wonderful, life-altering thing.  Check out Web MD’s slideshow called “27 ways Pets can Improve Your Health”  for more details.

For me, I’ve found that petting a dog, and having to play with a dog and care for one, has helped open up my heart.  It has made me more vulnerable and more open.  And simply through the act of petting, I have become more comfortable with the act of touch.

So if you are feeling lonely, feeling repressed, depressed, unhealthy, or unable to open up…get a pet!  Rescue one from the local animal shelter, and save two lives! (yours AND the pet’s I mean).

Or, if you can’t have/aren’t ready to own a pet, there are also wonderful Equine Therapy Programs available.  If you are tired of traditional talk therapy, or feel that nothing else is working, or even just want to try something new, Equine Therapy can be a wonderful outlet for healing.  My sister, who has experienced abuse and trauma as well, has worked with horses for years now, and admits that it is the only way she has been able to open up, connect with people, and find peace with herself.

Animals are willing and able to help.  All it takes is a little love, a little exercise, and a little food, and they will give us lots of love in return.

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Touch

Getting comfortable with the idea of touch can be very hard after experiencing abuse.  During abuse, touch is the last thing you want to feel, because more often than not, touch means hurt.  Touch means bruises and soreness, uncomfortable feelings and shame.

Being touched used to be my worst nightmare.  I did not like hugs, I did not like shaking people’s hands.  I did not like partner work in ballet for a while, because I cringed the entire time people touched me.  Holding hands was another horror.  All these physical affections that were normal and welcome for most people made me want to run into a corner and hide so that I could cry.

Especially this one spot on my back.  Right up near my shoulder blades, where a line of knots tightened like vines around my spine. In fact, my entire back was in knots.  Knots and pains and spasms.  The effect of years of slouching into the ground trying to disappear.  Whenever someone would touch this spot on my back, I would cringe and collapse.  Sometimes tears would well up in my eyes.  Sometimes, on rarer occasions, I would simply turn around and slap away the person’s hand, out of instinctual reaction.  My friends used to tease me about it.  They thought it was just some funny nervous habit.

But touch is something intensely personal.  If I had lived a life without abuse, perhaps I wouldn’t have all the problems of handling touch that I have.  But abuse has made touch personal, and touch is now associated with trust.  If I trust someone, they are allowed to touch me.  If I do not know someone, touch is still something that makes me very uncomfortable.

As I have undergone counseling, healing, and started practicing yoga and surrounding myself with people who are good and kind, being touched has gotten much easier.  Acquiring comfort with touch takes practice, much like anything else.

Personally, I love hugs.  Well, nowadays I love hugs.  They make you feel better, and I’ve even heard it said (though I’m not sure how scientific this statement is) that 12 hugs a day can make you happier.  The trick was, I just had to find the right people to hug.