Healing Struggles

During my healing process, I feel as though I’ve struggled with several things. The struggle began with the external. For a long time, I would cry or panic whenever someone touched me or when I was expected to touch someone else. It was very detrimental to both my friendships and relationships.

For example, feeling safe and comfortable with hugging people, touching people and being intimate in my relationships felt practically impossible. But that took a good deal of learning to establish and recognize my personal boundaries (and let people know when they needed to back off from those boundaries!) as well.

I also found a lot of help with that through the yoga studio I practice at most frequently. They emphasize partner work during their classes. Being in a safe and secure setting and being touched in ways that are not sexually charged and are really just for healing and yoga and stretching on a consistent basis really helped me to feel more comfortable with my body. With what was going on inside and around my body. And with learning when to say no, and when to say yes, to safe and loving touch.

Learning to trust myself has been another enormous struggle. At first I thought the problem was learning to trust other people. But then I realized that in order to trust other people, we have to trust ourselves first. After all, if we can’t even trust ourselves, then who else CAN we trust?! Again, I felt like yoga was a huge help here. If I could master a new pose and trust my body to support me, and trust myself to make the right decisions for my body and health, then I could trust myself in other areas of my life as well. Travel also cultivated this sense of adaptivity and trust in myself. When we move outside of our day to day circumstances and see what we are truly capable of, we can literally astonish ourselves.

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One with Nature; fight depression with sunshine

Maybe you’ve heard of this idea.  Pocahontas and Fern Gully and recently, the over-rated combination of the two, Avatar, have lauded the qualities of a simplistic, outdoorsy lifestyle.  While movies may be dramatizations, and animated movies are most certainly fictional accounts, there is some truth to the idea that when humans spend more time in nature, they are happier.  For those of you who don’t believe me, check out this page on the National Wildlife Federation Website, that underlines some of the benefits of outdoor play.  Specifically, the article speaks towards the benefits for children, but is there really that much of a difference fundamentally between a child’s needs and an adult’s?

Now, I’m not talking about going out into the deep wilderness by yourself with only a pocket knife type of nature experience.  But just spending a little time outside each day can help improve mood, fitness, and Vitamin D.  Take a walk in the park nearby, go for a bike ride, lay in the sun to check your email or read a book.  There’s science behind the idea that sunshine really does make you happier!

While obviously, a significant amount of dedication and work is required to heal from traumatic experiences, this is a simple way to give yourself an extra little mood boost.  If you are anything like me, when I experienced depression, all I wanted to do was curl up in a dark, cool space and hide beneath my covers.  But that just makes things worse!

So here’s a simple solution; go outside.  That’s it.  Exercising outside would be ideal, but even just sitting out there can help.  Here’s the challenge, for those of you who wish to accept it; start spending 10 minutes every day outside for the next 2 weeks, and see if your mood improves any.  If you have any experiences that you’d like to share about this topic, please post them in the comments section below this article.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Healing exercise: Drawing Journal

When I was still attending weekly counseling sessions, my therapist learned of my love of art and encouraged me to use this interest to further my healing process. With her prompting, I started a journal, in which I drew my feelings and stages of the healing process, rather than writing about them.

This proved to be an interesting challenge, as it worked both with overcoming my extreme perfectionism, and with helping me to actually SEE things differently. I found this exercise to be very helpful. As with the poetry exercise earlier, it does not matter if you aren’t a master artist. Just grab a bic pen and a sheet of computer paper. This exercise is not about the resulting masterpiece; but rather, it is about the exercise itself.

This exercise is a way of taking the images that are in your head, that are associated with different ideas, different feelings, etc., and transferring them onto paper. This is also a good way of retraining a brain that has been damaged by trauma.

For example, one day, I was in my apartment, and I was feeling very scared about ever trying to date someone new, after what’s happened in the past. Then I heard the song “Jump In” (see healing playlist), and this image popped into my head of a toe being put in the water. Just a toe testing the water, timid of jumping all the way in. This was how I felt about relationships.

So I sat down, and I drew this toe, dipping into water, with a line from “Jump In” written across the top: “If you never take the first step, you cannot go too far.”

Then I sat with the drawing for a minute. Looking at what was in front of me. And just sitting there, staring at that image brought me a little more peace, a little more courage that healing doesn’t have to be taken in great leaps and bounds. But rather, it can be taken in tiny, minuscule steps. Just like, when you learn to swim, you never dive right in at first. You start by dipping your toe in the water, to test the temperature, to get the feeling. Then you might put both feet in at the top step of the pool, then slowly you slide down further to where you’re in up to your waist. Eventually, you swim out to the deep end.

Just like learning to swim, healing takes time. And this one, poorly sketched drawing of mine, brought me all of these thoughts in a matter of a minute.

I strongly encourage you, if you have any interest in this, to try it out for yourself. Grab a drawing utensil and a piece of paper, and sit in a quiet place by yourself. Find a place in which you are the most comfortable. Perhaps light a scented candle, listen to some soothing music, etc. Then think about the different images that pop into your head when you think of healing, relationships, abuse, phobias, etc. Next, try drawing one of the images that pop into your head. Again, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, just a simple sketch will do.

Lastly, after you have finished your drawing, be sure to take the time to sit with it and really look at it. Ask yourself the following questions: Why did I choose this image? What feelings do I get just by looking at it? Does it make me feel sad, angry, hurt, trapped, panicked, scared, confused, etc? Next, think about WHY you feel that way? Then, most importantly, if the image is a negative one, or brings up negative feelings, think about how you could change that image so that you feel safer, more comfortable, happier, soothed, etc. Then draw the image again, this time with the soothing elements added. Look it over once more, and feel the peace that can wash over you now that you’ve adjusted the image in your brain. See how you can take a negative image, and turn it into something less frightening, something more positive.

Just like with finding the calm in your happy place, drawing images and then redrawing them into more positive scenarios helps you retrain a brain damaged by trauma. It helps you problem-solve what could make things better, and demonstrate in a tangible way the differences in your body between when you feel hurt/angry, and when you feel happy.

That’s the importance of the drawing journal. It’s a helpful tool to clarify specific physical and emotional reactions to different situations. Then to sit with those emotions, and figure out how to make the situation better; how to change the image to a more peaceful and soothing scenario. With practice, this ability can become more ingrained, and taken out into everyday life.

It’s an exercise in retraining the brain so that it can return to normal and healthy responses to different situations. So even if you only have 5 minutes, grab a pen and try it out. It doesn’t have to be perfect. After all, it’s just a step.

Lessons from Nature

Did you know that if you cut a branch off a Cottonwood tree, the insides of the broken pieces reveal a perfect star? That’s right, cutting this tree, breaking this tree, “ruining” this tree, just reveals a different kind of beauty, hidden, that lies underneath the obvious. A beauty that is only revealed if the tree is first scarred.

This example makes me think that perhaps my scars are just making room for a different type of beauty. Perhaps they will, like the Cottonwood, quite literally reveal the star beneath. That inner strength and marvel that leads to new life.

For the tree, with each layer peeled away, new beauty is revealed. Each stripping of the bark feeds an animal. Each burning away by fire gives room to the ground for new nutrients. Each fallen tree gives life to new growth.

Each scar leaves behind a star. To remind us of all the beauty still remaining. A reminder that all is not lost. We have only to peel away our outward layers of hurt, to reveal the star underneath.