Learning from the past

I revisit my past with a similar feeling of excitement and enjoyment that I get from re-reading a favorite novel or re-watching a particularly good movie. I usually skip over the less important bits and immerse myself in the experience of the heroine of the story with fascination, wonder and appreciation. My heart goes out to her as she fumbles around in her life, always doing her best with what she knew at the time. I also feel awe at the many different and creative ways my higher self tried to wake my former self up. My memory is not perfect, particularly when it comes to experiences that were dark. This is one of those; I’ll do my best to share the essence.

Contrast

The experience I am having in March 2019 is another layer of the ice queen within me thawing. It feels soooo good.  It’s a deep, physical sensation of softening in my muscle fibers. Warmth running through my cells. The word delicious comes to mind. I am 46, happy, in the best shape of my life, and my days are filled with experiences I am enthusiastically saying YES to. I am falling in love with each and every one of my friends. I am in love with myself and my life. I am off of all pharmaceuticals. I believe the number one reason I am having this full, vibrant, exciting, love-filled experience is because I am in a deeply connected relationship with my body. It continues to deepen over time and I am excited for the journey as it continues to unfold.

This is all a new experience for me.

When I ask myself to identify the first time I felt the beginning of a connection to my body I thought at first it would have been healing from my chronic illness experience. No, I realized I needed to rewind further. It took a while to come to me. Spring of 2013: I was laying on the floor of my therapist’s conference room listening to a recording of Jon Kabat-Zinn doing a body scan. The first of three times I would take the eight-week course from her over the next few years. How did I end up there? I needed to rewind further. Ah. Here it is. Now I remember.

Suicidal ideation was not a new experience; I had multiple close calls since my early 20’s. But as I stood there on the curb a few blocks from my office I was startled to realize, “Wow. Fuck. Breathe. I almost stepped in front of that big truck. Breathe. Okay. Breathe. I didn’t do it.” Part of me felt surprised how close I’d come to death (again), but most of me wasn’t. The part of me that came forward to pull me out of the street just in the nick of time wasn’t surprised, but was disappointed we were here once more.

It was mid 2010 and I thought I had the life I’d always wanted. My husband and I had been married for 11 years and had a seven year old daughter. We were homeowners, and until the recession really took hold, we’d had a reasonably successful handyman service. I was proud of the life I’d built. From the outside, everything appeared to be going well. In reality, we had just declared bankruptcy and my husband was drinking heavily. My daughter was having health issues. I was feeling crushed under the weight of my life.

As I write this I am having an odd but fascinating (to me, at least) experience. I feel compassion and care and love for my former self and just want to wrap her in my arms and hold her tight. I want to tell her that she is strong. She is capable and she is deserving. This experience she’s having is very hard and painful, I see and feel that. I want to whisper in her ear that I love her and that she is not alone. She is never alone, even though she feels so desperately lonely; especially in the company of others.

On the inside, I felt like I was in an unending maze, alone in the dark, trying to feel my way through to the light. The walls I had around my heart were so thick that even when I was in my husband’s arms I could not let him in. I was always at the mercy of what other people wanted and needed; I didn’t even want to know what I wanted and needed. I stayed busy so I didn’t have to find out. I expended a tremendous amount of energy stuffing my feelings into boxes in dark corners and hiding my true self from everyone around me. The thought that ran through my head most often was some variation of, “if you knew the truth about me, you wouldn’t love me.”

Clawing my way out

I didn’t have health benefits. Luckily, the temporary agency I was working for offered an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) for just this sort of emergency. I made a series of appointments, just enough to pull me back from the ledge so I could breathe. I held on by my fingernails while I applied for the job I’d been filling as a temp. I was hired and had benefits within a month of starting the position and made an appointment with a new therapist right away. First, we tried a variety of medications to stabilize my mental health.  I wish I’d known then what I know now about their long term effects, but I was doing the best I could with what I knew at the time. What I believed to be true was that my psychiatrist believed I needed to stay on medications for the foreseeable future for my safety. She went so far as to say I would likely be on some form of medication for the rest of my life. She is an expert, so I should trust her, right? I had been diagnosed with a bunch of things that had scary names. Complex PTSD. Dermatillomania. Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Persistent Depressive Disorder.

Sometimes we talked about hospitalization. I nearly committed myself in early 2013 but took a 3 week medical leave instead. I don’t remember much of those weeks. I had so few tools compared to now. I think I mostly slept and cried and tore at my skin (that’s dermatillomania) when I was alone. I put on a brave face, long sleeves and pants (to hide the bloody spots I’d picked all over my body) when my daughter and husband were home so I didn’t scare them with the depth of my sadness and pain.

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Ainsley & I on a mother daughter date, March 2013

A tenuous connection with my body

My therapist (let’s call her S) offered a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction group course based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work (check out his book Full Catastrophe Living, it’s a gem) and she suggested it might help me. She was right and I am so thankful I participated. The first 8 week series I rarely did the home meditations, but I showed up to every weekly session. I listened, I practiced and tried to retain what I could. I shared tiny pieces of myself with the rest of the group and was in awe of those who shared fully and vulnerably. I struggled with the body scans and was usually asleep by the time I’d worked my way up from my toes to my hips. Those minutes of deep rest I received as Jon’s voice gently droned on were the best I got all week though. I looked forward to it and didn’t care S kept reminding me I was supposed to stay awake for the meditation (perhaps my snoring was another factor). The next time I enrolled in the course I actually did the home practice at least once a week and responded to the journaling prompts intermittently. I started noticing more of the beautiful details along my bi-weekly walks from work to S’s office and had finally remembered that I had hope buried under all that sadness. By the third time I took the course I felt capable of participating fully. I completed most of the home meditation practices, journaling prompts and fully showed up for every group session. I was sharing more openly and honestly now with the group and didn’t cry through every session anymore.

It would take years of an ever evolving and deepening relationship with my body to get to where I am now. Sure it was a tenuous beginning, but we all have to start somewhere, right? I couldn’t have gotten directly here from there. I had to go through all the twists and turns, ups and downs, successes and failures. I am thankful for every step along the way because now as my experience continues to unfold before me, I find myself giddy like a little girl, clapping and jumping up and down in surprise and delight at the sheer joy of the full catastrophe that is my life.

The next part of my origin story shares how my relationship with my body has evolved over time.

What is your origin story?

When was the first time you connected with your body deeply whether intentionally, accidentally, or by necessity?

Let me know by commenting below or sending me your thoughts through email!

I love you fiercely,

Heather

P.s. if you’re more of a go-getter, download the DIY guide to being a Radical Pleasurist below and start your journey now! Let more light in and through you!

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