Posts Tagged ‘feeling solid’

I really miss the ocean right now… Not for the normal reasons that you miss the ocean- playing in the water, watching for dolphins, making sand castles, chasing waves- but because it was so very healing to me.

We lived in San Diego for three years before we moved back to New York State. Now, I’m really not a Southern California kind of person, so I was happy to say goodbye to most of what makes Southern California, Southern California. But the ocean was very different. The second to the last time I went to the ocean before I left, I went alone, so I could say my farewells without needing to take care of a 5 year old. To my astonishment, I cried; I felt that much grief at needing to say goodbye to something which had helped me keep my soul from being tattered.

While we were in San Diego, I had the extreme good fortune to have a job where I could walk down to a mostly deserted beach, linger for 20 minutes, and walk back up to the office, all during my lunch hour. I wish that I could say that I did the walk every day, but I probably did it twice a week or more, much of the time. Sometimes I would go alone, other times I would go with friends, but each and every time I came back feeling at least a bit replenished.

And then there were the challenging times. I managed to keep things pretty well locked up during that period and did no therapy what so ever. But every once in awhile, things would start to leak out. When I started either feel the trauma pressing at me or just overwhelmed by some of the curve balls that life was throwing at me, I would go down to the beach alone. I would find a sheltered spot, with my back to the cliffs, sit cross legged on the sand, close my eyes, and just breathe. It would feel like all of the stress, difficult emotions, confusion, whatever happened to be threatening to overwhelm me at the time was draining out of my body as I sat there. I could imagine it flowing down the beach and into the ocean and the power and energy of the waves taking what I had just released and pounding it into nothingness. I wasn’t powerful enough to hold what was troubling me, but I could imagine giving it over to the ocean and the power of whatever was hurting me was nothing in comparison to the power of the whole Pacific Ocean.

Today, while I was out walking in the woods, thinking about my session, I realized just what a powerful healing force the ocean had been for me. The time that I spent with it when I was troubled, doing that meditative/imagery work was probably a large part of the reason I was able to do as well as I did while we were there. It’s funny how sometimes, if you let something emerge from inside of you, you find that you actually know what it is that you need to do in order to help yourself.

I also realized today that I haven’t been able to find anything to replace the role that the ocean played for me, and that is somewhat of a problem. I need a place that I can allow all of the pain, shame, fear, etc. to drain out of me into. But what else is there that holds the same energy and power as the ocean?

I do grounding/meditative exercises using the earth and trees and they work wonderfully for those purposes because they are so solid and go so deep, but I need something with more of a sense of energy for this other job, I think. Of course, I am so stuck on, “It needs to be the ocean” that I am having trouble getting creative here!

Any suggestions?

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I figured out something today that is likely to be obvious to everyone else, but it most certainly wasn’t to me. I have been going about grounding all wrong. Well maybe not all wrong, but I was just plain missing the first step.

Grounding is a primary tool while doing trauma work. What it means is that when I start to experience a split in consciousness, I pay concrete attention with multiple senses to my immediate environment in a structured manner, trying to ground myself in the here and now. When I first started to learn to do it, Mama Bear would say, “Name 3 things that you can see.” I’d look around and name them, sometimes with great difficulty. “Name 3 things that you can hear.” Sometimes I would have to think a bit more about that one, just because her office is generally quiet. “Name 3 things that you can feel.” This one often was the most useful to me, because I am naturally oriented to this sense. We would then go back around and do the cycle however many times it took, until I was more completely in the room. At home, I would do variations on this, “Name 3 things that are blue. Name three things that are round. Name three things that in the room that I made.”

I fairly quickly figured out that orienting to the things that I had made with my own hands was one of the most effective grounding tools. I would walk around the house, and I would talk through the creative process for whatever piece I was looking at. I would touch it and closely examine it. Anything to get me moving and thinking in the here and now in a way that was pleasant for me to be engaged in. I also suspect that part of the reason this technique was so useful was because I was connecting to something that happened in a time between when the abuse happened and now. It just helped to reinforce that the abuse was in the past, making it safer for me to more fully be in the now.

I scented it with essential lavender oil and took to carrying around some soft silk and merino yarn that I had spun, so I could examine the colors and feel how the ball would compress when it was squeezed and how very soft the fiber was. I often wore a silk scarf that I had dyed and would run my hands over it or rub it against my cheek at the first signs that I was starting to dissociate.

Sometimes I needed to ground myself because I had been triggered into a particular memory. Other times I was triggered into a distressed feeling state. Other times it was more generally that I was not “fully in the room” for some reason.

It was not at all easy for me to learn to do this. To me, it feels like I am trying to force myself out of one time stream into another and it can involve an uncomfortable pulling sensation. In general, I simply did not have full success, and I would be discouraged by only having partial success on the first try. One of the lessons in learning meditation also helped me a great deal with this. “It is OK to not succeed. It gives me another chance to practice. Just refocus and try again.” I also learned that a partial success added to 3 other partial successes could get me fairly well grounded.

And then I discovered that if I allowed myself to really sit there and fully feel myself sitting there, heavy from the gravity, I also felt like some part of me was sinking into the earth. And I could feel the solidity and realness of the earth. It was an excellent way for me to counteract the spacey, not fully in the room feeling that I was frequently getting at the time.

So, I learned all of these wonderful, useful tools and they have helped me a great deal, but there still are times when they just don’t seem to work or they barely worked. And I had a feeling that I was doing something “wrong” but that didn’t make sense, what could I possibly be doing wrong with grounding?!? It’s so straightforward and that’s part of its beauty, because I need something uncomplicated that I can do when I can hardly think straight.

Well, tonight I accidentally stumbled across what I have been doing wrong. Often, when I try to ground, I am strongly engaged in a child state. It may or may not be obvious from the outside, but my internal experience is more through that lens than through my “normal” self. And very often, when this is the case, I start to do the grounding work from inside that child state. By doing that, I am paying attention to the way that part experiences something and in some ways drawing myself more into that child part. So I might lose the trauma memory that was plaguing me, but I would still be in a dissociated state.

I was missing the essential first step. At the very beginning of the grounding exercise, I need to find at least a corner of me and make sure that I am doing the exercise from me, not a child part.

I discovered this effect this evening completely by accident and while I wasn’t trying to do a grounding exercise per say. I was fighting another migraine and there is something about migraines that seems to erode the safeguards that I normally have up to keep me from slipping into a dissociative state. So I was somewhat feeling the presence of a child part, but I wasn’t in a distressed state, other than generally not feeling great. I went to get some nuts to eat, hoping that the protein might help with the migraine and I started to really pay attention to what I was eating. And I realized that I was experiencing the tastes and textures of the nuts through the child part and it was strengthening my connection to that child part. I stopped, because that was not what I wanted to do, felt for myself and then paid attention to eating the nuts. As I did this, I felt more grounded and concrete in the room. Out of curiosity, I tried eating more through the child part again, and once again it started to strengthen that connection. When I went back to making sure that I was experiencing eating the nuts through myself and stayed that way until I was done, I was able to help myself feel more concrete and solid than I had felt for the previous hour or two. It really was illuminating for me to feel the contrast between strengthening the two different states and how I was able to influence that process.

I am hoping that this might help me to be more fully successful when I work on grounding. And in retrospect it seems so obvious to me: of course I need to be working from the me that I am trying to ground into, not a dissociated part! How could I have missed that for the last year or so? I don’t know, but I’m glad that I ate those nuts tonight and that I was in a place where I could observe what I was experiencing.

Does anyone have any unusual grounding techniques that they have figured out? Or have you figured out ways to make grounding an easier process?

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I have always loved the ocean.  Some of my earliest memories are of being at the beach with my mother.  My family was poor at the time, but we lived within biking distance of the beach and it was free and made us happy, so she would take me there regularly.  Living in a warm climate, we were able to go to the beach year round.  I loved to do all of the things that a young child does at the beach- play in the sand, drag around kelp strands, look for seashells, and paddle in the water.  And being there day after day lodged a connection to the ocean deep in my soul.

Even though we moved around, the first 18 years of my life were spent living within 10 miles of the ocean.  And I grew to love it more and more.  There are years when all of my joyful memories seem to be centered around the ocean and I realize now that my time there helped me to develop as a person.  I spent many, many days covered in sand and swimming in the ocean.  When I was 10 or 11, I learned to jump off of sea cliffs.  Now the ones that I jumped off were only about 10 feet high or so, but for a 10 year old, it was a huge feat of courage.  I was able to experience my body as being strong and capable as I grew more and more skillful at swimming in the ocean.  I learned to snorkel and I felt so at peace and happy, swimming out in the reefs with my friends, and experiencing myself as being a part of a greater wholeness with the water, the sun, the wind, the reefs, the fish, and the other ocean animals.

However, spending so much time in the ocean, from an early age, I learned to have great respect for it.  Even when it is fairly calm, I still won’t turn my back on the ocean, because I once saw an unexpectedly large wave knock my mother over and drag her across the reef, leaving her badly cut up.  I can see, though, that it was confidence building to learn how to deal with something that is potentially so dangerous.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to live near to the ocean for most of my adult life, and after 6 months or a year of not seeing it I start to crave contact with it.  Not in an active sort of a way, but more like a low level ache of something important being missing.  And then every time I am able to go back, there is a sense of homecoming and I can feel my soul being filled up.  Over the years, almost all of our vacations have involved either the mountains or the ocean.  I couldn’t say which I love more, however I have some memories of the ocean that will always bring a smile to me.  On 3 different occasions, I have had the unforgettable experience of swimming in the ocean with wild dolphins.  It was such a gift to have them voluntarily either stay close enough for me to see them in the very clear water and hear their clicks, or even to have them approach and swim around me.

To my satisfaction, we did live fairly near to the ocean for a period of 3 years, while my daughter was younger.  It was about a 40 minute drive to the beaches that we frequented, but I made it as often as I could.  I was delighted to find that my little girl had an instant and intense connection to the ocean, as well.  I had a hard time keeping her out of the water, even when it was cold enough so that her lips would turn blue. I would hold her on my lap wrapped in a towel while she shivered until she had warmed up enough so that she could jump up and dash back for another round of ocean play.  I loved to watch her while she jumped over or ran away from the waves, splashed as hard as she could, threw balls for the dogs at the beach into the surf, and started to learn to swim in the ocean.  My memories of these trips seem to sparkle like the sunlight dancing over the waves.  It gave me so much joy to be with her while she came to love the ocean as much as I do.

As much fun as it was to take my daughter to play at the beach, I believe that I actually valued my time alone with the ocean most of all.  I was fortunate enough to work in a location that allowed me to walk to the ocean and spend time with it during my lunch break.  The location wasn’t completely isolated, but that part of the beach was fairly difficult to access, because you could only reach it via a steep path down the cliffs, which left the beach largely empty.  When I was hurting or otherwise stressed, I would walk down and sit on the beach.  It felt like I could open myself to the ocean which was large enough so to absorb all of the pain that I had in my soul.  I imagined the emotional poison all draining out of me, running down the beach, and disappearing into the ocean.  In its place, I then would fill my soul with peace and strength.  While I wasn’t thinking of it that way at the time, it was the place that I would go to in order to become grounded again.  Sometimes I wept and I would come away feeling lighter.  Sometimes the tears could not come, but at least I would feel calmer and more confident that, somehow, things would work out.

So now, one of the methods that I use to remind myself that I am in this time is to think of one of my happiest times at the ocean as an adult.  My daughter, my husband, and my dog are all in the memory, reminding me of my connection with the people I love most and an animal who also had a special place in my heart.  And when I remember to, it allows me to reach out for a source of strength, peace, and well being.

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One of the things that I have struggled with over the years is experiencing myself as having solidity.  Not just being emotionally and psychologically solid, but actually physically having solid form.  At its worst, it is like I experience myself as a phantom.

A lot of that has been due to low level, habitual dissociation which created a disconnect between myself and my physical sensations.  With a lot of work, I have broken the habit of existing in the world on an everyday basis that way.  How is that done?  Basically by going around day after day saying to myself, “This is my skin, which surrounds my whole body.  I can feel my shirt touching the skin on my arm.  I can feel my weight in the chair.  I can feel the breeze on my face and it is cool.  My daughter’s cheek feels soft and smooth.”  By being mindful of what I was actually experiencing, I slowly demonstrated to myself that most of my physical sensations were either neutral or even pleasant.  And I thought that the problem was solved.

But it isn’t so simple, because while I learned to connect with the physical sensations related to my interfacing with the outer world, I forgot that about the internal sensations that we all feel.  What internal sensations?  Think of butterflies in the stomach, or suddenly feeling cold, or realizing that your jaw is clenched.  One of the things that can be done in trauma therapy involves tying together internal sensations and the emotions and thoughts that go along with them.  So, over the last several months, Mama Bear has been asking me, “What are you physically feeling in your body right now?”  At first when she asked me that question, it terrified me, because somatic flashbacks were always right under the surface, so she stopped asking the question until we got the hyperstimulation under control.

However, after she went to a week long work shop on Complex-PTSD, she started asking the question again.  I kept on drawing a blank, side stepping the question, and talking about something else, without even really noticing what I was doing.  (The mind is tricky that way!)  Finally, yesterday, when she asked me that question 4 or 5 times in the same session and I could only answer it once, it finally dawned on me that most of the time I am completely unable to recognize what is going on inside my body.  I could vaguely tell that I was feeling something, but I had no idea what the sensation was or even where it was located in my body.

The one time that I was able to identify the sensation was quite useful, because I realized that I felt like my throat was closing up on me, at a time when I was struggling to express feelings of anger at and betrayal by my mother.

I also realized that it is no wonder that I often feel like my body is an empty shell these days, if I can’t feel what is going on inside of it.  This is something that I need to pay attention to, because I have found that the more solid I feel, the more confidence I have while interacting with the world.  When you feel solid, you know that the world can bump you a bit, but you can still remain whole.

So on my drive home yesterday, I started to try to pay attention to my internal sensations.  Notice the word “try.”  I thought that it would surely be easier when I was in a neutral situation and not under any stress.  I suppose that it was marginally easier, but I was only able to identify the internal sensations in the vaguest way.  And to my surprise, I was only able to do it for a minute or two at a time, before I started to feel overwhelmed.  I can see that I am now in for a lot of practice at slowly learning to both identify and tolerate feeling what is going on inside.

So, now I am really curious…  What is it like for you when you try to pay attention to your internal sensations?  Are you aware of them most of the time?  Does it take a lot of concentration?  Are you basically blind to them, the way that I am?

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