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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

Roberta Baker Veiled Woman with Spirit

Roberta Baker
Veiled Woman with Spirit

I have become increasingly aware over the last month or two of just how terrible I am about self compassion. I was better about it for a bit towards the beginning of getting serious about the mindfulness meditation, but then it seemed as though the internal directive to treat myself harshly redoubled and I was harsher than ever, when I most needed to be kind.

Last week, while I was searching for MP3 recordings of mindfulness meditations to download onto my phone, I stumbled across an audio training program of 6 sessions on mindfulness and self compassion. It’s called “Self Compassion, Step by Step” and it’s by Kristin Neff. It combines some “lectures”, exercises that are designed to demonstrate what she is talking about, and meditations to put it into practice. Dr. Neff comes across as being gentle, compassionate, and genuinely wanting for the listener to benefit from learning how to be more self compassionate. Based on the first 2 sessions, I highly recommend it, if you are at a point where you feel like it is right for you to work on mindfulness and self compassion. You can get the series either through her web site or via Amazon.

I find that I have to take the series in measured doses, because it has a real impact on me. I’ll listen to a session or part of a session, wait a day or more for my system to process what I have heard and practiced and then listen to the next. Tonight I listened to the end of the session on Loving Kindness and I found that it reached deep inside of me. (As I understand it, compassion is being with the self or other in you or another’s suffering, while loving kindness is about being with the self or other and wishing good things for yourself or them.)

When it got to the meditative practice, she had the listener first imagine a being (person, animal) that the listener has very positive feelings towards (I used my daughter) and imagine saying, “May you be safe. May you have peace. May you have health. May you live with ease.” Then the listener transitions to sitting with the other and including both parties: “May we be safe. Etc..” Finally the listener transitions to “thanking the other and letting them go” and just practicing the loving kindness on herself. “May I be safe. May I have peace. May I have health. May I live with ease.”

This is where things got very intense for me. It was like most of my energy was focused into the “may I have peace” portion of the mantra. The others still mattered, but they were more at the surface, while I could feel the section on peace being drawn deep inside. It was like I could feel it flowing and swirling around and between my different parts, going deeper and deeper and it suddenly became clear to me what a profound lack of peace I have lived with my whole life. I have been able to find periods of happiness and I am establishing more and more safety, but peace? No peace. How can there be peace when at some level I am always managing the trauma reactions?

“May I have peace.” As I felt this part of the mantra swirling down among my parts, bathing them in something soothing, I started to cry. Sometimes crying hurts, but this time it didn’t. It didn’t really “feel good” either, because it was deeply felt and deeply connected to a painful place, but as the tears ran down my face and fell onto my hands held over my abdomen (where is seems that my most vulnerable parts shelter), it was as if they were being offered as another soothing balm to all of me that has felt the never ending acid of being betrayed and hurt by those who should have protected me. There is no peace when I try to believe what I was raised to believe: the sky is green and the grass is blue. Such craziness only leaves me with a sense of everything being wrong for now and always. But today, I realized that I can wish for peace for myself. I can work towards that peace.

So after the meditation ended, I mentally “wrapped” myself in a blanket of caring and “sank” into the wish for peace for all of me. All of the traumatized parts. All of the aspects of me that struggle to cope- no matter how badly they botch the job sometimes. The me that is afraid to feel the pain of life. The me that tries to pull it all together. Every bit of me that is so thirsty for peace.

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Leah Day Shadow Self- Goddess series

Leah Day
Shadow Self- Goddess series

I had a profound experience today and parts of me inside are still taking it in.

I’m not sure whether I mentioned it, but I had a very nasty fall almost two weeks ago and I have been in pain ever since. As you can tell from my most recent post, things have been challenging for me emotionally, as well. As a result, my back and shoulders became even more of a mass of tension and discomfort than is normal for me. When it got to the point where not only my hip was interfering with my ability to sleep, but my back was as well, I knew that I needed to take action to get some relief.

I am taking a break from the massage therapist that I have worked with since I was pregnant with my daughter. (That makes it sound like I get massages all the time, when 2 or 3 a year is good for me, but the point is that we have a long term, previously very trusting relationship.) My dad inserted himself into the relationship and bought a package of 6 massages for my birthday last summer. My massages with her have turned into an exercise in not getting triggered, unfortunately. She did nothing wrong at all; the problem simply is that my dad is now associated with massage and her. I hope to eventually fix that, but I’m not there yet.

Anyways, that meant that I wasn’t able to turn to her for help. Our local food coop has a massage station set up at certain hours, where you pay a dollar a minute and pay for however many minutes of chair massage you want (or can afford.) Mama Bear had talked about the massage therapist who runs the program in glowing terms, and according to the on line schedule he was on duty this afternoon, so I decided to go and see if he could help me.

Well, not only is J. a gifted massage therapist and he helped me to get considerable relief from the physical pain that I have been experiencing, but the experience was important for me on another level.

One of the things that I have learned about massage is that it is most helpful for me if I try to receive it in as mindful of a state of mind as possible. About 1/2 way through the massage, I became aware of the fact that I was not only experiencing the massage on a physical level, but it also was affecting me deeply inside. This stranger whom I had only met 15 minutes before was treating me with kindness and with a real desire to help me feel better. I hadn’t considered before how much can be communicated through touch. Most of the massages that I have had with people other than the woman I normally work with (A.) have been more or less helpful and the therapists have ranged from friendly and clearly desiring to help to business like. Never before have I experienced such an intense experience of presence. Even with A., she is there and I can feel the caring and nurturing coming off of her, but it is quieter.

Fortunately, I wasn’t in a thinking state, just an experiencing state, otherwise I probably would have started to doubt what I was experiencing. Instead, I realized just how much my soul needed to experience that kindness. While accepting the physical impact of being abused has been an important part of my recent healing, it also left me in a state where I was parched for physical kindness. So being able to sit there, in a light trance state, soaking in the physical kindness and care that was being given was tremendously healing for me. Parts of me inside were able to absorb the experience of having someone use touch in a healing way. Use touch in a healing way– the thought makes me cry in grief at what was and hope at what can be.

And this was a stranger. As I absorbed the sense of kindness coming off of this young man, there was a sense of wonder inside that there really are people out there who treat other people well. There are men out there who act out of a desire to help others. Not just the few men that I know and have tested out over time, but men that I have never met. There really are men out there who don’t secretly want to hurt others. The world really is a less dangerous place than my insides believe it to be. It’s like the difference between the world being a war zone and the world having some safety in it.

Right now my insides feel the way that they do sometimes after a breakthrough with Mama Bear. There is a sense of wonder and hope that things actually might be better than I thought they were- almost a giddiness.

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Martha Wolfe Hope prayer flag

Martha Wolfe
Hope prayer flag

In no particular order, 10 things that Mama Bear has said to me that were particularly helpful, and because I could have kept on going, there will be more at a later date.

1) He is dead. After I started working with Mama Bear again and I became more aware of just what some of my child parts were experiencing, I realized that deep down I didn’t believe that my grandfather really was dead and I was terrified that he could come after me again. We spent weeks talking about my attending his memorial service, the evidence that I had that he was dead, and why I was having trouble accepting it. I know that he was cremated and have seen the container that his ashes were collected in, so as I began to feel more secure I found myself having revenge fantasies about what I could do with his ashes. Slowly, more and more of me accepted that he probably was dead. The fear that he was so powerful that he could get me anywhere, at anytime ran so deep that I simply had to accept that the process of fully believing that he was dead and I am now safe from him would take however long it would take. I spent several months when a part would unexpectedly pipe up in session, “Is he really dead?” and we would have to take a few minutes to go over the evidence again, and then I would feel reassured enough to refocus on the original topic. Now I almost entirely believe that he really is dead, but sometimes I still slip.

2) Even if he wasn’t dead, you are a capable adult now and you know how to protect yourself. I was shocked the first time that she said this. I tended to think of him as so much more powerful and larger than me, but eventually I realized that Mama Bear was right. Not only am I three inches taller than he was, but I am physically more capable than he was. And as I thought about it, I realized that he tended to reserve his worst treatment for those who had the least ability to stand up against him. Or, as Mama Bear said, “He was a coward who preyed on a defenseless child.” But I am no longer that defenseless child that he was able to prey on. I have strength in myself. I have strength in allies. If my grandfather stood in front of me today, he might make a few cutting remarks, but he wouldn’t dare to do anything more.

3) It isn’t happening now. My flashbacks often have a very strong sense of “nowness” to them. Even though I can look around and see that I am here in this time and place and know all of that at a surface level, the part of me that is experiencing the flashback believes that the events are happening right now. Even after I manage to I pull back from other aspects of the flashback, I often am left feeling as though part of me is still stuck inside of it. So Mama Bear and I have emphasized the difference between here and now and there and then over and over and over. It all has helped a great deal, but sometimes I still am not able to pull myself into the here and now on my own, so hearing her say, “It isn’t happening now” is a tremendous relief to me. When I hear those words, I can grasp ahold of her reassurance that here and now really is reality, the flashback isn’t.

4) It’s nothing but a horror show. During a particularly harrowing period of frequent, intense flashbacks, Mama Bear said this to me. It seemed to fit, because, yes, the things that were happening in the flashbacks felt like they would do better in a horror show than in my mind. I was dealing with a particularly revolting set of memories and it helped so much to imagine taking it out of me and placing it on a screen, in a horror show. While I couldn’t entirely turn off the horror show until it had run its course, at least it was a bit more distant and tolerable. And most importantly, it no longer felt as though it was a part of me. It helped me to see that the memory was a memory, it was not me.

5) I see you. Hearing her say this while looking her in the eyes and really allowing myself to connect is both a terrible and wonderful experience. Terrible in the sense of painful and overwhelming because it goes to the core of so many attachment issues for me: feeling unseeable, that no one would want to really know me, that it could never be safe for the most vulnerable me to know and be known by someone… It was wonderful because it is what I have craved all of my life. First my mother wasn’t capable of providing it and none of the other adults in my life were remotely safe enough to connect with deeply, and then, when I was older, it was too late, I was too badly hurt to risk allowing myself to feel that fully seen. I am still in the midst of learning how to be fully in the room and allow myself to perceive that she is fully in the room with me. When we have had these connecting experiences, I both feel a physical jolt of pain and I cry tears of relief and hope. Slowly, step by step, I am allowing my full self to be in full relationship with her, and at the same time, bit by bit, I am doing the same thing in my other significant relationships.

6) You are going to be angry with me sometimes, that’s just what happens in relationships. Don’t worry, it takes a lot to ruffle me, and I’ve had clients get really angry at me. Just don’t try to throw me out the window. Mama Bear has been trying to encourage me to feel safe enough to feel angry with her for many years, and I’m finally at the point where I can hear what she is saying and believe her. I have been testing her bit by bit over the last year or so, at first just showing the tiniest bit of anger in an e-mail. Each time I tested her, she would reassure me again that it is OK for me to get angry with her and while what I had shown had been a big deal for me, it was no threat to our relationship at all. She would talk about how real people in real relationships get angry with each other sometimes, because everyone makes mistakes. At some point she would mess up and I would get really angry at her, but I didn’t have to worry about how she would react. She isn’t frightened by anger and her joke said to me that she wasn’t afraid that I would get so angry that I would lose control and do something terrible. I might be afraid that my anger would turn me into my grandfather, but she knew that it wouldn’t. Through her, eventually I learned to have faith that nothing could turn me into my grandfather.

7) You can’t get rid of me. I went through a period that was several months long where I kept on testing Mama Bear, even though I didn’t quite realize what I was doing at the time. I was terrified that if I really leaned on her as much as I needed to, then she would abandon me when I was most vulnerable. I knew that she wouldn’t intentionally betray me, but I was afraid that I would overwhelm her and drive her away. I was convinced that I would turn out to be “too” something for her- too much trouble, too demanding, too clingy, too needy, too hurt, too contaminated, too weird, too something… So we talked over and over about how she knows how to take care of herself and she can create boundaries, so she was confident that I was not going to be too much for her. I didn’t believe her. I would write long emails and end them with, “See, I’m too needy, aren’t I?” or some such thing. And when that didn’t work, sometimes I would turn around and say, “I don’t think that I can do this anymore. I just want to run.” Eventually she sat me down and just flat out said to me, “C., you can keep on trying, but you can’t get rid of me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to abandon you when you need me. And you’re going to have to work a lot harder than that to convince me to let you go.” It didn’t all sink in at once, and it took her repeating herself, but at that point I started to feel a bit of security that it was safe to rely on Mama Bear. Eventually, I realized that Mama Bear is far stronger and more capable of taking care of herself than my mother was- she really was telling me the truth and I could trust her to be there for me. She really was willing to provide the security that I needed then to feel held, contained, and secure. What I realize now is that the problem wasn’t that I was too needy, hurt, clingy, etc. when I was a child, the problem was that my mother didn’t have the resources to deal with helping a child who was being abused. It wasn’t my fault that I overwhelmed her and that she couldn’t hold me in my pain, the way that I needed for her to.

8) You don’t need to know exactly what happened. You just need to know your truth. Dissociation saved my mind by putting me in a different state during the abuse, but by doing that, my memories of the abuse were completely disrupted. There is an awful lot about what happened to me that is unclear. I have experienced many of the same body and emotional memories for decades, however there are other areas that continue to confuse much of me, even after decades. To make matters worse, when I experience flashbacks, I’m torn between wanting to believe myself and wanting for it all to be untrue, messing with any sense of what might or might not be real. Unfortunately, I also have had the driving need to know exactly what happened. Mama Bear and I have gone round and round with this: There is no knowing which details of the memories are true, but I have been able to build an over all picture of what my experience was like. I feel as though I have thrown myself against a wall time and again over this, but I finally get it. Part of the reason I was holding out for details was because I didn’t want to accept my truth. I realize now that it doesn’t need details for it to be a horrible truth, so horrible that I want to have a reason to hold back from owning it.

9) We know that you were abused. You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over. I don’t have a memory of trying to tell my mother about the abuse, but I act like I did and I feel as though I did and she just didn’t understand me. I think that is tied into why I have had this deep fear that Mama Bear doesn’t really believe me and I have been convinced that I will betray myself and stop believing myself. Inside, there are parts of me that have been convinced that “No one will really believe me. It’s impossible.” While I was completely unaware of it at the time, I felt the need to prove to myself and to Mama Bear over and over that I had been abused, and I pushed myself towards being triggered into flashbacks. It was an incredibly painful way to demonstrate that I had been abused, but it was effective. Somehow, Mama Bear caught on to what was going on, and she started to say to me, “We know that you were abused. You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over.” Wow. “We know that you were abused.” I finally realized that someone did believe me, really believe me. “You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over.” It sank in that she wasn’t going to stop believing me. Further, she noticed and cared about what this was doing to me.

10) I hear your pain/anger/grief and I am here with you. I have spent much of my life running from the intensity of my feelings, but that causes all sorts of problems for me. So I am currently working to allow myself to come together and fully feel my emotions in the context of my truth, but when that happens, it feels as though I am being filled with that emotion in a physically painful way. In fact, it feels unendurable, but I know that I need to find a way to endure it without dissociating, if I can. When Mama Bear sits there with me and says, “I hear how terribly deep your pain is and I am here with you,” it reminds me that she believes that I am strong enough to survive the pain, that it is safe for me to no longer be invisible and I don’t need to suffer in silence, that someone sees/hears how much pain that I am in, and that someone cares enough to stay with me. That sort of support makes a difference and sometimes it’s enough to allow me to remain with the emotions until they ebb on their own. It hasn’t happened often, but each time that it does happen, I learn a little more deeply that strong emotions may be unpleasant to experience, but I can survive them.

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Olga Norris- Ponder

Olga Norris- Ponder

Over the past several weeks, I have been working very intensively around my parents, particularly in regards to my father. That focus was called for because I have had this pattern of getting myself into a crisis in regards to my dad and as a responsible therapist, Mama Bear pointed out that I was harming myself. In “What am I going to do with my dad?”, I wrote about agreeing with Mama Bear that I need to decide how I am going to deal with my dad in the now, based on the information that I have now.

It has been an intense and incredibly painful struggle that has left me wiped out and feeling cut off from the world. I spent a lot of time sitting in my rocking chair, just crying so intensely. It was clear to me that while some of the pain and grief was present based, most of it was past based. That is why I would fear that the intensity of the pain would kill me and I would feel completely alone, utterly helpless, and unable to do anything to console myself. I was dealing with memories of pain and grief from when I was a child. I wish that I could say that I was done with the process, but I know that I’m not. There is a lot of hurt and loss to go.

In the midst of all of this, I lost my voice. I believe that to some extent that was because I was dealing with the emotional memories of very young states and so the vocabulary simply wasn’t there to be able to describe what I was experiencing. Really, I feel as though for the past couple of weeks I have gone around half way in one of these child states. To some extent, I was dealing with controls put into place as a child that were designed to keep me out of trouble. (Defense mechanisms and silence)

But the end of yesterday’s post marked a turning point for me. I realized that while I have felt trapped in a tiny space with my parents I can choose to emerge into the “open” and deal with it there. There is so much more to me and my life than my parents in the here and now. Even if the worst should happen and there should be a complete break with my mother, it would be terribly painful, but my life would go on and it would be a very good life.

Coming to this realization seems to have given me my voice back and it has helped me to focus on the fact that my understanding of my relationship with my father is only important to me in regards to my mother. I have no desire to see him or have contact. I do not fully understand why there is such a deep lack of trust and a need to shield myself from him, but that’s the way that things are. One painful truth that I continue to have trouble fully accepting is that my father hurt me. I’m not talking about in the horrific cruel way that my grandfather did. Maybe there was real cruelty there, but it’s all very complicated and figuring out that part isn’t actually important right now. What’s important is accepting that being my father’s daughter hurt me. It is a source of pain in the now and was a source of great pain as a child, for whatever reason. My father was not the father that my mother needs to believe that he was. As hard as it may be, I have to be solid in my acceptance of the fact that I hold a truth that is in opposition to my mother’s beliefs, so I can hold on to my truth, despite the desire that I most likely will have to make things easy on my mother whenever I engage with her again.

I suspect that there will be some form of engagement in the not too distant future. You see, I’ve realized that I have tentatively tried to get an appropriate response from my mom, but in all of the time that I have been working on dealing with the abuse, I haven’t ever flat out said from her, “This is what I need from you.” I have hinted. I have obliquely asked. I have tentatively started to introduce the subject of dealing with the abuse and given up when she repeatedly changed the topic. But I haven’t ever clearly said, “You have asked how you can help, because you know that I’ve been struggling, this is what I need from you.” I have been too afraid of how much it would hurt to have her refuse and lose the hope that one day things might be better with her. But this can’t continue indefinitely. She is getting older and I don’t want for time to run out. If I don’t give something clear and direct a good try with her, I will always wonder what would have happened if I had tried. I don’t want to live with that question over my head. So I have to find the courage to break several basic family rules at the same time: don’t talk about something that upsets my mom; don’t ask for something that she might not be willing to give to me; don’t talk clearly and directly about any problems of any type; keep quiet and pretend that nothing is wrong.

It’s a tall order and it’s intimidating to consider. But helps when I take a step back and remind myself that those were the rules of my childhood. I couldn’t do anything but follow them then, but now that I am an adult, they only apply to me if I allow them to apply to me. That is something that my fuller, outer self can appreciate, but I also know that I will be dealing with the memories of child states and in those states, I will fully believe that I have to follow the old rules. Hopefully, over the next weeks and months, I can bring the two close enough together, so that I can hold both beliefs at the same time. It is in that state of dual awareness that deep change can take place. The more that I can help all of me understand that I don’t need to live by the old family rules, the easier it will be to manage some sort of contact with my mother.

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Artist- Noriko Endo

Artist- Noriko Endo

As I have said before, I am currently learning about mindfulness and practicing meditation and it seems to be helpful. It has been helpful with the progress of my therapy, but I think that it also is just plain useful in terms of life quality. One of the things that has become increasingly obvious to me is just how much of my life I have drifted through. Even though I come from a very long lived family, I most likely have lived past the half way point of the active part of my life. I feel as though I have missed so much and I want for that to stop.

Over the last few weeks, I have started to notice more of the details of my life, to my delight. Yesterday I played a game with my family that has some lovely artwork and previously I had thought, “What nice art work” but I had never really looked at it. I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t really looked at it until I started to be surprised by some of the details that I observed!

On the last few walks in the woods, I have found the variety of textures and colors in the forest to be astounding. In fact, the experience was almost overwhelming, when I added in the smells and sounds and feel of the damp, cool air.

With all of this in mind, I was struck by the following quote when I read it tonight and I wanted to share it:

In this way, little by little, moment by moment, life can slip by without us being fully here for it. Always preoccupied with getting somewhere else, we are hardly ever where we actually are and attentive to what is actually unfolding in this moment. We imagine we’ll be happy only when we get somewhere else, wherever and whenever that may be. Then we’ll have “time to relax.” So we postpone our happiness, rather than opening to the quality of the experience we’re having right now. As a consequence, we may miss the quality of the unfolding moments in our day, just as we missed doing the dishes and drinking the coffee. If we are not careful, we may actually miss most of our life in this way.

– The Mindful Way Through Depression

The first time or two I read this, I thought to myself, “That’s easy to say when you’re avoiding normal, everyday unpleasantness, but this trauma stuff is just so overwhelming and it isn’t that simple!” But the more I think about it and the more I learn to be in the moment, I can see that it really can be that simple when dealing with trauma. If a person can step out of being drawn through trigger cycle after trigger cycle and create a bit of space in her life, then she can start to have more normal, every day experiences. And the more that she is aware of the solidity of her current experiences, the easier it is to resist being triggered. So, in fact, developing this ability is especially important when dealing with trauma.

This mindfulness stuff is useful! I’m still tottering along trying to figure it out and barely able to make use of it, but the bits and pieces that do make sense are making a difference. If even the bits and pieces are giving me tools that I have never had so I feel less at the mercy of whatever my brain might throw at me, I wonder what will happen as I more deeply understand it and incorporate it into my life?

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Caryl Bryer Fallert Migration #2

Caryl Bryer Fallert
Migration #2

These last several days have been challenging for me, but not in a way that I am used to. I’m doing much better than I have been for many months. I am at least mostly present more of the time, able to enjoy more activities with my family, starting to think about things that I might want to do for myself, and just plain not in pain a good portion of the time. Dare I say it? I’ve even felt happy some of the time!

So what’s challenging about that? Unfortunately, I’m not only doing reasonably well, I am also experiencing periods that are just as painful/frightening/flashbacky as they have been in the past, and sometimes it seems that there is no transition time from doing well to experiencing terror. I have spent the last week and a half or so feeling as though I am being buffeted back and forth between different states, out of control. It has played havoc with my memory, because I am bouncing between different states and not able to sustain a sense of continuity between them. Suddenly I will feel like a frightened child and then I will get distracted and 10 minutes later I will feel like a calm adult and not have a clue as to both why I got frightened and what happened to calm me down again.

In the same e-mail to Mama Bear, I will rationally tell her that I don’t understand what is going on inside but there is so much energy that it feels like something is going to explode and it is making me feel off balance, and then I will plaintively tell her “I am just so scared,” not asking her to, but wishing that she could just make it all better. I simply couldn’t make any sense of what was going on or why it was making me feel like things were so terribly wrong, when as far as I could tell there wasn’t anything that was so wrong.

And then last night I finally realized that it was the contrast between doing well and having real difficulties that was distressing me so much. I was used to being in terrible pain, dissociating all of the time, and being only partially functional. I hate the way that it feels, but at least it’s something that I’ve gotten used to. I know what feeling OK feels like and I could deal with that just fine. However, going back and forth between them several times a day was a different story all together. It was driving me crazy- literally making me feel crazy. For the last couple of days, it felt as though it had gotten to the point where I was so disoriented that it was like the mental equivalent of being in the mirror room at a carnival.

But something shifted during my session today. I’m not quite sure what or where, because it was one of those quiet sessions where when I look back, I see that a surprising amount of ground ended up being covered.

I brought up how sometimes when I am having a difficult time and I badly need help feeling safe, it seems that I reach for the part of me that generally can help me feel safe and I just can’t find that part. Mama Bear reminded me that sometimes all I can do is know that I know that I am safe, even if I can’t feel it at all. She has said this before, but it hasn’t ever made sense to me. When I stared at her doubtfully, she said, “You don’t understand what I am saying, do you? I am sure that you can know that you know that you are safe, because you talked about reaching for the part who can help you feel safe.” I sat there for a bit, struggling with the concept, feeling as though it was bending my mind into odd shapes, but then it started to make sense. I’m still not clear on what good it does to know it without feeling it, but I will trust Mama Bear that keeping a hold on that knowledge is better than just trying to white knuckle it through being scared.

We talked about my difficulties with going back and forth between doing OK and not and I could see that Mama Bear really got what I was saying. It was a relief to hear someone say, “Oh, it makes perfect sense that this is what has been going on for you!”

I told her about the things that I have picked up from the mindfulness reading that are making a difference for me: 1) being aware of when I am tensing up, because it actually creates a feedback loop between the body and the brain, increasing the sense of being under threat and 2) starting to become aware of when I am beginning to go down a well worn path that won’t do me any good and realizing that sometimes I can make a choice to not go down that path, but rather to feel my body sink into the now.

At some point while we were talking, I started to feel sad and like crying. Mama Bear encouraged me to cry, if that was what felt right and I started to, but then I felt overwhelmed by fear and the sadness was drowned out. I remember sitting there with the fear, not allowing myself to retreat into it and thinking to myself how difficult it was to tolerate it. And then somehow, I was through it. We talked about how I can hold myself in the knowledge that I am in a safe time and place and allow myself to feel whatever the emotion is that is there for me to feel. I do not need to be afraid of the emotions. She emphasized that this is why the mindfulness is so important, because as I practice it more, I will be better able to do it. “I can already see that you are starting to integrate some of the mindfulness practices, because of how you were just able to handle the fear and that you were able to bring yourself back so quickly.” My thought was, “Great! Now if only I understood what I just did!” But I guess that I must understand it in some part of my brain, even if it isn’t the part that I’m most aware of and I guess that will have to be good enough.

About an hour after I got home from my session, I became aware of a lot of emotional pain. Without really thinking it out, I made my way over to my glider rocker, curled up in it, and drew a blanket around myself. As I started to cry, I was aware of a split, there was the me who was experiencing tremendous amounts of pain and then there was the me who was cradling the rest of me in the knowledge that I am safe right now. Eventually I wasn’t just crying, but I was making these sounds that I don’t really know how to name- wailing or howling maybe. But they expressed pure, unrestrained pain from the very center of me. They are the sort of sounds that I am afraid to make in Mama Bear’s office because I know that other people in the building would hear them and find them distressing. But today I was able to help myself find a sense of safety even in the midst of that pain. My hope is that I have both gained a bit more confidence in my ability to remain supportively present for myself in the face of difficult emotions and that I have helped the part of me who holds that pain experience how despite the pain of then, there is safety in the now.

I couldn’t help but notice the unjustness of the fact that I spent so much time struggling with a lot of fear earlier in the day, so I could then go home and be able to tolerate experiencing unbelievably intense pain. All because of something that I had no control over that happened decades ago. It does no good to dwell on it, so I won’t, but every once in a while, it really strikes me how completely unjust this whole thing is.

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Elizabeth Barton

Elizabeth Barton

This morning I tried to do a body scan meditation and about 5 minutes into it I became more and more aware of my legs, despite the fact that my attention was supposed to be on my head/neck area. I kept on bringing my attention back to the proper body area and it was immediately drawn back to my legs and each time I was aware of increased intensity in my legs. They didn’t hurt, but a huge amount of energy kept on building in them, and I started to find it impossible to keep them still. I repeatedly did what I was “supposed” to do and refocused my attention on the upper portion of my body, until I realized that I may have decided to do the body scan and the instructions might be telling me to focus on my head, but starting to pay attention to my body had made me aware that my body had another need.

It would not be acting in the spirit of mindfulness to ignore what my body was crying out to me: I intensely felt the need to strike out- to kick and hit and flail. I was on my bed and at home alone, and there really isn’t a safer place for me to do it, so I stopped inhibiting those actions and just let my body have at it.

I didn’t think about anything or anyone in particular while I was striking out, I just let my body do it and let myself feel my body’s actions. The physicality of tearing away the blankets and freeing myself of them and then kicking and beating at them was a relief for me. I tend to keep so much tightly controlled and inside and for once it was safe to just let go. I wasn’t worried that I would become too scared and retreat into a traumatized child state, which is what keeps me from doing this more often. I didn’t have to worry about alarming anyone or anyone judging me. I could simply be– kicking and hitting for as long and hard as it felt right for me. And when I started to wail out my anger, grief, and pain as I was beating on the bed, that was OK, too. Before long, I stopped hitting and kicking and transitioned to just crying and moaning. Through this entire process, I didn’t think any clear thoughts other than to figure out what I needed to do to stay out of the way of what I was experiencing and processing. But at the very end, as the crying eased, I felt small and as I rolled over onto my back, I felt a part of my reaching up to be picked up, like a very small child.

I thought about what had happened and realized that I never could have so completely let down my guard and just let myself do what I needed to do with anyone present, not even Mama Bear. The expectation that I would be punished or ridiculed goes so deep that despite being reassured over and over and being shown that it is safe to show my anger to Mama Bear, these parts who still feel the need to fight back aren’t willing to really allow themselves to experience doing so in front of her.

And then I had a strange thought. I thought something along the lines of, “I don’t want for Mama Bear to know, because she could use this to harm me.” I was startled to ‘hear’ myself think that and my immediate response was, “When has she ever used anything that she knows about me to harm me in any way? Never. I had to have thought that for a reason that has nothing to do with Mama Bear.” And then I was struck by the thought that my father would use what he knew/understood about me to hurt me. That concept took my breath away and I started to cry. I wanted to deny it and realized that I couldn’t. I don’t let him close to me now, and he doesn’t have a lot of current information to use that way, so my examples go back to high school when I last lived with him. He knew what I was passionate about, so he would make fun of it and then say that I didn’t have a sense of humor when I got upset. He knew which boy I really cared about from among the ones I was close friends with, so when that boy was invited over for dinner, my dad so intimidated the boy that he never even tried to kiss me, even though he cared enough that he was upset when I married someone else 6 years later. He set a situation up that artificially strained my mother’s trust in me and infuriated me because it was petty and I had proven repeatedly that I was just about the most trustworthy teen around. I am sure that there were many, many more things that simply were a part of the fabric of my life and didn’t stand out enough for me to remember. No single thing was huge, but over and over he used what he understood about me to chip away at my self esteem, self confidence, self worth, and meaningful relationships.

It’s no wonder that I have trouble letting people get close to me. I was trained to expect that they would use what they learned about me to hurt me.

When I first realized this morning what my father had done, I quickly had the thought, “Well, all teens think that their parents have it out for them.” Once I made myself think about it a bit, I realized that the argument held no water: most teens moan and groan about their parents having it out for them, but if the relationship is healthy enough, at heart they know that their parents really want what’s best for them and eventually they come around to admitting it. In my case, I stubbornly insisted to everyone that my relationship with my parents was perfect until I was in my mid 20’s and the abuse memories started to leak out. It’s only now, when I’m in my 40’s that I can admit that he used what he knew about me to hurt me.

I’ve been saying all along that he did these things that harmed me in various ways, but he didn’t really understand what he was doing. I have needed to think that he couldn’t have known that he was doing things that hurt me and yet kept on doing them. And most especially, I have needed to believe that he wasn’t deliberately hurting me. But this is one too many things and I am no longer so certain. I really don’t know what to think. Is it really possible to keep on saying just the right thing to wound your daughter without being aware that you are doing so? Could someone really be that oblivious? But if he understood some of what he was doing, how could my mother have let him?

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