Note from Julian: This piece was submitted to me as part of the requirements for certification. It is such a beautiful and powerful weaving together of this person’s personal journey and how our training supported her growth and healing, that I asked permission to share it, and it was given on the condition that it remain anonymous.
It is a must read for anyone sincerely interested in the healing potential of an integrated approach to yoga, and in what we feel so honored and privileged to hold space for in our trainings.
It is difficult to know where to begin with sharing what most impacted me in AHEM and how it will affect my teaching. I’ve kind of marinated in the question for the last few weeks and the things that came to mind most powerfully were learning to hold space for myself and practice self-care, and how by doing that I am better able to hold space for other, and reinforcement of what I have learned about neuroplasticity, and tools to continue to improve the workings of my brain and mind. So I was all set to write about those things but then, this morning happened.
This morning I woke up and read the news about the Grenfell Tower fire in London. I wasn’t too far into the article, and into my horror and sadness, before the wheels started rolling in the back of my mind. And those wheels were saying something along the lines of, “this must’ve been a poor building. Oh God, this is going to turn out to be some sort of public housing or other sort of lower income housing…” and sure enough, it was. And the Flint Michigan contaminated water situation came to mind. And the fight for healthcare-for-all came to mind. And the water in Hinckley. And taking away free lunches for kids who maybe don’t receive another full meal all day. And nobody wealthy is on death row. And on, and on…
And I just got so angry. I was in a fury. I was ready to strike. I wanted to yell at someone about the injustice of poverty and inequality. I was ready to go onto my Facebook page and rip apart the people who don’t support healthcare, and the people who don’t care about building equity and equality among people who don’t have the privilege that others do, and (my personal un-favorite) the people who think, “Hey, I’ve got mine. I’m ok, so there’s no problem and if someone does have a problem, it’s their problem, and it’s their fault. It’s not my problem.” The people who see the people that they don’t identify with as “them”, and apparently less human.
So, I felt snarky, angry, heartbroken, disgusted and very very sad. And I wanted to lash out. And my inner voice said, “Calm the fuck down”. Because that is what I say to myself when I get upset. I don’t have the nice, sweet, loving, kind voice that every other person I come across gets from me. No, my inner voice, all through my day as I raise my children and read the news and deal with other parents and drive around in the midst of distracted crazy drivers says, “Calm the fuck down”. So I did. I really did. I calmed the fuck down and did not rage. And I sat with it. That seemingly little thing right there, of sitting with it, is not so little. It is actually pretty amazing. Because I didn’t calm down by pushing it away and distracting myself with something else and not thinking about it anymore. I just sat with it.
And I didn’t try to make myself feel better by focusing on the goodness of the people who showed up to help. I just sat with it. And I didn’t try to make myself feel better with tricking my brain into focusing on how much worse it could be. I just sat with it. I sat with the awfulness of it. I sat with the horror of it. I sat with sadness of it. I sat with the unfairness of it. I sat with the fact that these people suffered terribly, unnecessarily, and died. I sat with the fact that they did not have the luxury of a safe place to live, because they were poor. I sat with reality. This is a very big deal for me – sitting with uncomfortable realities. And I was very conscious of the fact that I was doing it this morning. I feel I was able to do it in large part because of our training.
I am an old-timer when it comes to bypassing my feelings. It is a coping mechanism that served me well from a very young age. It is how I survived my childhood. I realize now that up until the last couple of years, it was how I was surviving adulthood. I am a survivor of trauma; abuse, neglect, poverty, rape, homelessness, PTSD, addiction and chronic illness. Bypassing saved my life for a long time. I always found the good. I always found the way that things could be worse. When I was raped, I was thankful I wasn’t gang raped. When my only shoes had holes in the bottom of them and there was no money for a new pair, I was thankful I didn’t live where it snows. When there wasn’t enough food, I was thankful for government cheese and the Catholic Charities food bank.
When I felt sad that my mom was self-medicating with weed and alcohol all the time, I was thankful she wasn’t on crack or coke. When her boyfriend said inappropriate things to me, I was grateful he didn’t touch me. When my dad made his disgust for me clear, or dragged me by my hair, I was thankful I didn’t see him much. When there were roaches, I was thankful they weren’t rats. When my brother died when I was a little girl, I was thankful for my other two brothers – I was thankful I didn’t lose my whole family – after all, I had read about plenty of orphans. I always read books about hardship and struggle. I read them to finds things that were worse than my own situation so that I could be grateful. With a child’s gift of magical thinking, and a need to survive I “pulled weeds and planted flowers”.
That is how I got through. I was thankful. I was thankful, but I always felt shame.
In adulthood, I somehow managed to create a home and a life that is very different than the one I grew up in. A humble, simple little life that felt so very rich and full. I had so much gratitude. This was not the “well, it could be worse” kind of gratitude. It was the real deal. I was incredibly thankful and wondered how it was that this little life was really mine. And I just stuffed.my.childhood.down. I thought about it as little as possible. When things came up that I was conscious of, I looked at what I now had, felt grateful, and just pushed those bad feelings away. Those things were in the past, and didn’t need to be thought of. Tons of things came up that were really issues related to my childhood, that I wouldn’t let myself link to my past.
I went about functioning quite normally; I was a loving mom and wife, a good friend, active in my kids’ schools and activities. I loved my garden, and yoga, and books. I smiled and chatted and volunteered. But inside, I was nervous and self-conscious. I second guessed myself regularly. I was filled with self-doubt, shame, and guilt. I never felt like anything I did was good enough. I needed the reassurance of others. I ached inside for a different past, so that I wouldn’t have to remember not to share things about it by mistake, and then feel ashamed and like I was intrinsically flawed. If I let slip something that gave a clue to a little bit of what my childhood was like, I would feel shame and embarrassment and I’d beat myself up for what I’d said.
I was so happy to have my little house and my little family and my little garden. I was so happy to be a stay-at-home mom and to have a husband who was such a good man. I was so happy that somehow I had broken the cycle and created a different life for myself and my kids. I was so happy that they had a life that was so different than what mine was. But I look back now and I realize, I was not comfortable in my own skin. **Not comfortable in my own skin** Such a short little sentence, but it carries so much.
So what happened? The short version- I got sick. The medium version- After the birth of my first son my hands went wonky. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. Then while I was pregnant with my second son, I started having excruciating pain in my feet. It was very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to walk. Sometimes I crawled. Then, while giving birth to my son, I had a flashback from when I was raped when I was 16 that turned into a full-blown reliving of it while I labored and pushed my sweet baby out. It is difficult to describe the horror of that.
Even now, all these years later, it gives me a yucky chill and a sick feeling in my stomach. It is like a nightmare, to be doing this beautiful thing of having your baby and having the natural birth you wanted, and end up reliving your rape. Afterwards, I realized that I had postpartum depression but I did not realize that I also had a severe case of PTSD. My mind was my own personal hell and there was no getting away from it. The flashbacks were so awful and endless. Relentless.
My physical pain got worse and worse to the point that I could hardly function. I could not set my bare feet down and I wore shoes all the time, even in the shower. I had insomnia. I was tormented by flashbacks. I felt terrified and anxious all the time. I was depressed and suicidal. I was consumed with guilt that my children got stuck with me for a mother and my husband had me for a wife. Getting on an anti-depressant helped with the most severe mental and emotional symptoms that I was struggling with, but there was no break from the pain. In time I became terribly addicted to my pain medication and I didn’t even know it. I didn’t think I was using it to get high, just to lessen the pain enough to function. To be able to stand and walk. To perform the normal daily tasks that require a person to stand and to walk.
Little did I know that I wasn’t just relying on its ability to numb my physical pain, but also to numb my mind. When the doctor brought up the subject of a morphine pump for me, I was terrified. And horrified. I am thankful it never came to that but I wonder now how much worse it would’ve been than the morphine, norco, muscle relaxer cocktail I was on. I couldn’t believe what my life and my body had become.
After 4 years of this, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I cut gluten from my life and began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I reduced my pain medication and had withdrawals. I fell apart and ended up having a complete emotional breakdown. I fought a hellish battle to get off opiates that included rehab and being away from my family. The rebound pain was terrible and my body wasn’t used to be used. My feet couldn’t handle being touched, much less walked on. The use of my hands came back pretty organically but my feet and legs had to relearn how to be feet and legs. As for my mind and spirit, I was so fortunate to do 6 months of work at a trauma center doing intense, but caring, therapies that included EMDR, somatic work, neurofeedback, mindfulness, and yoga. From there, I have continued to face and work through my complex trauma with my amazing therapist.
Kinda hard to look at that last paragraph. One paragraph. One paragraph for a year of hell after addiction, pain, and PTSD. A year of finding my way back. So……
This training is right in line with the physical, emotional, and mental work I have been doing the last 2.5 years. I am blown away (and incredibly grateful) by just how in line, and by how deeply this training changed me, and how healing it was for me. Reading about my life and my experiences in our texts was so affirming for me. All my highlights in In an Unspoken Voice are like hugs of reassurance that tell me what I’ve felt and gone through in regard to my experiences is normal. The aftermath of my experiences is normal. My highlights in Buddha’s Brain are my direction and my hope. My highlights in A Path with Heart are just like the sweetest breeze blowing through me- they touch the most gentle and knowing part of my soul. They touch the parts of me that I like most and say, “Here, this is how I will feed you. This is how I will take care of you.”
In Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson says, “Nurturing your own development helps others too. It benefits your mind and everyone whose life you touch.” I feel that is first and foremost how this training impacted me and will help me to teach others. It has always been second nature for me to deny my own needs and feelings. I’m not doing that so much anymore. I am taking better care of myself and I am so thankful that I will be better able to help others by doing so. Because of this training I am better able to sit with the discomforts of life. I feel like it sounds so simple and small but it is huge for me. There has been a shift and I am not only taking better care of myself, I’m doing it without guilt. I’m kinder to myself and I allow myself to be human.
In this training I have learned how to better love myself, and I see myself loving others better because of it. I am more centered and clear. I am handling life in a more balanced way. I am able to show up for others with more presence. While I have the same love and compassion in my heart, if I get dysregulated and upset I do it without spinning out or falling into darkness. I am not dissociating from things that hurt.
Thank you so much, Julian. I am forever changed. And I will take this change and reach out beyond my family, beyond my closest loved ones, and share all that I can. I have a new level of courage and confidence to go forward and do so.
Proud Ahemskie, 2017