Mindful Trauma is Hard with a Mind Full of Trauma

My favorite color thinking is black and white.

And mindfulness is all rainbow complex.

I’m a resistant recruit to this be here now stuff.

It feels so impossible at times when the past is a race car  endlessly looping in my nervous system.

Learning to get out of survival mode is like driving through life in reverse. The roads are the same but the concentration required is brutal. Especially when the scenery is not tropical beach but the destroyed aftermath of disaster.

It’s not the driving that’s hard – it’s paying attention.

I was hurt, wounded and traumatized in childhood – like countless others. It wasn’t a bad day in a rough year but a way of life. It wasn’t violent episodes on two holidays.

I don’t say that for pity but to explain why the impact is lasting.

Developmental trauma is muggy neglect that permeates the house and family and makes breathing, sleeping and childhood sticky and difficult.0313141019-1

Who wants to dive in, lean in or be with all that?

It was hard enough to survive. Why would I voluntarily make space to allow or invite old feelings, memories and sensations?

Give me break-the-silence stories or tell-it-like-it-is memoir – that’s what I prefer.

Show me fighter who punched the shit out of PTSD and left it bloodied in the ring and walked out.

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Show me someone who went from pissed-off-injured-chip-on-the-shoulder-seen crap crisis and arrived at sane-happy-attached-intimate-normal.

I want that.

I want change and hope and peace.

Mindfulness promises all these things but the process of transforming can seem boring, dubious and slow.

Sit…

Breathe…

Watch thoughts…

Allow feelings…

What the hell is this molasses nonsense?

I want the crash course on healing and being whole and feeling good, strong and empowered.lotus

I want the guts and grueling details of getting through and over pain. I want it from people from who have been there and done it. I do not want more soft-eyed social workers who only read about horror in text books. Or use us as their textbooks.

Childhood was hole that didn’t get filled. I want cement poured fast.

But it doesn’t work like that.

Books like Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening imply I need to explore the empty space and loss rather than rush to fill it.

F’ that is how I have honestly felt for a long time. F’ it hard.

Too much life was seeping out the holes and cracks. I didn’t want to wait another second.

I didn’t get how silence and stillness and patience could help me even a little with post-trauma symptoms.

In truth, the only reason I kept reading him and others such as Pema Chodron, Rick Hanson, Cheri Huber and Tara Brach was this:

Every trauma survivor with an abuse history who had and any measure of joy or health swore up and down about yoga, meditation or some inhabited and embodied way of being.

They went on and on about nutrition, self-care, deep relaxation, creativity. It seemed like blah. blah. blah. At first.picjumbo.com_IMG_6387

But they appealed to me.

They seemed sort of normal and at ease and like they liked themselves and life.

And other people.

I hated everyone and everything.

A lot.

I couldn’t not listen. I interviewed or studied them.

They swore the answers are within and in the body-mind-spirit which isn’t traumatizable. This is a message confused and bugged me as it drew me in.

I was afraid to leave my brain and even though I was fed up with trying so hard to heal and not getting very far.

Talk therapy had cost too much time and money and delivered excuses more than growth.

I went for decades assuming I was doing it wrong rather than understanding it was a lousy method alone for treating traumatic stress.

Can I get a talk therapy recall? Sure, it helped me understand why I was a hamster in a cage spinning in a circle. It did not help me get off the wheel. It didn’t help me stop circling or cycling.file391291214178

Mindfulness has.

But I resisted because I didn’t want to be here now.

I wanted the future not the present.

I wanted a life better than the one I had.

If I could have been ejected into a future where I was healed I’d have signed up for that. Forget Mars – I wanted the spaceship to serenity.

I wanted cures and solution to deliver me from agitated angst.

Mindfulness was not a first choice but a last resort.Dandelions in Sunlight

It can seem ridiculously slow and hard, like air drying clothes or simmering food in a crock pot. Fine when all is going well and there’s time. Silly, time-consuming and stupid if you’re cold, hungry and in a hurry.

Trauma survivors are cold, hungry and in a hurry. This is a difficult space from which to start a mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is abstract – like modern art. For a long time, it seemed suited to rich people who already felt pretty great and great about themselves.

This kept me at a distance.

Mindfulness didn’t seem meant for those who had to work and scrap and didn’t have extra money, time or internal resources.0313141030c-1

Slowing down, centering and returning to my body to inhabit it are most difficult when I’m most stressed. I’ve wrestled with fears too:

What if I lose my toughness?

What if I’m fighting for my life and I’ve got no muscle?

What if I can’t bite or cut and need to get get free from cages and rope?

 

Mindfulness has never been intuitive, easy or fast. Change has been incremental without any dramatic before and afters.

And yet… the longer I’m alive the more I see the benefits.

It takes practice and patience and I’m not perfect at both. But the benefits are real!

web sunflower 3

I’ve been able to see how my survival-skill way of living keeps me at war and prevent me from feeling peace.

I’m out of actual danger now. Still, I look for or pick fights and stalk injustice.

I expect to me betrayed and scan for danger rather than soaking in joy.

Sometimes it makes me political and an agitator for the underdog.

Sometimes it makes me the dude at the bar looking to throw punches.

“The courage to hear and embody opens us to a startling secret, that the best chance to be whole is to love whatever gets in the way, until it ceases to be an obstacle.” Mark Nepo

I no longer see self-care, acceptance, self-love and surrender as lollipops of weakness loser-type-people cling to and suck on.sunflower 4

These things would not have happened had I not slowed down and allowed myself to understand my symptoms.

I always come back knowing there is no magic other answer.

It’s about how I live now.

Healing is the practice of simple things.

Sitting while eating.

No waiting 9 hours to empty the bladder.

Using plates rather than eating out of cartons.

Not leaving the gas tank in the car or the self always on empty.

Practicing saying no and yes.

I breathe in and out at a stop light sometimes. Once in a while I smell the lavender on my way in the house. The dog gets walks and romps not empty promises only.1278794_10201996997437297_953583868_o(1)

These things can be more difficult than fighting, running and spiraling in circles.

Taking a simple inhale and a longer exhale can be more challenging than hunting cures, answers or relief.

Slowing down for trauma survivors is not obvious or easy.

Often, it feels risky, stupid and dangerous.

Unlearning survival-style coping is challenging.

Recognizing what is optimal is different than avoiding danger.

Mindfulness for me has not been instant easy access to stress-free living. But it constantly offers me clues and respite.

Like today, I had a moment at yoga. I realized and felt my skin. I heard the teacher say, “let go of what doesn’t serve you.” I could close my eyes and tolerate being adjusted. I could handle the sound of people breathing. sea glass seaglass with ocean , beach and seascape

I know that when I tune out and stop paying attention it doesn’t mean I suck at human. It just means I got  distracted or scared. I can always try again.

I’m giving up the ways of thinking, being and approaching life that got me through violence. Those ways don’t help me at all when life is calm, stable and abundant.

To flourish in peace I need to change the way I war with:

words – people – pain – the world – myself.

I’ve had to learn how to cry, to recognize, allow and even invite feelings. With guided meditations I’ve learned sadness won’t kill me or make me crazy, violent or a junkie, but might actually help heal me.

When I cry I feel release. After the release I’m a better mother, friend, lover and feel calm inside.

It does not feel natural but it does feel necessary.HealWriteNow

Slowing to putter, ponder and meander can feel wonderful and agonizingly unfamiliar.

I’m breaking with the past and out of survival-only living.

It’s not easy but it’s wonderful.

If you know a trauma survivor new to the mindfulness train maybe get up, go over and show them how to sit.

Chances are they’ll be the ones by the door, eyes on the exits and ready to bolt. They aren’t rude or in a hurry. They’re just afraid.

Be patient. And kind. Smile and welcome them. They aren’t used to that. Yet…
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You Matter Mantras

  • Trauma sucks. You don't.
  • Write to express not to impress.
  • It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
  • Breathing isn't optional.

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Comments

  1. This resonates with me! I to am the survivor of childhood trauma – life with a violent, neglectful, angry, unapproachable drunk for a father. He believed I would grow up and take him out to the backyard and beat the crap out of him like his father did. Imagine his surprise when I told him at 18yrs old, barely 135lbs to his 245, that I had, and never did, no intention of trying to hurt him! He actually cried. It was one of the few times I ever saw him do so. We made our peace that evening ending years of gut wrenching, cold sweat generating, speach stopping fear for me. He’s been dead 14yrs now and I miss him. It’s oddly appropriate that I should read this post tonight on Father’s Day.

    I was molested by the manipulative, narcissistic, a-hole step-father of a young woman I was dating – he’s a character that continues to replicate over and over in my life just begging me to deal with him and the trauma. F’that indeed! I almost always fight…

    Couple that with the growing confusion, terror, and outright misery of maturing into the physical form of a man when I should have been developing breasts and hips, starting my menses, and exploring what it means to be a woman. Instead, I hid all of that from everyone trying to spare them the shame of having a transsexual in their lives – the word transgender didn’t exist in those days. The only transsexual role models I had were Frankenfurter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Klinger from M.A.S.H., and bosom buddies. F’that too! If that was what it meant the answer was F no. I wouldn’t live a life of shame and ridicule!

    Staying here now is something I struggle with daily as my trip down memory lane demonstrates. I’ve practiced meditation for many years now and, while I have done other types of static and fluid poses like I-Chin-Ching, Tai-Chi, Ho-Tien-Chi, and Chi-Kung, I have never tried yoga. I think I’d enjoy it. However, being satisfied with what is here and now without thought of the past or future is where I find happiness – when I do. A challenge to be sure but, as you suggest, the rewards are well worth the effort!

    Namaste’

    • Cissy White says:

      Fiona,
      It’s maddening to me that the human psyche repeats or replays or tries to work out dynamics that started during trauma. I mean I get why and have compassion (most of the time) for how it happens. It’s happened to me as well. But that doesn’t mean I don’t find it maddening too.

      The peace you made with your Dad is rather astounding and maybe – rare. Or if not rare not written or talked about much. WOW. How transformative. I’m sorry you lost him but glad (if that’s not weird to say) you had a relationship worth missing. I like to believe that good lives forever and that’s why love can never be wasted. I wish that meant I was always loving and could forgive more easily. I forgive more easily than I ever have. That’s progress. But there’s a LONG way to go for me.

      The yoga helps everything feel fine in the now and not urgent or rushed. I can get frantic and racing and have trouble enjoying what’s right here and amazing. Yoga helps me slow into appreciation gear and you know – breathing.

      Thanks for reading. I’ve been enjoying more of your website which I’ve dipped into of late.

      I have not read before of missing puberty and growing into a woman’s body. Thank you for sharing that detail. It’s one I won’t forget. Have you written about that? It’s powerful.

      Thanks again for popping over here on the site. Welcome. Cissy

  2. juli mcclanahan says:

    I wish for peace

  3. Jana Rupnow says:

    I so so appreciated and related to this. I lost 15 years of my life in and out of mental institutions that were human warehouses full of human atrocities due to things like family jealousies combined with unethical behavior, cronyism and corruption…..and as a result everything i lost everything both tangible and intangible including my business and livlihood, home and rental property, mental andphysical health…but worst of all my relationships and credibilty. I am, when i can afford the money for gas going to a Tergar Meditation group in Madison Wisconsin sponsored by Richard Davidson who is actually not just the director of the neuroscience lab Waisman at the UW but one of the main researchers on meditation and the origins of the mindful movement. The mental health system is largely nothing but parasite phonys and bullys who as far as im concerned are one of the worst things that ever happened to me with all their so called treatment i call slander and abuse….a psychologist, my sister and a doctor actually were the firsts that led to my trauma thru viscious lies and GASLIGHTING. I had felony crimes committed against me by 2 District Attorneys and others as well in my family who the system enabled to abuse me. I am the one who got locked up and they were the criminals. My digestive system is trashed. I had to become my own doctor, lawyer, investigator and pretty much everything else in my life where i live alone with 4 cats. Even friendships are extremely stressful after all the ostrification shunning distortion and fabrication among other things. IABSOLUTELY DESPISE HAVING TO BE DEPENDENT ON ANYTHING OR ANYONE BUT I AM JUST ABOVE DESTITUTE AND WOULD NO DOUBT BE DEAD IF IT WASNT FOR A FEW PEOPLE WHO MAY NOT UNDERSTAND BUT STILL CARE AND HELPED ME ESCAPE THE SYSTEM. I AM TRYING TO START A HEALTH COOPERATIVE COLLECTIVE. I dont know if you are familiar with Bessel Van Der Kolk who has a trauma institute in Massachusetts….He wrote a book called …The Body Keeps The Score…Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. As far as im concerned far more harm is being done by the major mental illness professions not just to patients but in terms of brain washing society into seeing a normal range of emotions as a spectrum of disease…infantalising and pathologising. Calling Injury an illness. And bullshitting the masses into believing they are this warm and fuzzy place with people who have answrrs. As far as im concerned theyre largely like The Portrait of Dorian Gray smearing THEIR ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY from their own lives, experience and education all over everyone else. Playing sick mind games they call treatment, forcing you to take horrible drugs that i consider poison. Im sick of having SHIT FOR BRAINS trying to run my life with priveledge above the law they dont deserve. Nit only did they collude with the bullies in my family and totally disregard getting any facts about what happened such as serious lies and gaslighting or even find out simple things about me ie. who i am, my abilities, mental acuity or even just a factual history of my background because theyre all so FUCKING ARROGANT about themselves…they actually love using my family for doing their dirty work…ive met more trash in the mental health system amd legal systems than anywhere else ever. And they all project all their own shit on me while violating the ethics of their own profession. Scumbags above the law. Dehumanizing me and others to justify and rationalise theyre bad behavior and actual criminal acts like perjury false imprisonment, slander, false diagnosis, lieing on legal affadavits, obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence including bastardising records, wreckless endangerment of life, and financial, emtional abuse and blackmail…while they constantly try to slander the victim to shut me up and set me up to cover their own asses for what they did. State Scum and County Crud plus some…including the Dept. Of. Health who doesnt want anyone knowing how many quacks they have licensed and keep throwing more money at the problem not the solution…under the radar, behind closed doors and coffee shop legal maneuvering and schmoozimg of the dime a dozen crooked cronys. The regulatory agencies are in bed with the people they regulate and conning the people to believe their protecting the public. They are the murderers. Go to cchr.org. And yes i admit theyre a bit overboard but alot of good facts non the less. And i cant say i totally agree with anything ever ….but in general they are probably closer to the truth than the package of goods sold to the public. Sorry for venting but because of my health i get so angry thinking on top of all the abuse, lies and years theyve stolen from me…theyre going to get away with another murder…me. meanwhile they project that on me too. Theyre the ones that are dangerous to societies misconceptions, our mental and physical health, our civil liberties and causing all kinds of horrendous acts beimg committed by people who are not up to the ability or have a support that is to stand up to a systematic abuse. Not everyone has the mental acuity or other support and abilities to become their own doctor, lawyet, advocate, knvestigator. I feel like im cramming for about a humdred tests at a time.

    • Cissy White says:

      Jana:
      I can feel the hurt and anger and that line “I feel like I’m cramming for a hundred tests at a time,” – WOW. I was just thinking/writing today about how or if it’s even possible to be a peaceful activist. Does activism always come from agitation and protest and demanding change in the face of injustice? I don’t pretend to know all the answers but I understand how emotional it can be, is and feel.

      Have you been on the Mad in America website? So much of what you’ve shared I have started to hear and learn more about on that site. There are some incredible writers and people doing fabulous advocacy. I’m sorry for all of your pain and losses.
      Thanks for commenting, reading and visiting. Cissy

  4. Becky Abel says:

    Thanks

  5. I always thought my thoughts of : if I were homeless where would I find shelter, how would I survive, or defend myself; when I am in a restaurant I sit facing the door and map out an exit strategy in my mind in case a gunman comes in; or, how will I defend myself if I am attacked while (fill in the blank)…were just things I did.

    I understand the need for constant noise so my mind can’t rest and think and just be.

    I will need to look into mindfulness.

    Thank you for writing this and to my cousin who posted this on her FB page.

    • Cissy White says:

      I am so glad my writing this helped you have more compassion for your own self and scanning for danger. I’m glad you told me it was helpful to you as well. Thank you for that. Cissy

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