THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE

I loved this book by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.  I just finished listening to it yesterday, though during the middle of it, I ordered the actual book, too.  I knew it was one I’d want to have and be able to reference.  It was a tough listen as times, but it explained a lot of what I’ve been through and continue to go through.

 

 

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What makes this book even more relevant to me is the fact that it was just published in 2014, which means it has the latest information about trauma that is available.

The inside dust jacket has this to say about Dr. Van Der Kolk and the book:

“This profoundly humane book offers a sweeping new understanding of the causes and consequences of trauma, offering hope and clarity to everyone touched by its devastation.  Trauma has emerged as one of the great public health challenges of our time, not only because of its well-documented effects on combat veterans and on victims of accidents and crimes, but because of the hidden toll of sexual and family violence and of communities and schools devastated by abuse, neglect and addiction.

Drawing on more than thirty years at the forefront of research and clinical practice, Bessel Van Der Kolk shows that the terror and isolation at the core of trauma literally reshape both brain and body.  New insights into our survival instincts explain why traumatized people experience incomprehensible anxiety and numbing and intolerable rage, and how trauma affects their capacity to concentrate, to remember, to form trusting relationships, and even to feel at home in their own bodies.  Having lost the sense of control of themselves and frustrated by failed therapies, they often fear that they are damages beyond repair.

THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE is the inspiring story of how a group of therapists and scientists–together with their courageous and memorable patients–has struggled to integrate recent advances in brain science, attachment research and body awareness into treatments that can free trauma survivors from the tyranny of the past.  These new paths to recovery activate the brain’s natural neuroplasticity to rewire disturbed functioning and rebuild step-by-step the ability to ‘know what you know and feel what you feel.’  They also offer experiences that directly counteract the helplessness and invisibility associated with trauma, enabling both adults and children to reclaim ownership of their bodies and their lives.

Readers will come away from this book with awe at human resilience and at the power of our relationships–whether in the intimacy of home or in our wider communities–to both hurt and heal.”

What this book also showed me is the things I did, EMDR, yoga, to name just two, were the ‘right’ ones to undertake and have contributed mightily in my healing process.  I also realize I still have more healing to do –dang it– but that it is possible to rewire the neuro pathways in my brain even more than I’m sure they have already been rewired.  It is a process and as much as I want it to be finished, the simple truth is it’s not.  I think, too, that for people who are on a healing path, it is lifelong endeavor, whether you suffered a traumatic childhood event, a devastating car accident, the death of a child or spouse, or just the day-to-day living of life that can sometimes be unbelievably difficult.  I’m realizing more and more that we are never really finished.  As I always told my therapist, I do not have a choice in this.  I have to keep moving forward.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has suffered a traumatic event personally or knows of someone who has.  The knowledge and insights you will gain will be invaluable to understanding the why of how trauma affects the body and mind.

 

WARRIOR POSE

I just finished reading, (yes, I actually had to read it as it is not available on audio), this book, and it is amazing.  AMAZING!  It is Brad Willis AKA Brava Ram’s autobiography, the story of his life as a war correspondent, how a devastating injury changed his life and the unbelievable power of the mind to heal.

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Warrior Pose is Indiana Jones merged with Gautama Buddha…a miraculous affirmation of the power of self-healing, a war story, a love story and a spiritual journey of epic proportion.  It is your story, my story, the human story.”  ~Dr. Emmett Miller, Pioneer of Mind-Body Medicine

Also from the book jacket:

“From covering the front lines of the Gulf War to investigating Colombian drug lords to living with freedom fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan, war correspondent Brad Willis was accustomed to risk.  But when mortal danger came, it was from an unexpected. direction.

At the pinnacle of his career, a broken back and failed surgery left Willis permanently disabled and condemned to a life in a body brace.  Then came a diagnosis of terminal, stage IV throat cancer.

At his 50th birthday party, friends gathered around Willis, who was crippled, almost mute, depressed, strung out on narcotic medications, and dying.  Halfway through the celebration Willis realized the party’s true purpose–his friends were there to say goodbye.

Everyone knew Willis was on his way out…everyone except his 2-year-old son, who urged, “Get up, Daddy!”

His son’s words ringing in his ears, Willis chose to abandon Western medicine and embrace the most esoteric practices of Yoga to heal his body, mind and soul–ridding himself of cancer and fully restoring his back.  As a symbol of his journey, he took the spiritual name Bhava Ram, which stands for “Living From The Heart.”

Warrior Pose is an adventure chronicling some of the most momentous events of our time through a journalist’s eyes, an unforgettable story about the power of love between a father and son, and a transformational journey of self-healing, inner peace and wholeness.”

Candace Pert, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, RAPID Laboratories, Inc; author of Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d and Molecules of Emotion: The Scientific Basis Behind Mind-Body Medicine had this to say about the book:

“Remarkable recoveries and miraculous healing of incurable cancers and other terminal disease have been the topic of many recent books.  Bhava, born Brad Willis, has written the most exciting, original and vividly relevant book yet on this topic.  Its concise, hard-hitting prose makes a page turner about the shockingly grim world behind the nightly news as revealed to a top television reporter.  Ram ignores his progressive physical collapse, stuffing his feelings and internal life to focus entirely on his macho career.  Using his fierce will to survive and strong intellect to question medical authority, Bhava draws inspiration from the miracle of his son Morgan, halts his self-sabotaging habits, chooses ‘right living,’ and heals himself via a selfless emotional life dedicated to teaching and healing others.”

I have said before that yoga was instrumental in my healing process, that it definitely contributed to saving my life during my healing process from my sexual assault, and it was and it did.  I am in awe of just how dedicated and determined Brad Willis was to save his own life and transform himself into Bhava Ram.  I highly recommend this book.

 

TIME CHANGE

Most everyone set their clocks back an hour this past Sunday.  It is my favorite day of the year.  Whenever I tell people this, they look at me like I’ve lost my mind.  The reason it’s my favorite day is the day seems endless.  Or at least it used to when I’d wake up at my usual time, but instead of it being 5a, it was now 4a, and I’d get up and walk for 2 hours, which is 8 or so miles, and when I’d get it home, it was only 6a.  The entire day would go like that.  It would seem so much later and it would only be, like 10:30a.  Now, though, because I don’t really walk in the dark anymore, when I wake up super early, I don’t want to get up, because, really, what am I going to do?  This last Sunday, I woke up and realized I couldn’t get up and walk, not because of the darkness, though it wouldn’t be that way for long, but because I have beach yoga on Sunday mornings at 9:30 and I walk to it, which is about 2 miles.  And then afterwards I walk home.  So I am getting a nice walk and yoga, and a 4-6 mile walk before that seemed silly.  So I went back to pretend sleep.  Pretend sleep is what I do when I don’t want to get out of bed because it’s either dark or cold or both.  I’m beginning to think I was a bear in a past life, and that’s why all I want to do these days is hibernate.

It is very strange, but before the time changes, and before we have nighttime temps in the 50s, I have no problem getting up.  Now, it’s a completely different story.  I so do not want to get out of bed because it’s cold, freezing actually, in my house.  It doesn’t help that I have to sleep with my ceiling fan on to help with my stupid hot flashes, so not only is the house cold (no insulation, typical in old California houses) because it’s cold outside, I have the extra breeziness from my fan making it even colder.  In past years, I used to sleep with my workout clothes on so that all I had to do on our chilly mornings was put my shoes on, that way avoiding being naked to get dressed.  If I tried that now, I would cook myself, even without the electric blanket because of those stupid hot flashes I already mentioned.  It is quite a dilemma.

I also realize that any of you reading this while living someplace other than Southern California, someplace where it is actually cold, will probably be rolling your eyes and saying this isn’t cold.  I’ll be the first to agree that it isn’t cold, but I am the world’s biggest wimp when it comes to being cold.  Besides, it’s all relative.  I lived in Chicago for 10 years, so I definitely know cold, and this is, of course, nothing even close to that.  However, it’s cold for here and especially after the really hot weather we have had since we began May with 2 separate heat waves.  And this week it is hot again.  I know, I know, poor us, right?  Well, if you lived here, you’d understand.  This picture I found on Facebook might help explain it a little better:

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And I am not afraid to say I did this on Tuesday.  And I wore two jackets to beach yoga.  Of course, once I got over to the beach and into the sunshine, it was warmer. Clearly,  it doesn’t bother me to look like a dork.  I would have worn my slippers, but I don’t want to get sand in or on them.

I digress…back to the time changing…I’ve decided that it may no longer be my favorite day of the year.  I love that it is light earlier, but I do not like that it is dark by 5:30p and that will only get worse until we reach 21 December, which by the way is not the shortest day of the year.  It may be the day with the least amount of daylight, but every day is 24 hours, regardless of the light or lack thereof.  Anyway, getting up when it is dark and cold is just too much for me.  And I do it anyway.  Just this morning (and Tuesday) I met a friend to walk at 5a.  According to my phone it was 61 degrees, though my thermometer said it was about 10 degrees colder.  I didn’t look at it until I got back though, so thinking it was above 60, I wore a skort.  I was fine because we walk fast.  Now, though, I am trying to decide if I can keep it on or if I should put yoga pants on; not long pants, mind you, because it isn’t that cold…yet.   I am sitting here, wrapped in a blanket, freezing, while writing this, but it is sunny outside and going up into the high 80s again today, so even if it is little chilly on my bike ride over to the beach, the actual beach should be warm enough.  I know I have tough decisions to make, but someone has to live here and deal with this kind of stuff on a daily basis!

YES, I SURVIVED, AND NOW I’M READY TO THRIVE!!!

Three years ago today my life change in ways I could never have imagined.  Two years ago today I started this website to tell my story.  From the very beginning of this incredible journey, I was always very clear on what had to happen in order for me to move forward, to be able to truly put this behind me and get on with my life.  It has taken far longer than anyone ever thought it would.  I like to think I’m completely finished with my healing process, and then BAM, something happens that shows me I’m not quite there yet.  Apparently there isn’t a formula that I can plug all my info into and get a read out that tells me exactly when I’ll be all better.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Perhaps it is something I will be dealing with, at least to a degree, and when I least expect it, for the rest of my life.  As much as I’d like it to be something that I can simply forget, that doesn’t seem to be the way these things work.

In the interest of honoring myself and my body, on this day of all days, I chose to hike up Cowles Mountain this morning.  I have only done it one other time, 3 1/2 years ago, and today seemed like the day it was important for me to do it again.  At 1593′, it is the highest point in San Diego.  The hike is only 1.5 miles, with an elevation change of 950′.  I got to the top in about 25 minutes.  The picture below is the view part way up.

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This is the view from the top looking west.

IMG_3452 And this is the view to the east.

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It was a beautiful morning, though I wish I had started just a bit earlier.  There were tons of  people going up and down.  I saw several that did the climb more than once.  I thought about it, but decided there was no need in overdoing it, as I am ever so fond of doing.  Tonight I will go to a restorative yoga class at Mosaic in Golden Hill.  Tomorrow I will do my beloved beach yoga with Danell Dwaileebe.  And then I have another appointment with Marsha Bliss, an extraordinarily gifted energy healer.  This is what I posted on Yelp about my session with her last week:  “I have been dealing with the after-effects of a sexual assault for the last 3 years, and though I am almost completely through it, there is still some residual ‘stuff’ hanging on. Since I have been to Marsha a couple of times in the past, knew that she would be able to help me again. My appointment yesterday exceeded even my wildest expectations! I do not understand HOW it works, but trust me when I tell you that it DOES work! By the time she was finished with me, I was literally floating. The only ‘bad’ thing was I had to get in the car and drive home. The feeling stayed with me the rest of the day, and I am still feeling it this morning. Whatever your issue is, I highly recommend that you go and see Marsha Bliss of Bliss Connections.”

(You better believe I am looking forward to my appointment tomorrow!)

This is what I wrote in my journal this morning, part of which I shared on Facebook:

6:28a  After reading my email and posting on Facebook, I’m off to hike Cowles Mountain.  It is a tribute to myself and to all those who have suffered a sexual assault.  Today is a GREAT day!  It is a testament to those who have survived and those who are still struggling to heal.  Today is the third anniversary of my sexual assault.  I honor myself for surviving, and I honor all those who are still in the process of reclaiming their lives.  I am proof of what you can do if you don’t give up.  I celebrate the new me, who is stronger and more determined than ever to not let the worst few minutes of my life determine the rest of my life.  With enthusiasm I choose to move forward.  I choose love.  I am love.  I am loving.  I am lovable. I matter.  My attacker matters.  (Hard words to write, but nonetheless true.)  Without him I would not be where I am right now.  And where I am is in a very good place.  As the title of this post says…I did survive, and I am now ready to thrive!

Going all the way back to one of my very first posts two years ago, I put this quote:

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I have been changed.  I am anything but reduced by what happened to me, though.  I am so much more than I was, and as I already said, without this traumatic event, without a violent sexual assault, I simply would not be who I am today.  All the way up the mountain this morning I repeated STRONG, HEALTHY, HEALED and on the way down I said, I now release all my trauma, I now accept all my good.  It does feel like something has shifted in me.  I smiled the whole way home.  It feels like whatever might still be hanging on will be energetically erased by Marsha tomorrow.  Best of all, I can honestly say that I forgive DCD for what he did to me.  And even more importantly, I FORGIVE MYSELF!!!

 

YOGA AND HEALING

I started doing yoga in September of 2011.  While it is true that I had taken a few classes here and there, I never ‘got into it.’  However, when I took my first class at Coronado Yoga and Wellness, something clicked.  I will admit that during the first class, I thought, ‘this is so slow, I’m not sure I can do this.’  Then I admonished myself to relax and take it for what it was, that I didn’t have to go 100 miles an hour to benefit from something.  That did it for me.  I had had only 2, maybe 3 classes, when I was attacked.  I kept going back, though, even as my body and mind were in shock, and I had to be around people, and at that point, I was afraid of all people, I kept going.  I remember lying on the floor, wanting to cry and not being able to, going over and over in my mind what had happened and still not believing it had actually happened to me.  And even though my body was hurting, I continued to show up.  There is not a doubt in my mind that doing yoga was instrumental in my healing process.

I came upon this wonderful essay about just that and I emailed the author, Molly Boeder Harris, to ask if it was okay for me to reprint it here.  She graciously agreed.  She also has a web site that deals with sexual assault, www.thebreathenetwork.org.

 

Transcending the Trauma of Sexual Violence With Yoga
By Molly Boeder Harris
Photos by Michael Rioux

“Sexual violence can impact every facet of a survivor’s life, including her physical, mental, and spiritual health. Philosopher Ann Cahill captures the pervasive nature of the crime of rape in her book Rethinking Rape (2001), explaining, “As a traumatic, violent, embodied experience, rape…does not merely attack the victim’s sexuality, or her sense of safety, or her physical being. It does all of this, and more. It cannot be assumed that there is one aspect of that person’s being that is untouched by the experience of rape. There is no pristine, untouched corner to which to retreat…the extent of the rapist’s influence is broad, but not infinite…the self that emerges from the process of healing will always be qualitatively and profoundly different from the self that existed prior to the assault. To know oneself.as raped, is to become a different self.”
Healing after sexual assault requires intentionality, consistency, and patience. The challenge of swimming against unexpected waves of physical, emotional, or spiritual disturbance and depression, combined with a cultural expectation that time heals all wounds, can leave survivors feeling disconnected from themselves and others and unable to trust their ability to manage their inner experience. The nonlinear and often lifelong process that begets healing can cause survivors to question their capacity for resilience.
Yoga provides an accessible, personalized practice that can engage survivors in safely processing sensation and sustain them through multiple stages of healing. Like healing, yoga is a lifelong practice , with ebbs and flows, breakthroughs and setbacks–all equally valuable and necessary. For a sexual assault survivor, an intentional yoga practice provides a safe, accessible, and self-directed space that serves to reintegrate body, mind, and spirit. As survivors explore layers of their being and allow sensation to emerge, pain and suffering are alleviated, and more space is created for encountering the awesome experience of being alive. Yoga allows survivors to regain a sense of comfort and ease within their own shape, to process nonverbally feelings that transcend language, and to experientially cultivate gratitude towards the body, which serve as a reminder of one’s resilience.

In practicing yoga, we link movement with breath and a presence of mind, offering a welcome inner quieting and release of tension that foster expansion. Yoga creates a unique environment where survivors can explore inside with kindness and inquisitiveness and develop attitudes that allow for compassionate responses. Honoring the body as a sacred space after surviving the violation of rape demands tremendous, consistent effort, but the integrated healing it provides remains unparalleled.
The belief that humans (and animals) contain an innate healing capacity–accessed through the body–is a guiding methodology in contemporary trauma treatment. Dr. Peter Levine, creator of a “body-awareness approach to trauma” called Somatic Experiencing ® , describes how our “instinct to heal [and] self-regulate [are] engaged through the awareness of body sensations that contradict those of paralysis and helplessness, and which restore resilience, equilibrium and wholeness.” Levine’s body-based method ” returns a sense of aliveness, relaxation and wholeness to traumatized individuals who have had these precious gifts taken away.” Pat Ogden, another trauma expert, describes the value of mindfulness, an integral part of her body-based psychotherapy practice, as a “state of consciousness in which one’s awareness is directed toward here-and-now internal experience, with the intention of simply observing rather than changing [the] experience.” Ogden eventually encourages the individual to “come out of a dissociated state and future or past-centered ideation and experience the present moment through the body.” This holistic system brings ” the body experience into the foreground” and offers the possibility for profound healing. The essential threads within these innovative techniques, such as body awareness, examining internal movement of feeling and sensation, staying present in the “here and now,” and bearing witness to one’s experience without judgment are qualities that rape victims can weave into a balanced, intentional yoga practice.
Since sexual violence often damages the connection with the body, body-based therapeutic practices are invaluable. Discussing the layered impact of trauma, which can heighten negative sensation and hinder positive sensation, Ogden describes how ” fully experiencing sensations may be disconcerting or.frightening, as intense physical experience may evoke feelings of being out of control or.weak and helpless. On the other hand, traumatized individuals are often dissociated from body sensation, experiencing the body as numb or anesthetized.”
Yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation techniques can effectively reduce the symptoms of rape trauma syndrome (RTS), a form of post traumatic stress disorder that was identified by Ann Wolbert Burgess and Lynda Lytle Holmstrom in 1974. RTS includes symptoms and reactions experienced by most survivors during, immediately following, and for months or years after the assault. RTS can involve psychological, physical, behavioral, cognitive, and interpersonal disruptions including headaches, anxiety, inability to concentrate/focus, sleeplessness, lethargy, anger, depression, mood irregularity, spiritual disconnection, hopelessness, fear/avoidance of intimacy and sexuality, eating disorders, self-injury, and substance abuse. Survivors navigate amidst hyperarousal, numbness, and vivid nightmares, causing a host of energetic imbalances and concerns.
Survivors may experience flashbacks upon some sort of sensory trigger, in which they feel as if the assault is happening all over again–and the physical and emotional responses can be quite visceral, if not debilitating. The embodied practice of yoga allows survivors to develop healthy coping and grounding techniques that can disrupt a flashback and reestablish stability. Since flashbacks may also happen due to perceived or real threats, this ability to track body sensation, which helps survivors experience present reality rather than reacting as if the trauma were still occurring is an essential tool to self-care, independence, and personal safety.

Given the challenges that individuals must brave after surviving sexual assault, it is clear that a comprehensive yoga practice involving organic movement, exploring sensation, intentional breathing, and deep rest can aid healing. A survivor benefits from the internal cleansing and freeing feeling of a vigorous vinyasa practice, as well as the profound comfort and spaciousness that accompanies a restorative sequence. The yoga practice can be tailored to support and enhance a survivor’s sense of embodiment, integration, and inner peace.
When the poet Adrienne Rich describes the healing power of poetry, it reminds me of the mysterious and boundless gifts that yoga can bring into a survivor’s life: “[I]t has al ways been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation” (“Defy the Space That Separates,” The Nation , October 7, 1996). W e are all essentially survivors, carrying the stories and scars of our Life’s path. Some of those scars still hurt us deeply, yet others have transformed us and informed new and beautiful journeys. As we trek along our paths of healing and growth, let us offer gratitude for the exquisite opportunity to discover embodiment, breath by breath, this precious and simple offering that the practice of yoga returns to us.”

 

I continue to do yoga 3-4 days a week, mostly yoga on the beach here in Coronado or outside on the grass in Pacific Beach.  It has made me stronger in all ways and I will have a yoga practice for the rest of my life.  I wish I had found it earlier in my life, but am incredibly grateful it came when it did.  It contributed greatly to the healing of my mind, body and spirit.