Continuing with self-care February I am sharing a beautifully written guest blog from the lovely Elisabeth Corey. Elizabeth talks about the importance of going back to basics when it comes to self care, and reflects upon how important remembering to breathe and eat has been for her throughout her journey of recovery. It is a beautiful and inspiring read that I know you will enjoy.
Elisabeth is a survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking and sex abuse. Her education in social work and her personal experiences as a survivor inform her intimate dialogue about the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of trauma recovery, which she discusses on her blog at BeatingTrauma.com. She writes about breaking the cycle of abuse through conscious parenting, navigating intimate relationships as a survivor, balancing the memory recovery process with daily life, coping with self-doubt, and overcoming the physical symptoms of a traumatic childhood. She guides other survivors as they navigate life and parenting with private sessions, workshops and a forum. She also works with media and organizations through her workshops, writing, and speaking. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
There is a problem with the human experience. We don’t have a point of reference. We have only known one reality. And that one reality may not be the best way to live a life. I am finding that despite all of my efforts to recover, and the progress I have made, I still have some habits that aren’t healthy. They aren’t conscious habits. In fact, I didn’t know they were a problem. But lately, I am starting to realize that I need to make changes … fundamental changes to the way I live.
First, I have to start breathing. I know that sounds a little crazy. I rarely think about it. I don’t think many people do. But I don’t breathe … not really anyway. I probably use about 10% of my lung capacity. I know there are several reasons for this. When I was a colicky baby, my father would suffocate me to stop my crying. I was also strangled a few times during my childhood. As a defense mechanism, I learned to take in as little air as possible. As a child, it seemed like a good way to stay alive. If I am not breathing, but still living, nobody can hurt me by taking away my ability to breathe. It seemed reasonable.
But there are other reasons. As a child, I was sick a lot. I had pneumonia and other lung illnesses more times than I can count. In addition, my immune system was too shut down to fight these illnesses because I was always in “fight or flight” mode. I believe that my lungs have been inundated with toxins for quite some time. And I have learned to work around it.
But breathing well also requires cooperation. I haven’t wanted to breathe. I learned how to dissociate at a very young age. The physical effects of dissociation include slowing down the breathing and the blood flow. This prepares the body to experience less pain when under attack. Put another way, if I am dissociated, I am not present. I am somewhere else. In extreme cases, I am watching circumstances unfold from afar.
If I am breathing deeply, I have to be present. I cannot be dissociated and present. Coming back to the present moment has been one of the most challenging aspects of my recovery journey. If I am present, I cannot ignore the memories of my past that need to be addressed. I cannot avoid the pain. In order to breathe, I have to face whatever part of my past is still behind the curtain.
And then, there is food. My family used to withhold food. Sometimes, it was withheld on purpose because I had done something “wrong”. Sometimes, food was withheld by default because they were neglectful. Once again, my child had the perfect solution. I learned to take in as few calories as possible and still function. I also learned to sleep instead of eat. I could sleep through some very intense feelings of hunger. I wasn’t anorexic, but definitely a bit underdeveloped. I weighed 100 pounds at high school graduation. I finally reached a reasonable weight after leaving home. For me, the freshman fifteen became the freshman twenty-five.
Even though I am no longer living in that environment, I still have bad habits. When I get stressed, I will choose to sleep instead of eat. After my children were born, I skipped so many meals in an effort to get sleep that I dropped to 105 pounds. I was completely emaciated. Although I have gained the weight back, I have been known to eat a quick snack and call it dinner. I don’t always eat the nutrition necessary to keep going at full potential. Honestly, I am not sure what full potential feels like. I don’t think I have ever known it. I have spent too much of my life trying to get air and nourishment … trying to stay alive. I can’t do all that I am capable of doing because there is nothing to fuel it.
So I need to go back to the basics. I need to give myself the opportunity to breathe and eat good food. I need to go back to what matters most. I need to find that stable foundation.
I will care for myself.
By caring for myself, I will transform myself.
And by transforming myself, I will change the world.
Originally posted at beatingtrauma.com