I cried while I was running today. When I first started seriously working out (swimming twice per day), I was on the cusp of some major breakthroughs in my life and I swam twice a day to cope with what I was losing (a codependent relationship, some unhealthy friendships, my own irresponsibility tendencies and emotional leeching). I didn’t know it then, but I was running from myself. It happened to be a rather healthy way to “escape” - or at least it seemed to be for me at the time. This was before I knew what I know now about nervous system healing, emotional scaffolding, titration, and the physiological survival response of trauma. I was doing what I could with what I had. I was trying to hold onto my core - or find my core self. Find my independence after being enmeshed with unhealthy parents and carrying that forward into my life as an adult with friendship and intimate relationship dynamics that mirrored the trauma bonds of my upbringing.
What I started realizing as I swam was that I would often be brought to tears. The swimming was actually activating my system and helping me release some of the procedural memories that were swimming around in my cells. It was helping me come out of the “functional freeze” response and release some movement to allow what I was running from to come to the surface. That must have been why I loved it so much - why I clung to it.
Fast forward years later when I started going to the gym as a practice - I noticed that after lifting weights and exhausting my body I would sometimes scream and cry in the car driving home. It wasn’t about a cognitive memory. It wasn’t attached to any particular emotion. It was visceral release. Energetic and physiological clearing that moved things back into place. It wasn’t something I was trying to do. It wasn’t being engineered it was just coming up.
For a while I was scared of it. “What’s wrong with me?” “This is too much” “I can’t handle this” - It felt like it was coming from an unknown foreign place within me. Even thought I knew it was right - my intuition knew - because afterward I felt like something had permanently moved up and out - I hadn’t built up the nervous system capacity to hold myself through the experience so sometimes I would rush it or compartmentalize it and try to push it down. But when I learned about Somatic Experiencing (Dr. Peter Levine’s modality for healing deep traumas at the nervous system level), I had the beautiful realization that my body and brain actually wanted to heal from the abuse and neglect of my childhood. The raw sensations and emotions I was experiencing weren’t an indicator of something wrong with me, but the signs of a body and brain that were finally receiving signals of safety and finding within myself a readiness to process some of that old pain.
I went through a period when everytime I would start to workout, I would experience a fragmentation, a deep resistance - which I later learned was a functional freeze (The “Dorsal Vagal” response discovered by Dr. Stephen Porges). And I would just start to cry - from my core place, and sometimes I would tremble, or feel the need to breathe out so loud. No particular emotion attached but a clearing - almost like a deep tissue/cell release. I had to work with my system through that period of time. Stopping when necessary. Dialing down the intensity of the exercise. Listening to my inner world and helping my body and brain using signals of safety, slowing down, and trusting myself unravel what was unravelling.
This is one of the MOST challenging things to understand about recovering from family dysfunction and childhood abuse and neglect of any kind. It’s actually not about “feeling better”. It’s just about feeling. PERIOD. From the body. From the core.
Before I started swimming twice a day, and working with an excellent practitioner all those years ago, I really didn’t even recognize what it really meant to FEEL. Because I spent my childhood in a perpetual state of freeze/dissociation. I was a ghost child. I was in pain and didn’t even know it. The disconnection was so vast. I never learned the skills to carry my emotional sensations THROUGH. So I pushed them up to my head. And pushed past that freeze to try and carve out a “normal” life for myself. But when I started to heal - I started to drop INTO the places within my body that carried memories, experiences, and stored survival energy. I started to experience what it was like to be witnessed (by my therapist, by God) - and I started to witness myself.
When you grow up in family dysfunction - no one in the chaos is emotionally regulated. There is no sense of deep presence. No sense of seeing. Only volatility, unpredictability, enmeshment, and scatteredness. When you couple this with any kind of abuse and neglect - you have a recipe for disconnection, loneliness, a frozen body, and overactive mind, and a fractured soul.
Today as I ran and let the tears stream down - I felt no sense that there was something wrong with me. I felt no need to hurry up and heal. I felt no compulsion to analyze why I was crying. I just noticed how the tears felt. How my heavy breath felt, how my feet sounded against the treadmill, how it felt for my system to be activated. And it felt good. I trusted it. I dropped into it. And I enjoyed it. Our nervous systems and brains have within them their own wisdom. Their own intelligence. Our biggest challenge is helping the higher-mind de-condition itself from the shame and fear of these intense raw emotional experiences.
I live and breathe healing. I am always healing and always expanding. Always learning to trust my nervous system more, my spirit more, my body and brain more as they constantly unravel the layers from years of being frozen in terror and fear. THIS is it. This is healing and recovery - from ANYTHING. It’s integrating. It’s trusting. It’s allowing yourself to live your life and allowing your life to be a beautiful modality and container for you to grow, heal, and change every single day.
Let yourself scream. Let yourself weep. Let yourself dream. Let yourself feel the fear. Let yourself feel the nausea, or discomfort or joy or elation or hope. Let yourself feel the loneliness and the darkness of your shadow, and the beauty and courage of your light and life. Let yourself fear.
Before I started my journey - I was depressed and underneath the freeze of depression was the raw, sensitized anxiety of my nervous system, and underneath that was the waves of grief of releasing the fantasy of the childhood I pretended to have but never did. At each layer of healing I had to drop into each of these. Even still I do. It just feels different now. I understand the alchemy of it. I understand the inherent beauty and purpose in it - the STRENGTH. I TRUST this holy journey of coming home to myself a little more each day. I let myself LOVE the sacred pain my body held during the years that I was unable to go there.
Don’t hate yourself for your emotion. Don’t hate yourself for where you are. Don’t question the wisdom of your beautiful brain and nervous system. Let yourself drop in. Let yourself FEEL the cells, the skin, the blood flowing to your heart, the breath flowing to your lungs. THIS is life darling. THIS is life. And it’s okay.
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