How reconnecting with your physical body can lead to unpacking years of unprocessed trauma.
Growing up, physical exercise was always something extremely foreign to me. I had never been on any sport teams and I was always the last to finish the mile throughout grade school. My disconnection to my physical body was never something I had thought too deeply about until I realized my inability to feel fully present in my vessel was actually because my body no longer had any idea that I was now safe.
We go through all types of traumatic events before we can even comprehend the very concept of trauma. The common denominator in traumatic life experiences is that our nervous systems will immediately shift and operate under extremes when we think we aren’t safe. Alert mode. Little did I know that this is something my body never learned to turn off. Being in a completely new environment and far from any of the things tied to trigger me to my past, I was still unsure of my own safety and had genuinely no idea how bad it really was.
Think, for example, of a time where you know for a fact you are physically safe, but your body feels like it could nearly die. Not getting a text back, having someone unfollow you on instagram, getting a mean reply online- these are all obviously not the end of the world, and we can all say this for a fact, but for some reason still feel this overwhelming, burning anxiety throughout our bodies.
My life had always been lived in either this extreme intensity or absolute emptiness. I always used to tell people, I feel everything or nothing at all. Never for a second did I realize that wasn’t normal.
It was so painful to me to be in situations that I knew for a fact should make me feel something extreme, and I’d instead feel an empty, soulless pit where my heart should be. The dangers of this is something I never fully sat with. My struggles with substance abuse, self harm, even my unhealthy connections with people- I never realized were all a direct connection to this. It can get very overwhelming when we look at all of our problems as if they are all completely separate from each other. I remember looking at my life and feeling like so much was wrong with me that I would never be able to get better because how could I even possibly know where to start.
All of these behaviors and experiences I was struggling with, I never realized were all to put me back into feeling “alive.” When you grow up in particularly stressful environments, the mind reacts how it knows to protect you, which is often tuning everything out. It was either nothingness which felt like hell, or chaos, which felt familiar.
I didn’t realize that my search in feeling “alive” again was really me seeking out the only thing I had known outside of emptiness in my life, which was chaos. In trauma, the body alarm system turns on and then never really turns off. There is an intense suffering where you are never truly relaxed and constantly on guard. My brain had been constantly searching for threats that no longer existed. I could have been in literal heaven with God himself and I’d still be tweaking out.
And so now I’m catching myself with forgiveness. The thing is, at a certain point, it was protection for us to be living like this. It was our only safety, but now as adults we finally have the opportunity to be able to safely come back out in the real world again. I know for many people similar to me this can be seen in excessive social media usage. It wasn’t even like I really wanted to check what was going on, but my brain just couldn’t relax and understand that hey, nothing is happening right now and that’s okay. You’re actually safe right now and allowed to rest. You don’t have to be anxiously checking your email, twitter, and instagram back to back at 4am on a Sunday night. Nothing is going to happen and that’s fine. You’re fine.
For a lot of people yoga can be terrifying. Not many understand that but I think it makes total sense. I saw a reply to my tweet from somebody who said that they’d be fine at work all day until they’d accidentally drop something and have to reach down and stretch and they’d suddenly break down. I know especially for victims of sexual assault yoga can be a very terrifying experience to start with, but it’s truly a beautiful opportunity for a very special and powerful form of healing. The difference is now that your body is finally truly safe again. And we can remind ourselves that every single time we stretch and move around. We can finally reclaim our own lives. We can finally take up the space that always belonged to us, instead of shrinking ourselves in fear of unsafe experiences.
If yoga is too hard, start with just saying it to yourself. Write it down. Say it in the mirror. I used to hug myself under my blanket on the darkest nights and whisper it when everything else felt impossible. But out of love for myself, I am dedicated to memorizing the feeling of safety in my body once again.