I often hear survivors voice these worries:
Will I ever by normal? My life has been pretty good for years now. I exercise, eat right, take good care of myself, and yet sometimes I still get depressed and feel overcome by shame. All the externals are in place. It’s my internal life that often doesn’t’ feel good. I have my memories and have accepted what happened to me. I’ve had good therapy for the old wounds. But I still don’t feel great all the time.
I understand this worry. I’ve certainly felt all of the above at times. At this stage of my life, I have a really wonderful world and most of the time I feel good about myself, who I am and what I’ve contributed to the world. The best answer I can come up with is, “You’ll never NOT have been abused.” Read more
Category: Child Abuse
, Child Sexual Abuse
, Traumatic Memories
, childhood trauma
, confessions of a trauma therapist
, inner peace
, old wounds
, yoga teacher
Now that I’ve retired from my private psychotherapy practice I’m free to immerse myself in yoga once more. You may recall that in my 30s and 40s I was a yoga teacher whose life was shaped by yoga. Yoga helped me maintain some degree of calm and stability in spite of my childhood trauma. Now in my 70s I’m indulging my passion for yoga once again.
And what do I find? Lots of changes. Recently I returned from a weekend workshop in Pennsylvania at the Himalayan Institute. Our power and life-seeking energy get trapped in the lower body, they told me. We also hold our sadness and our fears there. Yoga teacher Shari Friedrichsen taught us how to release that holding by tightening and releasing the abdominal muscles as well as the sphincters in the perineum, urethra and anus. Read more
During my ten years of studying with Swami Sivananda Radha, my guru brought order to my inner chaos. One of the most effective practices involved determining priorities for each day. Everything else could fall into place around the most important events. Balance was central to the yogi’s life. Balance, however, did not have to occur in the space of one day. It could be over a period of time. For example, on some days getting things done might be the priority. On another, relaxing and self-care might be central themes.
She was the first feminist I met. Women need a room of their own, she told me. Very few women, even those in large houses, have a room where they can close the door and leave everything untouched until they return. If you can’t have a room, at least have a part of a room which is out of bounds to others.
On energy: think of your energy like fuel in your gas tank. Never run on your reserve. Another time she told me that energy was like a bank account. Some activities and people give you energy. These are like deposits in your account. Other activities and people drain you. These are withdrawals. Try to keep as much money in the bank as possible.
On food: if you think it’s bad for you, for goodness’ sake don’t eat it.
On abortion: It is hard to find a human birth. Usually the soul does not enter the fetus until the last moment. If a fetus is aborted, the soul is not destroyed. It simply goes looking for another birth.
On an altar: Make a special place in your house for prayer and meditation, even if it’s just a place where you don’t ordinarily sit.
Today, thirty years later, many of these practices still serve to structure my life.
Long before I knew that my “irrational” fear and anxiety were caused by child sexual abuse, I was drawn to yoga’s promise of inner calm. This was in the 1960s and ’70s when most North Americans associated yoga with culturally dissonant contortions performed by skinny men in loincloths. I knew no one who practiced yoga.
As it turned out, yoga was the perfect choice for someone who had lost any sense of her own body to child abuse. I was desperate for some way of relaxing the spasms in my shoulder, neck and back muscles. In my yoga class, I was safe and separate on my own mat. There was no competition. No one was watching. For the first time in my life it was safe to concentrate on what was happening in my body. I was fascinated.
As the months went by, my muscles firmed up. I felt more energetic and even peaceful for hours at a time. I was hooked. It was possible to imagine another way of being: a way that was relaxed and joyful.
Today, there are many types of yoga available. You can choose the one you prefer. Classical hatha yoga was what I found and later taught. After class I always felt soft and loving toward the world. I also studied Iyengar yoga which the founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, designed for the western body. It is strengthening and emotionally grounding. By contrast, following a class I always felt ready to take on the world. There are many other varieties. Shop around until you find the one that suits you.
Back when I was a yoga teacher, adults did not generally go to fitness classes. People like me were attracted to yoga, people who had never been keen on sports or exercising. Maybe this is because we associated breathing heavily from physical effort with the terror we once felt.
Today there are so many types of fitness classes. The choice is infinite. But I still think yoga offers remarkable healing power to those who were traumatized as children. Yoga teaches us mindfulness, the opposite of dissociation. In yoga classes you learn how to relax your own tension and change your emotional state with your breathing. Yoga puts you into a friendly partnership with your own body. This in itself is uniquely beneficial.