My Somatic Awakening
Trigger warnings: discussion of sexual trauma, suicide, addiction and mental health challenges. The good news is there is a happy ending!
Originally published on Instagram and Facebook
on the week of September 25th-October 2nd 2022
Today I honor my own journey in trauma/addiction recovery in a very special way… I am teaching a group class to the residents at women’s recovery home. This has me reflecting on my growth and my personal experiences with the link between trauma and addiction.
Last night I revisited some intense experiences from my late teen years. This time-traveling interval was catalyzed by a powerful and heart-wrenching post I read titled “what happened to our daughter”. It’s a really important read, click here to read it.
This account of THC induced psychosis and suicide had me deeply anxious, uncomfortable and recalling the events that spanned my last year of high school (05-06) until Feb 2008 when I experienced mania, a psychotic break, lost my identity, met “god” and spent 10 days in a psyche ward slowly coming back to this reality.
Prior to this life-changing experience, I had been smoking Marijuana nearly daily for almost 18 months. And when I’m really honest, I had already been having mild psychotic episodes while smoking “too much”.
The breakdown at 19 that ultimately became my spiritual awakening was a perfect storm of sorts, with many contributing factors. Since last night, I feel I am finally ready to publicly acknowledge that heavy/frequent use of Marijuana played its role, along with my genetics and some very traumatic sexual experiences.
MJ has become very normalized. We forget that THC psychotropic substance. This plant has been cultivated to be a lot higher in THC than we would find in nature. The post in the comments goes more fully into this.
I have to be honest.
At 34 years old, I am still struggling with wanting to “be cool”, which has meant being silent about my personal experiences.
It’s wild, but recognizing this is the first step in freeing myself and the child inside me.
Like the 8 year old girl in me who is secretly uncomfortable with all the adult sexuality but trying to like the Spice Girls and Britney because I want to be liked by my peers.
Like the 13 year old in me who still has desire to “fit in” with the tough, witty punks and goths whose angst and emotional intensity spoke to me, yet was cautious and unsure about smoking pot and doing different drugs.
Like the 17 year old me who was ready and willing to laugh off any frightening or disturbing mental or emotional experiences I was having as a result of smoking weed because I didn’t want to seem uncool or inexperienced.
This needing/wanting to fit in despite my better judgement has not served me. Sharing my story may result in unfollows but more importantly it may result in helping someone else make sense of a parallel experience or feel brave enough to tell their tale and break the silence that binds them in a former self.
The somatic work I have done within my body has been HUGELY important in healing the traumas and addictive behaviors that were part of the physical pain I was suffering with for 7 years or so in my 20s. Being able to share this practice with the women at this recovery home today is part of being in the “sharing” part of my journey.
The complexity of addiction/trauma within the setting of my body has felt overwhelming at times.
The simplicity is coming back into my body, ever so slowly and carefully. There is no rushing this process. And yet, working somatically has opened things (and closed things!) in a way that years of talk therapy and yoga never did.
The pull of my muscular stress/trauma patterns had me feeling helpless to my habits and behaviors.
Trauma feeding addiction, addiction creating more trauma.
Being able to literally undo the muscular patterns and FREE my body to be in the present moment is what I practice daily and what I teach. Trauma/addiction recovery is just one of many applications, but for the purpose of these posts, I will highlight my personal journey with this application of Hanna Somatics.
Trauma, addiction and chronic pain are inter-related and present a common experience:
A sense of loss of control over your body. This feeling of powerlessness is part of what fuels the cycles of suffering and seeking relief. It ensures a dependency on something or someone outside yourself to fix/heal/help/save/comfort/cure.
The group women at the recovery home on Sunday had the experience of being able to reduce/eliminate the pain in their bodies on their own. One woman asked me why there was this jerky, shaking feeling in her muscles as she was releasing them.
“This is the voluntary part of your brain reconnecting to muscles that have been running on autopilot. This is your brain regaining control of your body.”
Her eyes widened. “This could be life-changing!”
Yes. Yes it is.
The first time I felt totally out of control of my body was in 3rd grade when I experienced early onset puberty. My body felt like an enemy that was stealing my childhood.
I wasn’t ready to be a woman. Or sexualized. I wanted with all my heart to be a kid. My body felt scary, dangerous, unsafe. I disconnected from my body. I can see now, that this feeling of my body not belonging to me combined with sexual traumas that I experienced at this age set the stage for my lack of emotional/sexual boundaries as a teen and young adult. My body wasn’t me, it wasn’t mine. By 11, I was really ill. I felt lethargic and depressed. I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism and Food Sensitivities.
I stopped eating dairy and soy (which in 1999 meant, pretty much no processed food) and my health dramatically improved within several months. But sometimes, especially in social situations or when I was feeling upset, I couldn’t stop myself from eating pizza and ice cream. And I would feel heavy, sick, swollen and tired as a result. Which in turn, would have me wishing to escape my physical experience again.
By 15 I would turn to partying, binge drinking and smoking, MJ and cigs as my new form of escape from my body.
Food continued to be a challenge and now I was adding substances to my sensitive and developing nervous system.
I don’t think it’s really possible to “leave the past behind”. Biologically speaking, memory, history and experiences are stored in the cells of our bodies. The past has created the present: the neural pathways that create your current experience.
What is possible is integration of the past and transforming our perception of what it means. A reconciliation of what was transforms what is and this begins to open new possibilities of what will be.
I have learned to accept, honor and release the pull of the past. (Literally, as an actually physical, muscular practice, with Hanna Somatics) While it is part of me, it does not define me. It does not control my body.
My teen years were rough, to say the least.
I became bonded with other traumatized kids seeking relief through substance. And through these addictions and associations I experienced more trauma. The last year of high school was particularly devastating. A close friend took his own life 5 days after we “hooked up”.
My first drunken, one-night-stand and experience of sex outside the safety of a long-term, committed relationship. He had asked me to keep our night together a secret. I felt rejected and broken-hearted. The night he did it, every part of me wanted to call him and I didn’t. I was too hurt. He had also experienced sexual trauma and had been using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. My young mind didn’t grasp how substances played a role in his actions.
The grief and sadness was unbearable and I doubled down on the substances I had already been experimenting with, particularly marijuana.
Smoking weed was almost never enjoyable for me. It was a nerve-wracking, anxious head trip (sativa) or a heavy debilitating lumber that made me feel stupid and spacey (indica)
But those predictable, uncomfortable experiences were preferable to feeling my body and the pain inside. Even the mild, yet terrifying psychotic experiences I had when smoking “too much” did not keep me from continuing to use marijuana as my primary source of relief from suffering.
I was addicted to the twisted relief it brought me and using it was a compulsion, it didn’t feel like a choice.
One time, I became convinced my downstairs neighbors were serial killers/rapists. I had gotten triggered when one of them “gazed” at my body and I hid in my closet with a kitchen knife for several hours, shaking with fear that they were coming for me.
This experience didn’t stop me from continuing to use. Although it was a harbinger of things to come.
New Years Day, 2008 I decided to quit everything cold turkey. I had decided I wanted to live. I started waking up every day and drinking carrot juice.
6 weeks later I had a psychotic break.
THC reintoxication as a factor in my psychotic experience at 19 was first postulated to me in 2015. THC is stored in fat cells and can re-enter the bloodstream and create a high in chronic users. Suddenly beginning a juice fast every morning after 18 months of heavy use could have triggered a continuous drip line of THC back into my bloodstream.
This experience while extreme was not unfamiliar: my body was a scary, out of control place.
I had been using MJ to push down and “forget” the trauma: grief, anger, shame, guilt and intense fear. When I smoked and became triggered, my perception was altered and I experienced extreme and fearful reactions.
(Like in the case of feeling the sexual energy of my neighbor equating to him being a rapist/serial killer and my need to hide with a knife. If I had a more violent traumatic history, that could have gone much, much worse.)
My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and struggled with it for most of her adult life. In my developing nervous system, high levels of THC may have been a tipping point for a perfect storm.
Dosage (of anything!) is very important.
The cultivation of marijuana in recent decades has created an unnatural level of THC that the plant never had previously in history. When a kid, (like me at the time) is using in an attempt to deal with unresolved trauma, the stronger the better is a risky, yet prevalent assumption. And for those like myself back then: with a damaged microbiome, genetic pre-disposition for “mental illness” and history of unresolved trauma it is by no means completely safe or medicinal.
The saving grace (literally) of this experience was meeting god/spirit/source and becoming spiritually connected for the first time in my young life.
I lost my identity and merged with pure unconditional love. When I “came back” to myself this loving light was still with me as I tried to come to terms with my reality.
I was in a psyche ward. I wasn’t sure “who” put me here. But I wanted to get out.
Eventually I realized that I had gotten me here somehow and the only one to get me out was me.
I put lock on my throat. I realized that I had been saying things that people didn’t understand. Apparently, I didn’t make sense. Until I could trust myself not to say “crazy” things, I would just keep my jaw clenched and my mouth shut.
I left the hospital without a diagnosis, but two medications. I would replace these medications with yoga, healing food and an abstinence from substances for the next two years.
I would lay in bed and be comforted by the light. I would half close my eyes and they would start to flutter. A warm golden light would hold me and I would know everything was going to be okay.
My dad told me to come to Bikram Yoga. He was practicing and teaching and gave me the gift of yoga. I decided before my first class that would go 3 times a week, indefinitely.
It felt like insurance against having another “episode”. I committed to eating differently than everyone else, cutting out gluten, dairy and soy. I began experimenting with nutritional healing, specifically raw food cuisine.
Things were good for a while.
However, the past was still in my body.
At 19, I committed to abstaining from substances until I was 21, including alcohol. This was a powerful thing to do! And yet, when I turned 21 and I was “free” to “enjoy” these things again, my destructive patterns were still there alongside my caution and strong desire to stay well.
The main issue I see now is: I had not yet released the trauma in my body that had me chronically abusing substances to begin with.
I had compromised boundaries in my body (literally, my joints bent backwards!) and for years I sought structure through imposing limitations on myself. It was helpful.
In my attempts to heal myself through force, I created resistance in myself that kept me stuck.
My gut health, substance abuse compulsions and continuation of traumatic sexual experiences all contributed to my chronic physical and emotional pain throughout my 20’s.
I am grateful that I took THC (for the most part) out of the equation.
Peer pressure is still a real thing.
Combine that with a promise of feeling good when you’ve been feeling horrible and it’s hard to say no, even with a past like mine.
More than that, the pain and trauma still playing out inside my body had me physically, literally compelled to do something to down-regulate- to balance out.
Sex, drugs, alcohol, risky sexual scenarios, heavy food and even 90 day yoga challenges were my unconscious attempt have control over my internal experience.
In developing my somatic awareness, I finally have a sense of peaceful control in my body and my experience.
I don’t feel nearly as pulled towards ineffective or short-term remedies for regulation and pain relief because I have something that consistently works to relax me and actually addresses the mechanical issue: releasing the physical trauma patterns and regaining conscious control.
I was first introduced to Somatics by my father in 2008. And yet, it would be 11 years before I would commit to a daily practice that would literally restructure my body and my life from the inside out.
I went to Bikram Yoga teacher training in 2011 after 3 years of rigorous practice. I would begin my world travels and nomadic life the following year.
I know now, that in that 11 years, I was slowly building neural pathways that made me more aware of my body. The change was slow, but the change was happening.
It looked like me observing that I seemed physically compelled to posture my body in a certain way when around the opposite sex. That when I was in public spaces, I would squeeze my legs together. I would consciously separate them, but find them squeezing again when I stopped paying attention.
It was disturbing to discover that I didn’t seem to have control over the way my body moved or reacted in certain situations.
Over the years there was a fair amount of “trying to control” my body in so many ways.
Fix it! Stop that. Lose weight! Get stronger!
I would try to move my body differently and yet find myself pulled into that pattern again.
This was happening not just in my physical movement patterns, but in other areas of my life as well!
(Changing habits takes time, consistency, commitment and reliable tools/practices. Noticing the pattern and going WITH IT is the first step in undoing it. It’s literally what we do in Hanna Somatics.
Noticing yourself as you do the thing that isn’t working, is the first step!)
In 2015, I was searching.
And where do world-traveling yoga teachers go when they are searching? India.
However, this strategy was also a double edged sword, especially since I still didn’t know how to fortify and create healthy boundaries in my body. It was the same way with my relationships. I would have to be in a committed relationship or tell myself
“NO DATING FOR 6 MONTHS” or I would find myself in all kinds of awkward, unhealthy, usually alcohol infused scenarios.
It was the same way for me with dieting and cleanses.
I would tell myself:
“You’re going on a ten day juice fast”, and yet when I was finished I would go back to eating coconut ice cream and fried food again which was why I had needed to “cleanse” to being with.
Moderation, consistency and actually listening to my highest wisdom is skill that didn’t blossom through extreme and forceful practices.
I look back on my past selves with wonder, appreciation and love. I see her innocence. I love the way she continued to find joy and fun even with all the pain she was in.
I love that she continued to open herself to life, love and beauty even when she was met with pain, self-betrayal and endless longing.
It is the ability to stay curious that keeps me humble and open to life and learning.
After a rather dark and addiction fueled spring and summer in 2015, I organized a 4 month trip to India.
It started in Goa, where I was tempted to engage in my vices in various forms. But the yogi in me persisted. I went to Arambol. I enrolled in a two week Iyengar Yoga course. It was powerful for two simple reasons 1. Baggy Clothes. 2. No mirrors. As a Hot Yoga teacher this was actually rather radical. What it did was actually deepen my somatic awareness of my body because I was forced to experience my yoga from a 1st person, rather than 3rd person perspective. At least to some degree. (Deep patterns take more than 2 weeks to rearrange)
I was still struggling with on and off again smoking tobacco, yet I wasn’t fully committed to a substance fueled life. I felt in between worlds. At the yoga center or Ashram I was “good” and didn’t drink or smoke but in the cafe, the bar, the beach drum circle I fell right back into my destructive patterns.
I felt rather helpless. Like a creature tumbling through life with all these little and big calamities befalling me.
As much as I kept trying to be “good”, I would rebel against myself and be “bad”.
Connecting with the Indian view of yogi was very informative for me.
When I told Indian people that I was a yoga teacher they were impressed and they assumed it meant I was also eating healthy, abstaining from intoxicants and maintaining a certain level of sexual purity.
I had mostly been exposed to western versions of what yoga meant and by Indian standards, I felt like a real fraud.
I began to grasp what was so controversial about an Indian teacher like Osho and also the ways in which his methods could be perceived as corrupt.
While I loved some of Osho’s teachings and active meditations, I began to realize that if indulging in “pleasures” were a way of transcending suffering, I should already be out of pain by now.
I began to realize that I didn’t actually know what “felt good” in my body because I was so used to being in pain.
I was looking to others for relief, salvation.
I learned something from every teacher, like a breadcrumb on the path I hoped was leading me home and yet when it came to my persist hip pain there didn’t seem to be a method or an approach that worked.
(although it retrospect, I had already found the key technology. I was already practicing Hanna Somatic movements, but intermittently and without much mentoring or guidance. I am sure, now, that my burgeoning awareness was related to the neural pathways I was building within my body, even with infrequent practice.)
When I arrived “home” to Scandinavia after 4 months in India, I was truly fed up with the cycles I had been stuck in.
For almost 2 years I had been running from a weird, ambiguous date-rape that I had been hard to label but had seriously impacted me.
Running from it looked like:
-sexually acting out
-drinking alcohol to feel comfortable with men
-feeling “too comfortable” and having sexual encounters that left me feeling empty and re-traumatized
-an inability to feel pleasure during sex, but screaming my head off pretending the pain was pleasure.
-having compromised boundaries and going along with the advances of men, because I didn’t feel (in my body) like I had a choice (of course my mind KNEW I did, but the pull of my body to be safe was stronger than my mind)
-lying and misleading friends and lovers because I was ashamed of my behaviors.
-finding friendships and partners who would let me share my pain, but also enabled me to keep acting out.
I decided to do what I knew best: create external boundaries and rules for myself on how I was allowed behave and what I was allowed to do. And yet, even though I wasn’t acting on these compulsions anymore, even though I was “staying in control” when drinking or partying, I could see and feel the patterns in my body.
It felt like a matter of time before I broke and created another trauma for myself or fell prey to someone’s exploitation of my weaknesses.
With my new awareness, I had begun to take responsibility for the energy I had been putting out. The need I had for help, love, support, healing that was coming out sideways as flirtation and sexual energy. It was part of the pain stuck in my pelvis.
My second chakra overstimulated and unable to fully move UP and connect with my heart through my SELF.
In the summer of 2016, I was at turning point and that I could no longer pretend like I wasn’t feeling all kinds of fucked up inside.
I found a Norwegian therapist who specialized in women and trauma. I only had two sessions with her, but they were potent. I had been through years of therapy throughout my teens and early twenties, so I knew the drill.
I was so ready to let it out and to actually get help in processing what my body had been storing.
Talking it out with professional was an important step I hadn’t been taking. I had confessed the rape to lovers and few friends, but not someone who could really hold the space for me that I needed: a space completely free of need or judgement or another person’s triggers.
And it created more space in me to really allow the unraveling process to occur.
The story of sexual trauma didn’t start with that icky date-rape.
Early exposure to pornography, going through puberty in 3rd grade had primed me for these later, more adult experiences. The sexual trauma of my friend's suicide was still impacting me, even though I felt "over that" in so many ways.
The layers of trauma, tension and fear, alongside all the intense muscular contraction of my yoga practice had feeling so much muscular tension in my legs, my thighs, deep in my pelvis.
It felt like a web of tension with hard, pulsing points of pain and numbness.
I knew the pain in my body and in my life were related, but how to transform it still felt like a mystery!
But in truth, I was in the process of solving the mystery.
It's amazing that sometimes, we can't see it while we're IN IT.