When I was suffering in the depths of my trauma, I believed I was broken. I'd really always thought of myself as damaged goods, but more in that sort of sexy or endearing way, like she's-been-through-some-shit-but-it-makes-her-sassy-and-cool. After the trauma, it felt more like a total annihilation of self.
Everything I knew about myself had dissolved into a mess of confusion, the sensations in my body were totally unfamiliar, and my thoughts were all enemies of my healing. My body, while always something of an adversary, became a complete stranger to me. At times, she'd begin shaking so fiercely that I'd fall to the ground in desperation for some rooting; it didn't matter where I was. She'd clench my hands into fists so tightly while I slept that my palms bled where my fingernails dug in all night. She was so suffocated by the grief in her cells that she'd try to force it out as often as possible through a steady stream of salty tears. But the tears seemed endless, and I felt like I was drowning in my despair.
I couldn't trust people for a long time, because I'd been abused but also because I felt I couldn't trust myself. My sense of reality felt distorted so frequently, probably due to a combination of all the pharmaceuticals my doctor had put me on and the deep pit of sadness and shame in my gut. Probably from my difficulty in processing what I'd been through and how to carry on after something like that. Probably because I was manipulated and spied on and a victim of identity fraud. Probably because my abuser pushed some of my closest friends out of my life by feeding them lies.
I lived in a fog. I got through the day - always just barely. I was so afraid, constantly; just drenched in fear. I was so angry that I became hateful at times. I was suicidal.
I fought with myself and for myself -- that changed from day to day, minute to minute. I painted when I couldn't bear to be present in my own experience: this connection to my canvas was the only place I felt safe to create, and actually feel. And I'm not a talented artist, but this was what my soul was called to do whenever it felt like I was completely falling apart.
I painted and painted and painted.
I tried to sit with my breath as long as possible (usually, it was not long before I was shaking and crying.)
I drank to numb the pain (I know I shouldn't have, but I did.)
I let people take advantage of me.
I reverted to harmful eating patterns.
I got a job that seemed awesome at first, but I soon realized these people did not love me, or even like, or want me around. You might think I was simply imagining that because of my fragile mental state, but I assure you, I wasn't: I was fired after an entire year of working there full-time, because I "failed to fit in with the team".
This was a pretty major blow for someone who already felt misunderstood, scrutinized and just generally not accepted. I had just moved out of my apartment and my landlord chose to keep my damage deposit because she assumed I was too weak to fight for it (I wasn't - it took 6 months and was a massive pain in the ass, but I eventually recovered my deposit from her.) My employers knew this as well. They didn't care. They gave me two weeks of pay and told me to get out.
I then took a job working for a woman who was very intense, demanding, hypercritical, and would make passive aggressive remarks to patients about people not lasting long there and firing me, if I screwed up. (I guess that was more aggressive-aggressive...either way, I couldn't handle it). When I told her it wasn't the right fit for me, she sent long, cruel text messages about what a disappointment I was to her and her team, but not to worry, because they were strong enough without me to get through it.
I was in a relatively new relationship that I didn't feel fully secure in yet. Every aspect of my life seemed unstable and unsafe. And this was almost a full year after leaving the abusive environment. I felt like such a failure, like I had no ability to heal and move forward. I was so devastated and hopeless that I wrote a little contract to myself, agreeing that I'd have no choice but to end my own life if I still felt this way by the time I was 30. (I shudder telling you this, but I believe we heal, in part, by seeing ourselves in others - please know that you are never alone.)
I remember finding that contract sometime shortly after my 30th birthday. Though it hadn't even been that long ago, I'd totally forgotten that I'd written it. It broke my heart, but it also felt in a way like my heart was breaking wide open. In that moment, I was reminded of my resilience. I was reminded that my spirit was untouched by the abuse and it was my ego that was truly suffering. I was reminded that healing is always possible but never fits a particular mould; it takes different tools and time for all of us. We have ups and downs, just as we do when we're more stable. I was reminded that trauma changes us, but it doesn't need to destroy us.
I mourned the loss of my previous self. I forgave her for everything. I grieved, and then I let her go.
I realized, while reading that awful death promise to myself, that I was in the process of rebirth. I didn't want to die -- all I ever really wanted was my pain to subside. I just wanted to feel human again. But what I didn't realize at the time was that this entire experience would help me to spiritually evolve, and that it would transform me into a different person -- someone who's more sensitive, compassionate, connected, and able to help others through their own trauma. This suffering was a gift; it's just so hard to see it that way while you're in the depths of your pain.
After leaving that last job (and somewhere around the time of writing the suicide contract) I did some really deep soul-searching and realized that I needed to follow my heart's purpose: I needed to start teaching yoga again.
If you've read previous posts about my experiences with trauma, you already know about my fall and the injuries I sustained around 6 months after leaving the abuse (I won't go into detail about that here, as this is already quite a lengthy post!) This added physical trauma to my emotional trauma, and my body was still feeling foreign and like a bit of an enemy at this point.
To teach yoga, you absolutely need a regular, reliable practice first. So I started with maybe 10-20 minutes of asana practice a day. When I couldn't move, I studied. I learned about all the other styles and methods of yoga outside of Bikram and started exploring different ways of practicing and teaching. I ordered yoga books. I completed some online trainings. And when I felt confident enough that I could properly lead others through their own yoga practice, I started my own business, Sarasponda Yoga.
It began solely as private, individualized yoga, and I hadn't really thought about this until now, but I think a large part of that choice came from feeling like an outcast and wanting to connect more deeply to my students, and to people in general. I slowly grew my business and began teaching power and flow classes at a local gym so I could find my footing in this new/different yoga teacher role. A year or so later, I had an incredible opportunity (courtesy of my dear sweet friend, Laura, who I'd met through my classes at the gym) to take a Trauma-Sensitive Yoga training (TCTSY). And now, I have an opportunity to share this special healing practice with others who truly need it.
I learned that in my own healing, my physiological aversion to something I once held so dear was totally normal. And through reading Bessel van der Kolk's book, The Body Keeps the Score, I also learned that trauma changes the nervous system of the affected individual. From the Amazon book description:
"He transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring—specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust."
We are changed by trauma, but with a devotion to the resilience of your own spirit, you will heal, and you will be stronger for it.
I practice and teach yoga very differently now. I used to be so focused on proper structural alignment and precision of form. Now, I'm far more concerned with teaching others how to love more fully and connect to the truest parts of the Self through simple and gentle movement, breath work and stillness. It doesn't matter to me at all how the practice looks: as long as you feel safe and comfortable, it's perfect. I only care that you've arrived with a willingness to transform something -- this is so beautiful and powerful. This is the true yoga, and where the real work resides.
Five years after being diagnosed with CPTSD, I'm still triggered at times. I still have painful memories here and there, but they no longer own me or devastate me; now I simply watch them, like a loving observer, with an open heart.
My abuser still lives and works near me; I saw him walking through a parking lot the other day.
And guess what?
He doesn't hold any power over me anymore.
I've realized that I desperately feared seeing him without actually knowing how I'd feel in that moment -- I misjudged my power. I'm stronger now, and I'm not afraid. I love myself, and he'll never take that from me again.