WHAT CAN I DO? - Mindfulness – Trauma & Dissociation
I am a mindfulness instructor – and am currently taking an advanced training in Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness (TSM) with David Treleaven (https://davidtreleaven.com/). I took his basic course during the fall. They are great courses!
I am also a person with severe trauma and I can be highly dissociative (although I am getting to be more and more in charge of my dissociation than the other way around – If you are interested in my thoughts on dissociation and trauma, there is plenty to read in my blog at http://livethechange.se/).
Taking this course simultaneously as the Coronavirus is affecting us all on a global scale – is interesting. It becomes even more interesting for me since I have managed to time huge life transitions to this time period too… Very little is certain in my life, this did not start now – but has been a process. But the resolution of the process is happening right now.
As a manager of an NGO (https://www.mimercentre.org/) who travels globally and train people in working with equines in therapy and learning programs – and as a project leader of a relatively newly started enterprise of building a network for horse business entrepreneurs (https://www.horsehub.eu/) – my incomes is depending on things I have no control over. Together with going through a divorce, finding a new place to live for me and my horses (sheep, cat…) and my youngest child – not being able to travel, explore new venues/facilities for as future collaborations/works place/living space… I am…. doing pretty okay…
Which I also find fascinating… I am not saying I am dancing around in the fields and woods all day singing – Happy, happy, happy, happy… though I do spend as much time as I can outdoors, doing a lot of mindfulness, grounding, meditation, yoga – and just playful explorations, as well as giving me time to rest.
But of course – I am stressed too… very stressed and scared about what the future will hold for me (the things I can’t control or impact) – what I will be able to build for me (the things I can be part of controlling and impacting) – and I need to do all the above to stay present and enough centered to help myself move forward – in a time where the rest of the world seems to almost stand still…
… and when I need to reach out – the world isolates and tell me to “stay home”… which of course is not personally meant for me – but still makes my life even more uncertain… - and is a thing I can’t do (so had to find a home “within”).
How do I not become “a casualty” of this situation? How do I move on – believing in myself? Trusting my abilities? Keep on voicing myself? Not retreating into survival mode? Giving up?
I keep on asking myself every day – in every moment of doubt, of feeling powerless in this somewhat overwhelming situation – What CAN I do? I re-focus on what I – each day – each moment – CAN do. And it turns out to be a lot…
One of the things I have spent a lot of time on is thinking about dissociation (my own, and in general terms, also acknowledging that my dissociation is – not surprisingly – as severe as the traumas I have gone through, together with a consistent lack of support and attachment persons, and an early onset, as well as a long time period or repeated trauma with multiple abusers). Another thing I have thought a lot about is the level of vulnerability I want to show up with to the world… and what I came up with – I am done with hiding… my traumas and my dissociation does not stop me from being successful in many areas in my life – if I keep on working on myself – I am no longer ready to trade my interesting life with someone else’s… any longer (if that had been a possibility) – that tells ME something important about myself…).
The third ting I have spent a lot of time thinking of – partly due to the training I am taking now, but also all the interesting discussions we have had in MiMer, and with external collaborators, my own background, my studies in Cognitive Science – the research projects we are setting up – is how mindfulness can be a part of helping dissociative people.
Mindfulness is about looking at yourself, becoming aware of yourself, inhabiting your body, your mind – and everything else in and about you. Dissociation is about he opposite…
Luckily you can do mindfulness and grounding by focusing on your surroundings. And slowly – very slowly, by using your senses – start to bring the world closer to you and feel things. Just sensory experience at first. But even this is hard with dissociation. I struggled for a long time to understand how I could learn to use grounding using my senses. Intellectually I understood the concept – but as soon as I practiced – I triggered myself. To sense anything basically triggered me. Eager to learn – I completely overwhelmed myself.
I have come a long way – and now I can do breathing exercises, meditate, feel… I can experiment with my senses – and with movement (and have a great personal movement specialist helping me out with that – thank you Sonja Lairila! at Y Yoga Collective https://www.yyogacollective.com/sonja)
So now in retrospect – I am piecing together everything – what did I do? What helped the most? Where did I keep on stumbling… and so on.
And – my horses – as well as dogs – cats – sheep – chickens – they all “helped me” – not on purpose – but by being themselves (and by me providing them with/ “allowing” them to be and live as much as they need to according to their biological, emotional, social and cognitive needs – I do not do that perfect of course… but I pay attention to it and think about it – pursuing it as a goal as much as it is possible).
So – yes, being in nature, at times “on my own” – at times together with a non-human animal – is what has helped me the most in finding grounding routines – and be able to move on to more advanced self-awareness.
But… nature, animals and movement has not on its/their own “cured me”. If that is the goal… I feel like cured is not the goal – but being okay with being me is the goal. And I am getting there… I don’t wish to be cured from being me…
Mindfulness, mediation, movement, nature, non-human animals… they are all now included in my “family”, my support network, my self-care routine – and my enormous curiosity of how this all works :-). Learning, doing all this, over and over and over… practicing daily, being mindful of my practice, daily… IS really helping me with my dissociation (all kinds of dissociation). Helping me making the shift from being controlled by it – to being more in control of it.
And it has helped me to open up, being more trusting – finding more and more of my tribe of humans too. And for that I am so immensely grateful, for all the beautiful, brave, smart, funny, curious people I now have in my life, in one way or another!
But… and this is very important to. I would not have been able to do this without a good therapist. With my background, with my traumas and level of dissociation – I know I have not been, probably still not is – anywhere near an “easy” client…
I am not sure she wants to be mentioned here, but doing that anyway… (since it is also a good exercise for me to admit me being a client and being the one asking for help – not being the helper at all times – which I think has been one of my hardest struggles in therapy – to let go of what I know – and stay in the uncertainty of not for the moment having any answers. It is one thing to do it intellectually in science endeavors – to apply it to myself – THAT was (still is) hard… ) – so thank you for your knowledge and your patience Ilka Parent at https://www.mindsnmotion.org
But apart from feeling – and being – grateful for all the abundance I am met by – I also want to highlight this fact – that no matter how nice horses, dogs, cats… not matter how much time you spend in lovely nature, no matter how much to work on being in your body… taking care of it – it wont help, IF you not get proper guidance, by professionals – if you have the level of dissociation I had (still have – just more “in control”)
Horses won’t save us… because the can’t. (A therapist can’t save you either – but they can voice that and are trained to manage “saving”, so they can help you save yourself). Horses can’t help me – but cannot voice that (at least not in a way that can be clearly heard by most people).
There is a huge difference between what can be helpful for an individual – e.g. being with horses in nature, and purposefully acting in a helping manner… Being with horses has been – is very helpful to me – but they are not helping me, no more than the trees, the bumble bees, the deer… Behind “to help” – there needs to be an intention. A thought construct of what it means to help. This is not saying horses cannot help people, or others, they can, by picking up on your emotions – they can “do to help” – but it is not the same thing as human cognitive helping (which actually do not always feel at all helpful, or helping…. – depending on whose perspective you are taking.
It is natural to turn to anything that can give hope in times like this. But putting the responsibility of helping the humanity, or helping human individuals – on to horses, dogs, cats, nature… is turning away from our own responsibility.
But… you can help yourself… and you can let in “helpfulness” – and you can seek professional help – when needed.
So a post on what I can do – what others cannot do – or do… on to use mindfulness or any other awareness training with caution – if you are dissociative, to go really slow with it – and see how it can help you… and the difference between helping and being helpful…
I like my own question – which I ask myself many times a day – SO – WHAT CAN I DO? So I do not get stuck in all the things I cannot do – or get wound up by all the uncertainties…
And a disclaimer :-) these are my thoughts… one day one or several of them will fit really good into a bigger theory… for now – they are part of me expressing myself… if you find yourself feeling inspired – good. My main intention is not to be inspirational – it is to express myself. And I have this funny way of doing that… mixing science, thoughts, ideas, experiences, knowledge – and pure expression – playing with my thinking and my personal insights…
But you are allowed to try some of this at home ;-)….
Text and pictures are copyright protected © Katarina Lundgren, Live the Change 2020