Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

I am not typically one for making a New Year’s Resolution. Quite frankly, I don’t need the pressure – I don’t need one more thing to make me feel badly about myself when I mess up. So, I am not going to call this my New Year’s Resolution. Instead, it will be my “goal” for 2011.

My New Year’s “Goal” for 2011 is mindfulness. I want to make a conscious effort to “stay present” as much as I can throughout the year. I know I am going to mess up, so this isn’t a New Year’s Resolution. I recognize that after living most of my life in a dissociated state, it is not going to be possible to “flip a switch” in my head and suddenly be mindful all of the time. In fact, I am not sure if being mindful 100% of the time is even possible.

Instead, this is just a goal I have for myself in 2011 (and hopefully beyond that). I want to get in the habit of returning my focus to the present moment. I want to stop spending my time fretting about the past and worrying about the future. Of course, there is always time for reflection as well as planning, but I don’t want that to be my “normal” state of being.

This is a big leap for me after the weeks I had during the holidays. I was constantly triggered and doing everything I could to stay away from the present. However, the holidays are now over, and it is time for me to get back to living in my body again.

As I write this, I am recovering from a cold, so staying in my body is more of a challenge right now. I really need to be able to do yoga, exercise, and engage in other activities that help me want to be in my body. However, I have to start somewhere, so I am doing the best I can until I can physically engage in these activities again. I am reaching toward this goal through self-love, not through self-hatred.

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution or goal this year? If so, what was it? Have you built in room for falling down and getting back up again?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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As I write this, I have been focusing on trying to stay present (mindfulness) for roughly 10 days. I thought I would share my observations so far and then check in from time to time on my progress. (Yes, I am hoping to continue to make progress!)

First, mindfulness is definitely a skill to be developed. I have a leg up on many people because I had practice staying present (at least during meals) for 11 months a few years back before a big trigger derailed my progress. It has taken me this long to get back to it. Because I had 11 months of practice being mindful (at least at mealtimes), doing this does not feel as foreign as it did the first time. Still, it is a skill, and I have to focus and recognize when I have “slipped.” Not being present feels very “normal” to me, so I have to stay mindful about being mindful.

Some of the results I expected after 10 days are already happening. I am effortlessly eating less, and my body is gradually losing weight. I have lost three pounds since I started staying present, and that includes going on a four-day trip. (I tend to gain weight or, at best, hold steady, when I travel due to eating out so much.) The compulsion to overeat is not magically gone, but it is frequently not present during meals.

When I feel the urge to overeat, I am following Geneen Roth’s advice in Women Food and God and asking myself why I feel the need to overeat right now. I focus on staying present and observe how my body is feeling. I find that I frequently feel ice in my stomach at night, which is when I most struggle with the urge to overeat. I believe that is my body’s reaction to terror – the terror I felt as a little girl at night – and I am trying to comfort the terror. For me, expressing and integrating the terror has been one of the more challenging emotions, which might explain the continued presence of “ice in my stomach.”

I have been surprised by some results so far that I did not see coming – I have not felt the need for Xanax or wine since I started focusing on staying present. I typically drink a glass of wine in the evenings or take a Xanax, doubly so at this time of year when I tend to be easily triggered. The surprising part is that I had not even noticed the absence of Xanax or wine. It just hit me yesterday that it has been over a week since I have taken either, and one or the other has been a staple every evening for a month or two.

Another surprise is the change in my dreams. Since I have begun focusing on staying present, I have stopped having intense nightmares. Intense nightmares have been such a normal part of my life that I had just accepted that that always would be. I no longer bother showering before bed because I am so used to awakening in terror with night sweats that I just have to bathe again in the morning, anyhow. It occurred to me that I haven’t had any intense nightmares in a while. I continue to dream, and they are certainly not dreams of bunnies and marshmallows, but they aren’t intense dreams that make my heart race.

Also, I have had no issues whatsoever with insomnia since I started practicing mindfulness. I am more relaxed when I go to bed, and I have been falling asleep fairly quickly. Most nights, I sleep straight through until morning. My “normal” pattern has always been to awaken from a nightmare at around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. with my heart racing, and I had trouble falling back to sleep. I would sometimes have to take a Xanax to succeed.

I recognize that I am only 10 days into this new way of living, but I am encouraged by all of the changes that I am seeing. I am doubly surprised because this time of year (during the holidays) is typically a very difficult time of year for me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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In my last blog entry, I wrote about how the lies we have bought into from childhood continue to plague us in adulthood. Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God is helping me to understand that the key to dismantling a trigger is mindfulness or learning how to stay present. This blog entry continues a summary of Roth’s theory on how staying present can transform your life.

I stated in my last blog entry that our minds deceive us. They have bought into our abusers’ lies, and they direct us through triggers to act and react as we did as children. That was fine in childhood, but we are now adults, and we are no longer in the same environment that we lived in as children.

Roth states that the key to dismantling triggering (although she uses different words for “triggering”) is staying present (or “mindfulness” as a reader called it). Roth’s advice is to learn how to inhabit your body again. She says that we are a society of people walking around who live in our heads or “near” our bodies but not in them. This is why people who compulsively overeat have such a hard time stopping – they are not living in their bodies, so they are unable to sense their bodies’ cues about hunger and fullness. I have personally experienced great success in overcoming compulsive overeating and losing weight when I made an effort to stay present, but I “forgot” this skill after being triggered mightily.

When we are triggered, we dissociate (or “bolt,” as Roth calls it). We leave our bodies and try to distance ourselves from all that we are feeling. This is our minds continuing to torture us with our childhood pain. We cannot trust what our minds are telling us, and that causes us to second guess all of our instincts and intuition.

Roth says that the antidote is to live in your body. Her recommendation is to practice meditation so you can learn the difference between your mind and “you.” She also recommends a breathing technique that I was unfamiliar with. Breathe in and out, focusing on your belly. Your belly is the center of your body, so noticing the way your belly moves when you breathe and focusing on your breath at the center of your body helps to bring you back into your body.

When you return to your body, you return to the present. You are able to recognize that you are completely safe in the present moment. As you learn to focus on what is around you right now – the sights, sounds, smells, etc. – you distance yourself from the pain of the past. You can learn to observe the pain and see that it is separate from you. As you approach the pain with kindness (acceptance) rather than flight (avoidance), you dismantle the pain.

This ties into my experience with integrating alter parts and memories – inviting them out, treating them with kindness, and accepting them as “me.” This method has worked very well for me with integrating alter parts, so I can see how it could work equally as well with past pain.

I still have about a third of the book to read, so I am sure I will be reporting more. Right now, I am trying to digest all of this and practice staying present.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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In my last blog entry, I wrote about my history with learning how to stay present. This is a skill that I have been good at in the past. Then, I will get very triggered, which derails me, and then I “forget” the skills that I have learned. Through Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God, I am recognizing that learning how to stay present is truly the key to all of my issues – not just in healing from child abuse but in healing all of the aftereffects of child abuse.

I will do my best to explain her reasoning. All of these pearls of wisdom are courtesy of Geneen Roth…

Roth says that our histories are like blinders that prevent us from seeing the beauty of our lives. The metaphor she uses is sitting in front of Niagara Falls wearing blinders & ear plugs and believing that there is no beauty in our lives. The fact that we cannot see or hear Niagara Falls doesn’t mean that it does not exist – it means that we are not truly living our lives because we trudge through each day blind to the beauty that is ours if we will simply remove the blinders.

To apply what she is saying to child abuse survivors, the blinders are the lies that your abusers told you and that you believed –worthlessness, shame, guilt, etc. The beauty of life is right in front of you, but you cannot see it because you have been “blinded” by all of the lies from being abused. The good news is that we have the power to remove the blinders. According to Roth, we do this by staying present.

I am going to use my own metaphor to explain this next part, but I am explaining Roth’s theory … Think of your mind as being a computer that compiles cause and effect. It records all of the childhood abuse and then makes predictions about future outcomes based upon past result. This is what a trigger is.

To use an example I read in another book, a girl was late for dinner on Christmas Eve, so Santa did not bring her any presents. As an adult, she gets triggered by being late, appearing to completely overreact to being just a little late as an adult when she is really reacting to what happened when she was a girl. The problem is that her mind is telling her that being late as a child resulted in a huge punishment, so being late in adulthood (the same cause) is going to result in another huge punishment (same effect).

The problem is that our minds are “stuck” in childhood, but our bodies have moved on from that place. In adulthood, we no longer have abusers who are going to inflict severe “punishments” for our perceived “causes,” but nobody has told our minds this. Our minds continue to try to guide the abused little boy or girl, but we are no longer abused children – we are adults who are being led in the wrong direction by our minds.

Roth says that the way to counter this is to live in the present. More on that tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Choosing Not to Dissociate the Pain, a reader posted the following comment:

Hi Faith, you wrote “It sounds like the key is learning how to live in the present and feel whatever comes up in the present moment.” This is what Mindfulness is about – have you done this before? My therapist recommends practicing mindfulness regularly so that it becomes an automatic thing that I can do when difficult / stressful times arise. There is heaps of info online if you are interested. You can buy things to help if you want, but it’s not necessary. I sometimes listen to CDs but most times I just choose to be mindful to regular daily things like washing my hands, eating or house cleaning, etc. It takes time to make a new habit, but I think it’s worth it! ~ Dawn

I tend to cycle around and “relearn” different areas of healing, and staying present is an area of healing that has become a central focus for me lately. This is due, in part, to reading Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God, but this is actually not a new concept for me. With each pass, I seem to “get it” at a deeper and deeper level. It would be really great if staying present would just “stick” this time.

Like Dawn, I had a therapist who encouraged me to live in the present. He would say that the past has already happened and the future has not happened yet. The only moment I have right now is the present one. He would encourage me to engage in activities, such as playing the piano, that drew my focus to the present moment. His antidote to being trigged and dissociating was to focus on the present – on how the chair feel under my legs, how my breath feels in my body, etc.

My yoga instructor had the same advice. She would repeatedly remind me to stay present in this moment. She taught me tools, such as yoga and meditation, to help me with this. Without fail, doing yoga and meditation helps slow the internal chatter and relax me by bringing my focus back to the present.

I have not been ready to “hear” it yet, but from what I can tell from flipping through the book The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz, the key to healing sexually is to pleasure your body (at first in non-sexual ways) and stay present during it, such as walking barefoot in the grass and experiencing in the present moment what it feels like.

I also had success in conquering my binge/compulsive eating for 11 months by staying present while I ate. Losing weight was effortless – the weight dropped off as I stayed present and paid attention to my body’s cues about when I was hungry and when I was not. I got derailed by being very triggered, and I never fully returned to that place.

So, now I am reading Women Food and God, and it is telling me the exact same thing, although I am in a better place to “hear” it. While her audience is people who want to overcome compulsive eating, she is clear that her advice to stay present is really about how to live your live in the present. How you eat is simply a reflection of how you live and what you believe about yourself and your life. More on this topic tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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