Beyond Physical Health: Healing from the Soul’s Injuries and C-PTSD
Over the past few years, I’ve overcome so many of my addictions (to food, busyness, and more) and without those coping strategies, I found a horrible, uncomfortable emptiness that gnawed at me like a dog who wouldn’t let go of his favorite worn-out bone. It’s become clear to me that I have a lot of “Soul Work” to do. Can you relate?
How’s your Summer going? For me, I’ve been taking it slow and easy. Having experienced a heartbreak not that long ago, I’m allowing myself to take the time and space to heal.
One of the therapeutic things I’m doing is gardening. I call my two tiny plots at my community garden “The Farmacy.”
Taking care of my basic needs is one of things I learned in the health crisis I experienced in my late 30s. That’s when I experimented with dozens of healthy diets and other health modalities, and whittled them down to a minimalistic approach which I honed in on and turn into an auto-pilot. The Blood Type Diet and its more personalized version — SWAMI, as well as daily movement and relaxation routines, have been my staple of good physical health for over a dozen years now.
Without these established routines to turn to, my health would probably have headed for a free fall or downward spiral in my current state of trauma recovery.
As I embarked on this journey of healing, I continue to discover many things that allow me to go deeper. Beyond the layer of the recent trauma is the deeper wound induced by a childhood of emotional abuse (and they’re interconnected). In my quest, I became aware of something called Complex PTSD and recognized many of the roots causes in me.
Pete Walker, a therapist and C-PTSD survivor, wrote about it in his book of this subject and on his website. It was the first time I found myself validated for all the internal turmoils that I’ve been struggling with since childhood. The book makes it very clear that you don’t have to be physically or sexually abused to experience trauma.
It’s the repetition of emotional abuse and neglect, that wires our brains to form adaptive responses to keep us safe. Those patterns show up in 4 different categories — fight, flight, freeze and fawn.
It’s fascinating and I encourage you to check out Walker’s books and website, where he expouses on this topic and provides some tips on how to heal.
The reason I brought this up is not only because I’m dealing with my own awakening but because I know that many women share a similar experience, in large part because of the way we were brought up in the traditional patriachal society and there were certain culturally condoned behaviors that were encouraged or modelled for us by our own mothers.
I want to share this because I think understanding ourselves in the context of our childhood conditioning and emotional attachment goes a long way in understanding the frustrations in our adult life, whether it’s our relationship with others, with food, with our body, to name just a few.
I’ve learned that whenever conflicts — external or internal — arise, I would go into my default mode of “flight” (going into non-stop acitivites to get away from painful or uncomfortable emotions), or “fawn” (being a people pleaser and trying to ensure others’ good mood by putting my own interest below theirs and behave like a martyr by giving and giving and giving until I’m completely depleted.)
You may have a different response, say, fight (using unbridled outburst of angry attack to stay in your shaken power), or freeze (zoning out by watching TV or doing other things to dessociate, numb, avoid and distract.) These responses feel like instincts, because they are wired into our “primitive brain,” the amygdala. And these are responses we learned as children to keep us safe. But that’s the “survival mode.”
To thrive, we need to move into our 2nd consciousness (which relationship expert Terry Real talks about.). It sits in our brain’s prefrontal cortex where we make conscious, rational, wise decisions.
Why Will Power Won’t Cut it When It Comes to Losing Weight or Healthy Eating
Because the primitive part of the brain works much faster (remember, it helps us survive dangers situations), most of us just let it run the show of our life. A relevant observation is that among the clients I’ve worked with, many of them just can’t seem to get pass that “will power” and “motivation” gate that blocks them from taking the appropriate steps to eat healthier, to lose weight, to exercise, etc.
In reality, establishing eating lifestyle has little to do with will power, and no amount of drill sergents in your head can get you to take the first step if the emotional and soul parts of yourself are not addressed and attended to first.
The diagram above is one that I use to show my clients how it works when it comes to establishing healthy habits. It has to come from the inside. Your sense of self worth is the wellspring of motivation. If you don’t think you’re worth the effort to take actions to change your eating habits and lifestyle in order to get healthier, then no amount of yelling and screaming by drill sergents or cheering by cheerleaders would get you to the outcomes you so desire. The opposite is also true.
When we have a low self-esteem or low confidence in ourselves, there is a void inside that keeps wanting to be filled but can’t. Many of us have chosen food as a way to fill that void because biologically, food, especially the types that contain a high amount of sugar and fat, immediately gives us a mood boost. It’s the №1 self-soothing strategy when we can’t get the emotional soothing we need.
Why It’s Important to Go Back and Examine Our Childhood
Think about your childhood. When you were upset, were you given the cold shoulder or simply told to shut up, stop crying and pull up your big girl’s pants? Well, this is a form of emotional neglect or rejection, because whatever you were feeling back then needed to be validated and soothed so you would feel loved and worthy again. That’s how you learned to be worthy as a person, no matter how you feel at the moment or what happens in life. But many of us don’t have the fortune of such a safe relationship with our parents. When we didn’t get this nurturance from our primary caregivers, it leaves a gaping hole in our soul.
We would then try to fill it with our tiny, resourceful brain, and try one or more of those 4 different strategies I mentioned above. Each of these strategies will take on many different forms, and I will not go into details here. If you’re interested, I encourage you to check out Pete Walker’s and Terry Real’s awesome works.
For those of you who have been struggling with food addiction or sugar addiction or any form of addiction, really, I want to share with you my observation:
Every addiction — whether to substances like drugs and alcohol or to relationships, sex, spending, or food — is an attempt to fill an unfillable hole. It is an attempt to mood-alter from the pain of emptiness. That is why all addictions are essentially a search for reconnection with the real self, the inner self who was abandoned, abused, neglected, or not seen.
I have witnessed this among my clients struggling with food addiction, and I have had to honestly tell them of my limitation in helping them with their food habits because it is the Soul’s needs that they must attend to before everything else. I would suggest they go into therapy and do some self studies to rebuild their connection with their Self — their Soul.
While I have overcome my own sugar addiction a few years ago, I’m aware that I’ve been addicted to other things — codependent relationships, a compulsive need to help others to the detriment of my own well-being, and a super busy schedule — all of which helped me to feel validated and gain a sense of self-worth. When I dropped all of these and allowed myself to lean into my soul, I found a horrible, uncomfortable emptiness that gnawed at me like a dog who wouldn’t let go of his favorite worn-out bone. It was then that I knew there is a lot of “Soul Work” for me to do.
I realized that if I continue to feel unsafe, insecure and untrusting, thriving will take a back seat. It’s like jumping off an airplane without wearing a parachute, or launching myself to catch the next trapeze without a safety net below. How can I do that without knowing that I’ll be safe and survive at the end of that leap?
For some, thriving means getting their health into an optimal place. For others, thriving means living out dreams that we have suppressed because we’ve put ourselves in the back seat all our life.
This is why I’ve decided to focus my attention and energy to do the inner work to re-parent my inner child so she can get the safety and nurturance she sorely needed and lacked when she was little.
For this, I have signed up for Coach Deb Blum’s upcoming coaching program, “The Whole Soul Way.” It starts in early September and it’s going to be a small cohort of midlife women who are willing to put in the work so they can eventually show up fully in their magnificence eminating from the safe and healthy place of their authentic self.
If you’re interested in joining me and a few other awesome women to dive deep into your soul, please take a look at this program introduction and give Deb a call. She is an amazing lady and you’ll love connecting with her.
Hope to see you in September!