I Rescued Me: The Healing Journey

Lost in my world of loneliness

I had to face my truth.

To find my way through emotions

That were making me feel so blue.

 

Now in the middle of life’s long years

There’s only one place to turn;

Inside where there lingers deflating fears

I’ll find the peace I yearn.

 

Cos I ain’t gonna run no more

My truth is standing at my door

She waits for me to call her name

So we can be one and the same.

 

Found in the debris of a broken heart

My soul is finally free

From the pain that always tore me apart

I am free to be me.

 

I am found

I am free

To be myself

I rescued me.

 

~*~

 

For the past several years I’ve traveled the healing path under the expert guidance of  a therapist. During that time I have come to realize that of all the journeys we will take while on this planet the exploration of our inner emotional and, by extension, mental world is, perhaps, the most profound; the most empowering; the most exciting, and the most liberating journey of all.

Recognizing, examining, understanding and releasing negative default programs drummed into us when we were too young to protect ourselves, is freeing. Essentially, we rescue ourselves from the lies we were conned into believing about ourselves (i.e. we’re unworthy; ugly; dumb; unlovable; not good enough; untalented … the list goes on) , and in doing so raise our self-awareness to make room for the possibility of living in a way that more accurately reflects our truth.

Free Spirit

Part of the process involves being willing and able to relinquish debilitating personal relationships; removing ourselves from unhealthy emotional and physical environments, and slaying those inner egotistical monsters determined to keep us bound to the past which is their power. Working with a qualified objective third-party helps us to find the gentle strength we need to do this. He, or she, is the knowledgeable guide gently leading us to an informed understanding and awareness of how we are in the world and how the world is with us, and why. As well, they help us to heal and release what no longer works and bring into our experience the inner resources we need to gently traverse our mental and emotional terrain with compassion, forgiveness, love and awe. Yes, awe ~ for however far we have come and whatever price we have paid we have made it far enough to finally be able to see how beautiful, strong and enough we really are.

This post opens with the lyrics of a song I wrote recently to celebrate my own hike along the healing path. I’ve been on a multi-year, multi-faceted adventure, negotiating previously uncharted and frequently frightening personal territory searching for that elusive pot of gold … my truth. This treasure has been buried beneath issues of Complex-PTSD related to early childhood trauma that, to this day, still dogs me when it comes to having any confidence about putting myself out in the world.

Writing this blog post is a first bold step to sharing my story. I want to help blow away the stigma that working with a therapist is a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the exact opposite ~ it’s an amazing demonstration of courage and strength. There are millions of compassionate, empathic well-trained souls in the world wanting to help people reach the other side of a life-time of pain to find their own peace.

We wonder why there is so much pain and suffering in the world when it can be so easily explained. It’s a projection of all the unresolved pain and suffering we carry around with us and dramatize “out there” because we haven’t resolved it “in here.” I only need to look at my own life and the healing progress I’ve made in the past several years, with help, to know this is truth. I entertain less drama because the drama I used to carry around with me no longer needs to be stoked to make me feel alive. I feel alive in the peace I have found while negotiating the healing path.

The choice is simple … if we choose not to take the necessary steps to heal our emotional and mental life we have opted to suffer. Suffering is then what we project into our world and what comes back to us until we choose to make it stop ~ either by seeking help or by opting for the unthinkable which, as we know, is a great public concern in our times.

One day I decided I just didn’t want to suffer anymore. I chose to take control of my destiny by seeking help. I rescued me, and if I can do it, so can you.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

(I’m presently documenting my healing journey in a book entitled, I Rescued Me: A Journey out of the Shadows of Complex-PTSD. It is my hope that by sharing my experience I can help others to find the courage to seek help with a qualified therapist, heal their lives and begin to thrive. Release date TBA.)

 

Blank

Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

~*~

“Aunt Sally, what’s your earliest childhood memory?” asked Manda while  thumbing through the pages of an already treasured new horse book. Christmas had been good to her.

“Why do you ask, sweetie?” Sally hesitated. Her memory of those early years were foggy at best. And not all the memories good.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just wondered.” Manda stopped admiring her book and sat back in her chair, arms folded waiting for an answer. She loved her Aunt Sal and was curious to know all about her. Besides, there’d been an assignment at school to discover hidden depths in a favourite family member. For Manda, Aunt Sal was that person.

Sally thought for a moment. Her earliest childhood memory that wouldn’t throw them both for a loop. Hmmm … it had to be qualified. “Give me a moment, please dear.” She stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to the counter to fetch a piece of homemade shortbread from the tin. Her mind was a blank. Searching for memories had always been troublesome for her. She’d spent so much of her life somewhere else. Dissociated. She could recall the cumulative trauma, but that was hardly a memory she could share with a 12-year-old girl.

“Aunt Sally … can you even remember your childhood?” Manda was beginning to feel concerned.

How perceptive she was, thought Sally brushing a tear from her cheek while still bent over the counter eating her cookie. Finally, she turned to face her niece.

“Auntie!!!” Manda squealed, upset at the sight of her aunt’s watery eyes. She jumped from her seat and ran over to give her a big hug. “What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Sally choked back a sob and cleared her throat. She wrapped her arms around Manda and gave her a big squeeze. “Sweetie, you didn’t make me cry. My lack of memories makes me cry. I wish I could share with you my earliest childhood memory, but I can’t. It’s just too painful and I don’t want to hurt you.” She knew it was better to be honest. A lie simply bred more lies.

“Oh, auntie, I’m so sorry,” Manda pulled a piece of paper towel off the roll and gave it to her aunt whose only tissue was now in tatters. “If I’d known I’d never have asked.”

“But you weren’t to know, Manda, so please don’t worry. I have many good memories, just not too many good early ones. There was too much trauma in my life too soon, which is to say life became overwhelming before I was mature enough to handle it. Traumatized little ones develop all kinds of coping strategies to help them get through life. Often these carry on into adulthood and can be quite destructive if not addressed. My strategy was to check out when my life got too stressful. That’s why I don’t remember a lot of it. Sadly, a lot of grown ups never seek, or find, the help they need.”

“Like uncle Ted?” Manda wondered about her aunt’s ex-husband.

“Yes, like your uncle Ted.”

“What about you?”

Sally sighed. “Oh, I was finally able to get the help I needed a few years ago. That’s made my life more liveable now, but it still doesn’t reclaim all the lost memories.”

“Do you have any nice childhood memory you can share?” Manda asked, her eyes wide with hope.

Sally beckoned Manda to the kitchen table where they sat down across from one another. She thought for a moment, and then smiled. “When I was six years old,” she began, “I lived for a year with my grandmother … your great granny, Esther. Mother was off on a world tour and my father was absent, so I lived with gran. Of course, I went to school ~ grade 2 ~ and it was about that time that my musical talents began to surface. So, for the school play, Bambi, I was given a song to sing.”

“You were! Which one?” Manda was excited to know.

Drip, drip, drop little April shower …” Sally sang what she remembered.

“Oh, I know that song!” Manda squealed with joy, remembering the animated movie soundtrack.

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Sally grinned.

“Were you happy?”

“Yes, I was happy. Gran had outfitted me in my favourite red velvet dress with gold buttons down the front and put tight ringlets in my hair. For just a little while I was the centre of her universe, so I felt pretty special.”

“What happened next?” Manda was all ears.

Gran took me for a hamburger and milkshake at the old hotel on Main Street. Bit of a dive, but it didn’t matter. I remember her boasting about me to her friends. I have good memories around that.”

Manda was entranced. “Oh, auntie, thank you for telling me your story. You have such a beautiful voice.” And then Manda paused, a look of curiosity swept into her eyes. “Why didn’t you grow up to be a singer?”

“That, my dear,” sighed her aunt, “is a story for another day.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

 

 

 

Freeze and Thaw

Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

~*~

As someone who’s spent her life surviving the slings and arrows of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the point of almost burning out my adrenal glands, I suppose I could speak volumes on this subject.

To the overwhelmed nervous system almost anything can trigger the heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness of the adrenal rush … and not in a good way.

My adrenalin responses have rarely been justified, but when you grow up  feeling constantly under threat of something you lose sight of what constitutes an appropriate adrenal response. Not that you’re even in control of it. It just is, stimulated by whatever trigger pokes its way into a painful point of subconscious memory.

A life time of living in chronic survival mode is hard on the adrenal glands. (As is a life spent chugging down energy drinks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) They do burn out, and chronic anxiety is one of the results. Until I became aware of what was happening beneath the surface of my anxiety there was no way I could change it.

This awareness was finally raised during a trip to Sarajevo in March 2009, when the war-wounded city reflected the incredibly deep wounds of my own emotional trauma. Anxiety attacks in benign circumstances triggered three flight and freeze reactions during our one-week stay, reactions over which I had no control. Since we were travelling with a group of virtual strangers there was the added stress of shame attached to it.

Yes, you need to know that freezing is also a response to trauma.

In simple, primitive terms, this is when prey under pursuit will drop to the ground and play dead so the predator will lose interest and leave them alone.

My freeze ~ the clamp of anxiety. The desperate need to getaway without knowing where is safe to go. Stuck. Immovable. Traumatized. Invisible. On a continuous playback loop.

Since Sarajevo it’s taken years of therapy to get my frozen emotional core to finally thaw. The experience is a bit like the sensation of regaining feeling in your hands and feet after a bout of frost bite. Years of frozen feelings melt into a stinging liquid form. The pain all too present … but it must be felt to be acknowledged and, ultimately, released.

I’m reminded of the time I attended an NFL game in Buffalo with my ex-husband and his family, maybe 20 years ago. It was December, 15 below and snowing, and I was not dressed properly for the occasion. By the fourth quarter I was in the first aid room with thermal blankets wrapped around frozen feet (and a husband angered by the fact he’d had to miss that last quarter).

The agony of the thaw was indescribable. There were a few moments there where I felt like I’d rather die than endure the grief of feeling my limbs come back to life. However, once the worst of it had passed, and I could feel my feet and hands again, the pain of the experience became nothing more than a passing memory. I can recall the incident now as the source for a funny story or, for that matter, a teaching moment.

Feelings that come up while thawing are painful, but they must be felt in order for us to be completely free of them.

The first step, however, is awareness.

I learned ~ through psychotherapy, naturopathy, hormone therapy, equine therapy and other important sources ~ that the freeze response, which had become my go-to place when overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control (rooted in early childhood trauma), had created a debilitating life pattern affecting mind, body and spirit.

I learned that what we harbour in the way of resentment, fear, jealousy and the like becomes our master and we its slave, and that this plays out in our lives in unhappy and insidious ways. Panic/anxiety attacks, addiction, lashing out or anything else that numbs the mind, body and spirit are all manifestations of the freeze response triggered by overwhelming events.

As horrible as those anxiety-ridden moments in Sarajevo were for me, they taught me it was time to be honest with myself and seek help. The kind of help that would allow the thaw, the healing, to begin and bring to life again the parts of me that had been playing dead.

Freezing was how I’d made myself invisible. If I was invisible, no one could see me; no one would abandon, reject, abuse or hurt me ever again. In the process I had become stuck in the pattern of abandoning, rejecting, abusing and hurting myself. It had to stop.

It’s been almost six years since my rigorous, sometimes hellish and incredibly cleansing journey began. A veritable trip through the refiner’s fire. Still, if I had to choose between who I am now and who I was before the thaw began, there’s no doubt what I’d do. Even knowing how tough it’s been I’d go through it all again to unearth my truth and free myself of the pain that had frozen me in chaos.

My heart and mind are open; my adrenal glands are functioning more optimally and thus my nervous system is becoming more robust. I’m finally able to live my life more on my terms. I’ve learned to live in the moment; to leave the past behind and to allow the future to be what it will be.

Finally, I feel free to be me.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

Useful resources:
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping ~ Robert M. Sapolsky
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma ~ Peter A. Levine
Riding Between The Worlds: Expanding our Potential Through the Way of the Horse ~ Linda Kohanov
In An Unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness ~ Peter A. Levine
Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation ~ Dr. Dan Siegel
Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome ~ James L. Wilson

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

A Gentle Sense of Pride

Daily Prompt: Proud

~*~

“What are you proud of, mom? I just don’t get why you’re proud of me.”

For most of my life I’ve had difficulty acknowledging, let alone having pride in, my accomplishments. My therapist tells me it’s because I wasn’t able to see myself. And she’s right, I never could see what the big deal was about anything I achieved.

When people told me they were proud of me it would go in one ear and out the other. It just never registered. Mostly, I guess, because I could never feel pride in myself.

Growing up disconnected ~ through dissociation, etc. ~ does this. I was never really in my experiences, so even when they happened to end well (miracle of miracles) the end result had little meaning. I couldn’t feel it.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was smart, but struggled to connect with it. There was too much else (of which I was unaware) in the way, so feeling proud was difficult.

My therapist has been working tirelessly to help me change this.  She wants me to be able to see and acknowledge what I’ve done in my life and feel proud of what I’ve achieved in the face of a great many emotional obstacles.

She tells me she is proud of me for all that I have overcome to get to this point  ~  a point where I can truly start to thrive instead of merely survive. It’s only in the past couple of years I’ve finally started to grasp what she’s saying.

A New Trajectory

Last year I made important decisions that altered the course of my life; sent me on a new trajectory of healing that demonstrates just how far I’ve come.

Bear

Completing the six-month Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning certification (FEEL) program in the last half of 2014 was a major accomplishment for me. Certainly I acquired new skills that paved the way to a career as a practitioner of equine experiential learning, but perhaps more important was the personal healing work achieved along the way.

It was challenging work to be sure. Every exercise, every assignment provided an opportunity to step into uncharted personal territory and create a new life map. As time passed, trauma was released; many tears were shed; and a healthier self-image ~ one in which I could begin to see my strengths and personal power ~ began to emerge. Seeing my life through the mirror of the horse gave me the courage to see my Self and do what needed to be done to change my life again.

Of course, that journey continues. The FEEL program launched me into a deeper personal understanding and provided important life skills that I can use going forward. It also showed me how I, with the aid of the horses, can be an empathic catalyst for change in the lives of others ready and willing to walk the equine experiential healing path.

Many friends and family told me how proud they were of me when I achieved my certification. My husband was particularly supportive and thus especially proud.

Still, what really matters is that I recognize what I achieved and feel a sense of gentle pride in that accomplishment. For this is something I have experienced far too little of in my life.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

My Life Teacher

Daily Prompt: Teacher’s Pet

~*~

Dance Like No One’s Watching

I was never teacher’s pet. Or, if I was I never knew it. School was a nightmare for me.

At the time I wasn’t aware of it, but I was a child with abandonment issues lugging around a good deal of emotional trauma. My trust had been broken at an early age by the adults I was supposed to be able to rely on the most, so trusting that anyone else, including a teacher, would have my best interests at heart was next to impossible.

And when you can’t trust anyone, who can teach you?

It’s not that I wasn’t loved. I know my mother loved me, but she was so wrapped up in her music career while putting food on the table that I inadvertently became a shadow dweller ~ lost; lonely and invisible.

I didn’t begin to understand my early history and how it created the misshapen patterns of my life until I checked myself into therapy in spring 2009. Feeling stuck in survival mode I needed someone to help sort me out.

Coincidentally, or not, it was about this time the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, complicated by early-onset menopause (or the other way around, it doesn’t matter, it was brutal) began to manifest. Anxiety and panic attacks, extreme fatigue, unexplained weight gain, et al, drove me to near distraction. I wanted explanations. I needed to know what was going on. I needed to address underlying issues and give myself life again.

Like most people I was hesitant about jumping into the mental health abyss. Psychotherapy still has such a stigma attached to it ~ as if it is a weakness to step up to the plate and ask a specially-trained objective third-party, “Why am I this way and what can be done about it?” Still, it became clear after a tumultuous trip to Sarajevo in February that year, during which I had three separate and inexplicable panic attacks, that something needed to change. And anti-depressants, or any their kin, were not the answer.

So, with my husband’s support, I found a good, trustworthy therapist. I prefer to call her my life teacher ~ a person who can safely reflect back to me who I was/am ~ for good or ill ~ and show me how to embrace what works and re-configure what doesn’t it.

And, what a journey it has been …

I have learned more about myself and my world (and my place in it) in the last few years than I’d known in a lifetime up to the point of sitting down in that therapist’s office. My therapist is the life teacher I’d never had, shining a light on a window to my world that I would never have been able to look through, let alone begin to enjoy the view.

She has shown me my strength; helped me to see my successes more clearly; opened the way for me to have the courage to recognize my pain without dwelling on it. Naturally it has not been easy, but facing my truth has given me the strength to see myself so longer as a victim but as a woman who can share the wisdom of her life experiences in profound and empathic ways.

I can say, in all honesty, that I am not the person I was when I walked into my life teacher’s office nearly six years ago. I’m thriving more than surviving.

Of course, the journey continues. There is much more to sort through; much more to learn but, truth be told, I have always looked forward to that hour and a half per week where I can sit down and sift through my emotions and issues with someone who does not judge me for the absurdities (self-judgement) that trips from my lips. Every visit my life teacher shows me how to see myself through a softer, less judgemental lens; to take life as it comes and let the past be where it lives ~ in memory only as a teaching tool. And to take what I learn of, and from, my past and recognize the strength of character that brought me through those experiences to this point.

My life teacher has taught me that my past is not my present, or my future. That I can reprogram my dysfunctional ways to create a new more holistic way of being. A way of being that integrates past experiences with present realities to support deeply-held and beautiful personal truths that have no attachment to my early childhood trauma and the illusion I’d lived under for so long.

So, you ask who my most important teacher was … and still is?

The person who has taught me to see, be, and love, my Self ~ my therapist; my life teacher.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Again

Free Write Friday with Kellie Elmore.

Time and place scenario.

Source: We Heart It
Source: We Heart It

You suddenly find yourself standing alone on an unknown sidewalk in an unknown place. It’s night and snowing and the only other person around is walking away from you….

~*~

Again

I’ve been here before

In this place

Alone.

A back turned.

Abandoned.

A swell of surprise

Rises and

Falls.

How could you leave me?

Again?

A promise made;

A promise broken.

Again.

Hollow. Forsaken. Bewildered.

I bend to my own

Resilience.

Survival mode kicks in.

Again.

Keep walking.

I’ll find my way.

Again.

~*~

What an odd weekend of challenges. A triple whammy of emotionally challenging scenarios … at least or me.

First a Daily Prompt highlighting the “Twilight Zone.”

Then a Weekly Photo Challenge on the subject of “Abandoned.”

And now this.

All topics that hover at a rather deep, and uncomfortable, level for me.

In my blog Eyes to Heart I tackled the subject of “abandoned” as far as I dare take it.

A couple of days ago in this blog I started writing about the “Twilight Zone” but couldn’t finish. Maybe I will as the week (or year) progresses and I can find a way to reconcile the many heavy themes that popped out of the ether and onto the page.

With this free writing challenge it appears the bewilderment of being abandoned and standing in that twilight zone have come to the fore. 

Worlds collide.

Again.

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

The Soup of My Soul

Dalia

What it is to feel the weight of change.

Every fibre of my being in a shift.

Energy flits and flies from

Head to toe.

Takes my breath away;

Gives it back.

Breathe …

Moving through another layer

Self-doubt waves in my

Direction.

“Remember me?” it yells,

Desperate for my attention

While desperately I push it

Aside. “I thought I dismissed

You long ago,” I bristle, and

Run screaming from the room.

To soul’s kitchen.

Something’s cooking. Smells

Inviting. An onion on the counter.

Peel back the layers.

Oh, how it stings!

Throw it in the pot.

Stir. Stir. Stir.

No wonder I cry.

Let it simmer.

Breakdown.

Stir. Stir. Stir.

Its hard shell softens.

The suffering ceases, reduced

To a savoury translucense

That sweetens

The soup of my soul.

~*~

Healing is a bitter-sweet experience.

When you get through the bitter the results can be sweet. 😉

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014