After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through these methods, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays.
I write bi-monthly articles, publish podcasts, and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked. My second article is How Breathwork Helps Process Stress, Pain, and Trauma: Why I Practice.
In my backyard, I sit upright on a gray deck chair. My bare feet are squarely grounded on the Earth. I feel small blades of dry grass in between my toes. I am settled, wearing blue jeans, a black ball cap, and a t-shirt that says Des Moines: Hell Yeah. I remove my blue glasses and place them on the circular glass side table. I faintly hear speeding cars racing to work on the freeway in the background. The early morning sun sprinkles its rays while I relax under the shade of a purple flowered jacaranda tree. My hair, mustache and goatee are un-showered and unkempt. I prepare to close my eyes. My backyard is a sanctuary for my practice. Wearing ear buds, I push play on my iPhone to begin my morning meditation. I am ready for my daily ritual of thirty minutes of meditation. Today’s choice is Waking Up by Sam Harris.
The next thing I know, I drop into a memory during the practice. I sob uncontrollably. A moment from my life comes to mind: I am on stage giving a business talk to a packed audience. This is a familiar space, a place where I led marketing workshops throughout the past five years. I am due to host an event there in a few weeks. Tears stream down my cheeks while I am on stage. I hope someone from the crowd comes up to hug me. I am sad. No one helps me. From the stage, I see an old friend Lisa in the crowd. I have been through so much with this friend. I feel a deep connection with her. I want someone to comfort me, and no one helps. I continue to cry, while my body is frightened. I think “We’ve all been through so much together, and I need a hug.”
After my Complex PTSD diagnosis, meditation became a regular ritual. During the first five months of my recovery, I meditated over 2,500 minutes, which is over two whole days of my life. Meditation became a mini-hibernation to rejuvenate my body. The meditation slows down my breathing and heart-rate. I stopped taking a mood-stabilizing drug called Lamictal. I now feel intense and painful triggers throughout my body that the drug suppressed. On the surface, the drug comforted the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It helped me to manage my pain. I spent years in denial and ignored the root causes of my problems. Like the crew members moving deck chairs on the Titanic as the iceberg approached the ship, I discovered that I too was in denial about my reality. In my backyard, I learned that mindful meditation is a gateway to a new reality. Meditation opens the depths of my mind and it changes my life for the better. I learn to take care of my pain and suffering. Meditation becomes a spiritual healing practice.
Meditation is a practice of self-care
Back in the meditation session, I lose control of my emotions. I am panicking. My body is sore. The left side of my body is tight. My left shoulder is triggered, while my left hip feels stressed. Even my left toes, ankle, and knee are tense. Taking deep breaths, I gain control. I feel badness and goodness in my body. I am scared of the past that I have not dealt with. Meanwhile, the future feels unpredictable. I am exhausted. I learn to love myself. I soothe my tight shoulder. I repeat to myself in my head, “It’s okay. I am safe.” Awakening from meditation, I struggle to breath. Tears run down my cheeks. My nose is congested from the sobbing. However, my left side body is more relaxed. I recognize that my left hip, shoulder, elbow, and knee need to be loved. I look after my sore body.
I am healing.
During the backyard meditation, my 6:00am sessions bring up many flashbacks. The grassy lawn becomes a sacred place for me to be alone. The decades of suppressed triggers resurface throughout my body, from my shoulder to cheek to hip to foot. I need to heal emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. During my initial recovery period, my backyard is a sanctuary. The early morning routine sets my day on a path to recovery. I treat meditation like a job. I meditate on the bus to work. Wearing my sunglasses to cover my closed eyes, I hope that no one looks at me strangely. During my lunch break, I practice in my coworking space’s dark meditation room. Before bed, I practice to ease into a deeper sleep. It is a lonely journey, yet I am determined to heal. Additionally, I attend two therapy appointments per week. Therapy helps to ease some of the burden.
Meditation creates space to heal
I often get flashbacks to past life events and flashforwards to future events. These feelings are common with people healing from C-PTSD. I am scared and paralyzed by past events, and anxious about future potentialities. The meditation provides a safe environment for my fight or flight tendencies. I learn to focus on the present. I process the flashbacks in the moment. “I think to myself, “Wow, I can heal pain from decades ago.” Meditation is a practice of self-love. Many of these memories come from deep within the practice, sometimes twenty or thirty minutes into a session.
The memories are visual snapshots into the deeper recesses of my mind. From different backyard meditation sessions, I conjure up vivid childhood memories like this one:
My family has a ritual of picking up fast food at the drive-throughs of Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco John’s, and McDonald’s in Des Moines, IA. My Dad and I are in the McDonald’s drive-through to pick-up our dinner. I love Chicken McNuggets and I can’t wait to eat them. We return home and I dip a McNugget in my favorite barbecue sauce, and take a bite. I spit out the McNugget, it tastes gross. Looking at the McNugget, it is red and raw inside. The food is disgusting. My Dad, trying to save my dinner, puts the McNuggets in the toaster oven to continue cooking them. He gets frustrated with me and pressures me to eat the McNuggets. I spit them out again. He yells. We then drive back to McDonald’s to return them. I still do not want to eat the McNuggets. I stopped eating McNuggets that day and still haven’t had one since.
Meditation brings radical change
On some days after a thirty minute session, I am strung out on my feelings. I sweat out the trauma. It feels like stuff is stuck in my body, as if I am breaking a fever. Gross, nasty, and icky are some of these memories from my childhood coming through. Basic emotions and feelings coming out of me. Sweating out the toxins, I want to be normal. Unsure of what normal even looks like, I am alone, and there is no one to speak with. Guilt, shame, and frustration set in. My body hurts. Physically, mentally, emotionally, I am exhausting myself. Closing my eyes, while focusing on the breath brings me comfort. However, it doesn’t always bring self-love. During one session, I recall my Dad’s trauma. This makes me feel like some of my pain is not mine, but other people’s in my family. It is intergenerational trauma, and my parents passed it down to me. I am not living in the moment during these meditations. I am stuck in between the past and the future. During one session I flashback to a few years ago:
I am in conversation with my Dad. He opens up about giving his own Dad CPR after a heart attack. Reflecting on the men in my life, I recognize my Dad has trauma from his childhood, trauma that he rarely speaks about. My Dad tells me that he gave his Dad mouth to mouth resuscitation in the family business office. I wonder if my Dad lives with guilt over his Dad dying months later. My Grandfather’s health was never the same. My Dad is dealing with the trauma of his own Dad dying. My Dad may be a high functioning person, but he is hurt.
Trauma recovery brings spirituality
One some days, I feel like a new person after practicing thirty minutes of meditation. My backyard is a spiritual place. It is a safe environment for me to explore my life. I never realized it before, but I’m a trauma survivor. Doctors diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and other normal-ish symptoms around mental health, but never trauma. During these meditation sessions, my body feels gross. My shirt has beads of sweat on it. However, I learned the practice of self-care through this healing journey.
During one session, I envision telling different friends and family members about the C-PTSD. I have this vision many times, and each time I am ashamed of telling loved ones about my diagnosis. I feel judged. I flash ahead:
Tears fall down my cheeks. I am sad. Whether it is my Dad, friends from college, or childhood friends- I am heartbroken. Sharing with them my diagnosis makes me upset. During one session, I tell a college friend whom I haven’t spoken to in years, and by the end of the session I am crying. During another session, I share my C-PTSD diagnosis with a childhood friend who I haven’t seen in decades, and I sob. During another session, I tell my Dad, and I’m balling my eyes out. I am ashamed. This is all in my head, I meditated these shamed feelings out of my body.
I treat recovery like it is a job. I full-court press myself to get better, determined to try every last option to find a solution. Since college, I have seen psychiatrists, tried group therapy, gone to one-on-one therapy, and tried cognitive therapy. In my head, I am close to the finish line. This is a twenty-year journey in the making. Mindfulness is a gateway to a new reality. It gives me power. My backyard practice heals leftover feelings of helplessness. It opens up my mind to depths that I need to reach. I discover a radical recovery device that changes my life for the better.
Through the backyard meditation sessions, I open my mind to a higher consciousness. A steady diet of meditation helps me to rediscover myself. It opens the door to more self-exploration, feeding my soul. I learn the skills of self-care in a new way. Meditation proves to be a gateway to exploring other ancient healing modalities. Whether it is practicing a calm mind with the Dalai Lama, or breathwork to process stress, pain, and trauma, sound healing to help soothe my body – meditation opens the door to expand my consciousness.
Waking Up Meditation, by Sam Harris
Editors:Vandan Jhaveri, Abu Amin, Lyle McKeany, Steven Ovadia, Joel Christiansen, Oliver Palmer, and Drew Stegmaier.
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