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Breathwork CPTSD healing Meditation Recovery

How I recovered from my family’s botched drug intervention and became even stronger

A few years ago my family staged an intervention. The event caused a disruption to my life that forced me to double-down on my own mental wellness and inner work. The intervention shocked my body, and afterwards I found a series of helpful strategies to help me regain my strength and health. Some of these tools include meditation, breathwork, sound baths, yoga, journaling, group healing, and therapy. 

After decades of working on my own healing, I did not realize how my own healing would cause ripples in my family, which caused a giant wave to crash onto me. While I am on a life-long path to wellness, self-love, and self-acceptance, my family acted confused, controlling, and unwell. 

I am doing well now, and feel more resilient than ever. I got through the intervention, and I wrote some actions and takeaways to help you in your own quest for a healthy life. I’m far from perfect, yet I strive to make daily progress. I have a lot to be grateful for. I want to be clear that I felt great before the intervention, and after building myself back-up, I feel great now. 

The day after the intervention 

It is 5:00 am and the sun isn’t yet up. 

The sound of an Amazon delivery person slamming a package on the concrete outside the front door startles me awake. 

I am hungry, scared, and lying on a couch at my friend’s house in Venice, California. 

I have a new reality on my hands. 

I have no idea where my children are. 

For the past seven years I have known where my children have slept, until now.

My heart is shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor.

I do not know when I’ll see my children again. I miss them greatly. 

I feel acid reflux in my stomach after the stress combined with a loss of appetite come together with my feeling of deep loneliness. I had no appetite the night before—my body was still in shock. I feel hungover as if I had drunk half a bottle of tequila last night, yet I am stone cold sober.

I rest, covered in a blanket and my head on a couch pillow, wishing I were sleeping in my own bed. As I reflect on what happened the night before, I cry. 

I am scared. I know my life will never be the same. I am heartbroken. 

 Just twelve hours earlier, my family botched a drug intervention, for weed. 

After my diagnosis of C-PTSD, a form of on-going childhood trauma, I had been using a small amount of cannabis before practicing yoga or meditation. 

I have been into yoga for decades and cannabis helps me to deal with the physical pain of the practice. As a newcomer to meditation, cannabis helped me get into twenty minute sessions within a few weeks of practicing. Eventually I was going into forty minute sessions after a few months of practicing, it was helping to sooth my body.

WTF is going on. I openly shared with my wife that I have been taking cannabis, which is a plant-based medicine. We even went to a cannabis dinner a month prior to this intervention. 

Cannabis greatly helps me to process the physical pain in my joints, wrists, hips, and ankles. 

The cannabis helped to treat my pain when I experienced PTSD flashbacks during the practice. 

Don’t get me wrong, in my twenties I smoked my fair share of cannabis, and it could have been seen as excessive. Yet, at this phase of my life, I felt the medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant to help with the physical stress of healing my trauma.

I’m grateful that I live in California, there is a cannabis dispensary a mile from where I live. 

In order to helpmyself find answers, I meditate. I reflect on what happened. 

The last moments of my pre-intervention life are walking home from a church.

For an hour prior to the intervention, I attended a community-organized meeting at a neighborhood church with a few other local parents. We discussed a local ballot initiative to tax corporations who are avoiding paying their share of taxes. A teacher from the local school ran the meeting, and he is hopeful to sponsor a California ballot initiative to return the tax money to fund public education. 

Leaving the church, I check my email. I see a bizarre email from my wife, who is forwarding me an email from my brother-in-law. 

The email subject says: 

Fwd: ryan letter

The email is blank, and includes an attached letter. I don’t bother reading the letter, it feels too random for me. 

I text a friend about the bizarre email because my brother-in-law has rarely emailed in my ten years of marriage to his sister. In fact, he doesn’t have my email address, which I later learn is why my wife forwarded it. We have only ever chatted on the phone less than five times. 

My brother-in-law has a low key southern drawl and speaks with few words. He is well over six feet tall with blonde hair and speaks in a meaningful way so that each of his words count. Years ago he shouted at me to argue that the Confederate Flag was not racist, and that was the most in depth conversation that we have ever had.

Walking in the darkness of night, I am calm. My wife is out of town in North Carolina visiting her family with my two young daughters. Her sister just had a baby, and they are off visiting the new bundle of joy. 

My wife also has blonde hair, and is a few inches under six feet. When she is around her family her southern accent comes out, yet while we are living in California I rarely hear the draw. I can usually tell when she’s talking to her family on the phone based on how much of her accent comes out. 

My wife is supposed to be out of town, and seeing her alarms me.

I continue walking. I am a bachelor in spirit, excited to saunter home, take a bath, meditate and snooze. I am peaceful. I am excited for some alone time. Except I am not alone as I walk towards my house.

I have a work bag on my shoulder, and in it my car and house keys. 

I am shocked to see my wife in the driveway. She is supposed to be on the east coast, or so I thought. 

I get a pit in my stomach. I am scared to imagine what she is doing back. Her entire body language looks off. 

She carries herself more like a police officer than my wife, and I do not like it. 

It had been a few months since our marriage counselor diagnosed me with a form of insidious, ongoing childhood trauma called Complex PTSD. Now, my wife surprises me by standing in our driveway. What was she doing here? 

My wife’s presence was the first sign that something is about to go terribly wrong. 

I walk in front of my next neighbor’s house. This feels like a spooky Halloween movie where I am waiting for someone to jump out and scare me. 

My wife exclaims in a concerned tone and no southern accent: “Ryan’s here,” motioning to a group of people in the yard.

In shock, I sternly say: “Katherine, what are you doing back?” 

“Hi Ryan,” she says blankly, with no emotion. 

WTF is going on here, I say to myself again. 

I see bodies in the background that appear to be my two brothers who live in Northern California, and my brother-in-law. 

Then I spot a stranger, a long haired man lurking in the nighttime shadows in my front yard. 

They are all approaching me.

As I write this I am feeling the fear again in my body.

The random person I see looked like my brother Michael’s friend named Andrew. Andrew has long hair, and for some reason I think Andrew’s in on the intervention. I am scared.

“Andrew’s here?” I blurt.

“What the f*ck is Andrew doing here?” I demand.

My younger brother blurts out: “Ryan it’s not Andrew. I love you bro.”

He opens his arms up and is walking across the yard, motioning to give me a big hug.  

My brother used to have blonde hair, and now has more of a receding hairline style buzz cut. When my younger brother is upset, he has the energy of a pit bull. 

The last time we had a meaningful exchange about our family he texted me to “f*ck off” and that “I think we both agree that it’s in our best interest to not speak for a while.” 

I took him literally and we haven’t spoken very often since then. He can go from happy to angry without a moment’s notice, and I’ve enjoyed us taking a break from one another. I don’t need a hug from him.

His energy is off, he is trying to close in on me. I think to myself: 

Oh sh*t, are they trying an intervention?

I see the long-haired guy back-pedaling into the shadows. It isn’t a good feeling. I later find-out this person is an interventionist, focusing on drugs and addiction. I see his floppy hair waving in the wind, as he walks backwards hiding. 

He does not identify himself which is a sign that this is not a safe environment for me. If he wanted to engender trust I would expect him to raise his hand and introduce himself and the goal for the conversation. 

In my head:

This isn’t cool. It feels unsafe. Why isn’t this strange long-haired man identifying himself?

As everyone lunges towards me, as if they are about to ambush, my intuition kicks-in.

It feels like I was reliving my childhood trauma in real time, but I am not a kid. I have options. 

My survival instincts immediately fire up. 

Conveniently my car is right in front of my neighbor’s house. I grab the key in my hand, open the driver’s side door with the key fob, and jump into my Prius. 

Like Lightning McQueen around a turn, I peel out from my street, looking for somewhere safe to drive to. 

Thinking to myself:

What the hell is going on here? And where the hell are my kids?

I find a church a few miles away, and park close by with plenty of lights around me. I feel safe. I exhale.

What the hell just happened?

Since my Complex PTSD diagnosis, I have been aggressively working with both eastern and western methods of healing through therapy, journaling, psychedelic medicine, yoga, and meditation. I vociferously read books on trauma and healing, specifically Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. She writes that in the 1970s, people who’d experienced various forms of trauma were labeled as “hysterical” when talking about their pain. 

Some of these patients were taken to insane asylums, clinics, and doctor’s offices to be “cured.” I got scared of thinking of myself strapped to a chair against my will, while some doctor in a lab coat experimented on me. I immediately went to the worst place when I saw these people.

After meditating in my car for a few moments, I made some phone calls. I need some grounding and reassurance that I am not crazy. I call some people who know me, and can help calm me down. 

I called my marriage counselor, but she is on another call.

I then call my two friends. They both are shocked at what is going on, and have no idea that anyone in my family wanted to stage an intervention for me. They know me reasonably well, so I am surprised to hear that they are not dialed into this intervention.

Friend number 1 is a doctor whose heritage is Hispanic. We once traveled to Istanbul, Turkey together. On the plane ride over we were both asleep when someone yelled “is there a doctor on the plane.” He instinctively woke up and went to attend to a sick person on the flight. He is surprised on the phone. 

Friend number two is a low key and mild mannered friend of Indian descent. We had recently spent a weekend together over the summer hanging out at the OC fair drinking beer, eating fried food, and watching Michael McDonald perform with Chaka Khan. He is easy going. He is a lawyer and also surprised to hear the news.

I am sweating, incredibly nervous at this point. I am breathing to stay alive. If I do not breathe, it feels like I may not live. I am anxious, scared, and very alone. 

I give my friends my wife’s phone number, and brothers’ numbers, asking them to check in with my wife and family.

Friend number 2 reports back in a few minutes, they are now at a restaurant/bar called Upper West having dinner. I exclaim:

“They just had an intervention and are at a f*cking bar eating burgers!” 

Friend number two calls back and says that they want to speak with me. I agree, and await for our marriage counselor to call me back. 

My marriage counselor, finally gets back to me after what feels like an eternity.

She is in her mid fifties, with grayish black hair, and has shows empathy for her clients. She initially diagnosed my C-PTSD and I am forever grateful for her work. She has a service dog named in her office which helps calm her child patients down. She also sounds surprised. 

“Hey, what is going on? Katherine staged an intervention, do you know anything about this?” I ask both confused and angry.

“Ryan, I have no idea what is going on,” she says, equally puzzled.

“Wait, you don’t know what is happening? How do you not know?”

“I have not spoken to your wife since our last session in which she said she was no longer going out of town.”

“Well, she changed her mind, again. And she went out of town, and came back early. She brought some out of town family and staged an intervention. WTF is going on?!”

She calms me down and says, “Why don’t we call her on a conference call.”

After trying her for a few minutes, my wife finally gets back to me.

On speaker phone, my adrenaline is pumping. 

I angrily demand that she answer a simple question: “Katherine, where the hell are our kids?”

“Ryan, they are safe.”

Terrified, I keep talking with my face in my hands: “Katherine, and whoever is on the phone right now, where are my children?”

“Ryan, we’ll tell you that when you meet with us.”

Frustrated and ready to pull my hair out, I reply: “What are you talking about? Are our kids here in L.A. or back on the east coast?”

“They are safe, and we need to meet with you.”

Why is she so adversarial? 

I have the most adrenaline going through my body, possibly ever in my life.

I am furious that they will not share my kids location.

Then in a feverish outburst, I hear a series of voices telling me such things as:

“Ryan, you’re addicted to cannabis.”

“Ryan, you’re on the verge of a psychosis breakdown.”

“Studies show that cannabis can cause psychosis breakdowns.”

After a confusing phone call with no clear agenda, we say goodbye. The people on the call demand that I meet with the interventionist, and then they will share my kids location.

My kids are now the center of a hostage negotiation for a meeting. I am appalled. 

When it’s just the two of us, the marriage counselor says to me: “Ryan, that isn’t the wife that I remember talking to during our last session.” 

I tell her thank you and we log off.

I am still terrified that they would not tell me where my kids are. I do not want to sleep in my house that night. I am scared they would come back and try another intervention. 

I think:

What the hell is wrong with legal cannabis? Are they following the outdated Nancy Reagan Just Say No to Drugs campaign? Cannabis is a plant and it is medicine. My younger brother smoked pot out of a soda can in our basement when he was in middle school. What is he thinking now? I am confused as to why no one ever mentioned this addiction before.

I received no calls from my family, in-laws, or wife prior to this intervention ever confronting me for an addiction. No one has ever asked me if I have a cannabis problem. There were twenty steps between doing nothing and taking my kids away for an intervention. WTF?

I call my friends in Venice, and they put me on their couch for the night.

Waking up the next morning helped me realize that while my heart is broken into a thousand tiny pieces, it’s up to me to put it back together. I am powerless against my family, my wife, and the drug interventionist. 

While this is a nightmare to contend with, I ultimately spend 5 weeks apart from my children, while my family attempts to shove rehab down my throat. 

I refuse to entertain any rehab, psychological evaluation, or their request to send me to a psychiatric hospital for an overnight stay. 

Over the next few weeks I created my own program to recover from my C-PTSD, that includes these elements for how I healed with over 100 sessions in a 5 week span:

  • Sound meditation baths
  • Yoga
  • Breathwork
  • Therapy sessions
  • Journaling 
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Meditation
  • Group healing in support groups
  • Ancestral healing by making amends to distant relatives

I also gave up alcohol and cannabis for the remainder of the year. 

Additionally, I celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s without my children for the first time in my life. 

I cannot control other people. I can only control my actions.

I prioritized rest, meditation, and being honest with my truths. 

I did not let anyone twist my truths into their agenda. 

In the spirit of mental wellness I share this story to help recover from my C-PTSD and the worst 14 hours of my life as an adult.

Interventions are cruel, inhumane, and punishing things. There is no due process. 

I had nothing else to do except take care of myself. I even thought about taking him to court in order to strip him of his license, except that is too much work. This man helped break up my family, and it devastated me at the time.

This felt like capital punishment as my kids were taken away without getting a hearing, or even a courtesy heads up that anyone felt like I was an addict. There was a small mob of people outside my house ready to bring me to the executioner with no just cause. Led by a man in the shadows—a stranger with long hair. 

I later found out that my parents had sponsored the intervention behind my back. It was a gut punch to get the news.

I did learn a lot after the intervention, and in some ways am grateful for it. I realized how sick my family is, and how much work I’ve done to improve my mental health over the years.

How I changed after the intervention: 

  • I am more gentle with myself. I am kinder to myself when I make mistakes.  
  • I accept that I did not cause my family to run an intervention. I cannot control them or their behavior, the intervention was their choice, not mine. 
  • I can only take care of myself and my children, otherwise I am powerless over people. 
  • I made a New Year’s intention to love myself and my children, and no longer spend time with people who are not serving me. 
  • Live and let live, I cannot change anything in the past. I accept what I cannot change.
  • I take life one day one at a time, and focus on the next step to take, focusing on the moment

The cannabis helped me go deeper into each practice, enjoy the deeper state of my mind, while soothing my pain. 

Meanwhile both my family and in-laws have generational alcoholism in the family tree. 

A few weeks before the intervention, I confronted my father-in-law about his alcoholism over the phone. He father-in-law has grayish hair, is around 6’5”, and in his mid-seventies.

He often has a Bud Light bottle in his hand anytime I see him after 6pm. When I come to visit him he usually buys me a six pack of a favorite beer, and we spend time talking about football or basketball. 

Separately around the same time, I had recently confronted my Dad about his anger and bullying ways towards me. My Dad is also in his seventies, and has a quick temper. He has two modes, calm, or enraged. here isn’t much middle ground. 

A few weeks before the intervention he yelled at me over the phone. I called him to ask a question about the time frame and urgency overbooking Christmas travel airline tickets, and he shouted at me. 

His anger upset me, and a few days later I texted our family that i would not be attending Christmas vacation with our family this year. For the first time in a long time I opted out of a family holiday trip. 

Did I shake up the family trees? Did I confront two powerful men about their own character defects? Was this intervention retaliation? 

I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter. I created my own program and now it’s up to me to keep doing the work to help myself, my children, and anyone whose love comes into my orbit.

It took me an entire year and a half to publish this piece. In my heart I knew I was right, I just had to pick the pieces and put it back together.

I have not spoken at length with my brothers or parents since that night. 

They have told me to “deal,” “get over it,” and “we don’t know how to help you.” I learned  that unsolicited feedback is criticism. So I move on.

If I had to do it again, I would not change a thing. The intervention really clarified my position towards my family. I love them. I do not think that I will ever trust them again, and that is okay too. 

I am truly happy in my life. I love myself, and that is what matters. 

I have been doing the work for decades and it is paying off. I have a solid health and wellness tool kit, and I hope that my stories can help you too. 

Big thanks to my editors:

Sara Campbell, Drew Stegmaier, Lyle McKeany, Tom White, Julie Trelstad, Zachary Zager, Maria Sweeney, Katherine Canniff, and Joel Christiansen.

Categories
CPTSD Meditation Recovery

Meditation is a Practice of Self-Care – How Backyard Meditation Brings Me Healing

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 , and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is . My second article is .

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. 

Links:

Waking Up Meditation, by Sam Harris

Editors:Vandan Jhaveri, Abu Amin, Lyle McKeany, Steven Ovadia, Joel Christiansen, Oliver Palmer, and Drew Stegmaier.

Categories
Breathwork CPTSD Uncategorized

How Breathwork Helps Process Stress, Pain, and Trauma: Why I Practice

 

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 life is divided into two life spans: before breathwork (BB), and after breathwork (AB). 

My arms and hands tingle. My body pulses from head to toe. A sensation of powerful energy flows in and around me. My left shoulder tightens and constricts, it feels stressed. I massage my aching shoulder. Comforting my clavicle, my mind is confused, yet certain. My body is frightened, yet self-assured. My shoulder is tight, yet free. It is overwhelming, yet soothing. My soul jumps out of my body. 

An increasing itching sensation hangs around my left temple. I cannot hold back from satisfying the itch. Placing my fingers on the temple, I gently massage the itch in small circles. My brain calls for me to heal it. My left temple pulses again and again. These sensations overwhelm my senses. My body needs reassurance that it is okay. My brain needs to be looked after. Then my shoulder needs help again. I triggered myself. I go deep into my subconscious to find answers to questions that I didn’t know I sought out. 

What is going on with my body?

Taking a Breathwork Class

I am in the middle of a breathwork class. The teacher, Marlize Jourbert, monitors the nearly darkly lit room of forty students. Loud rock music and rapid breathing flow around my fellow breathers. Faint ceiling lights shine on the floor, while battery-powered candles lay in the front of the room. Folding chairs cover the floor, seemingly bolted to the ground. Wearing blue jeans, an unzipped green hoodie, and colored socks, I am laying on my back. My glasses and baseball cap rest by my side. My workday is over. I’m relaxed on a Tuesday night at 7pm in West Los Angeles.

After getting diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), I felt like a frozen caveman getting thawed out. I had recently stopped taking a psychiatric mood-stabilizing drug, Lamictal. Frustrated by the mental health industry, I looked to alternative and more spiritual methods to heal. After paying tens of thousands of dollars in therapy and psychiatry bills over the decades, I felt abandoned by Western medicine. For years, I numbed the symptoms of my problems, while living in denial that there was a root cause. On the surface, psychiatric drugs improved my mood, even though the drugs covered up the deeper causes of my pain. Beneath my body lived stored-up, unprocessed trauma from my past. Like a caveman, parts of my body and psyche were frozen inside. As the ice melted, decades of triggers jolted throughout my body, head to toe.

How to do Breathwork

When I’m in a room practicing breathwork with strangers, I am vulnerable. Hearing people cry, screaming a lion’s roar in unison, and letting out belly laughs together helps to move the energy. Whether it’s from the heart, shoulders, or temple – our bodies are like a reservoir for trapped emotion. Breathwork flushes my system, clearing the reservoir. 

I breathe in two deep inhales. First in the belly, then in the chest. Then I exhale it all out. I’m breathing in a rhythmic breathing pattern. 

I repeat these three steps non-stop for twenty to twenty-five minutes. 

  1. I inhale in the chest.
  2. I inhale in the belly.
  3. I exhale.

I set an intention beforehand to direct the course of the practice. I prefer an I am statement. Saying statements like: I am loved, I am safe, and I am peaceful work as my intentions. And by breathwork, I mean it. In the classes, the teachers blast loud music, while they help us focus on breathing. We usually pause breathing about four to five times during each session. During these pauses, the teachers ask to let out a big belly laugh or scream at the top of our lungs, in order to release anything that may be holding us back. It is not uncommon to cry or hear fellow breathers weeping beside me during the course of a session. 

My eyes are closed. In a dream-like state, my body is still. My mind is resting.

I feel pain. 

I comfort myself.

I feel safe.

Whether it’s to eliminate old belief systems, heal trauma, or temper emotional suffering, breathwork allows me to hit a reset button. I stay mindful of my intention as I go. During classes, I receive flashbacks to emotional memories from the past. I process them in the moment, sometimes decades after the fact.

How Breathwork processes past emotions

I am loved.

I’m thinking about my Grandfather Roger who had a heart attack before I was born. I recall a story of my Dad giving his own father CPR after he collapsed in the family’s business office. Feeling love for my Dad, I acknowledge his pain, hurting, and suffering. I empathize with the unspoken trauma my Dad experienced. Repeating I am loved. I am loved. I am loved. My heart opens with self-love.

I am loved.

I’m eleven, riding my DiamondBack dirt bike in the streets of Des Moines, IA. At my friend Cameron’s house, we play The Legend of Zelda on Nintendo. I overhear Cameron talking to his older brother about how he doesn’t think I’m cool. It hurts my feelings. I haven’t thought about that moment in decades. I comfort myself, saying it’s okay. Grieving for that sad child in my past, my left shoulder relaxes.

I am loved.

I’m a second-grader. Asking my Mom to spend the night out at my friend Todd’s house to watch Saturday Night wrestling. She says no. She would rather Todd come to our house. My Mom controls where I sleep. I cannot change her mind. I haven’t thought about this moment since it happened. I say to myself, “It wasn’t my fault. It was never my fault.” My left temple itches.

I am loved.

Practicing Breathwork in groups

Back in the studio, Marlize pumps up a song by Radiohead. She walks around the room like a college football coach, providing inspiration, motivation, and helping us to stay focused with words of encouragement. “You’re good enough!” Marlize yells to the room. “Stop playing small,” she shouts out a few minutes later. Constantly inspiring us, saying, “You guys are doing great,” and, “I’m so proud of you.” I continue to massage my left temple. Feelings of energy slide down the side of my face. The triggering in my left shoulder continues. The knot is increasing.

Marlize then tells the room: “Surrender to the moment. Keep it up.” Not knowing what to surrender, or what she precisely means, I massage and sooth my body. I continued to breath. It feels like I could run through a wall when working with Marlize. I am ready to trust her with my life. She wants us to heal. 

What is Breathwork? 

According to one of my teachers Shanila Sattar, breathwork “helps you to achieve different altered states of consciousness. In these states of consciousness, you can unblock anything in your body that’s keeping you stagnant.” She says people “often have huge breakthroughs because they are holding on to a lot of stuff that is emotionally captured in the cellular level of the body.” She adds, “what breathwork helps with is stress, anxiety, trauma, pain, and anger. It helps process emotions physiologically in the body.” 

Breathwork feels like a compounding trigger. Complex PTSD is a brain dysfunction that comes with emotional flashbacks. In Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith defines a trigger as “any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions.” Triggers can be conscious or subconscious. In breathwork, I process complicated and repressed childhood feelings of abandonment from parents arguing, my Dad yelling, my Mom controlling me, and all the chaos swirling around my life. I carry these moments from my childhood.

Throughout my life, I experienced fight or flight feelings in my mind and body. The Cleveland Clinic defines a fight-or-flight response as “a stress response, triggered by a release of hormones either prompting us to stay and fight or run away and flee.” During my recovery, I realized I sometimes I overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening. Whether it is getting into fight or flight over a boss yelling at me, an accusatory co-worker pressuring me, or a family member trying to control me, I trigger myself. 

Why Breathwork feels like five years of therapy in one session

Many instructors call breathwork five years of therapy in one session. Breathwork teaches me to release stress in a natural way – through exhaling. A good breathwork class is all about breathing deeply, yelling, crying, sweating, laughing, and allowing stored-up pain to leave my body. These classes give me space to grieve. I vary my breathwork from doing it once a week, to going through 30 sessions in 30 days, to practicing every morning before I get out of bed. It helps me conjure up old painful memories and process them appropriately. While therapy can help with discussing past feelings, breathwork goes deep into your non-verbal memories. 

Breathwork is about soaking in the tears from your wet eyes, screaming at the top of your lungs, and feeling pulsations all around your body. 

  • It’s about giving yourself permission to belly laugh. 
  • It’s about breathing like you want to live. 
  • It’s about danger, and risking the feelings of your old wounds surfacing. 

It’s about past heart-wrenching break-ups popping into your mind, your parents’ argument when you were five years old, and traumatic moments coming into the television of your mind. 

Your first ten minutes may send you to the darker regions of your subconscious, and your last fifteen ten may transport you into a state of indescribable ecstasy. 

Modern medicine has never taken me to a place where breathwork has in my recovery.  Breathwork helps the physical body recover. Simple actions of courage, strength, and hope can help us to heal better than any “miracle drug” from a consumption-driven corporation. It’s a natural medicine to me. I practiced it over 150 times in 2020.

Breathwork practice heals your pain, stress, and trauma. It could bring you to the same too. Sign up to take a class with me Thursdays at 6:30 PST.

Big thanks to editors:  Stew Fortier, Tom White, Marcus Whitney, Drew Stegmaier, Diana Hawk, David Vargas, Lyle McKeany, Anushri Kumar, and and Chris Holinger.

Breathwork Resources:

 

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CPTSD Recovery Uncategorized

Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked

This is part of a larger series of writing around my recovery from Complex PTSD. 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 ancient healing, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays. I’ll be writing bi-monthly articles, publishing podcasts, and hosting workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Twice a month, I send out a personal story of healing. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it.

“Ryan, I think you have a form of insidious ongoing childhood trauma called Complex PTSD. Let’s talk more in the next meeting.” 

Towards the end of the couples’ therapy session, our social worker looked at me and said those exact words. 

That first sentence rocked my world.

I was shocked, surprised, and scared.

What does insidious mean? 

What does it mean to have trauma? 

I had the pressures of a family, work, and being a dad. 

How would I go through trauma recovery?

I felt desperate. After years of following the traditional rules of mental health: chatting about my feelings on therapy couches, ingesting mood-stabilizing drugs like candy, and trusting medical doctors’ advice—I felt that Western medicine abandoned me.

Since college, I ran the gauntlet of mental health professionals. I saw a therapist, psychiatrist, group psychologists, cognitive behavioral experts, and many different doctors. I accepted that I was in pain and had to manage it. I knew there was a better way to live, yet  no one showed me how to get on that path.

Healing trauma with ancient methods

To heal my trauma I went against traditional health advice. I sought out the wisdom of fourth-generation sound healers, and connected with some of the best breathworkers and meditation leaders in the United States. I experimented with psychedelics, plant-based medicine on the bleeding edge of mental health, dove into an emotional balance workshop through the Dalai Lama, and met with modern-day shamans to build myself back up. I conversed with the legendary Buddhist trained monk Jack Kornfield, learned Vipassana meditation with Mingyur Rinpoche, studied Pranayama breathwork meditation under David Elliott, and worked with sound healers who liberated my body with Tibetan singing bowls.

Now a year later, I’ve survived to live another day. By the grace of God, I finally found the healing practices of thousand-year-old eastern traditions. Many of these practices are from India, pre-colonial America, and indiginious tribes around the world. These ancient methods helped solve my modern mental health problems. Resiliency came through my bones. My healing work culminated in a series of mystical journeys that changed my life.

How We Treat the Symptoms, and Not the Root Cause

I’m grateful that my wife and I opted into marriage counseling. On that day we were in a dimly lit room, sitting next to one another on a small couch. While in the offices of a clinical social worker Dr. Julie Hoine, Wally, her service dog, ran around the floor. Julie sat across the room, on a sturdy black office chair, with a desk and an Apple computer behind her. 

I always seem to misremember things. However, I would not soon forget this day. I had been taking a drug called Lamictal for well over a decade. On the surface it stabilized my mood. In addition to therapy, I had been seeing a psychiatrist for years. While the drugs treated depression/anxiety-like symptoms, they also covered up the root cause of my pain. I recall specifically crying during one therapy session over a painful childhood memory. The psychiatrist’s solution to my grieving was a prescription for an antidepressant. I began doubting this psychiatrist over the past year. Like many Americans, I numbed the symptoms of my problems, while living in denial that there was an actual root cause. 

Julie told me something that shook up my life, my family, and my mind forever. 

“Ryan have you ever been diagnosed with trauma?” 

“No. What do you mean?” I replied. 

“You sound like you’ve been through trauma, would you like to go through a trauma checklist with me?” 

After hearing this, I stopped breathing. In utter disbelief, I agreed to do a trauma checklist with Julie. She asked my wife if it was okay for us to go down this trauma rabbit hole. She said yes. 

Julie spun around her chair to her computer, and searched online for a trauma checklist. I had no idea what she was doing, and was equally curious and shocked. In my decades of searching for answers to my symptoms of depression, anxiety, frustration, sadness, relief and anger, I had not heard the word “trauma” any time in any doctor’s office. 

What is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD)?

Wally was now on the floor resting on her back, no longer running around. The room was calm and we waited an eternity for Julie to pull up the complex trauma checklist. She then asked me if I sometimes felt like I had: 

  • A lack of emotional regulation
  • Changes in consciousness (dissociation)
  • Negative self-perception (extreme guilt or shame)
  • Difficulty with relationships (lack of trust) 
  • Loss of systems of meanings (feeling hopelessness and despair).

I barely recall my answers. My mind felt blank. Complex PTSD is the result of prolonged exposure to trauma over long periods of time, often during the formative years of childhood. It’s different than PTSD, which is often a result of one single traumatic event. C-PTSD is a result of ongoing and long-lasting trauma. The trauma can last for a series of months or even many years. C-PTSD is repetitive trauma, and if left untreated the effects can last a lifetime.

Some of the most common aspects of C-PTSD are:

  • Nightmares 
  • Memory issues (often blocking out reminders of the traumatic event) 
  • Heightened irritability 
  • Decreased interest in once-enjoyable activities 
  • Dissociative flashbacks (oftentimes emotional flashbacks) 
  • Severe feelings of guilt and shame 
  • Difficulty maintaining close and trusting relationships with others

Suddenly I felt exhausted. I learned from my therapist that Complex PTSD and complex trauma is under-diagnosed. To which I said, “No shit.” 

Since graduating from college, I’ve been on as many different pharmaceutical drugs as you can imagine. Feeling like a human guinea pig, I’ve been prescribed antidepressants, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers. None of them has completely worked. 

Past doctors diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and other normal-ish symptoms around mental health, but never trauma. Complex PTSD sounds like something that military veterans and survivors of sexual assault have, but I had experienced neither. I was a father and husband with a career, and I was floored by the diagnosis. I thought to myself, “WTF?”. I felt totally f*cked. I asked myself, “what does recovery even look like?” I wondered, “How am I going to meet my client deadlines next week?”

How Recovery Works

Now I am in recovery; something I will happily continue for the remainder of my life. In the coming series of essays you’ll hear how, why, and which ways I’ve healed. I merged Eastern and Western treatments to get better. Rather than return to the well of psychiatric and psychological evaluations, I forged a new path. I’m the happiest I’ve ever felt. I have to thank microdosing psychedelics, breathwork, meditation, practicing gratitude, journaling, and yoga for some of this continual effervescent feeling that I have. Now in retrospect, I understand what worked for me. Equally as important, I learned what did not work for me. I’ll share my results, as I experimented with many different types of healing methods. I waited decades for my oneness with the world to bubble up to the surface from down below. I genuinely feel whole, connected to people, and believe that my best days are ahead. This feeling is a stark contrast from how I felt just a year ago.

I want to share with the world the story of how my final trauma therapy uncovered the truth. I would like no one else to go through the decades of pain that I felt. What many people call healthy isn’t necessarily right. Rather than fighting a traditional mental health system of what we define as healing, I invite you to follow along so that you too might chart your own path through the recesses of the mind and psyche. The needless suffering that I went through must end now, and we can all collaborate to work on a more human experience to help people who’ve been traumatized. There are more people like me —zombies living with unknown pain, looking for answers to questions that they don’t even know exist. I invite you to follow along so that you too might chart your own path through the recesses of the mind and psyche. This is the journey to getting unf*cked.

Big thanks for edits from: Ross Gordon, Stew Fortier, Tom White, Joel Christiansen, Drew Stegmaier, Sara Campbell, Richie Bonilla, John McGarvey, Chris Holinger, David Rosenblatt, Lyle McKeany, Steven Ovadia, Charlie Bleecker, and Joshua Mitchell.