Why Your Focus Should Not Be On Forgiveness After Surviving Sexual Abuse

This post is to speak to survivors who were told or pressured to “forgive.” Everyone is welcome to their own opinions and beliefs, however, I suggest reading until the end, and you’ll see why. This blog post is probably so far one of the most important ones to read if you are on your healing journey as a sexual abuse survivor. It was difficult to write a title that included the two words that make us all cringe if put near each other: forgiveness and abuse. Now, the way I am going to talk about forgiveness isn’t the way your priest or pastor probably did. I’m not saying that they are wrong and I am right. These are just thoughts and realizations that I had about forgiveness a few years ago. Not only did I come to an understanding of what forgiveness really is, but I also came to this conclusion: Yes, it is possible to forgive anything (rape, sexual abuse) HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean we need to or should. IN FACT, I don’t recommend that ever being the focus for a survivor. Instead, I am going to discuss the definition of forgiveness and what would be more beneficial to you when it comes to healing from abuse. 

 I always shuttered at the word and would feel so frustrated by my teachers in catholic school who said “we need to forgive to go to heaven.” I remember thinking, How and why would a God make you forgive something so awful?  I’ve had people tell me “to never forgive my abuser,” and I’ve had people say, “you have to forgive to move on.” As an extremely creative kid, I was always painting, writing poetry, and piano playing as a kid. Most of them were expressions and reflections on the abuse. Even as a 7, 8, and 10 years old, I wrote some dark shit. It was something that was constantly in my thoughts, and the PTSD wasn’t helping. My focus for years was on the limitations and troubles it had caused, sometimes my focus still goes back there from time to time. 

Three summers ago I took a public speaking class at my local community college. Over the semester, we gave multiple speeches. The last and longest speech presentation was the “Persuasive Speech.” Our topic was up to us. That week I began brainstorming ideas such as: Why Fear Is The Root Cause of The Worlds Problems, Why We Should All Learn To Abide By The Ayurvedic Diet, or The Power of Thought and How It Creates Our Reality. They interested me but instead I chose to persuade the class on something I actually disagreed on: “It is possible to forgive the unforgivable.”

By the end of the research and presentation, I realized that forgiveness isn’t really what we understand as forgiveness. Thinking you are a bad person for not being able to forgive or that you won’t be able to heal if you don’t forgive is one of the most significant myths that hurt us. I want you to know that you do not ever need to forgive your abuser and that it should not be your focus at all. There is another way to heal, a much less shameful way, a way that lets your empowerment rise again. This other way incorporates certain aspects of (the true definition which I will state later on in this) forgiveness, but I want you to know that forgiveness right now should not be your focus. Before I go into explaining why and what will be more healing for you, I am going to briefly describe what forgiveness is and what it isn’t:

What is forgiveness? What isn’t forgiveness? (this explanation isn’t pertaining to abuse, I am talking about the overall definition) The definition of it for many of us is very cloudy. We hear often that forgiveness is the act of letting go and how choosing to not forgive is holding onto an attachment to suffering. Many of us (if not all) at one point lived in continual pain because of something that has happened in the past. A major obstacle that inhibits one from forgiving is that our happiness is still dependent on that person’s actions. Many of us refrain from forgiving because we fear a lack of control over the situation. Regardless of who we are forgiving, we all have had the thought “If I forgive, what if they do it again?” Forgiveness is a state of being, it’s not a one-time thing. That doesn’t mean you need to continue relationships with them. It’s a continual internal practice. We must remember that we are forgiving the person and not the action. It is the act that caused the feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, not the human itself. Now here is what I realized what it means to forgive: 

Forgiveness is letting go of the person’s actions in the past, present, future. It is taking our power back and saying “I will not let your actions have a continual effect on my life.” 

Now that I described what forgiveness is and isn’t, I’m going to talk about why that shouldn’t be your focus as a survivor and what would be more healing for you. In fact, this is what lead me to start this blog, and you’ll see why.

Firstly, whoever is telling you to forgive your abuser needs to fuck off. Whether it is a family member, friend, therapist, or religious figure, it doesn’t matter. They have no business in your decisions and personal journey. The reason why some people urge you to forgive is that A.) they cannot emotionally handle accepting or hearing what happened, and this is their way of sweeping it under the rug. B.) they may be relating your situation to their own or someone they know and believe if you do what they did then you’ll be healed. C.) their religious beliefs and inability to accept any other way of living except for their own. D.) either they have done the act or something similar or know someone who has done it and they are trying to obtain relief from their guilt by needing validation from your actions and current experience. Basically, if someone is pressuring you to forgive something like this, it actually has nothing to do with you and your situation. Instead, it has to do with more of their own personal or selfish reasons that have to do with themselves.

Secondly, the focus shouldn’t be on the abuser or even your relationship with them (if there is or was one in the past.) It needs to be on the person you are in this moment, and what limitations are present because of the abuse. What we are going to do is to pull out pieces of the meaning of forgiveness, and apply it to your own life for you to live the life you deserve and return to who you truly are. So, instead of it being about the abuser, focus more on the effects the abuse has left and how it is currently influencing your life in the present.

Instead of “trying to forgive” reflect on these questions:

Are there any “personality traits” I have that I don’t like about myself that were rooted in the trauma?

Are there any things that I want to do but I believe I can’t because of the abuse? (ex: sex or intimate relationships)

Are there any traits I admire in other’s yet don’t believe I can be myself because I was abused?

Are there any mental/physical blocks or limitations that the trauma has caused?

Are there things that I wish I could do but feel like I can’t because of triggers and PTSD?

Are there times when I wish that “I was normal” and not who I am because of the abuse?

Are there places or situations that I wish I could visit or experience but have a difficult time because of the trauma?

Are there relationships I want to have, yet am afraid to pursue because of the trauma?

Do you see? There are so many ways the abuse has confined us into this tiny cage, almost creating an identity of things we considered “personality traits.” Where in fact, they were symptoms of abuse, those things aren’t you. I’ll be honest, for most of my life I didn’t like who I was and that is because I wasn’t being who I was. It was like I had this agreement with life that was “ok this happened, so now I am this person.” I became tired of living my life based on the past. “It is taking our power back and saying “I will not let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”

Trauma impacts so many parts of one’s life so much so, that the trauma can become our identity. What I mean by that is, a lot of us (because of PTSD, our brains protecting us, and human nature) have learned certain behaviors, core beliefs, and ways we perceive the world to protect us and make us feel safe. The problem is that we are living in the present while being in the mindset of protecting ourselves from something that happened in the past. These behaviors and beliefs served a purpose and were there for a good reason: to feel safe, protected, and soothed. Sometimes though, they deter us from living the life we deserve and wish to have.

Forget focusing on forgiving your abuser. Instead, focus on shedding all of the beliefs and behaviors that stemmed from their actions that you feel are limiting your life. It’s not about letting go of the past. It’s about letting go of all the armor and limits we have put up to feel safe in this world that is no longer serving us so that our true inner power can overflow our entire being.

We may have learned that power is a dangerous thing and that it can be used to hurt others. Because survivors (including myself) have seen the ugly side of power, we may tend to shy away from any sort of power, even down to the minuscule things such as decision making, speaking up for ourselves, disagreeing, saying yes when we wanted to say no. What true power is- is what you’re about to do. It’s looking at the abuser/abuse and saying “I will no longer let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”

Were there times after this realization where I had fallen into the cycle of thinking, “the reason I do _ is because of the abuse?” Yes, in fact, that’s a story I told myself pretty often when I was addicted to Xanax. It wasn’t until I got treatment for it was when I realized: I can be the girl who is addicted to Xanax and drinks with it to cope with the pain of abuse and PTSD OR I can be the girl who WAS addicted to the combination of Xanax and alcohol but decided to walk away from it once she realized she was living a constant state of numbness because it was more familiar than allowing herself to feel the pain and enter the new chapter of her life where she sheds those limiting effects and lets her power flow.

The focus is on shedding all those aspects of yourself that were never you. It is about reconciling with the heartbreaking truth of what happened, and knowing that it’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be worth it. Listen, that abuser and their actions placed so many limitations on your life, don’t give them any more attention by focusing on reconciling and forgiving them. Focus on letting your inner power, which was once blocked, begin to flow. The trauma may have blocked it temporarily, but the biggest gift you can give to yourself is by turning this obstacle into an opportunity to break the agreements that abuse has us agree to.

We all come to rock bottom at some point in our lives, but many of us will climb the ladder up towards where we were once before. Instead of climbing back up out of rock bottom, what if we broke through? If we broke through we’d have a different perspective looking back at our rock bottom.

So basically, forget about forgiving your abuser and letting go of what they did. Focus on letting go of the limits the trauma imposed so that your inner strength can overflow and be a gift to the universe and yourself.

Be

I’m a woman, but I still call myself a girl. In the evenings before bed, I would do headstands after getting stoned. I used to paint acrylics on tall stretched canvases, and one day stopped. My succulents beside my bedroom windowsill are still thriving and alive. I drink straight-up black, iced coffee in the mornings before eating anything. Smoking cigarettes is now a habit that remains way in the past. I love green juice only if it has lemon in it. I became vegetarian when I was seven years old. Today, I don’t label myself as a raw vegan yet the foods I eat are simply just raw fruits, vegetables, and nut butter because I don’t like to cook. When I moved back to PA from California, I didn’t have any furniture and slept on my yoga mat alone for weeks on end, and swear to this day that it healed my back. I don’t like spending the night at men’s homes. I don’t like being held after sex. My parents raised my two brothers and I in an Irish Catholic/Bohemian household and it’s even more confusing than it sounds. I admire Buddhism, yet learning about Hinduism compels me to think beyond learned limits. As a kid, I liked boys, girls, the gym teacher, my brother’s friends, my father’s friends. I quit drinking once because for some reason I thought it was a good idea to combine vodka with Xanax. After a while, I started again, and have been contemplating this past week once again on stopping. I have immense love for Hot Yoga. I was born in the Bay Area and lived in a Youth Hostel that my Dad managed. Sometimes, when I pray, I don’t have a concrete understanding of who I am praying to, yet I feel consoled. Currently, I believe we are all God yet haven’t woken up to realize it yet. I used to take three showers a day after I was sexually abused at six years old. I’ve written a collection of non-fiction pieces about overcoming trauma & I hope one day to heal others with this writing. However, I am still terrified to put the pieces out for people to read. I’ve been reading about quantum physics over the past month. I am terrified to take acid or shrooms because I know someone that never came back. I write songs at 10 pm every night on the guitar so softly, hoping I won’t wake up the neighbors. 

I used to think that all of these actions, beliefs, rules, and perceptions were concrete. I believed they made up who I was: Fiona. Yet there is a higher part that is aware I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. Think about it with yourself. Isn’t there a part of you that knows you are living the life of ___? When you realize you are more than your name, beliefs, and the things you have done/experienced, your mind becomes a blank slate of who you can be. What is that part? God? The Universe? Your Higher Self? All that stuff above could have been completely different. I could’ve written that I loved Math and play soccer.  The Fiona described above would have been completely different, however, I would still have that same higher part of me that is aware that I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. You see, I think that one of the most important things to learn in this life is how to “break agreements.” These agreements are beliefs, experiences, and rules that you have agreed to “be.” Looking above, those are all “agreements.” When you can separate yourself from yourself, you start to realize that you don’t have to be controlled by “external events.”  I would constantly say to myself I do ___ because of ___. Or, I am ____ kind of person because this thing happened to me. 

It’s not about discovering who you are. It’s not even about working on becoming that change you want. If you are always focused on “becoming,”  you’ll always be in that state of trying to change. That’s why some habits are so hard to break, we’re not living in the end. Instead of being the person that is trying to quit smoking cigarettes, be the person that just doesn’t smoke them. Live in that version of yourself. Your higher part of you that is watching you live the life of __, doesn’t have any rules or limitations on who you are based on the past and what people have told you.  You already are the change you desire. It’s about breaking the agreements and shedding all of the things you believed you were so you can just allow yourself to “be” that version of yourself. 

Why You Are Not Your Thoughts.

Has anyone else been struggling with panic, paranoia, or just anxious, unwanted thoughts? That your thoughts have been playing on a loop? Maybe it’s because I decided to take a break from drinking again (for how long? a week.. or forever.. I haven’t decided yet,) only to realize that it’s a lot HARDER than I remember from the last time I did it. Yet, that’s another post for another day.

I found this book at The Chakra Shack, in Laguna Beach, California. I didn’t think I needed it back then. Honestly, I didn’t REALLY realize I needed it until I decided to quit this past weekend. Coolest store by the way, if you’re into crystals and shit.

Or maybe it’s because it’s that time of the month, I burned myself from this innocent looking, sloth heating pad I got from Urban Outfitters, or that the 800mg of Advil still doesn’t take away the needle stabbing pain from my IUD. (But completely worth the pain because hormones and pills…. or hormones in the form of a pill are things I try to stay clear from.) The mind and body are more connected than we may realize. Which is why I’ve learned that if your body isn’t at it’s best, your mind will suffer. Anyway, back to the point of this post: this morning I remembered I wrote this on my old blog back in January 2019. I hope it helps you if this is something you’ve been battling. (The trick is, to not battle with it. You’ll see what I mean as you keep reading.)

Sloth Heating Pad From Urban Outfitters.

You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are, well, just thoughts. For so many years, I let negative thoughts hold such power over my mood and actions. Whether it was a negative thought about how I perceived myself or an unsettling memory from when I was a kid, I would let one thought push me into a downward spiral and taint the rest of my day. I believed that I had no control over this. There was this strong belief that those thoughts were a reflection of me.

If you or someone you know struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder or any form of addiction, you may have noticed that they will get hooked on one thought or urge. It’s can feel like the individual is blind sighted by anything else but that thought. And the more you (or they) try to not think about it, the more you do. (Ever heard of the saying: Don’t think of the pink elephant?) It’s beyond frustrating and can leave one to think that there’s absolutely no hope in changing their present mood or actions. This can apply to those who suffer from depression as well. There may be a hopeless feeling or thought that they feel they cannot let go of. If you can resonate with any of these scenarios, I want to tell you this:

Your thoughts aren’t you. You are not a bad person for thinking those thoughts. Furthermore, your thoughts don’t have to dominate your emotions or actions. You are not a victim to your thoughts. And most importantly: your thoughts don’t have permission to make you give in to an urge or addictive behavior. That stupid little thought doesn’t have power over your arms or legs. You do. (Now I get it, easier said than done, but bear with me.)

Now, it is impossible to control the thoughts that may arise from time to time. But it is in your power to chose how you respond to them. 

For example, someone who may suffer from depression may think a negative thought about themselves. Such as:

“I should be able to do more like everyone else.”
“Why is it so hard for me to have hope and stay motivated?”
“I feel so guilty for burdening everyone around me.”
“I’m a jerk.”
“I’m always sad. It’s easier for others to be happy.”
“I am a bad person because I did x, y, and z back in 2010.”

Then, along with that thought probably comes with hundreds of reasons that support that belief to be true. The more we focus on that thought, whether negative or positive, our brain will try to find all the evidence it can to back that thought up.  And man, anyone who is thrown into a sea of thoughts like that is bound to be depressed.

So, right now, I want you to imagine you are standing beside a stream in the woods. As you hear the rushing water cascade down from the forest’s peak, you look down and notice thousands of fish swimming down the stream. Some are grey, camouflaging with the stones that lie at the bottom of the stream. Swimming alongside the grey ones is a bunch of bright blue fish.
Think of these fish as your thoughts.
You cannot control how many grey ones are swimming in the creek just as much as how many blue ones are there. Now, as all of the fish are swimming down the stream, you reach down to pick one up. You get to decide on which fish you pick up. It not in your control over which fish passes you down the stream at that moment in time, but- it is your choice of which color fish you pick up and look at.

Also, it is completely in your power to decide how long you are going to hold and observe the fish, whether it is for five minutes, or the rest of the day. (Don’t ac

tually do this! ) You can also just notice that grey or blue fish as you let it swim by past you instead of picking it up at all.

That’s how it is with your thoughts. Sometimes there will be negative thoughts about yourself that arise through time to time. That doesn’t mean that thought is true. It’s just a thought. The reason why it may feel true is that for most of your life you’ve just focused on that thought and created the evidence to support it.

Now, I know that there are genetic and biochemical factors and components for depression, OCD, and addiction. I’m not saying this is a cure-all concept or idea, but it can definitely save you from going into a downward spiral for the rest of your day.

For example last night, I ran into someone I knew years ago. I used to have this belief that they thought I was a chaotic mess. This morning, as I was folding my laundry, a negative assumption of how they may have perceived me passed through my mind. Immediately, (as I unconsciously picked up the grey fish) I began to go back to that scenario of running into them last night and picked apart all the reasons and evidence of why they may have thought negatively about me when we ran into each other.

Suddenly, I stopped myself. I let myself get hooked onto the thought and the storyline of how this person might think that: I’m too whimsical, unorganized, and can’t keep up with life. After I became aware, I told myself “that’s just a thought.” Because really, there are tons of thoughts that were going through my mind at that moment, I just chose to delve into that specific one and the storyline of what they thought of me based on past interactions from years ago. Swimming alongside with that thought were other thoughts such as the moments of laughter I had with the friends I was with that night or that I ran out of coffee this morning and need to go pick some up.

***I think that a lot of us may have felt a certain way about ourselves based on one or two experiences in life, and then have continued to believe that story and perception of ourselves as well as projecting that belief onto people who we meet in the future.

Even as intuitive as you may be, we never truly know what the other person is thinking.
Even if that person I ran into did think that way about me… It doesn’t mean I actually am a mess. I could have spent the rest of the day believing and living as if I am chaotic or disorganized. I could have stopped folding my laundry. But I didn’t. I chose to pick up the other fish and create my own story of how I see myself.  And I had a fucking great day.
Also, constantly focusing on the thoughts of how we perceive ourselves, how the people around us to is going to drive anyone crazy. Try observing something outside of yourself. It gets you out of your mind.

Next time a negative thought about yourself or an urge to *drink, smoke, blah blah ..etc..etc..* arises, just watch it like a fish down the stream. It may stand out to you more than the others, but this is because you are used to giving that specific thought more attention. Over time, the thought will not seem as true, threatening, or loud once you practice observing it and not believing it.
Sometimes, the thoughts may seem intrusive or you may feel like the words are shouting out at you. But remember, the response is in your power. Instead of picking up the thought and finding evidence for it. Just respond like this:

“Hmm, interesting. Anything else you (the thought) would like to say before I move on?” “Yeah I know it would feel great to __ right now. But I’m not going to.” 
When the thoughts are strong: the trick is to respond curiously and almost neutrally. Because the more you argue about giving into an addictive behavior or stream of negative beliefs about yourself, you are still giving tons of energy and attention to that thought and it’s going to wear you down.

Trust me. The more attention you give something, negative or positive, the more it will come to fruitation. So, if you are trying to stop the thought or argue with it—don’t. Just let it know you see it, and then try to observe all the other thoughts/fish that may be swimming in the background of your mind.

The present moment is all that matters. What you did 3 minutes ago or 10 years ago doesn’t have to be the determining factor of how you live right now. You are a good person. Don’t let one event or a few interactions with others affect the rest of your life.
Even if someone did straight up say to you that you are a *insert negative noun* -it’s just one of those grey fish in someone else’s mind. That thought of theirs..it just doesn’t matter. Because it’s just an opinion. 

And you know what? Maybe I do act disorganized, whimsical, and have a hard time keeping up with life. But that doesn’t mean I AM disorganized, whimsical, and have a hard time keeping up with life. I can be organized and grounded when I feel like it….. And the same goes for you!
So fuck those grey fish. They are only as real as you believe them to be.
Next time you catch yourself picking up a grey fish and are about to fall down a staircase of negativity. Just watch this video before you continue your day: (A video my dad made me watch in the midst of a panic attack at some point during high school haha.)

Why You Should Break Away From Extremes

How you do one thing, is how you do everything.

-Iyanla Vanzant

Yeah, I’m a Gemini, but in no way will I ever use that as the reason as to why I’ve always struggled to find “The Middle Path.” Just over year ago, you’d most likely find me at the local yoga studio downtown, sipping on cranberry kombucha, slathering coconut and eucalyptus oil on my body every night before bed, taking long hot baths with Epsom salts, and living off of sweet potatoes, green juice, and quinoa. Then, the next week I’d be at least three shots in of Smirnoff (of my 100 lb frame at the time) during my evening biology class that usually followed up with smoking cigarettes in my car until I was sober enough to drive. I’d swing from the chandelier, (almost literally) from one side of the spectrum to the other. There were moments of putting lavender and eucalyptus essential oils on my wrists, keeping citrine crystals in my bra or pockets wherever I went, and juice cleansing for a week. Then there were also the moments of landing at midnight in San Diego, still drunk and letting my cousin give me acupuncture while she was high. Which then led to continual drinking the rest of the time I visited family, ruining my mothers “girls wine tasting trip” to the Funk-zone in Santa Barbara when she turned around to find me lying down on the sidewalk, under a tunnel, and had to peel me off the dirty pavement. We have never gone on one since, and I can understand why.

The Funk Zone
Hangover Acupuncture from my Californian cousin.

Once my therapist quoted to me, “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” At first, I really didn’t get it. I mean, I got it, but I didn’t really take a deep look into applying that to my life. A common theme has been extremes. If I felt like I relapsed a little bit, I’d run with it. If I felt like I was finally getting my act together, I’d run with it. What was the precursor to either extreme was by all or nothing thinking, and disregarding listening to my body. 

How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” If you’ve been the person who always said, “tomorrow I’ll start,” and then ended up drinking 10x more than you would, smoked your entire “last” pack of cigarettes, started a 10-day water fast or some weird shit like the 70’s Vogue Diet only to resort back to your “higher calorie” trail mix and kale chips…this post is for you.

A food journal entry from a few years ago… yikes is right

There are three categories of tools to use in times of stress, overstimulation, or just feeling overwhelmed. Category 1, 2, and 3. Category 1 sums up the habits you probably are trying to break. Category 2 consists of the things we do but prefer not to talk about, and Category 3 is mostly what we understand as “positive” coping tools. The idea is for you to categorize your own tools, coping habits, and incorporate new ones as well. Once you see them written down on a piece of paper, you’ll be able to understand the dynamics of your cycles and patterns, see how often and why you use negative coping tools, to navigate a starting point of recovery when you aren’t sure if you really want to recover yet, or just feel like you need to find awareness of what you have been doing. By writing it all down on one piece of paper, it also takes away the shame and all or nothing thinking-because, in the end, they are all coping behaviors.

Category 1: Wine, cigarettes, weed, starving, counting calories, water fasts, Xanax, Tito’s in your GT’s Synergy Kombucha, keeping airplane bottles in your car..basically any form of using booze to escape, throwing up, sleeping pills, casual sex with randos, laxatives, Tinder Men (especially Tinder Sams and a few of the women on there), Men who keep asking for pics, credit cards you shouldn’t be using, running so often that you get stress fractures in both legs, or bleaching your hair after drinking a bottle of wine.

My “Tinder Sam” Saga Back In March
Archived from my Instagram story
Meanwhile, I should’ve been doing homework.

Category 2: Hours of reading the elephant journal or about astrology, spending almost all of the money you saved for groceries on new journals or mediums, three cups of black coffee, taking too much b12, dark chocolate, Instagram, running out at 10 pm before CVS closes to buy a vibrator because you threw your old one out for using it too much, spending an unnecessary amount of money on crystals, sage, maca powder, and goji berries.

Category 3: Hot lemon water, epsom salt baths, Peppermint or Kava Tea, Essential Oils, Hot Yoga, Yoga, singing at the top of your lungs, L-Glutamine/Amino Acid therapy (highly recommend if you are quitting drinking), long walks, short walks, binaural beats, affirmations, meditations such as “Fuck That Meditation” and “Aaron Doughty’s Meditations,” headstands, green juice (for minerals and electrolytes), coconut oil, crystals, Yin Yoga, FaceTime your friends, journal with spelling and grammar errors in a stream of consciousness style of writing, walk in the forest or on the beach, turn off your phone, sparkling water, Tito’s-free kombucha, Self-Defense Class, Acupuncture, Reiki, reading life changing books such as Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself, The Body Keeps The Score, Quit Like A Woman, The Fuck It Diet (by my cousin Caroline…where you’ll also probably learn a lot about my family’s past weird diets, and the not so normal moments that I thought were normal, for example: when my mom poured a bowl of “frozen blueberries” for my neighborhood friends, called it dessert, and none of the kids on our street ate at our house ever again.)

Anyway, you can tell Category 1 coping tools aren’t anywhere near the “goal” and that Category 2 isn’t preferable, but it doesn’t have as many repercussions as Category 1. Category 3 is what we may have learned about in self-help books, rehab, or therapy-it’s what we “should” be doing.

Now, I want you to try to categorize your own tools you use. Once you do that, I want you to realize and accept that it’s actually better to end up in mostly Category 2, while integrating parts of Category 3. I know it doesn’t sound ideal, or like your perfect version of “Recovery,” but I promise it’s a lot better than going all in for 3, and end up burning out and then resorting back to all of the coping mechanisms in Category 1.

If you feel impatient with your progress and want to resort to an extreme method or if you’ve relapsed, I suggest learning about The Middle Way. For example: If you started smoking again after you quit, instead of hyper-focusing on not smoking, start incorporating behaviors from Category 3. It’s extremely difficult to quit cold turkey when you don’t have any coping mechanisms you’ve practiced and have evidence that they’ve worked. It’ll be smoother (as much as it can be) when you decide to quit again.

**Another Tool I learned today in group therapy (after discussing my recent impulsive decisions) is to set a fifteen-minute timer every time you feel an urge. Once it ends and if the urge is still there, try it again. However, if you feel like you CANNOT possibly set that timer again or that you don’t know if you want to quit whatever it is, then let yourself do engage in the habit-after the 15 minutes. This actually helps your brain over time, rewire itself to pause before taking action instead of going straight into engaging in the habit. This technique is definitely a form of practicing moderation. However, I go back and forth with this idea because there are some habits and urges that you can’t fuck with, like oxy or mixing liquor with Xanax or perhaps just drinking in general. I think in therapy she was referring more to the most recent event of deciding to bleach my hair while drunk. (I did pause, for what I recall being ten minutes, with a bowl of bleach in my hand.)

Relapse, Recovery, and Figuring Out If It Is A Problem

I had a wake-up call. Now, listen, I’ve had a lot of wake up calls. Many of sorts. Like waking up on a couch without a clue whose home I was in. Waking up to the fact how sick I was when my best friend since the first grade held my hands in a local Starbucks, with tears in her eyes, begging me to get better. Or the wake-up call I had when I was being rushed to the Mission Viejo Hospital for my heart rhythms after starving, being underweight, overdosing on laxatives, and throwing up anything I ate for months on end. Not even the Advanced Pedialyte or Coconut Water with Himaylan Salt save me at that point. Waking up to how my life was constantly being put on pause when quitting college to attend an eating disorder treatment center (twice). Waking up with Pacifico bottles, a burning throat, and cigarette butts by my bedside. Waking up during the middle of sex at 4 am with some man at his house in Delaware. Delaware. (I live in PA for context.) Waking up after my flight landed and groggily walking through the San Diego airport, still intoxicated, and was lost. There are more extreme wake-up calls that I’ve had, but this would be a long post if I listed them all. 

After each one of these wake-up calls, I swore to myself that I was going to change. I meant it, and I really believed it. “This is it, this time is really it, I can’t live like this anymore,” I’d say to myself, usually after the times that my body took a hard hit from my actions.

I quit it all for a while. I got into yoga, continued school, focused on healing my body, and started this blog. Drinking happened occasionally, but nothing like before. Until I woke up the morning after this Halloween, not remembering much of the night before. Except for the part when my ex walked me down the street that night saying, “You’ve got to stop, you need to take care of yourself, Fiona.”

That morning, I sat up, climbed out of bed, and brushed off that vague memory. I sat down at my laptop, read my horoscopes off of three different websites, and swallowed a handful of vitamin tablets with black coffee. #Health .

I stared blankly at the screen, ruminating on the thought, “How do you know if you have a problem? I think I relapsed. Yet, did I even have a problem before? I mean, what’s the difference between having fun, being young, versus being addicted?” I grabbed my phone and texted one of my brothers. (Who would be a therapist because he’s the most honest, empathetic, insightful person you’ll ever meet.)

He then called me. We talked on the phone for almost an hour. I told him everything I had been avoiding acknowledging myself. Sure, I was taking herbal remedies to heal the weekly fevers I was having, but I wasn’t eating basic nutrients. Sure, I wouldn’t drink much around my friends, but I’d pour wine in a reusable water bottle and secretly drink it before or after. Sure, I wasn’t smoking weed as much, but I was taking Xanax from my friend’s medicine cabinet and drinking with it. Those substances weren’t used for social reasons, they were used for “medicine” to cope with stress.

I didn’t want to admit that I needed help. I especially didn’t want to admit it on here because this blog is supposed to be helping others climb out of this kind of cycle. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid of what my friends, family, and readers of this blog would think. I strongly believe in practicing what you preach. For heaven’s sake, I wrote an entire workbook on anxiety and didn’t take any of the advice. My friend Nick and I were recently laughing about how the book should’ve been titled, “All The Advice I Had, But Didn’t Take.” ….Well, I sure am taking it now.

After talking to my brother, I knew I had relapsed, needed to relearn coping patterns, and that I had a problem. Obviously, I cannot give you my credibility for using healthy coping tools over the past few months that I’ve mentioned on here. I’ve used them in the past to get back on track, and I’m back to using them again to do the same. But what I can give you is honesty, what I’ve learned from this, and what is currently helping me now.

Here’s some thoughts:

  1. Never abandon yourself. Most of us would rather feel resentment while giving in to others than the shame that comes with saying no to them. I was saying yes to things I wanted to say no to in all areas of life. And after I would give into them, I’d feel this anger at myself and them, which is also usually when I’d numb out. I was muting my intuition with eating disordered behaviors, Xanax, and alcohol instead of listening to what I needed at the time. 
  2. If you have to question whether it’s a problem. It is. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily about figuring out if you have an addiction problem, but rather asking yourself, “Is this substance interfering with my everyday life? Is it helping or halting me from pursuing my dreams?” Or ask what my brother mentioned, “If I found out my friend or family member was doing this, would I be concerned?”
  3. You can’t do it alone. Now, personally, I don’t believe AA or other 12 Step groups are the only way. Maybe it’s my own personal bias from being raised in an Irish Catholic family, but anytime I hear someone say, “this is the only way to be healed, and you are lost until you follow it,” I become suspicious. I’ve known a lot of people who didn’t do the 12 steps and have been clean for years. I’ve also known people who have been going to the 12 Steps and have been clean for years. What seems to be the common denominator on both sides is this: Community and being part of a group with the same vision, the same meaning of life, and what they want to make out of their lives. It could be a group of people at a yoga studio, a trauma group, a book club that addresses recovery, the 12 step program, or Refuge Recovery (A Buddhist recovery group.) There are so many options out there, but by being in a support group, you are inspired, held accountable, and learn from others. Personally, I just started going to an outpatient support group that runs during the week. There’s no shame in getting help, even if it’s for the 17th time, and you are never “not sick enough” to get help.
  4. Ditch the phone. Use airplane mode. The constant communication, notifications, and distractions had been a major source of stress for me. I’d have so much guilt about not responding to texts and emails right away, it kept me too much inside my head. For an hour, a day, a week, try taking a break. They can wait.
  5. Simplify your life & take care of your body. List three priorities you have right now, including your health. Writing this down clears your head. Focus on what your body needs, not what you think it wants. It’s easier said than done, trust me. Because, if you suffering physically, it’s going to be difficult to function mentally.

These are the five things that I’ve learned recently. They are things I am incorporating in my life right now. I used to have shame about relapsing, admitting it, especially after after having those wake-up calls and making those promises. But what I learned is that it’s better to be honest, and get help, rather than giving up.

TRAUMA AND THE BODY

Let me first start by saying Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a brilliant, brilliant man. He’s an author who has dedicated tons of his research towards PTSD. You may have heard of his book, The Body Keeps The Score. After reading this book a while back and listening to many interviews with him, I was not surprised when I found out his approach to treating trauma is done through bodywork, such as yoga. In fact, yoga addressed many trauma wounds that talk therapy was not able to reach or heal.

 Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talked about the two most common therapies that are used in a New York Times Magazine post: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. He stated that the purpose of this therapy is to “desensitize” the patient to the fear, which isn’t effective therapy for trauma because desensitization is not the same thing as healing. The other therapy commonly used, CBT,  is where the patient will look at their thoughts and see the illusions with a rational perspective. However, again, he pointed out that this is another ineffective therapy for trauma because “Trauma has nothing to do with cognition, it has to do with your body being reset to not interpret the world as a dangerous place.” Trauma needs to be reset in the primitive parts of the brain, which talk therapy, or CBT, cannot reach.

Most therapy uses the “top-down” approach, which addresses the “evolved” part of the brain, otherwise known as the neocortex. This is where you’ll talk and learn to observe your emotions and thoughts. Now, of course, this is helpful, but trauma is stored in the body through sensory. You cannot rationalize with that part of you that goes into “fight or flight”. This is why therapies such as EDMR, brain spotting, somatic therapy, yoga, and hypnosis really help propel one’s recovery from sexual abuse.

This is also why addiction is hard to break when it is just approached by addressing emotions. We must understand that aside from emotions and genetic factors, the limbic system in the body is highly activated. You cannot rationalize with surfacing addiction urges, just like you cannot rationalize with PTSD triggers. This is why this “bottom-up” therapy approach can help with addiction, especially if trauma related. I talked in my podcast (Episode 2) this past week about how to deal with this part of the brain, which is the limbic system.

I thought that by avoiding certain people, places, sounds, or experiences would prevent me from being triggered. Yet, after trauma your entire nervous system is still on high alert, meaning your body is still acting as if you are still in the trauma. If you are someone, or know someone that experiences frequent flashbacks, nightmares, or can’t seem to be brought down to earth, then here are some suggestions that have helped me, and still to this day continue to. The “bottom-up” approach to healing trauma is essential. It really gave me a glimmer of hope when I felt like I was failing talk therapy that I had been going to for years.

Types of Therapies That Address The Body:

-Trauma Sensitive Yoga

-EDMR

-Somatic Therapy

-Brain Spotting

-Neurotherapy

-Hypnosis

-EFT (tapping)

-Accupressure

-Massage

-Acupuncture

Books, Videos, and Resources:

The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

Episode 2: Breaking Away From Old Thought Patterns, Behaviors, and Addiction.

Gentle & Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Sequence for Grounding and Upper Body Release (Video)

What Once Served A Purpose

It was at a hot yoga class a week ago when the instructor had us go into frog pose. My body tensed up at just hearing the words “frog pose” and even more so as I sank deeply into it. Even though I’d focus on loosening up my shoulders, jaw, and hips one at a time, my muscles still tightened up seconds after I went focused on the next part of my body. I was ready to sprint the hell out of that 90 degrees heated room.

Like life, nothing is permanent, not even frog pose. Eventually, the instructor-led us into a restoring savasana and said, “This savasana would feel very different if we didn’t go through all of the poses before. It wouldn’t have felt as rejuvenating.”

That got me thinking.

Trauma is experiencing extreme discomfort that isn’t controllable. To self protect, survivors have learned to dissociate and find other coping mechanisms such as addictive behaviors to escape that discomfort. The behaviors had served the purpose of protecting us from feelings, memories, and experiences that we felt unable to handle. However, if we’re constantly numbing ourselves from the discomfort, we won’t be present to feel the pleasure in life either.

Numbing yourself with drugs or alcohol before sex can be a way to protect you from those flashbacks, but that also comes with never being able to truly connect with someone through sex. That trust and safety that you really desire within, will never come from numbness. In fact, it distances you not only from your partner but your body and spirit as well. The same goes for eating disorders, those behaviors give you that illusion of control but you are actually destroying your body as well as many other areas of life such as relationships, work, school, or inspiration for the future. Addictions such as these becoming replacements of where the trauma is in your mind but takes away your attention from everything else too.

Ah, just one of the 4am walks across town that I barely remember.

One of the greatest milestones in healing from sexual trauma is learning to remain still and present during the discomfort. If we learn to be present in those moments, we also will start to notice other ways to respond to it rather than numbing out. Not being stoned, high, or drunk during sex gave me the awareness to know what exactly causes anxiety as well as the opportunity to speak up about it. It gave me back my own power in what I experience, rather than hoping for the best while numbing out from it. Making the promise to stop abandoning oneself while passing through the obstacles of discomfort will illuminate the opportunities of solutions to it.

Doing your best to remain grounded during these moments is key. Try scanning your body to locate where the anxiety is manifesting and then breathe into it. If you feel like you’re pulled up into a tornado of thoughts, focus on bringing attention to your lower body like your legs or feet.

If you are alone and are experiencing panic, one of the best tools I have learned was EFT, also known as tapping. Now, at first, I thought it was stupid and tedious. Yet over time, it has become one of the most helpful coping mechanisms that bring me out of that whirlwind of panic after experiencing anxiety. A great resource is Brad Yate’s YouTube channel. Try his “Trauma and Abuse” and “Sex Issues” EFT videos.

When we learn to observe the discomfort and remain present, we can ask ourselves what we need to feel safe. Maybe you have been in survival mode for most of your life, but now, I want you to know that you deserve to thrive and live a life of adventure and freedom while also feeling at peace. I promise, with time, you’ll learn how to move through your own versions of frog pose in life.