“The cure for pain is the pain.” – Rumi
The body doesn’t forget.
My body tenses and my breath becomes shallow when I feel like something is going to be taken away from me.
The sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach nearly brings me to my knees when I see certain people in my past – and sometimes just hearing the names of these individuals elicits a nauseating response.
Feeling like I’m not included or I’m being rejected causes my body to shut down and close off.
Events in our life leave physiological imprints in our bodies, especially when we experience trauma or situations of extreme stress.
The body doesn’t forget. In fact, research has shown that your body keeps a physical memory of all of your experiences in the form of physical sensations and behavior patterns.
Maybe you feel your body tense up when you’re asked to do something in a large group setting. Maybe you feel “bad” or ashamed when you need to ask for help. Or, maybe certain types of situations or certain people make you physically feel sick to your stomach. Those sensations are your body remembering.
It’s remembering a past experience where you were called in front of your third-grade class and asked a question you didn’t know the answer to, so you felt embarrassed and humiliated. It’s remembering that time you were made to feel ashamed about asking for help because you “should be able to handle it yourself”. It’s remembering the stress from past experiences or how certain people made you feel.
The body doesn’t have words to express itself and so it responds with a physical imprint.
As humans we’re exceptional at forgetting, blocking, numbing or intellectualizing the memories that are stored in our brains. However, working through the memories stored in our bodies isn’t quite so easy. Because pain is well, painful, we tend to avoid painful or conflicting emotions in our lives, much less allow ourselves to feel the shitty feelings. Instead, we carry our stress, anxiety and trauma around with us every day – sometimes unknowingly – using food and other addictive behaviors to soothe ourselves and quiet the emotional tension. Even if we understand that healing happens when we feel our pain, working through the pain goes beyond just sitting with and feeling the painful emotion because below the painful emotion is a story we’ve created around what the feeling means.
Feelings have deeper roots than the feeling itself.
For every painful thing that has happened in our lives, there’s the feeling (our physical response to what happened) and there’s the story we create based on the feeling we feel (what we believe the feeling means). It’s why your yoga teacher will frequently remind you that “your issues are in your tissues” as they take you deep into a hip opener sequence. It’s because our stories are literally stored in our bodies.
The vagus nerve is one of the main emotional centers in the body and when emotions are triggered in the mid-brain, the vagus nerve responds by sending signals to the heart, lungs and intestines. These signals ready the body to take appropriate and immediate action in the service of survival. The body is ready to react to perceived danger before we are even aware that an emotion has been triggered. It’s the reason why emotions aren’t under our conscious control.
This is all to say that it’s not about not feeling the feeling or somehow preventing yourself from feeling any particular way.
Bottom line: shit is gonna happen. Emotions will be triggered. Our job is to notice when those feelings arise so we can catch it, feel it and release it before we create a story around what it means. Once we go full-on story mode, we allow the pain to imprint our body.
2017 into 2018 was a rough year for me on the relationship and work front. I virtually lived my life in a constant state of anxiety and stress, attempting to cope with the drama and all the things I couldn’t control with food – a relationship to my body and myself that I was in the process of simultaneously healing and sabotaging.
In the beginning of 2018, my job became so toxic and stressful I would have full on panic attacks before I’d walk in the building and sometimes I’d have to run to the bathroom to throw up, not by choice but simply because my nerves were shot.
Everything inside me said I needed to leave. I was literally at my breaking point, but chose not to listen. And that’s when the Universe made the decision for me. Within 24 hours, at this time exactly a year ago, my world changed as I knew it and I found out I’d no longer be returning to my place of work. What should have been a blessing in disguise (it later was exactly that) became a traumatic event in my life filled with hurt, anger, resentment and sadness.
During the course of 2018 into this year, I’ve done a lot of work with compassion, healing and forgiveness, especially toward the individuals who I felt “wronged” me. I felt my feelings. I had full-on crying sessions where I’d sob myself to sleep. But, anytime my old place of work was mentioned or anytime I saw individuals from my past, I was deeply triggered. In an instant, I was transported back to that time and place in my body.
The body doesn’t forget.
I’m doing the work, I thought. I’m feeling the feelings, I’d argue. And yet here I was caught up in the same shit storm of anger, resentment and hurt – not a place I wanted to be.
I was feeling the feelings but what I wasn’t doing was addressing the story.
Two weeks ago, I went on a retreat in Tulum with my teacher, Patricia Moreno where we did extensive work around feelings and a big piece of this work was separating the feeling from the story. As went we through various exercises during workshops, I found myself uncovering chapters of a story I didn’t know I had kept.
There was a story around people always getting something over me.
There was a sense of arrogance and ego around how I should have the job or the accolades because clearly, I am better suited for the job.
There was resentment over the politics and the being looked over and how I was never going to get where I wanted to go because someone else had the final say.
There was a deep embitterment toward individuals who I believed could do whatever the F they wanted and never had to face consequences.
There was a story about how I was always wrong, even when I wasn’t.
There was a really big story about how none of this was fair.
This shit went deeeeeeep friends.
It was a Holy Shit moment of no wonder I’m circling back to the same emotions. Every time I see someone who’s hurt me, anytime I hear about anything remotely related to the place or circumstances that traumatized me, I’m back in the story because I haven’t released the story.
On the last day of the retreat, my teacher made me do a “Screaming Exercise.” It was an exercise that everyone else did on day one, but one I simply could not get myself to do at that time. It took three tries, but the last scream was something I felt well up from deep inside me. My body trembled, my throat ached from screaming and tears streamed down my face as the anger, the hurt, the resentment from this event coursed through my body and my heart. As I collapsed into my friends’ arms, there was an aftershock of coming out of something so intense, but also a deep sense of calm, a huge release.
Last week I saw an individual from my past who was tied to this traumatic event, someone I was once close to but who deeply hurt me. Instead of seeing them and averting my eyes because I was sick to my stomach, I looked them in the face, smiled and said, “Hi”. Just like that. Not forced. No gut-wrenching feeling. Just “Hi”. It was a moment that near brought me to tears because I realized in that moment, I had healed something in a very big way.
Acknowledging our stories takes some excavating and a shit ton of hard truth. You have to get honest – brutally honest – with yourself about where you aren’t holding up your end of the healing. Healing happens with time, but no amount of time will heal you if you’re still holding onto to bullshit theories about what it means and who’s to blame.
The single common denominator in every situation in your life…is YOU.
Listen, sometimes people are assholes. Sometimes unfair things happen in our lives. Those aren’t the things we can control and the longer we hold onto the story of the hurt, the longer we wait to see someone “get theirs”, the longer it takes to heal from our pain.
This week, give yourself permission to feel, to investigate and to heal.
With so much love & gratitude,
A Healing Toolkit
Tool 1: Permission
Give yourself permission to feel because if you want to heal it, you’ve got to feel it.
Often, the reason we feel the need to numb what we’re feeling is because we believe that the emotion we’re feeling isn’t allowed. We think we’re not allowed to be angry or we’re supposed to be strong, so we can’t cry.
Giving yourself permission to feel allows you to have power over the emotion – you control it instead of allowing it to control you, and in the process, you create the space to heal.
The healing process will bring up lots of different feelings and emotions; many will be uncomfortable. When these uncomfortable emotions come up, allow them to come up without becoming attached to them; notice them for what they are and know that there is a natural ebb and flow to this process.
It may be horribly uncomfortable initially, but allow yourself to witness your feelings without judgment or reaction. This will allow you to respond objectively. Feelings aren’t forever. They come and go – if you let them.
Tool 2: Excavating
Once you feel the emotion, investigate it. Where do you feel it in your body? Is it a hot or a cold sensation? When else in your life have you felt this sensation before?
Objective questions like these allow you to examine the emotion rather than further add to the story. You want to avoid asking what the feeling means but instead know why the feeling is there so strongly and why it keeps coming up.
You might not come to the answers right away. Keep asking. Keep excavating. The truth isn’t always easy to obtain as we like to bury that stuff deep down below the blaming and numbing.
Sit with the feeling long enough that you can begin to identify at least how it feels and where you feel it. Once we arrive at that place where we’ve sort of befriended our feeling, it’s easier to investigate what story we might be tying the feeling to.
Tool 3: Release
When you’ve allowed yourself to feel and you’ve identified the story that is attached to that feeling, it’s time to release the emotion from your body.
There’re plenty of tools when it comes to releasing and it might take time to figure out which one you need and when is best to use it. Generally speaking, in order to fully release the story, you need to do something active rather than passive; meaning that rather than thinking or visualizing the release of the story, it’s far better to move your body or to write. Active movement helps gives the emotion a voice so the emotion can move out of your body.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to releasing. Choose the method that feels best to you in the moment.
Ways to Release:
While it’s easy to want the “quick fix”, know that healing takes time. And there’s always more layers to peel back, release and heal. The more you uncover, the more you discover.
Give yourself time to develop your emotional toolkit and understand that healing is a journey, not a destination.