My healing journey
One of the most wonderful things to have come out of my counselling training has been applying what I have learned to my own healing and personal growth. My story is not unlike many others. I wonder whether you can relate.
The impression I have always given to those around me is that I am calm, confident, and resilient. I would rarely ask for help, intent on proving to myself and others that I was strong and could look after myself. When things got tough, I got busy. I was a doer, a list maker, a planner and constantly controlling everything and everyone.
I had a couple of traumatic events occur in my early thirties, which resulted in a nervous system in a constant state of fight/flight and, my need for control, ramped up another few notches. All of this completely out of my awareness, as I busily kept up my state of doing. I began jogging, bought gym equipment and would clean the house constantly. I simply did not know how to be still. Despite my healthy exercise regime, I began to have injury after injury, and my body, rather than getting stronger and fitter, began to get weaker and I would experience more and more aches and pains.
My answer? Try harder and do more!
In my early forties I experienced a traumatic bereavement that sent my health into freefall. I now had pain from head to toe (my feet sometimes too painful to walk on), fatigue beyond anything I had experienced (sometimes I could barely talk), memory problems, hearing problems, sight problems, digestive problems and a long list of food allergies and intolerances that meant I would be scared to eat anything I hadn’t prepared myself.
I had spent my whole life, up to this point, distracting myself away from my body, believing I could think and plan my way back to health. Now I needed to find another way: this clearly wasn’t working!
I was lucky enough to find an acupuncturist who encouraged me to really pay attention to my body. I also had some sessions with a Mctimoney chiropractor, who did the same. Whilst having these treatments I, for the first time, in a long time, experienced being still, focusing on body sensations and reactions. I began to learn more about what circumstances (or people) had the potential to make me feel unwell and this helped me begin to think about changes I could make.
What stood out more than anything, however, was that the most therapeutic element of these treatments was my experience of how the therapist related to me: their genuine interest in me calmed me, their empathy warmed me, the felt sense of their care and compassion; how they really listened to me, was as healing as anything they physically did in treating me.
Unhappy in my office job, I had ventured into care work where the focus was very much on building relationships and connecting with others. I loved it and a certain client was particularly supportive of me and made a big impact. A remark from this lady one day saw my ambition of being a counsellor (abandoned decades earlier) suddenly re-surface. Within 6 months I had taken the biggest leap of faith in my life and began my counselling training.
Over the next 4 years, I was privileged to be part of a student group where we were able to muster enough courage to share our life experiences, whilst allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to trust and learn from one another. Our tutors held us all safely as we grappled with the discomfort and pain of turning our attention inwards, whilst beautifully modelling the importance of the therapeutic relationship as a safe container within which this can take place. We learned to be reflective, to pay attention to our nervous systems, to attend to our needs with understanding and compassion, to reflect on our life experiences; how they impact on us and those around us, and how we might use this knowledge to make positive changes.
It is no coincidence, I believe, that my health slowly but surely improved throughout this time.
The biggest lesson I learned? That caring relationships heal. To trust my inner wisdom, follow my gut: it really does know what I need.
Oh, and to prioritise self-care - it is not selfish or self-indulgent!
My Top 3 self-care activities:
Swimming (top of my list - I will tell you why next week!)
Sitting, doing absolutely nothing (who knew I could do that?!)
Being with trusted friends (and now we can hug!)
What comes to mind for you? What might your body be asking of you today?
You have read this far, so my guess is you might relate to my story. Maybe it offers you hope that healing is possible. Maybe it will give you the courage to reach out and ask for support. It took me a long time to learn that it’s OK to ask for help and it’s OK to take care of yourself. I’m still a work in progress – I still find it difficult to be still, but my body soon tells me, in no uncertain terms, that I need to pause and take a breather.
Listen to your body too – it’s where the wisdom lies.