body memories

Dissociation and Survival vs. Living: A Survivor's Story

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A CSA Survivor's Relationship with Dissociation, Survival and Living:

     
    "There are many things I wish I could help people understand about childhood trauma; this just happens to be one I hear very little about. Like many survivors, I struggle to hear sentiments like, "Oh my! I'm so so glad that's over now and you got through it!", "I can't believe you got out of that alive. I couldn't even do that now! I'd give up," or "At least you know your worst days are behind you. You know you can conquer anything!". Even resources and groups for trauma survivors, as well as therapists and clinicians, can share quips like "You survived the abuse, you're going to survive the recovery!". While these things intend to uplift or highlight our strength, they all categorically deny the fundamental mechanism that allowed us to survive in the first place, and why adulthood is the real hard part: dissociation.

    Make no mistake, those of us who endured trauma as children are courageously strong. We were forced to be tougher than most; and, by nature or necessity, we became resilient, creative and sharp. But Little Me didn't even experience the bulk of the trauma back then. I wasn't connected to the physical pain or sheer terror; I wasn't incapacitated by shame, disgust or uncleanliness; I wasn't aware of the immorality, nor was I having a crisis of conscience. I also didn't even know who was hurting me for much of my childhood - parts of my mind did, but not me. Little Me wasn't facing the anger or the blistering sting of betrayal from those I loved most hurting me in such inhumane ways. I wasn't yet aware this was abnormal or something that could make me feel alien or 'different' from my peers. I was numb, I was hyperfocused on the things I could control, and I was even made to feel special or self-confident in certain areas very early on. While some of that confidence dwindled over time and I became more aware of my unhappiness and "irrational" fears, none of that compares to what you imagine a tortured child feels — let alone what I was about to feel later in life.

    That suffering is here now. Adulthood is when all of it breaks through and confronts you with a vengeance. No, the abuse is not "over", it is not "behind me", it is not "something I got through". As far as my mind and body are concerned, it is NOW. It is very alive and in full-effect. Each excruciating detail of physical pain, disgust, and revulsion; every tidal wave of anger at those who knew and did nothing; each immobilizing shockwave of new material that re-writes my entire life story from how I once knew it. THIS is when my survival is tested. I am hypervigiliant, terrified, exhausted, unsure if I'm even real. I exist in hollowing spaces of grief for Little Me and the life I should have had. ...lost in an endless state of confusion, horror, disbelief and dismay. It is all day. THIS is live trauma in my brain and body. THIS is my battleground, and I am fighting for my life NOW. As an adult, not as a child.

     Furthermore, the dissociative process not only contorts the timeline of when we experience our trauma, but dissociation as an independent symptom challenges life as an adult, too. (..even beyond the forgetfulness, memory gaps, driving troubles, safety, maintaining a job, etc.) One of the most critical elements in trauma recovery is establishing healthy relationships and improving our overall worldview. It's very hard to want to carry on when all you've known is the absolute worst of mankind. Being able to look around, connect, and believe the world is still good is vital to our sanity, safety and healing. But, dissociation challenges this. It can dull your senses, leave you numb to positive feelings, keep you at an emotional distance from love or affections shown to you. It can keep you trapped in a surreal in-between state of both the past and the present -- where you respond to what's happening today with the same emotional maturity you had as a child. Emotional flashbacks, unexpected triggers, and other sudden symptoms that crop up - particularly in intimate relationships or the more meaningful aspects of life - can complicate joy and frustrate those in your life. But most of all, no one wants to just "be alive", we want to LIVE. Fully and authentically, with all the vibrance and richness available to us. But, dissociation has a way of diluting and blurring the world - stripping it of its color and beauty. How do you hold onto a light that you can barely see, feel or trust is even there?

    Like most all means of sheer survival, dissociation has its pros and cons. Just like chemotherapy and emergency surgery, they can keep you alive, but there are risks. They're also unpleasant in the moment and, separate from the conditions that necessitate these interventions, they alone carry longterm consequences. But, without them, you wouldn't be here -- so it's a constant tug of war with perspective and gratitude. Dissociation is no different. It got me through. It saved my life. It gave Little Me a fighting chance. But it also made life after abuse so darn difficult. Because, I should feel free. The abuse has ended, I am safe. I should be dancing and singing and holding everything I love dear to my chest. But instead, now is when I fight. Now is when I stare down my trauma, my innocence, my perpetrators - all with adult intellect and understanding - and try to decide if this life is worth living and if I'm up for the task.

    It is worth it. And, I am up for the fight. I'm going to do this and will do it with grace and strength. But then, and only then, can you say I survived the impossible or that 'it's over now'. This is the battle. ..and not for just survival, but for life. To make this existence meaningful now. I am going to conquer this. ..the trauma, the feelings, the defeat, the difficult relationships, the dissociation. I will also remain appreciative of what dissociation made possible for me, despite its thorns. I want Young Me to get credit for surviving the horror. But I want Adult Me to be credited for not only surviving more anguish, but for learning to LIVE, too."

 

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

    Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
    Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
    Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
    Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
    DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
    Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
    Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller

 

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4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks

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    There is no delicate way to put it: flashbacks are just awful. Whether you've just started experiencing these upsetting and intrusive symptoms, or you've been fighting them for years, we know how challenging and exhaustive they can be!  Thankfully, a wide variety of tools and skills exist to help you break free -- each one highly customizable to your specific needs. That said, some of the very best options out there can take some time, and a lot of practice, before you've shaped them into that go-to symptom management tool you can pull on any time. Skills like imagery, containment, split-screen, and a few modulation tools are all incredibly valuable, but they can be quite advanced, and sometimes even turn survivors away from them altogether if introduced too soon. For those new in their healing, options that are very straightforward and uncomplicated can be their greatest lifeline. For those with a full workshop of tools, we know how possible it is for giant waves of new or stubborn trauma material to put even your best skills out of reach. So, items that are extremely easy to recall in a time of panic or crisis, as well as very rudimentary to enact, may be the only efficient skills at your disposal. We hope to be able to offer survivors in all stages of recovery that perfect flashback kit.

    Before we get too far, let's first define what a flashback is! Whether you're a trauma survivor yourself, or a loved one/supporter of one who is are trying to learn more, you may be surprised to learn there are different types of flashbacks:

 

 

 

    So, what can you do?

     We recognize that half the battle when you're struggling is being able to just remember that these tools even exist and are available to you. When you're terrified, feeling very young, or you aren't oriented to the present, it can be really hard to even recognize that you're symptomatic. Try to be compassionate with yourself (or your friend, family member or client) about this. Years upon years, sometimes decades, were spent responding to distress/trauma in the same exact way; it is very hard to retrain the brain to respond differently when you're only presented an opportunity to try every so often. Also, flashbacks stem from a completely different section of our daily-functioning brain. It takes very hard work to override that circuitry, and none of us think very logically or critically when flooded with fear and adrenaline. But, with practice, and by utilizing these skills as early in your symptoms as you can, you'll find they become more habitual and automatic — taking less conscious effort and acting more like muscle memory.

     Let's get to it!

 

 

Grounding

     Your absolute number one, first line of defense for any posttraumatic symptom is to be grounded -- or at least substantially more grounded than you are in that moment. None of your other skills will be effective if you aren't grounded first. (You can learn more about what it means to be grounded, as well as have an entire list of 101 Grounding Techniques at your fingertips, right here on our website!) We do know it can sometimes feel impossible to practice grounding before you've put a memory away, especially if that memory is what's fueling your dissociation and making you ungrounded. But, if you're heavily dissociated, and stuck in the past, you're only putting the memory away in the past - not in the here and now. It will continue to find you in this timeline. As you start the grounding process, you'll find that some of the intensity of the trauma material backs down, freeing you up to use other skills that you may have more completely (i.e. containment or modulation); this takes things down another notch, allowing you to get even more grounded, and so on. A positive loop.

    What are some of the best, most-easily accessible grounding tools?:

  • Open your eyes. Uncover your ears. Make as many senses available as you can!

  • Look around. Try to label 5 things you can see, 5 things of a single color, 5 things of one shape.

  • Listen. What do you hear? Is it close or far? Loud or soft? Pleasant or grating?

  • Open up, feet on the floor. If you're curled into a ball, or have your feet tucked up on the chair, try to put them on the floor and press your feet firmly into the ground. Become rooted to the space you’re in (no longer lifted or untethered to anything, just like your currently dissociative mind), but especially free yourself of those childlike, fear-based positions that continue to alert to your brain that you’re in danger. We know they feel self-soothing, but they’re doing the exact opposite to your mind,

  • De-trance. If you are rocking, tapping, swaying a limb, clicking, or engaging in any other rhythmic, trancing motion, try to start slowing it to a pause or make sure it’s no longer a pattern.

  • Sit upright. If you are slouching deep in your seat or laying down on your bed, try to sit up. Lying prone can be very disorienting and triggering for many.

  • Orient. Remind yourself of the date, your age, where you are, and that you're safe now.

  • Movement. If you feel frozen and unable to move, start by just trying to wiggle your toes or finger tips. Slowly work up the body, little by little, until you regain movement.

  • Smell. Inhale strong fragrances (they don't have to be pleasant!). Coffee, candles, lemon, lotions, the kitty litter, it doesn’t matter! Just awaken yourself to what’s before you.

  • Taste. Chew gum, eat mints, or suck on sours. Eat a meal or snack. Drink a very cold or warm beverage.

  • Touch. Run your fingers over unique textures within reach. Your clothes, the furniture, a zipper, a pet, a grounding stone or fidget item.

   There are many, many other grounding tools, as well as a more detailed explanation as to why and how they are helpful, in our aforementioned article, so we'll move on to our next step!

 

 

Self-Talk

     Our inner monologue is far more important and powerful than we tend to give it credit. Self-talk during a flashback can be part of your grounding or be used to keep you calm and steady while you employ other techniques.  It can be hard to access your grounding skills (or other tools) if you’re in a panic and can't remember what's even happening to you or who you are. Self-talk can be a vital skill that allows everything else to fall into line.

   You can say things to yourself like:

  • "This is a flashback. It is just a flashback; it is not real. This is not happening right now."

  • "I am safe now. No one is presently harming me. There is no external threat to my safety right now."

  • "I am an adult now. My name is ______. I am ____ years old. It is 20__."

  • "This will not last forever. I have the power to make this symptom go away."

  • "I am competent. I am able. I have done this before."

  • "It's important that I get grounded. Dissociating can feel safer, but I've learned it puts me and others at risk. I can do this."

  • "I can ask for help. I am worthy, even if that's hard to believe right now."

  • "This is temporary. I can feel it getting easier already. I will be okay."

  • “I am in control. I get to decide when and how this leaves. I have the power now.”

   Find a mantra or phrase that feels right to you, something you know you'll remember when it's time. Talk yourself through the process. It is healthy, helps keep you planted in reality, and reminds you of the power you have now that you didn’t before.

 

Separating Past from Present

     Separating past from present can work on many levels as a combination of self-talk, grounding and reality-testing. It's also a tool outsiders or loved ones can help you with, too! No longer all up to you! During a flashback, it's very easy to be disoriented from the current time or place. You could feel like you're all the way back in the 80's, believe you're a small child, or just in a completely different environment than you truly are. Taking the time to label - in your mind, out loud or in writing - all the things that are different now from the past you're reliving, can help your mind tease apart the complete lack of safety you feel from the security of your present environment.

   Some examples:

  • "It is 20__, not [date/timeframe of the flashback]"

  • *look at body* "These are adult hands and feet. I am taller now." Observe other physical changes like tattoos, body modifications, health changes, wrinkles or grey hairs.

  • "There were no smartphones back then. TVs didn't look like this. I didn't have a laptop or desktop computer like this." Notice other anachronisms and things that couldn’t have existed at the time of the memory.

  • "I live on my own now. This is MY house/apartment. I can drive now. I have children/a spouse/a partner now. These are my car keys. This is my drivers’ license/ID."

  • “I am currently outside. That happened inside. (Or vice versa.) It was nighttime then, but it’s noon now.” Name several other environmental differences, Rooms, time, days, furniture, clothes, etc.

  • "I have a voice. Before I would have been too scared to even make a sound right now." [Then use your voice in any form to prove to yourself that it's safe to do so.]

  • "I am a strong, competent adult now; I am no longer a helpless child. I have options to ensure my own safety, and the safety of others, and I employ them."

  • Label any changes about your abuser(s): their age, location, relationship to you, if they has passed, etc.

  • Label any other major life changes: geographic locations, professions, people you know now that you didn't back then, other appearance changes, pets, etc.

  • List (or listen to) popular music, movies, entertainment you enjoy now. Remind yourself these things did not exist back then.

  • Acknowledge the positive supports you have in your life now: new pets, friends, a therapist, a partner, family members, etc.

 

 

Internal Communication

     Internal communication is a bit more specific to those with DID/OSDD, but can still be applicable to those with C-PTSD or PTSD in different ways. It is also not quite an "easy, basic skill", as was the case in the other tools offered. This is definitely more of an advanced skill, however, it is very important to include because failing to check inside has the potential to render alllll your other grounding/symptom management tools ineffective. It may come as a surprise to some, but alters in a DID/OSDD system, or even just parts of a less compartmentalized C-PTSD individual, are capable of sending flashbacks your way on purpose. It is not always with nefarious or hurtful intent. It's often with the counterintuitive desire to protect or is being used as a means of communication. This may look like handing you pieces of memory they feel are important for you to know, feel, or be reminded of, or showing you what they’ve been struggling with alone for weeks - ‘asking for help’ in the only way they know how.  When this is the case, using symptom management to make the flashback go away may just exhaust you.

     If you already have some well-established communication inside of your mind, you can certainly ask them these questions more directly. But, if you aren't there yet, or if you don't have differentiated alters at all, you can still send these thoughts back into your mind and see what bubbles up. For those who are just starting to establish communication with their system, sometimes opening that line during a flashback can be the first successful connection to come through.

   Some questions you can ask alters/your mind: (Then, open yourself up to allow the answers)

  • "Is there a reason I'm being shown this flashback right now? Is someone sending this to me?"

  • "What are you trying to communicate by making me relive these images/feelings/physical pain?"

  • "Is someone else in a flashback but came/got too close to the front of the mind? Can we do a role call and see that everyone is grounded and present?"

  • "Are you trying to make me feel as unsafe as YOU feel right now about something else happening in our life?"

  • "Do you want to scare me back into silence?" "Is this your way of reminding me we aren't supposed to talk or tell anyone?"

  • "Are you trying to incapacitate me? ...make it so that I can't go to work/go out with a friend/accomplish x task/leave the house/see x person/etc?" "Why are you afraid of me doing that?"

  • "Did something trigger you that I don't know about? Did you see/hear/feel something really familiar that I didn't notice?"

  • "Are you feeling ignored? ..like I don't care? ..like I'm not listening to you or taking your feelings into consideration? Are there other ways you could get my attention that don't include re-traumatizing me?"

  • "Are you oriented to the present? I know that it's 201_, but do you? How can we work on getting grounded together? Do you need to look through my eyes or feel in the body that we are safe and not in danger right now?"

  • "Did someone else inside order you to share this memory with me? If so, you can say so without revealing yourself to me. I want to talk to them, not you; you're not in trouble."

  • "Am I being punished for something? Can it be shared with me what I did ‘wrong’ or which rules I broke without this flashback? I can't have a conversation with you about it or make amends if I can't think straight."

   There are many ways to appeal to parts inside to get to the root of why a flashback may have been sent your way. It is also possible to send these thoughts throughout the mind even if you do not have parts or a system. Many aspects of the mind may still be operating under similar pretenses and using these symptoms as a protective defensive mechanism -- maladaptive as that may be. Appealing internally may strike a chord and enlighten you to what the real issue is. The answer may just "click" the moment you ask, even if you can't hear a direct/"audible" reply. Once that has been discovered, you will be better able to tackle things appropriately, to meet that need or fear, instead of just exhausting yourself on symptom management skills that won't work until that primary issue is resolved.

 

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     We sincerely hope these four basic, foundational tools will be able to help you find relief and distance during a flashback -- no matter what stage you're at in your healing. Once armed with more stability and a framework from which to work, you can then explore more detailed and elaborate skills with confidence!  We will absolutely be covering more of those, namely imagery, containment, modulation, and the various journaling tools that are extremely helpful in the fight against flashbacks. (We've already introduced a couple!) So, stay tuned. 

     Please don't hesitate to share some of your go-to strategies for flashbacks below and consider bookmarking this page for quicker, more direct access should you need it while you're struggling!

 

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  ✧  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  ✧  Distraction 101: 101 Distraction Tools
  ✧  Self-Care 101: 101 Self-Care Techniques
  ✧  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  ✧  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
  ✧  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
  ✧  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  ✧  Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller
 
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Article Index  ❖

Imagery 101: Healing Pool and Healing Light

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Whether you are struggling with physical pain, body memories, illness, headaches, or any of the other distressing symptoms that can come with being a trauma survivor (or someone with a chronic illness) - there are imagery techniques out there that can help alleviate your suffering!  As I'm sure you're well aware, medications do little to nothing to relieve your body of pain it’s reliving from the past.  Conditions like fibromyalgia and other autonomic/nervous system disorders are also highly prevalent amongst trauma survivors, and they, too, show some of the greatest resistance to medications and other external approaches to treatment.  While there are several therapies that can help release your mind and nervous system of these specific types of pain, one solid tool you can use anywhere and anytime, no matter what shape your body is in, is imagery.  More specifically, Healing Pool or Healing Light imagery.

We'll walk you through both of these techniques, but to make sure you have the greatest chance at success, we want to be sure you understand the concept of imagery and how it's used first. (If you're already familiar, you can skip this part and head straight to the exercise!)

Imagery is a coping skill that allows you to picture things in your mind's eye - very vividly and in exquisite detail - to bring yourself and your body to a calmer state. It may be used to relieve pain, put away upsetting memories or intrusive thoughts, contain distressing emotions, retreat to a safer or quieter place, get some desperately needed rest, or just about anything your mind can create.  This is a skill that, like all tools for combatting trauma symptoms, does take practice and is one to experiment with when you don't "need" it. This way, when you're flustered, overwhelmed and unable to think clearly, it's second-nature instead of "some dumb thing that's probably useless anyway".  (Yes, we're very familiar with that rhetoric and guilty of it ourselves when distressed.)  Imagery is a technique constructed around being as detailed, descriptive, multi-sensory, and personalized as possible. Imagining yourself in a place or scenario that holds absolutely zero interest to you, that you have a hard time visualizing, or is even upsetting to you, is NOT going to be helpful.  Commanding the full use of your mind and its senses will engage so many more neurons and ask them to get off the upsetting or painful feedback loops they’re currently on - which is good not only mentally but for your physical health.  So, more detail, more customization toward my preferences and interest, got it!  What else?

Have patience with yourself.  Sometimes your mind is going to wander, that's okay. Sometimes the environment just isn’t going to work well, and you might feel frustrated, but that's also okay.  It's not your fault, or an inability to "do it right", or "never going to work".  Your body may be under a lot more distress than can be managed at that moment or it’s a visualization that just isn’t tailor-made for these symptoms. If for any reason it's making things worse, perhaps there's something triggering about the scene you chose that you hadn't even considered.  Or, particularly for those with DID, maybe there's a part of your mind who has misgivings about allowing you to feel comfort or make the pain "go away".  (Even if you don't have DID, some aspect of your mind may still feel this way.)  This happens sometimes.  It doesn't mean all is lost, that you'll never be able to use this skill, or that your mind is sabotaging you.  You just need to work with that stumbling block and either talk through it or at least find a compromise.

And, finally?  The more you truly believe these skills are working for you - drawing out the pain from your physical body, sealing up those memories nice and tight, slowing not only the intense emotions but your heart rate and tense body too - the better it will work.  If you just go through the pictures in your mind and don't try to connect them to what your body and mind are truly experiencing (whether that’s because you were sure it couldn't possibly touch the level of pain you’re in, were just doing it to tell your therapist you did, think coping skills are worthless, yadda yadda), welp, then, you're right, it's not going to work.  The mind is sooo powerful, and highly susceptible to the input YOU give it.  If you tell your mind you're now feeling differently or that parts of your body are starting to feel numbed or relaxed, it's likely going to believe it at least a little (if not much more) and start to follow suit. (And not just in a hocus-pocus, frou frou kind of way, but instead a well-researched, biological way - based on the new neural connections you helped your body make.)  Trust in it; the more you do, the more success you'll have.  And truly, if you're in distress and just need the madness to pause, or the pain to stop, what do have to lose by committing your whole self to the exercise?  You've probably tried everything else, possibly even things with serious side effects.  This has zero, so why not give it your all?

Now for the fun part!

 

 

HEALING POOL

Healing pool is just what it sounds like.  It's imagery that relies on a body of water with personalized healing properties to target and alleviate your pain from head to tippy toe.

To start, choose a location that feels the most calming and soothing to you based on the type of pain you’re experiencing and the environment that appeals to your senses.  Nothing is off limits!  It can be a real place you’d like to visit or one you’ve already been and love. Or, you can create a magical, mystical wonderland that’s the perfect fantasy destination for healing. Try to paint the scene as vividly as you possibly can. Is it a tropical oasis?  ..on a beach with crystal clear waters, sand, and an ocean breeze?  Is it in a mythical forest?  ..with a hidden spring, ancient stone fountains, and tall woodland trees all around you?  Is it in a rainforest or Hawaiian escape?  ..with tall, cascading waterfalls emptying into a warm, quaint natural pool?  (Hey, it can be magic, remember? That pool doesn't need to empty out somewhere else just because there's a waterfall leading in!)  Or, do you prefer something in a colder climate? A northern, mountainous retreat with perhaps a hot spring bubbling up, or a cooler lake to calm the aching? If none of these known environments are pleasing to you, you can even leave this world behind and be on your own planet, in a futuristic world, or high atop the clouds in a land with its own prodigious body of water. Creativity in imagery knows no earthly bounds!

Once you've chosen a general landscape and water source that is perfect for you, go deeper still into that world.  What do you hear?  Are there birds or other animal/nature sounds? What kind? Are they quiet and sporadic or filling your ears like music? Does the water itself make a trickling sound, have crashing waves hitting the shore, or does it bubble as it waits for you to enter? What do you feel? Is the air warm? The hot and muggy kind? Sunny but breezy? That still and "just right" feeling? Or, is it instead cold, clear, crisp and refreshing? Now, what about the time of day? This may change each time you return, but is your healing hideaway in the invigorating daylight, amidst the beautiful colors of a sunset, or is this a moonlit dip in the water?  (You can try all the above in future visits!) Now, return your focus to the water.  This is your healing water - not just any old water. Does it have a special color? Does is glisten or sparkle? Does it have any billowing mist coming off of it? Perhaps it's not even earthly water, and instead a mystical, dry ice-like fog?  Or, maybe it's more like a warm liquid gold? Maybe crystal blue ocean water with iridescent ribbons of light eager to heal your pain speaks to you? The possibilities are endless!

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Now it's time to get in.  We know when you’re in terrible pain and agony, the urge to just jump right in and submerge yourself immediately can be so intense - anything to stop the pain immediately. But, this technique actually works much better, and for longer, if you can gradually go through each part of your body, one at a time - really feeling it take effect not only in your mind, but in your skin, muscles and bones. Some may even witness the coloring in their skin shift through different techniques as their body responds as though this were entirely real. So, go slow and commit yourself to experiencing the variety of sensations; relief will find you much more completely.

Go ahead and stick your toes in. What happens? Does the water change color? Make a sound? Begin to draw the pain out of your body, dissolving it as it hits the water? Is it cold on your toes - almost making you shiver or giving you goosebumps? Or is it so warm and inviting - everything you ever hoped to be - stirring an audible sigh of relief at first touch?
Now, go ahead and let it cover your ankles.  Wiggle your toes around and paddle your feet, remembering that this is YOUR healing water, no one else's. It knows just what you need.
Move further still, putting your calves in. Notice them relax, surprising you at just how much tension they were holding while you were totally unawares. Give your legs another kick, pushing and pulling against the weight of the water, feeling it whisk between your legs as they pass each other. 
Scoot further in now and let it cover your knees.  Spend some extra time here and let it fully soothe your tired legs and aching joints. Notice how incredibly weightless they feel. It's quite possibly the best feeling you've ever had.
Slide in now and feel the water come up over your thighs and up to your hips. It's not too hot or too cool, it's exactly what your body craves, almost as if it was pulling you in. Notice your legs just completely melt, almost wishing to release a sigh of their own. It's as if not only the healing properties but the water itself goes straight through your skin into every tissue, cell and fiber of your body, drawing out every ounce of hurt or exhaustion in your poor, tired legs. They feel almost euphoric in the release.
Go in up over your tummy and up to your ribs now.  As a wave of relief washes over you, even the coloring in your face changes and the tension held in your pained expression relaxes. All the nausea and cramping and pain - any body memories or low back pain - it's all just drawn out of you and replenished with a level of comfort you didn't even know was possible. Cooling, numbing, calming every inch, while warming and softening other aching muscles.
Go ahead and let your arms start to fall in now.  After your fingers dip in, it's only natural to want to play with the water. You've never been in anything like it! What does it feel like? Does it swirl? Can you pick it up, does it change when you hold it in your hands?
Now sway your wrists and hands through the water, pushing and spreading it out. See how cramped and pained your hands were? You maybe didn't even notice in all the rest of your body's aching. Or, maybe they were swollen and rigid and tense and this was exactly what you wanted. Spend extra time on them. Now you can open and close a fist without pain, wiggle your fingers loosely, and dance in the water without pressure or restriction. They feel FREE!
Drop your arms until the water covers your elbows - now able to stand completely comfortably, your shoulders more relaxed. Take a nice deep breath. Do you want to keep walking around in it now - free to twirl in a circle - or, would you rather sit on an underwater stone or rocky ledge and just take it easy?
Either way, dip yourself slowly lower until the water is up to your collarbone.  Feel your chest cavity expand and the fresh oxygen rush into your lungs.  You'd been holding your breath for so long in the pain and you're now invigorated with such clean, healing air. You didn't know your lungs could open so far! Notice your heart rate slow and steady. And the PAIN held in your heart and chest, the spaces between your ribs - all of that weight from such emotional anguish and hurt - it just dissolves.  ...almost as if the healing water swirled around inside of you and gave your heart a warm, loving hug. Stay here as long as you need. This is so important.
When you're ready, cover your shoulders - possibly relaxing back against a cozy ledge.  Goodness, it's like your whole body has become jello now. Some of those last bits of tension are melting away and releasing the hold on you they'd had for so long. Take another deep, deep breath. Close your eyes if you want to.  And, now it's up to you if you want to take your head under or just splash some on your face instead. If you have a headache or migraine, I'm sure you almost can't wait. If you don't want to go under, that's okay, too. Just being close, or rinsing your face can be more than helpful.
If you decided to dip yourself under, go ahead.  Good news is that in this healing pool, you don't have to worry about holding your breath. Just let the water relax your jaw, smooth away the creases from your brows and forehead once contorted from pain. Feel it draw out all of the throbbing, aching, pounding, or sharp pains in any and every part of your head. Your thoughts calm and slow, and the worries, memories or awareness of pain just disappear. Everything goes quiet, and feels still. You could almost sleep in the absolute serenity. You're only right here, right now, and it's all you could ever hope to feel. Breathe deep. Spend all the time on you and your body that you need before lifting your head out of the water.

You can decide if you want to stay here and swim, take a nap in this place, or just relax for a few more moments - making sure you truly experience deep, deep healing in even the most stubborn parts of your body. When you're ready to leave you can slowly bring your awareness back into the present, but don't worry, the healing doesn't just disappear. You take at LEAST a piece of it with you for the most sore parts of you, and even more elsewhere. It wants to gift it to you and you’ve already changed a great deal of how your neurology while you were here. It won’t just undo. Over time, if it wears off or symptoms return, you can return. You can come back to this at any time and change any part of it that you need - customizing it for any future aches and pains, headaches, overstress or body memories.  

 

You may need to take a couple extra moments for grounding after coming out of such a calming oasis. If you're heading to bed or doing this before sleep, you're a-okay.  But if you need to return to the regular world, you may need to shake the fog from your eyes and fully connect with your surroundings before re-engaging with life again. So, be sure to orient yourself fully. (If you aren't sure what to do for grounding, good thing we've got 101 Techniques for that!)  But, even though reconnecting with the real world can be undesirable, that doesn't mean the calm, peace, and pain relief found there just goes away! You're more refreshed than you've been in...maybe ever.  Just be sure to fully re-orient, even if that haze seems more inviting.  ;)

 

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Healing Light

Healing Light works in a very similar way to Healing Pool, but it's especially great for anyone who has any kind of uneasiness around water, needs more of a localized "spot treatment", or has a harder time creating more scenic imagery in their mind.  

Just like Healing Pool, this skill is much more effective when you make it as descriptive and detailed as possible - only this time you will mostly need to focus on detailing the light and less so your surroundings. The light can even reach you right where you are sitting or laying right now if you'd like. But, if you want to visit a more soothing environment as you practice this, you are more than welcome to include one and detail it just as we did earlier! It’s all about your comfort and what will maximize the benefits you’ll receive.

So! When it comes to light, the possibilities here are endless. Is it a sun ray that bursts through the clouds and finds you? Is it more like a secret weapon, a thin, pain-zapping laser? Is it more like a glowing orb of light, personalized just for you? Or, perhaps it’s more conical like a flashlight, being emitted from some other precious source that you can turn on and off? Maybe it's no beam of light at all, but more like a dancing, ribbon-y, spritely kind of light flitting through the air. Is there a trail of shimmer or glistening particles that follow it in its magical nature? Is it warming and softening, or cold and tightening? Possibly something more gaseous, or like pressurized ice that can flash-freeze and numb ANY type of pain, seems more satisfying for your needs?
Does it make a twinkling sound, the whirring of a pulsating orb of light, or is it more of a buzzing or zap of a machine as it obliterates the pain? Does the light come in one color or many? Maybe you have different colors for different areas of the body, or a variety of colors and styles dependent on the type of remedy you need for it to give.  Perhaps you have one light that heats and relaxes the skin, another that freezes your pain dead in its tracks, a third that envelopes and "holds" the pain until the throbbing stops, a more aggressive light that shatters the pain into a million pieces and then individually dissolves each one, another that injects coolness through the area like a gel and feels like an internal ice pack, a highly unique one that simply erases the aching entirely as if it were never there, and a super satisfying light that draws the pain out from your body like a magnet or vacuum. You can even have one that incorporates more of a spiritual element, or the energy and care of someone you love, who can offer a special kind of comfort that no one else can. So many options!

Like the slow entry into the water in Healing Pool, it is oftentimes more effective to start with an area of the body that's unaffected - gradually approaching your "target" area so that your mind and body have an opportunity to fully connect this imagery exercise with your actual pain. If you're a fan of those that obliterate and destroy the pain with like dry ice blocks, etc, you miiiight want to give the light a "seeking" function that just cools and nurtures the healthy areas as you begin the process, then let it 'scan for' the most painful section you want it to destroy.  We don't need you feeling like your forearm just got pulverized or flash frozen when it was your shoulder that was waiting for the relief, ya dig? ;)

Okay, so, first!

Visualize in your mind's eye where the light source is coming from. You might even start to feel building anticipation of the relief you’re about to receive. Picture this light source, notice its glow, feel the warmth or coolness it’s emitting, listen to its unique sound.
If it's your head that is throbbing, perhaps allow the light to first hit your spine - releasing and soothing each individual vertebrae as it climbs your back to your neck and head. Allow the healing particles to weave throughout your jaw and mouth, completely relaxing them along with your brows, forehead, and eyes. Then send it to your pounding skull. Let it do there what you’ve desperately been needing it to. Let your mind subconsciously direct it. If your abdomen or low back are aching, maybe show some love to your toes, feet and legs before reaching the pain of your midsection. If it's your shoulders or neck, let the light graze your fingertips and creep up your forearms, triceps and deltoids before tackling your upper body pain and releasing that suffering.

This light is so detailed and meticulous, so specified to you and your needs. It reaches through every capillary, tissue, cell wall, vein and nerve fibre. It knows what you need without your instruction.

Visualize what's happening beneath the surface as it finds your pain. The way it coats, cools, and soothes your pulsating nerves. See the light pierce through all parts of you to find your toughest tissues and muscles, melting them into the greatest relaxation you've ever felt. Imagine how your light sprinkles your skull with tingling, healing properties - how they then trickle through all the wrinkles and spaces and curves of your brain, quieting and soothing not only the aching but all your frenetic thoughts, too. Picture its warming, swirling path to all the cramping and twitching muscles that are remembering something from the past. See it drawing out the inflammation and "darkness" that can feel so heavy when it gathers in your joints, or even in your lungs or heart. It's gone now. You can breathe. You can feel that relief. It may have even felt so good that now you need that light to go everywhere else. That's perfectly okay! Practice that self-care and bathe in that light if that feels right to you. This is your light. No one else's. It's made just for you, for your pain. No one can change it, tamper with it, or even know about it if you don't want them to! This is YOUR healing light.

When you've decided that you are finished, you can watch the light slowly leave your body - taking any last stubborn remnants of pain with it. Take a deep breath knowing that as it leaves, the pain will not just immediately return; it's been healed. Your mind and nervous system have chosen a different path and sent wellness to that area. You aren't just "imagining" relief, you've neurologically and chemically given your body some different instructions. And when life is being a jerk again, you can call on your healing light any time to give your body that relief once more. It is so precious.
 

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These techniques are but a few in a sea of treating ailments and managing distressing trauma symptoms through imagery. There are countless others, like those involving the use of colored “pain water” that fills up the body but is slowly drained out from the heels. Another semi-silly one that is taught in some trauma units is called "flick the pea". In this one, you imagine your pain as a very large sphere (like a basketball or even larger if it feels more massive). You then move that ball away from that area causing you so much distress, toward your arms, shrinking it down in size as it travels, until it's so small (the size of a pea) that once it reaches your fingertips, you can flick it away with a very, very satisfying flick. There's another that is specific for numbing that just involves sticking your finger in an ice cold water and mentally carrying that frozen feeling up your arm and through your body until it meets the pain you’re suffering with. This is one you can often see the color change occur in the skin as your mind registers the chill taking over you.

We have also made a post on Color Breathing, which not only helps with emotions and panic, but pain as well. There is also an introduction to imagery techniques that use dials to help modulate pain, intense feelings, and memories which you can find here.  If you would like us to share any of these in more detail, we can certainly do that. We are planning to make many more articles on imagery - particularly containment skills (for memories, emotions, intrusive thoughts, self-harm urges, etc), but we wanted to be certain to tackle those that help with physical pain first!

We truly hope these skills help! Feel free to expound upon any of them, make them your own, or - if you're just learning - even let your phone or computer read them out to you so that you can just close your eyes and follow along, visualizing as it guides you through! These can also work for anyone, not just trauma survivors! So don't hesitate to share them with friends and loved ones, particularly if they have chronic pain or any chronic illness!  Good luck, and if you have any questions, please ask below or message us!

 

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More Resource Posts You May Find Helpful:

✧  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  ✧  Distraction 101: 101 Distraction Tools
  ✧  Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
  ✧  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
   Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families During the Holidays

  ❖  Article Index  ❖

 

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