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 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. ;)