I’ve identified the intense physical pain.
I feel it coming from my elbows, an electrical charge shooting down my forearms to the tips of my fingers.
My inner child screams, “Get it out! Get it out!” And yet, his screams are muffled under my adult curiosity.
I want to investigate. Understand what it is. Figure out what it means.
In the past, I’ve let him take control.
I will admit, running from these uncomfortable sensations to get them to stop is so much easier. I mean why would anyone subject themselves to physical pain?
I lie in bed trying to comfort my terrified little child. “We know what we need to do to help release this. Let’s try and figure out how to explain what is going on within us first.”
“Who cares! It hurts. Stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!” Then under his breath, “it’s her fault.”
How do I say this gently without getting Little Phoenix so upset he takes over? He always blames her.
“The actions are the trigger. It’s nobody’s fault. We need to figure out what’s going on in our body so we can better manage this trigger.”
“I don’t know. And I don’t care. I just want it to stop!” Little Phoenix is pleading with me, begging me to do anything to stop this ache.
“We will,” I comfort. “Until we know more. Let’s be a scientist and experiment.”
“NOOOO!!” my little boy is getting ready to throw a tantrum.
I rack my brain. How can I describe this?
It feels as if my body is having a panic attack, a panic buried deep within the cells of my body.
Fight, flight, freeze. The entire body wants to run!
“Do something!” I can hear the pain and fear in my inner child’s voice.
The problem is, I can’t ‘think’ my way out of this pain. The more I think, the worse it gets. And the worse it gets, the more my mind tries to think my way out.
The mind thinking its way out in these situations only adds lighter fluid to an already raging fire.
It’s a cyclic loop in my head that gets me spinning until I crash into the ground.
Little Phoenix screams, “Arrrggg!”
I focus on my breath. This is starting to become an automatic response when I feel off.
I take a slow, deep, full breath in as I count to eight…I hold the breath for a count of eight…then I slowly exhale for a count of eight.
Focus on the breath.
Do it again.
Inhale through the nostrils. Hold it. Then exhale through the nose, feeling the cool air brush my upper lips.
Do it again.
And yet, I still feel the pain. The breathing is not working.
“Come on Dad,” Little Phoenix pleads once again, using the word father as a way to get my attention. “Get on the mat. You know morning Sadhana helps.”
“We will. I need to figure out how to describe this. How can we take care of something that which we have no idea how to explain?” I speak to my child as Rafiki would to me. “I’m trying to increase our awareness.”
I continue to lie in my bed sitting in my discomfort. “Interesting,” I say to myself over and over.
There’s a tingling in my fingertips. Like an electrical charge. Got that already. If I really scan my body, I can see that it starts from my elbows. I don’t really feel it in my shoulders.
My legs and toes feel as if they’re on fire. And the more I scan the body; I realize there’s pain around my heart.
I feel tears start to well up in my eyes. I instantly think, “I love me. Phoenix you are loved.”
My mind reaches out to God. “Father, please take this from me. Embrace me with your love.”
I breath deeply.
I know where this is coming from. It’s that childhood trigger that pops up when I feel abandoned and rejected. It’s a wound that’s been stuck in my body for 44 years when my stepfather came into our life.
It’s something that wakes me up in the middle of the night causing me to clutch my blankets and try to will it away.
44 years of THIS and I’m now finally trying to really see what it is? I’m forcing myself to sit in it. To be curious.
“Get it out! Stop this analysis!”
“I love me,” I tenderly say again, this time out loud.
Have you ever noticed the more you think of something, the more it happens? Anytime I used to see 11:11 on my phone, I’d take a picture of it and think, “I love my ex.” Sometimes I’d send the pic. Most of the time I didn’t want to be that annoying. I just stored it on my phone.
These days the line has changed. Anytime I see 11:11, I instantly say, “I love me.”
Such power! To embrace oneself with love. Love for all my imperfections. A love I can finally embrace and wrap that warmth around me for comfort.
I breath deep again. “I love me.”
“If you did, then you’d do what you know will get this pain out of you and ground you!”
Oh, my child can be so demanding and annoying at times.
I dig in deeper. How can I describe this pain to my readers so they understand? Everyone’s experience is different. What does it feel like for me?
I’ve got it! I’m excited.
My hair feels like it’s standing on end. All the hairs on my arms and legs. The limited number of hairs on the top of my head, like all three of them, standing at attention.
Wait! That’s what it feels like! It feels like I put my hand in a light socket. I mean, I don’t know what it would feel like if I kept my hand there, but I do know what an electric shock feels like.
The whole body radiates with this electrical energy. Every cell of the body feeling it. All the way to the tips of the fingers.
Wow. This is interesting. More like I grabbed a downed power line and can’t let go.
I’m sitting in an electric field of physical pain.
“Yes, yes, yes. Stop analyzing and do what you know will get it out.”
My inner child wants no part of this research. He’s not thrilled at all!
The electric pulsing matches the beat of my heart. Instead of thump, thump, thump, I can almost hear the electrical crackle of lightening each time my nerves activate when blood pumps to the rhythm in my veins.
Little Phoenix is spinning now.
“Please, let’s get on the mat,” he pleads, more like a whine.
“We will,” I reassure.
I think about blood. Where it comes from. I focus again on my heart.
There’s a tightening around it. My heart feels like it’s struggling to beat, the life being squeezed out of it. A sadness overwhelms me. Emotional pain increases the intensity of the electrical vibrations in my body.
“STOP!” my inner child screams. “Get on the mat!” He’s now starting to panic.
The Cold Shower
“Hey, remember Tony Robbins,” I ignore the pleading. “Remember he said you can reset the nervous system by jumping in a lake of melted snow water? How about an ice-cold shower and see if this helps?”
Little Phoenix panics. “Um! NO! We are NOT going to jump into a cold shower at 5:30 in the morning. I just want to go back to sleep.”
“We can’t sleep anyway. We’re here until this feeling dissipates,” I rationalize. “Let’s see what happens.”
Usually I don’t have this much control with my pain. My inner child is quick to respond and immediately reacts. He will do anything to get it out of his system.
When I’d physically feel this way around my ex, my inner child would attack, pursue, talk for hours, get emotional. He would use any manipulative tactic in his arsenal to get my ex into doing or saying something that would calm him and ease the pain.
The belief that only she could provide the comfort he needed, while at the same time blaming her as the cause for it.
My inner child wasn’t aware of what he was doing. Heck, I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. He had taken over.
I’d become aware when I felt the shame and guilt afterwards. The negative self critic who shames the inner child for not getting it right. My adult couldn’t hold boundaries around Little Phoenix, so it must have been Little Phoenix’s fault.
And of course, Little Phoenix was still trying to put the blame externally, at the assumed cause of his nightmare.
We never learned to work in harmony during discomfort. We never identified really what this stuff in the body meant. Any physical pain or threat of pain and the mission was to protect our self at all costs, regardless of who got caught in the crossfire.
“Nah, we’re going to try this. We’re going to see if a cold shock to the body will really reset the nervous system. If we find out this works, then we can use it in the future. If not, we won’t have to wonder ‘what if’”.
“We know what works! Stop being a scientist and just get on the mat.”
My adult is in control. He’s holding Little Phoenix at bay and not allowing him to run the show.
Half asleep, I wobble down the ladder from my bunk bed and make my way to the bathroom.
My gut starts to tighten. I’ve got nervous energy coursing through my body along with this electrical prickle.
Hmmm…there’s some fear. Wonder what that’s about? It gets worse when I close the bathroom door.
I turn on the shower, strip down, and just do it.
Oh my God! The water is soooo freaking cold. I force myself to put my head under the freezing cascade. I breathe air out my mouth making my lips quiver.
“Enough already!” my inner child yells, gripping the handle and turning it off. My body starts to shiver.
I agree with Little Phoenix. What in the world is Tony Robbins talking about anyway?
We grab the towel simultaneously, dry off, and proceed back to my bedroom.
Interesting, it’s still there. Not as prevalent, but not gone away either. That didn’t work as well as I had expected.
“I have another idea. Let’s take my EMDR paddles, hook them up, and place them under my legs,” I propose to my inner child. “I can journal about this experience. Let’s see if that will help reprocess this trauma I’m feeling in my body.”
“Seriously?” Little Phoenix replies in defeat.
I pull out the tappers and get them vibrating on a low intensity, back and forth.
Left leg, right leg. Left leg, right leg.
I start to write.
“Come on, man! Nothing in this experiment is working. These EMDR tappers under your leg are not doing shit!” Little Phoenix is about done with his adult. I can feel him getting mad. “You know what helps us. Get…On…The…Mat!”
“Oh, patience Danielson.” I try to imitate Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. “We will be on the mat by 6:15 at the latest. Does that work?”
“Alright,” Little Phoenix resigns, finally giving up the fight. I gave him a time. Really, that’s what I needed to do all along. Set up an appropriate boundary for my inner child.
The tappers continue. I keep journaling.
I remember how I used to scream at both my sponsor and Rafiki when I first moved out now four years ago. Such intense pain I felt for months. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I was finally able to release energy that was stored in my body.
The fears I carried into my marriage had now become a reality. I was reliving my stepfather moving in with my mother right before I turned seven. I had lost the emotional connection I had with my mother.
I had been replaced.
The pain from abandonment, the rejection I felt, was incredibly visceral and the mind kept that story alive. I couldn’t let go of the power line.
I started have flashbacks. Brief images. Like a camera taking pictures.
Flash. Flash. Flash.
I see her going on a road trip with another man, his kids, our daughters and dog in the back of OUR minivan while I load up boxes into the rented U-Haul truck. I watch as he takes the driver’s seat with my wife sitting next to him as they plan to spend Fourth of July at her parent’s house.
I’ve been replaced.
A blinding light followed by an image of me curled up on the bed alone in a hotel room.
The way my ex’s eyes would sparkle and her smile would light up her face when she talked about him.
Me losing control, not knowing how to regulate my emotions, lashing out verbally, and seeing pain reflecting back in her eyes.
Wanting to comfort her after my outburst and yet, my inner teen celebrating that he had projected his agony back onto her as if she really deserved it.
The disgust, anger, and fury she had because of my reactions.
My ex correcting me and telling me how I should have said or did something a certain way. I never acted out of empathy and compassion, my reactions and word choices cutting her to the core. I could never get it perfectly right.
The immense guilt and shame I had because I failed once again. No matter how hard I tried, I continued to screw up. I was out of control.
The stone walling, the passive aggressive anger, the distance when she shut me out after these events and denied my ability to have a voice. Once again, I was dismissed.
And her text to me three days ago telling me our girls had met a guy she’s gone on a few dates with and wanted me to process that before she came back from a 15-day road trip to Yellowstone. Traveling the US with our girls and travel trailer had been our dream, but due to our past history, I was no longer allowed to be a part of those memories.
I had been replaced.
It goes black.
Onto the Mat
Today is Day 96 of consecutively doing my morning Sadhana.
Sadhana is a Sanskrit word that means daily spiritual practice. For me, it includes some stretching exercises around the spine with controlled breathing to open up the pathways of the nervous system. This helps energy flow through the body, opening blockages to release any energy that may be stuck.
When the spine is warmed up, there are different postures I do and different types of breath work associated with each of them. Some are more challenging than others. Yet, all have me focus on my breath and resist the temptation to break the posture during the allocated time.
This is helps me practice daily on the mat. This practice prepares me to handle the challenges of everyday life as using my breath becomes habitual, second nature. It’s especially helpful when triggers from my childhood trauma unexpectedly surface.
In the past, my inner child took control. And if I’m not conscious enough to see what’s going on with my triggers, Little Phoenix can still run the show, the very definition of an Adult Child; any grown adult who was exposed to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a child and who, when triggered, regresses to a childlike state to manage what’s happening to them.
The kriya (or posture) that I’ve been doing for the month of July has me hold both my arms in front of my body. I sit in easy pose (cross-legged), left arm up, elbow out to the side, palm down and located at throat level. My right arm is above the left, hand at nose level. I keep my hands tight and breathe in through my mouth, like sipping through a straw; a slow, long, deep breath. Then I breath out through my nose.
I do this for about 11 minutes then I do three final breaths. Each one I hold the breath while tensing all the muscles in my entire body while looking at my third eye (eyes looking up as if looking between the eyebrows which helps move energy up the spine and out the head). When I exhale I blow every bit of air out of my lungs through my mouth that’s shaped like an “O” (Cannonball Breath).
I finish this morning practice by sitting in silence for 5 minutes consciously scanning all the sensations in my body.
My Experience Today on The Mat
About three minutes into the kriya tears started to fall. I’ve learned to just witness and experience. Let whatever comes, just come. Let it happen.
I’m moving energy through my body and releasing it.
Guilt and shame envelope me. I start crying harder now. I keep breathing in through my mouth, but soon, my nose gets clogged and I can’t breathe out through it.
I must breathe out through my mouth. My inner perfectionistic critic wonders if I’m going to get anything out of this because I’m not doing it “correctly”.
What’s going on? I let the thoughts and images flow.
The day I found out by text that my ex had been on dates was my daughter’s 17th birthday. I had planned to celebrate one of the most precious moments in my life that day. Now it felt tainted, contaminated.
Considering the news, I assumed I was handing my emotions pretty well.
My roommate, her friend, and I were having a conversation while their two kids were playing together. My roommate’s son was smacking this little girl with a plastic bat. She kept throwing pillows at him.
Not hard, just the back and forth like kids do. To try get a rise out of the other. Their parents made gentle corrections.
Then we all watched as this, sweet, little boy grab the bat with both hands, pull it behind and over his shoulders, then full force, over his head, it came crashing down on this little girl’s head.
Instant reaction. Voice raised at an incredibly high volume and with a deep, reverberating angry tone, I screamed, “HEY!”
It was loud enough to scare my roommate and her friend. They both turned and looked at me. A look of shock, surprise, and anger. He’s not quite 21 months old.
Of course, the tone and amplitude of my voice scared him and he scrambled to his mother for comfort.
After a few minutes, I put my arms out for him. I now know how important it is to repair a rupture.
Dan Seigal has come up with the four S’s that children need growing up in order to foster secure attachment; Seen, Safe, Soothed, and Secure. He also recognizes that we’re human and the goal is not to be perfect, it’s to repair a relationship when we’ve broken one of the four S’s.
I hold my roommate’s son for 15 minutes, swaying, apologizing, with tears streaming down my face, his arms wrapped tightly around my neck.
In that quick moment, I had seen myself curled up in a ball at school while I got kicked and hit by bullies, other kids standing around either laughing or staring, nobody coming to my defense. Little Phoenix would not allow that to happen to another and was going to do everything possible to stop it.
I saw my stepfather’s look of shame when he almost hit our older daughter at the airport because she was acting up in his arms. She was two at the time and he expected her to act like a little adult.
That outburst I had was how my stepfather parented me. It was why I had to be so fucking perfect my whole life. It’s the reason why I couldn’t fail at anything.
It’s the reason I couldn’t fail at my marriage.
If I did, if I was not perfect, and I would have to face my verbal wrath and disappointment.
And I had become that monster.
Wait, not become. I had always been that monster. It still lurked within me.
As I sat there this morning in posture, I realized that was how I parented my daughter when she was little. The only difference, 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have picked her up after my outbursts. I wouldn’t have comforted her.
I would have put her on a time out, a time out for how many minutes old she was. I may have even justified that since she’ll be two in three months, it’s close enough. She gets a two-minute time out.
And during that time out, complete silence followed by a lecture about why we don’t hit.
No wonder our relationship is strained now that she’s a teen. She’s as hyperviligant to my emotional energy as I was to my stepfather.
I realize I need to acknowledge what I’ve just learned and hope I can repair that relationship with her. I imagine apologizing to her and giving her an amends on the SUP board I bought her for her birthday.
All of a sudden, my body instantly relaxes. I’m still breathing like sucking through a straw. The emotions from my body evaporate. I can even breathe through my nose again.
“That’s interesting,” I observe. This happened in a matter of a couple of minutes. Energy came in. Energy was released.
After another three or so minutes the tears start to come again.
I see my ex standing away from me. There’s distance between us and she’s holding that space. She can’t come close. I’m not safe. I’m reactive.
I realize I pushed her away. I hear what my EMDR therapist told me after a really deep session a couple of months ago.
“Phoenix, you must remember, your ex did not reject you. She was merely reacting to you rejecting her. You rejected her first. You need to realize it’s not rejection, but a response to what you did. In order for you to move on and so you can heal, you must surrender this to God.”
As I sat there in posture the thought came that I pushed her away into the arms of another man. It was all me. I complain. I blame. And yet, I must remember, that when I point one finger out, there are three pointing back at me.
And as quick as those thoughts and emotions came, one breath later they had dissipated into thin air.
The kriya was done in what felt like only a couple of minutes. It definitely did not feel like 12. Now was time to sit in silence and observe.
Always after this posture, there’s an electro-magnetic sphere of energy circling around my body. Today it was different.
It felt as if that energy was fighting the other sensations that were in my body. Like a part still radiated in and through me, the trauma part, and another was around the outside trying to dispel, or absorb, the inner pain.
I have no idea if I’m making any sense. It’s seems voodooish to me too.
“Thank you Dad,” Little Phoenix says appreciatively.
Immediately after my scientific experiment I jumped on an ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families) meeting hosted by a good friend in my online writing group. I’ve been going to these occasionally the past two months when I agreed to doing 90 meetings in 90 days to look at my love addiction piece.
I had forgotten how powerful they were.
In fact, it was ACA that allowed me to realize I was not crazy. Trauma does get stored in the cells of our body. Emotional pain is felt physically.
Here was today’s reading.
“People want recovery, but they prefer it be pain free. That is understandable, but unfortunately, identifying and feeling our feelings is a part of healing.”
~ BRB Introduction p. xxiii
“Feelings? What are those?” As children from dysfunctional homes, if we cried, many of us were told, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” If we openly showed our feelings, we risked being told we were stupid or that we’d never amount to anything. When our parents failed to show up at our special school events, we learned not to show hurt or disappointment. The more vulnerable we were, the more we were shamed. When we were verbally or physically abused, we pretended it didn’t happen. Our broken hearts shut down.
When many of us first come to ACA, we may have no idea how we’re feeling. We’ve been shut down for so long that numb feels normal. Our tears are frozen. Opening up to our feelings seems threatening and scary.
As we keep coming back, we learn to heal by developing trust in our fellow travelers. This feeling of trust can lead to the opening of the flood gates, an expression of emotion that eventually feels normal. As we release our old pain, we make room for discovering how to play and have fun again. We open our hearts and feel joy in our lives.
“On this day I welcome all of my feelings, especially those that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I have the tools to work through them in order to mend my broken heart from childhood.”
I was destined to go through this personal scientific experiment today, to learn what my body is telling me and to become aware of my feelings.
The tingling sensations I get, especially when I wake up, is usually when my mind has latched onto the fear of abandonment or the belief that I’ve been rejected. It’s stored throughout the cells of my body and comes up as painful physical symptoms of electric shock.
I used addiction to medicate that feeling; to numb it away. That was what I learned in my teens. And once I had fully built that neural pathway, it became the automatic go-to when I was off.
Now I’m trying to find out exactly what’s going on in my body. What thoughts do I have? Where do I feel it? What does that mean?
I’ve become a scientist and I’m looking at everything with curiosity.
In the past couple of weeks Rafiki has really been challenging my choice of words, for it is our word choice that determines what our beliefs are. We may think one way, and yet, our actions show the depth of what we hold really to be true.
And it’s replacing those faulty beliefs with healthy truths that will help me heal the pain from my past. By looking inward with curiosity, not shame or judgment, I can find what tools work for me and what works best for different situations.
SAA Meeting and Non-Dominant Hand Journaling
Right after the ACA meeting ended, I had 25 minutes to journal prior to my SAA meeting. Yep! Going to two meetings in one day.
I decided to ask Little Phoenix what he wanted to do after the SAA Meeting. Did he want to go on a walk with our friends from program or should we sit and process our experience through writing.
With agonizingly, slow responses, he answered with my non-dominant hand, my left. It was more important to process this information while it was still fresh, rather than lose the opportunity to gain some real insight.
There was one “ah ha” moment for me during this particular meeting. In one of the shares, a program peer had said the common phrase, “Will you go to any length to recover?”
Another flashback. The end of November 2010.
I had five weeks of in treatment at The Meadows. They suggested I do another four weeks of After Care at their facility. I resisted. I believed they just wanted my money.
I contacted my CSAT therapist that I’ve now been seeing for over 9 years and within less than five minutes of talking to him the first time on the phone, he told me he believed I still had childhood issues that needed resolving and recommended I stay the length of time the facility was telling me. He said I’d have a better foundation of recovery if I did.
Reluctantly I acquiesced, but only on my terms. I was going home for Thanksgiving and spending that time with my family.
I’m in control, calling the shots, and doing recovery my way!
I went home for two days, then came back. My new therapist in the After Care facility was not pleased with me at all. In my first interrogation during a group setting he asked, “Will you go to any lengths to recover?”
“Will you do whatever it takes?” He asked again, slightly different.
“Will you divorce your wife?”
That question sat there for many minutes before he changed subjects. He had planted the seed. That was all he needed to do.
I disclosed this insight to Rafiki this morning on the phone. He replied, “You would go to all lengths to recover your marriage, but not all lengths to recover for you.”
I was then told they wanted me to stay an additional four weeks, eight weeks total and a week later, I was placed on a no-talk contract with the outside world. I could only call my daughters on Monday and Friday nights.
This contract lasted seven weeks.
Back then, I didn’t understand the reasoning for, what I believed, was this insane contract. Not until recently, when I finally opened and read my SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts) big book about qualifiers. Qualifiers, I’m also finding out, are a thing in ACA.
The importance of holding boundaries around a qualifier in SLAA is to heal any addiction we may have with that person. There’s an entire section in the SLAA Big Book about how withdrawal from a qualifier affects us mentally and physically.
I’ve peeled back the onion and learned that my emotional dependency, the love addiction, is what fueled my sex addiction. That desperate attempt to stay connected to my ex, especially when her walls were up, felt like I was dying inside. It’s trauma from my childhood that I ended up bringing into my marriage.
I’ve learned through these meetings, that I am not alone. I am not the only one that goes through this.
And really, that has brought me so much comfort and peace.
We Are Human
Here’s the thing. All of us are damaged in some way.
All of us.
Wait, we aren’t damaged. We aren’t flawed. Let’s follow Rafiki’s advice and change the wording.
Like being Physically Distant while still being social creates a different visual image than social distancing.
It’s how we phrase our thoughts that show us where our beliefs really lie.
We have imperfections that makes us human. It’s what makes us unique, brilliant, and beautiful.
What’s important is that we learn from our past. We find what tools help us manage our past traumas, our hurts, and our fears. We look beyond what we’re angry about and dig deep into the source.
Is it easy?
Oh, heck no! It’s incredibly painful. Especially when we have to face our own demons and look at the things we did that hurt others.
It’s becoming more aware.
It’s becoming a scientist and looking inside ourselves to find out what works and what doesn’t.
It’s striving to be become better, to continue to learn, and to continue to grow.
It’s allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and not hide behind a wall or hide behind masks.
It’s realizing that when we’re open to others, we end up finding we aren’t alone on this roller coaster ride we call life.
It’s acknowledging that we are human and we will make mistakes.
We aren’t perfect. No one is. So, drop the expectations.
It’s repairing relationships when we have harmed them.
It’s treating our inner children with empathy and compassion so we can integrate our adult with that child who only craves to be loved.
It’s coming together as a community.
And it’s leaning on the God of your understanding to persevere through the hard times.
We can rise from the pain of our past.
Through pain there’s growth.
There is absolute beauty on the other side of pain.
May you Rise From the Ashes and Soar With Eagles.
Together We Can Heal!