Coming out of the Covid Cave

Now that it is April, it feels fitting to look at how this next season can help us move forward from these past two years. I love how the seasons offer a rightful place for contemplation and compassion for what is. Just like planting seeds in our gardens, so too are we planting seeds of hope for this next stage of our life. Spring is a perfect time to plant intentions versus be reactionary.

I am coming out of my own Inner Winter, alongside a long Winter in Toronto. I cannot claim that Covid is over (far from it), but i do trust that my place of hiding is not serving me anymore. This may be a bit early to share, and yet i have been sitting with this need to shift for some time.

I have noticed that the longer i sit in my Protective Cave, the harder it is to come out of it. I have created rooms within it, to keep myself busy and be distracted. This has only benefited my fear of being restless or bored, so that my mind does not wander. And yet, i always encourage the people i support in my therapy practice to not bypass the big hard feelings.

As a mental health practitioner, it is not lost on me that my own mental health was challenged these last two years. I may be a therapist, one skilled in trauma, and yet i too am a human experiencing a global pandemic. As Covid continued to wreak havoc on our communities, we experienced other secondary impacts of this collective trauma. Family violence, sexual assault, racist acts, depression, anxiety and suicide all increased. Unhealthy coping strategies increased and a lot of us started to numb out. Our most vulnerable community members’ health was threatened even more. We turned inward because we were taught that being around others was not safe, that sharing meals was too dangerous.

Staci Haines is a somatic therapist and trainer, who works from an intersectional lens. She wrote the book Healing Sex which has been a longstanding resource for me, in how i support sexual assault survivors. Her latest book The Politics of Trauma, Staci shares that the 3 most important pillars for healing are having an embodied sense of Safety, Belonging, and Dignity

We are not meant to heal in isolation, in fact our body’s Automatic Nervous System has a Social Engagement System built in. Thanks to the work of Polyvagal Theory, we know understand more how we heal in community, in co-regulation and compassion. To be clear, i’m not ready to jump back without a mask and kiss strangers, but i do want to start being in community again.

We faced hard truths about our relationships, as well as how painful the feeling of loneliness is.

Crises are experiences of accelerated growth, for better or worse. They can be transformation points that inspire opportunities for change. We are supposed to adapt, grow and transform – through trauma and life in general: We need help to get through it.

While this may be true, it is also hard to re-enter life in a fully expressed way now. Who are we now? Are we Better than Before? Have we regressed? Kind of like in Bridgerton, when a scandal befalls a family they need to push through and present themselves at the Promenade Park. (Clearly, watching the latest season in a week has left a mark on me.)

This is our time to walk at the park.

Think of yourself living in a cocoon. Maybe you are still wrapped up in its comfort. Or maybe you were also restless to get out and start that next shift of metamorphosis. Where are you in this change?

Or maybe you’re like the serpent, the snake that is shedding old skin that no longer serves you. Back in October, i shared more about this concept of shedding old skin, under the lens of adjusting to motherhood. The analogy fits here as well

I want to be clear that a global pandemic is not the time to intentionally work on self-development, and yet we are inevitably changed by this experience. What we can do is reflect on who we are now, and what we want to keep or discard based on this experience.

One of the biggest things i have noticed is that true rest is paramount for my health. My physical health as well as other parts of wellbeing. My mental load is more manageable when i’m rested. My body is more resilient. My emotional barometer is more regulated, and i have more capacity to honour my spiritual and social rituals.

The opposite of Rest is Restlessness

I was listening to a powerful episode of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us. In it, she was speaking to her guest who challenged Brene to reframe her feeling of being restless, instead of getting to true boredom. It is with boredom that our mind and body is fully rested. It is being in this space that allows our soul space to be creative. This is the sweet spot we are looking for. Rest that is truly restorative is what helps build our capacity and ability to handle adversity. While it may need to be curated for each person, it is the felt sense of calm and regulation that we are looking for. So, for me, it was discovering that being outdoors and co-regulating with nature heals me. Taking breaks from social media and screens also gives me a mindful pause. Laughter and play are also key for my soul to get the belly ache that has been missing for too long.

I’m noticing that when i give myself true rest and foundational self-respect rituals, it is then that i can really appreciate the bigger acts of self-care and compassion. For instance, a bath or glass of water, a meal or sleeping well should be seen more for the Hierarchy of Needs foundation that they are – the respect we give ourselves for merely being alive. In fact, Staci Haines 3 principles of healing are including in this model – starting with feeling safe, than establishing a felt sense of belonging with others. And then, finally embodying dignity.

The acts of self-love and care are what enhance our life, so that we can live the life we love and make it meaningful. It’s the shift from eating a meal for lunch at my desk to going for a walk outside and giving myself an intentional pause from work. I come back feeling more refreshed and present. I also come back with more capacity after tending to my other parts, so that i can keep going.

Covid took this from me.

I was working at a community mental health agency in March 2020. I worked with colleagues and saw others in person every day. While at times i wanted to hide in my office so i could be alone with my thoughts, most days what really helped me was being in community. I relished that shared pot of coffee in the morning. I loved seeing others on my walk or bike ride home.

Pivoting to working from home and a computer made me feel safe, most of the time, but it was at the expense of my wellbeing and full expression of me. I discovered just how much i am extroverted and thrive in shared space.

This sense of community extends back to our oldest matrilineal lines. These were the times when we cried, ate, or sang together. Growing up, i loved taking dance classes with others. These communal experiences of shared delight alchemizes a sense of being at home.

I am ready to embrace and be embraced, despite the slight anxiety I feel.

Francis Weller says: “The strategies of the wound are isolation and withdrawal. It’s a form of hiding or absenting yourself from the encounter. Sovereignty is a gathering of one’s self together. And only the adult can hold the ground of sovereignty. The wounded part of us is not interested in sovereignty, it’s interested in survival. From that sovereign place our work is to bring compassion to those wounded territories, and help to ripen them up, over time, so they can more greatly tolerate the contact that intimacy offers to us”

This passage really resonates with me because that is why I stayed home and went into my dark winter cave. My wounded part was in control, so that she kept me safe. Now the push is to be vulnerable so i can increase my capacity to be intimate with others. I have already been intimate with myself, this is what i’ve done these last 8 months. Now i want to be intimate with loved ones and family and my beloved.

It’s easy to forget what we truly need, when the world is a dumpster fire, full of garbage and the push to hustle. That’s why it’s even more important to not forget what self-care is for you. We need to remember the resources that nurture you.

My biggest observation from these past 2 years is that i hate the word hustle, and i have come to despise the act of DOing at the expense of my wellbeing.

I’ve been working on reclaiming the felt sense of just BEing. Instead of jumping into the push to DO. It is my own way to decolonize the capitalist system in my own life. Let me be that goddess just being still and listening to the mockingbird sing outside my window. So BE it if my family catches me in the act.

We have taught ourselves to be really good at playing the Game of Life. You now, it’s where we move from one task to another, and keep adding to our list of achievements or success. We may have a never-ending to-do list and feel guilty for slowing down, reading a book for pleasure, or watching all of Inventing Anna in 4 days. I know i have been taught to internalize that idea of worthiness when i complete a task and check it off my list. And yet, we can’t continue to be in this space of DOING all the time.

I think that the sensation of BEing is the opposite of DOing. There isn’t focus on the outcome but rather the sense of being right here right now. It isn’t about being productive. This is a more feminine aligned value, vs the toxic masculinity we have been taught for decades. I am here for that. The ancient value of feminine energy has been put into our collective shadow, as a way of making us believe our worth is tied to our career or financial success.

Even in a global pandemic, during war, and other atrocities against communities, we are taught to push through and show our worth based on our accomplishments.

The opposite of trauma is titration. So we need to start this healing process and reclamation in small, doable steps so that our body does not feel overwhelmed by this effort to jump back in. This article offers some practical suggestions to help soothe yourself when out in the public world these days. This New Yorker article also reflects what life is like now in this psuedo-post-Covid world.

We need to move into Self energy, this is what heals the Parts of us that have come online to protect us from Covid. For me, i am in Self when i am in nature, being creative or playing. It is when i feel calm and confident, when i have clarity and compassion. My Manager Part and Firefighter have been on duty 24/7 and they need a break. We need to come back home to our Self.

How to Move Forward with Grace
Here are some things to put into place:

*Schedule a non-negotiable daily ritual for yourself
*Create a peaceful space
*Try something new just for fun – have a Beginner’s Mind
*Be Creative
*Move your body
*Plan a time to allow yourself to just BE
*Find your Village

It might be too soon to get around the value put on DOing. It helps to instead focus on doing small things frequently and spending more time in the place of Being. These are tiny experiments that can help you track if they feel risky for you. For instance, find the tiny moments and things that make you feel like YOU. It is a bit of a journey back to us as we want to be.

I learned that our brain relishes coupling hard moments with compassion. Ask yourself “What do I need in this moment?” And even more imperative – respond to that need. Combine something you have to do with something that nurtures you. Perhaps you need to go grocery shopping, so maybe call a friend or treat yourself to fresh flowers.

See if you can practice more BEing moments: These are the moments of just being present in the here and now. Be still, pause. Breathe and soak in the moment without needing an outcome. If that seems hard, find ways to practice mindfulness – play a new song that you enjoy and truly listen to its lyrics. Eat a fruit salad with your eyes closed and see if you can differentiate the flavours from one another. You might sit at the window and watch what is happening outside. Maybe you go for a walk without ear buds in and no plan. When you enter into this space, practice being curious about what shows up for you. Is it hard? Do you feel the urge to push? Bring acceptance to this experience and see if you can let it go.

This is my time to start my ascent from the dark, from that underworld journey. Want to join me?