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?

Highs and Lows of Healing in Real Time

This summer, i intentionally turned inward a lot and slowed down even more. This sacred pause has given me gifts of soft fascination: I have been in awe of the vast array of city flower gardens in my neighbourhoods. I admired the abundance of honey bees in my own wee garden. I have read books that honour nature and how its resilience can teach us everything about life and living.

My body experienced the benefit of rest and pause, as the foundational need that it is.

I also thought about the inner lives we all have. We all have that inner story – that quiet voice that keeps coming back to us in whispers, a lot of the time in shadows.

One part of my inner story has brought me back to my early curiousity of the Goddess. Not just the Triple Goddess of the Maiden Mother, Wise Woman, but that lush and luminous Goddess figure herself. At my most present and regulated, this is the story i’ve been re-visiting this summer.

I wore summer dresses that helped me embody the Goddess; i ate juicy fruit; i danced in lake water. I wore my long hair down and felt the sweat of summer sun on me.

Our inner story is happening all the time. Sometimes, we are the writers of the story. Other times, we are the audience of our own narrative storyline. Oftentimes, our response to day-to-day interactions comes from our inner story; and it often has nothing to do with the actual interaction. Sometimes, what i think is the story is just the overstory, the backdrop. Sometimes, i am rudely reminded that what i think is the story or point is not, but in fact it is the epilogue that provokes an old, nuanced and hidden story in my body. One that i wanted to long forget.

For instance, this summer i experienced a few revelations that have shown me that i am both further along in my own growth and also still more wounded than I realized. It has shown me that healing is a constant process, and one that is not necessarily linear.

It’s Not about the Paint Job
After living in my own house for over a decade, it was time for us to paint the exterior. The paint was beyond chipping, it was not a colour i liked, and the damage was starting to cause trouble to the integrity of the house. Plus, after being at home almost 24/7 for 18 months this past year, i wanted to be proud of the dwelling i call Home.

I am by no means a seasoned or knowledgeable renovator or handyperson. Getting quotes, calling people to book things, and otherwise trying to speak their language is always something that causes me discomfort and ultimately dysregulation. While i am a child of a self-employed house framer by trade, my own father’s understanding of home repairs was foreign to me.

When it came time to go ahead with the project, we were very confused, surprised and disappointed with the whole experience. I am grateful that the colour is something i love, but the work of the “professional painting company” was a very far stretch from the word professional. They literally splatted paint on my neighbours own newly painted walls. Twice. They splattered paint on our front doors and windows, and on so many other things. We were in constant conflict, and by the last day, when we had to ask again for them to do a better job, and to actually do what they were contracted to, my body was screaming for me to listen to her.

I am conflict-adverse. My need for Flight is pretty prominent. As a woman, i was socialized to be a People Pleaser and to avoid conflict. I think most people are conflict avoidant, to some degree. And yet, conflict is inevitable.

At first i thought it was my fear of conflict and negative feedback that made me feel so nauseous. Maybe it was my people-pleasing part that struggled when my breath was shallow. My inner Nice Girl was wanting to throw up inside. Ultimately, i had to slow down and really take stock of what was happening. I realized it was a Wounded Exile Part that has been quiet and in the shadows for years: My Inner Teen who was hurt too many times and did not trust smarmy boys with false promises. Boys who are pushy and have egos that get in the way of their own vulnerability. This crew of young painters embodied that.

So, i chose to honour my body and listen to her. My partner stepped in to support me and used his own skills of conflict resolution and non-violent communication. I realized that while a part of me – my more present Manager part – was angry at myself for not being assertive and demanding better, my more compassionate parts just wanted to do what was best for me. Ultimately, we settled for less than perfect but i was happy to be done in the end, and able to address our needs. My voice was not as vocal as i wanted and yet my body was telling me all i had to hear.

I chose to listen to her and not override that she needed love, attention and care. My Manager was disappointed but my Inner Child felt seen.

The Waterfall Heals All
Immediately after this experience, i went away camping. Like that same day. For weeks, i was looking forward to this weekend away with friends. It was long-overdue time together. On one of our adventures, we went to a local watering hole that was known to have a waterfall. As this weekend was the final days of an epic heat wave, this spot was a perfect remedy to cool down. My Inner Goddess was also so excited as it has been my fantasy to swim under a waterfall for years.

When we got to the spot to climb down, my stomach went into flutters: It was a steep, slippery climb down. I told myself that i couldn’t do it. Who did i think i was, a sprite young thing? A reckless child?

The only thing to hold onto the rock wall was a sketchy looking rope. It took me a moment or two of quiet discernment to scan if i didn’t just WANT to do it but also that i was CAPABLE to.

This was a calculated moment of pendulating between a fear state versus an embodied sense of knowing i could do it.

I chose that i could do it.

Once i made that first step down, i knew i always knew i could do it. It was that fine balance of calculated and exquisite risk. It was also that perfect remedy, a counter to what my body felt only a few days prior.

That initial victim or exiled worried girl who showed up just days prior was met in the eyes and told she could do it. I held her with love. This climb down to the water was the perfect healing antidote to remind me that my body does know. She also felt vindicated. All my parts felt seen and i was actively in my most present self – she who is calm, curious, clear, and compassionate.

The water was a glorious gift at the end of the climb. I spotted my whole family as they came down and it made me even more excited for future waterfall adventures.

Tara Brach talks about “real but not true” as a beautiful resource to help us notice if the thoughts and feelings we are having are taking over us. Sometimes our mind and body play tricks on us as a way of protecting us. Yet we need to fact check how real is the feeling, how factual is the thought. Even by inserting the possibility that it may not be true, that lessens the fear that’s taking over our body.

When you are pondering if the fear you have in a given moment is real or true, ask yourself “who would you be if this fear or feeling was not real?” Remind yourself that this feeling may be true but is not real – it is based on old worries and is trying to protect you from getting hurt now.

Story Follows State – most of the time
Our body responses aren’t always about a trauma story. Sometimes it’s also just what is familiar in our bodies over time. Our body stores its own memories from repeated events, like riding a bike or rolling pizza dough. For instance, as someone who grew up swimming in oceans and lakes with a shoreline, it wasn’t common practice for me to canoe or kayak, let alone be in a boat. So as my family has access to a cottage with various types of boats now, I had this identity that I didn’t know how to paddle a kayak.

More recently, i have fallen in love with paddle boarding (SUP), a close cousin to my love of surfing. Now, what i do know is how to stand on a paddle board and use a paddle. Being on a SUP is one of my happy places. It provides moments of peace and embodied joy for me. I also feel fearless, strong and powerful on it.

This summer, when planning to go to a local beach near the cottage, we only could get there by kayak and canoe. I had said to myself (and outloud) that I didn’t know how to kayak let alone canoe. I had that beautiful moment where I noticed what I said and checked myself. Of course i know how to kayak – it’s not that different from paddling a SUP. It was a moment of challenging my thought about myself, and realizing that my body was more capable about doing something than i gave credit. It was my inner story who said that I couldn’t do it. What an amazing moment of reckoning and reclaiming of what I can do.

Not only did i get to that beach, i showed my daughter that it was possible to do something we have never done before. My body felt so strong after, and the beach was even more pleasurable and empowering than getting a ride there would have been.

It’s moments like this where we notice that our thoughts are always true and that the facts live with the body as it knows better.

The sweet reward is a waterfall waiting for you at the end of a rope.