How can there be harm behind a practice that intends to support healing and growth? If you’ve experienced trauma, grief or loss this may resonate with you and if you are someone who recommends it to others there may be some things to unpack before you do.
It often would put me in a space where I would relive those painful moments how I had processed them during that time.
My relationship with mindfulness is that of two friends who found each other prematurely in an inevitable space, spent a lot of time together in that space, tried to make a bad thing work relentlessly, parted ways followed by experiencing a lot of growth a part and eventually came back together organically when ‘the time felt right.’ That was a lengthy comparison but, in my mind, it makes perfect sense when I think back to my first experiences incorporating mindfulness in my life. I must preface the experiences I’m about to share with the fact that in retrospect, I’m quite proud of teenage me for relentlessly doing everything she could to protect her energy and get herself out of some of the deep dark holes constructed by grief and trauma.
When I first experienced trauma at the age of 15 I was introduced to the state of being in fight- flight-freeze mode. This survival mode would consume me for years as though it was a vital organ. As a young person I was always very observant and self-aware. I didn’t always know how to support myself, but I did pick up on patterns and alarms in my body. I would often freeze in the years after. My trauma was centred around an ill parent and losing one temporarily to her having to be a caregiver for my dad. The nature of my dad’s condition was severe and always changing. We would get woken up with calls in the middle of the night from the hospital, my mom urgently and abruptly having to leave, my dad’s condition worsening, hearing hard news and experiencing uncertainty for about 4 years until my dad had passed. All while being a teenager and experiencing the challenges that come with that. Even after his passing there was a lot of financial, mental and emotional strain grieving the loss of one of the most significant relationships I’ve had in my life.
Throughout that time, I became a Psychology major which further allowed me to make connections with my own experiences and my studies. It was in a sense an escape that allowed me to deeply reflect which also felt safe for me. I had become aware of the relationship between mindfulness practices and overall practicing better mental health and those who had experienced trauma. PTSD was a topic of interest for me in my studies that I was drawn to learning as much as I could. Ironically, years later a therapist had told me that I had been experiencing PTSD for years.
At 15, I remember signing out yoga DVDs from the library. I would try meditation practices – sometimes guided and other times I would sit in silence aimlessly trying to avoid thinking about all of the bad things that I was experiencing and couldn’t even verbalize. It often would put me in a space where I would relive those painful moments how I had processed them during that time. It was hard for me to be still because the natural still parts of our day such as showering, and sleeping were ones that were often interrupted with crisis throughout the years my dad was ill. Being still was uncomfortable and impossible to achieve through what I knew of mindfulness at the time.
I found it easier to keep moving, thinking and stacking more onto my plate than to slow down. Slowing down at the time, meant actively choosing to have my guard down and having that interrupted at any moment as my body had unfortunately learned over years. I felt discouraged after I would attempt meditation and yoga and not get relief or results. I thought if I kept pushing through it would change but I would often feel defeated. Asking for help was something that I struggled with for years. When I noticed my grades and opportunity to build a career were becoming affected by my mental health, I took action. I had found a therapist that I felt comfortable with to hear me and tailor suggestions based on me as an individual and where I was at with my grief. Working on acceptance and self-compassion were instrumental in prepping me to heal. Who knew there would be work to do before the work!? With that came willingness to work through my trauma. I had always been observant and self aware but the piece I was missing was self-compassion. I was so hard on myself and dismissive toward my grief. Having that safe space allowed me to talk through my trauma, reprocess it and show myself more compassion. Mindfulness was how I was going to be able to maintain it when more challenges came my way.
In recent years, I’ve struggled with this notion of being still. I’ve experienced other losses as well as health issues. Through more trial and error of seeing what would help me along my healing journey, I’ve had acupuncture sessions. Prior to it I had ensured that I felt safe with my naturopath so that if this experience caused distress, I’d feel comfortable enough to ask him to stop. I was making more conscience choices respecting myself and where I was at but also being open minded to new practices. This thought process was mindfulness. With that said, I did notice that I would get anxious for the first 5 minutes, sometimes even flush in the face. There have been several sessions where I’ve cried throughout as I’ve felt such an unexplainable relief. Again, for me this was something that was helpful in my particular journey which is what I can speak on. I think it is important to highlight that your trauma is not something impossible to work through even when you feel like you’ve tried it all.
With surgeries I’ve had and health issues that have come up I continue to access tools such as breath work, meditation, intentional activities like drawing/colouring and letting my body lead. These experiences remind me that I will continue to have work to do but so long as I continue to be mindful and open to connecting with myself further without judgement I will continue to heal. If you would like to learn more about how a colleague and friend of mine, Child & Family Therapist Zahra Kara explains how Mindfulness can be a valuable tool for those who have experienced grief, loss and/or trauma, please check out her insightful post here.Keep healing,xoC