This is an incredibly scary process. We left the body a long time ago because it wasn’t a safe place to live. Maybe we left because we were experiencing physical and sexual abuse that we could not escape. Maybe we left because we were experiencing painful emotions and we could not cope any longer with our reality. So we made a choice. We chose to leave the reality in the body and create a new story in our head. And that is where we took up residence. And honestly, we were expecting to be there forever.
But we get some bad news in recovery. We have to go back from whence we came. Recovery doesn’t just happen in the head, no matter how much we whine about it (or maybe it’s just me whining). There’s a problem though. We don’t know anything about the body. We may even hate the body. Our trauma has probably created extensive issues with the body. We might experience chronic illness and pain. We may not know how to take care of it. Maybe we are so dissociated, we don’t remember to eat or go to the bathroom. I used to be able to go all day without eating and then wonder why I was “hangry”. I would get to a very uncomfortable level of bladder holding before I had to run for it. I just wasn’t paying attention. And recovery is about paying attention. It is about awareness.
Getting in to the body sends many messages to the universe and our parts. First, it lets the universe know that we are ready to prioritize the self (at least a little). It sends a message to our inner parts that we are ready to hear from them. And it scares our defenders, who have spent an entire lifetime keeping away from reality. In other words, our first attempts to access the wisdom of the body will often be met with inner chaos. That chaos can sometimes be interpreted as a “visiting the body is a bad decision”. But I urge you to persevere because the long-term effects are remarkable.
When we do have moments of staying in the body, we will start to experience connection with the self in the form of emotions, memories and defenses. And this poses a problem. We don’t know what is what because we never got to know the body in childhood. Many times, we believe that defenses are emotions because we don’t know the difference. We may even believe that emotions will kill us if we allow them because in childhood, we put them away for this very reason. So I am going to clarify some scenarios you might have experienced and misinterpreted.
- Anxiety is not an emotion. Anxiety is an attempt to defend against an emotion. We have an inner defender who is attempting to keep us from feeling an emotion that is coming to the surface. I call this the “battle of the parts”. We have two parts who want different things. When we can allow the emotions or defense to express, the anxiety will dissipate.
- Physical pain is not an emotion. When we begin to explore emotions, the body will often react with physical pain. Our defenders create blocks to the emotions through muscle tension and spasms, and to be honest, it hurts. It isn’t comfortable. But don’t mistake the pain for emotion. If we can allow ourselves to breathe in to that pain and let it release, the emotions can follow and the pain can end.
- Feeling emotion does not cause a nervous breakdown. I do understand why we would think this. We are terrified of these emotions. That is why we have left them tucked away for so long. But breakdowns are not caused by emotions. They are caused by our attempts to defend against those emotions. The battle between them becomes too much. We can’t hold the two realities any longer.
- Emotion cannot kill you. For the same reasons as #3, we might have inner parts who believe we will die or drown in the emotions. It feels so overwhelming. But emotions are a part of the human experience, and if we release the defenses and feel, we will not die from it. This said, hopelessness can convince a person that suicide is the best answer. It does happen. And it is important to develop an understanding of the source of this emotion so we can properly cope with this.
- Emotion has a message and a reason, even when it doesn’t seem like it. When we feel emotion, it is not as random and unpredictable as we might think. Emotion often comes up with memories from our past or from triggers. There is often a clear message behind the emotion. When we understand and express this message, we can help the emotion to release.
I am not suggesting that emotion is easy to express. It is very difficult. It brings up fears that are intense. It takes deep courage to allow ourselves to feel again. But with some knowledge about emotion, we will be more prepared to handle the transition back into the body. And it is critical that we do. We cannot find the true self without going back home.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW