Here I am, on the other side of the Dark Night of the Soul, recovering from a piece of adversity so difficult that when I asked for the help of a coach to see me through the hard times, he said: “You don’t need a coach, you need Jesus Christ!” For fifteen years I lived with a hostile, malevolent, abusive man; I was a new immigrant, with no family in Canada, no money, socially isolated and increasingly ill.
And yet, I made it. Aside from chaos, divine intervention and other factors that I can’t prove either helpful or not, here’s what I did in order to stay afloat physically, mentally and spiritually:
1. Embodied practices
Throughout the years of distress, I kept a routine of practice which included meditation, yoga, Qi Gong, EFT, Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement and dance. I think I would have died long ago without these practices which energized me when I was exhausted, calmed me when I was fearful or anxious, helped me return to my body when I dissociated as a response to traumatic events, and returned me to center each time.
2. Kept a sacred sanctuary
I always had one or two places in my home that were mine only, decorated with the objects significant to me, with images, textures, sounds and fragrances of my choice, where I felt at home where the rest of the house felt foreign to me. My bedroom was entirely mine, as well as my living room where I led my personal practice, saw clients and led group trainings. I always had my oasis to retreat to and recharge.
3. Asked for help
For years I was ashamed of my marital circumstances, and tried to hide them. I often felt like a fraud in my work helping people live their lives better while my life was a mess, and I kept much of the pain to myself and a couple of old friends. When I mustered my courage to do so, I reached out and built a network of support for myself, which was another life-saving move. Having someone to talk to every week, and some kind of helpful intervention, supported me in carrying on and trying to make my life work.
4. My gym
I scraped my pennies and signed up to the fanciest gym in town, regarding the fees as an expense as important as food. In the last years of marriage when the atmosphere at home became unbearable, I fled my home and ran to the gym as often as I could, and did something there that brought some movement to my body and some peace to my mind. At the gym I’d do things in the company of health-minded people, and was able to connect with some kind and skilled movers, to move, talk and laugh with them. The club felt like a second home to me, and I had a stronger sense of belonging there than in my own house.
5. Old friends
Social isolation is one of the painful life dysfunctions that abused women suffer from. I became increasingly unhappy, irritable, tearful and far from attractive to people who didn’t know me. Making new friends was impossible and I was lonely and deprived of close, intimate friendships. Happily I have a handful of old friends whom I have known for over thirty years and these friends have seen me joyful, playful, present and connected, and they already cared about me when I became cranky and insufferable, so they stayed with me. Sadly, these friends remained on the other side of the ocean; happily, technology shrunk the distances and I could connect with my friends by phone and internet. I don’t buy in the myth of self-sufficiency anymore: we are social animals, and sustained by our interactions. These old friendships that stuck with me nourished me and saw me through the intimacy famine that I have endured when some of my newer friends turned their backs away.
6. Mental translations
Feeling stuck in a difficult situation for so many years brought a sense of helplessness and discouragement, and I went through times of losing hope that I would ever see the other side of what seemed like a dark tunnel. I survived mentally by changing the meaning I gave to my circumstances, looking for opportunities for growing and learning in the midst of adversity. I changed despair-rooted questions such as: “How could I choose a man like that?” and “What’s wrong with me?” to “What do I need to know and to change in myself in order to choose better next time?” and “How can I turn this pain into a resource for me and for others?”
7. Facilitated Therapy
As a healer, I had access to plenty of therapies, and each leg of my journey I received some kind of healing sessions of bodywork, body-mind methods, and various healing arts or “energy work”. Some methods and facilitators were more effective than others, and today, looking back, I seriously doubt that I would have survived fifteen years of daily distress without any of these facilitated interventions.
Some of the more helpful care methods were NSA – Network Spinal Analysis, acupuncture, homeopathy, Life Line Therapy and TBM – Total Body Modification, EMDR, NSI – Neuro-Structural Integration, Cranio-Sacral therapy, Hellinger’s constellation work, and of course the many Reiki healing hands that touched me thanks to my students and colleagues.
Paper is very forgiving – you can trust it with everything that you don’t dare say to another soul. A river of ink has flown its way through a mountain of pages as I silently screamed, pen on paper, my worst nightmares and despair, my darkest thoughts and feelings, and my brightest flickers of hope. I kept a ‘bitching journal’ where I did not observe any rules of compassionate communication, and I said all that I wanted to say in that journal, until I was empty of that, and then I tore and buried the journal. I wrote to complain, protest, pray and request, to do psychotherapy homework, and to examine my dreams. I had a best intimate friend made of paper, and it helped.
My work – the client healing and coaching sessions, leading group training, offering presentations and organizing related events gave me consistent life purpose when life didn’t feel like worth living. Taking my attention beyond myself and placing it in service of others have been the highlight of my day. I tried my best to leave my problems at the treatment room door and focused my attention to assisting the person or persons who came to see me, and I was richly rewarded with witnessing my clients’ body-felt transformations with my contribution.
My work secured my dignity and purpose; it was the best part of my life and I kept living when I brushed with death motivated by nothing else but the promise that when this suffering will end, my overcoming it will be an asset for me to use and help others alleviate their own suffering, and thrive.