Today would typically be my next post for #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday. Unfortunately, my workload and health issues have piled up to the point where I feel like my day-to-day is a never-ending series of obligations. As a result, I need to slow myself down and respect my own limits. I want to carve out more time to dig into my spiritual practice so that what I write come as much from a place of authenticity as possible. I will still be blogging, but I am now planning to post about once a week, with additional posts as I am able. Looking forward to our continued conversations!
I’m interrupting my normal themed posts in order to share a part of my personal journey as it relates to mental health and being a trauma survivor. This particular post does not have a focus on spirituality, but I will be seeking out themes to which I can make a connection. I would welcome any comments about how what I shared impacted you or if you find yourself relating to any of my experiences.
“Yes,” he said, “I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”
― G.K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown
My mother remains a mystery to me. I lived with her from birth into young adulthood, but I never glimpsed behind the mask of mirrors she projected. She kept everyone at a particular distance; close enough to control but not so close that any vulnerability or genuine emotion was expressed. She would let me sit next to her and then unexpectedly shove me away.
She hid her true self under a mask of a loving, caring parent, when in fact she alternated in private between terrorizing, smothering and manipulating her charges. As soon as the phone was hung up or the car door shut or the last guest left, her polite, demure demeanor instantly transformed into an enraged, overburdened and abandoned character. And even this was a mask for whatever deep shame and revulsion drove her psyche, tossed aside for another version as soon as it suited her. She would scream and cry for days during her cycle, and, when asked what was making her depressed, would respond by saying “What do you mean? I’m always happy.” Every time I thought I saw her, she shifted and another mirror appeared.
What (not who) was I to this woman? I think I was an extension of her that she despised but needed, or maybe despised because she needed. She desired to possess me. I was to be her servant, happy that she allowed me to exist to ease her suffering. But of course I could never get it quite right and could never win her affection. She didn’t just fail to love me; she actively hated me. Had I stayed at home into adulthood and done nothing with my life aside from making a meager financial contribution and orienting myself towards pleasing her, she would not have made any effort to push me towards adult maturity. One of my greatest emotional burdens is that I’ve seen some of my siblings come close to this destiny after I rejected it. I was the oldest so the task fell to me initially; when I finally said “no more,” she simply adjusted her aim and found another target.
I’ve hesitated many times to share my experiences for fear of being called ungrateful and being judged for my estrangement from my family. Something settled anew in me when I decided to own it. I am ungrateful. Ungrateful for being sexually, emotionally and verbally abused. Ungrateful for being mocked and ridiculed every time I expressed an opinion. Ungrateful for being treated like an object or as an appendage. Ungrateful for the breadcrumbs of attention I was thrown, for which I was expected to grovel.
I want to wear my inner strengths that she labeled ungratefulness, entitlement and selfishness as a mantle; I would not be a fully functioning or even a marginally functioning adult without them. For wherever I am over-confident or proud in my everyday life, I offer myself grace and succor. To the parts of myself that are filled with shame and self-doubt, I extend hospitality and shout a message of “You are important!” “I see you!” “You have a right to exist!” to quiet the inner critic who wishes them gone.
I cobbled together a person from the fragments of my shattered mind. The embarrassment I’ve felt for my Frankenstein creation is being steadily replaced by an abiding sense of astonishment that the stitches are so well placed and the parts amble in a coordinated fashion. She broke me apart, seeking my soul, but I hid it away and now the rest of me—my mind, my body and my heart—have also been reclaimed as my own.
A major task of adulthood is making sense of our childhood, integrating the disappointments of our parents with their strengths in order that we may form our identity, develop close relationships and caretake the next generation. I cannot do this very well with my mother. I do see how hard she worked and I value the perseverance she instilled in me. I wish to feel sadness towards her limitations without being consumed with guilt, but she blamed me ceaselessly for her suffering without considering any of her own flaws. I wish to forgive her, but she never acknowledged that she did anything wrong towards me. I wish to connect to her, but she always kept me at a distance. I wish to focus on the silly, joyful, carefree times, but she didn’t allow herself to indulge in them with me.
So the best I can manage is acceptance. I accept that I’ve never really known who my mother is, that she’s existed in a kaleidoscope of interchangeable facades, and that she has been incapable of loving or even of seeing me as a person. I wish I could experience a genuine moment of humanity from her once in my life, but I accept that I will instead treasure every single one of these moments I’ve co-created with those who do love and care for me.
For this #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I will be sharing about sleep. Did you just yawn? Talking about sleep sometimes makes me tired 😊 Our bodies and minds benefit when we are able to get a good night’s rest. Mental health conditions common to trauma survivors are related to specific sleep problems. Specific behaviors can improve our sleep environments and we can elevate the act of sleep to a sacred practice.
Health Benefits of Sleep
Attaining a healthy night’s sleep affects nearly every aspect of our being, and is linked with living a longer, healthier life. Getting sufficient sleep at night seems to improve our fertility, immune system and metabolic functioning. The REM state of sleep appears to help our brain process memory. When we miss out on sleep, we suffer from short-term memory loss and our capacity to focus and learn is negatively impacted. Whenever I miss a few hours of sleep, I find myself having trouble keeping track of everything I’m doing and sometimes forgetting the next step in a process. Both of these experiences are indications of short-term memory deficits.
Sleep and Mental Health
Sleep problems can be symptoms of mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety. Hypersomnia can occur with depression; this would include feeling tired even after a full night of sleep and engaging in excessive sleeping. Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep, waking up repeatedly throughout the night, and/or waking up early in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. This can be a feature of depression or generalized anxiety. Those who have bipolar disorder may feel energized despite sleeping only a few hours a night and can eventually swing into a deep depression.
PTSD is linked with numerous sleep problems. A specific symptom of PTSD includes having nightmares reliving the traumatic event. People who have suffered trauma are also more likely to have REM behavior disorder, meaning that they move during REM sleep, which can lead to injury to themselves or those with whom they are sharing a bed.
Some sleep experiences that can be startling if you are unaware of their origins include the hallucinations that can occur while we are falling asleep or as we are waking up. You may feel or see a presence in the room. In addition, we are paralyzed by our brain every night during REM sleep. When parts of our brain come to full consciousness without a simultaneous release of our muscles, we experience sleep paralysis, which can involve awareness without the ability to move your body. If these types of experiences occur frequently, they can be a sign of narcolepsy.
Behaviors that assist us in getting a high-quality night of sleep are called sleep hygiene. Medications to help us sleep may sometimes be necessary but can come with a lot of side effects. To improve your sleep environment, consider the activities that occur on your bed or in your bedroom. If you are spending time concentrating on your computer in your bed, you might be confusing your body. You are conditioning your body to associate your room as a place to stay very alert and focused but also to a place to sleep. This discrepancy can increase insomnia. Having your bed designated only for quiet activities may help you to attain a peaceful night’s rest more easily.
To the extent that it is possible for you personally, consider creating a sacred sleep environment. Think about the sights, sounds, textures, smells and tastes that are most likely to induce a calm and peaceful place of respite, and redesign your sleeping space accordingly. I have a Goddess statue and a few trinkets in my bedroom that help me center. I’ve incorporated darker colors and blackout curtains in my design in order to bring the moon and nighttime vibes inside. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the extent to which these small changes have made it easier for me to get a restful night’s sleep.
Sleep is a biological act and does not necessarily or inherently involve a spiritual component, but I think it can be transformed when we view it as an active spiritual practice. For instance, when we dream, our unconscious mind has an opportunity to express itself. I think Goddess can speak to us during this time. In order to remember dreams, most people find it necessary to record them immediately after waking. This ensures that the vivid details will be captured. You may need to adjust this practice if you have PTSD and experience trauma-related nightmares. I have these in cycles; there are times I go without them during which I think it would benefit me to more fully examine my dreams and look for Goddess symbols.
The moments between sleep and awakening are a time when our mind can be particularly open. I tend to find myself immediately running through all the things I have to do for the day. A practice I am now incorporating is to spend the first light of dawn in a visualization. This will include creating a rich, full color picture in my mind of a nature scene, and using all my scenes to fill out the imagery. When I consider starting each day in a tropical jungle, snowy mountaintop or wind-raked beach, it seems a little easier to transition to addressing the mundane tasks that lie ahead of me. An interesting side effect of this practice has been that I am sometimes able to remember my dreams more fully, possibly because I am engaging similar brain areas.
I hope you will share tips on what you do to improve your sleep and reap its benefits. I know there are many other spiritual practices that relate to sleep and would love to learn about what you have found to be particularly meaningful. Sleep well!