Thump thump thump my heart is banging ten to the dozen in my chest as if it is going to explode I can feel my blood pumping in my ears, my breathing is shallower & faster, my muscles tighten, my pupils dilate…
My radar is up my body is alert ready and waiting…
I’m scared I’m anxious all my senses are heightened… I can smell, touch, taste, feel and see what is going to happen…again
I’ve been here before hundreds of times in fact
Here comes my abuser….
I’m ready to do whatever it takes to survive.
I might run away, I might freeze and just take what’s coming or TODAY I just might stand my ground and fight.
Is this a real event, a memory, my nightmare…….it doesn’t matter the brain sees it the same…..it’s a threat to my survival.
Even when the threat is not physically there anymore my body prepares itself for fight, flight or freeze every time. My emotions and feelings have become hard wired and fired into my brain. Unless I deal with the real cause of my ‘threat’ every little threat can make me react in the same way….I will constantly be living in my reptilian brain space…I will constantly be frightened of my own shadow…walking on eggshells…living a life that serves someone else not ME.
My body is in sympathetic nervous system dominant mode and for many abused people it has been this way for years.
In the 1st 16 years of my life I moved home about 8 times, moved families twice, lived in a tent in Wales for 6 months and ended up in the local homeless unit 3 times. I moved schools many times; sometimes I did not go to school. My siblings & I were malnourished, beaten & neglected by the adults that should have been caring for us and bullied by the kids at school. My childhood was the pits; emotionally & physically damaging… especially for my siblings. I became the ‘mum’ to my 2 brothers and 1 sister.
After the ‘threat’ passes my body slumps, I am tired, my body craves carbohydrates. Like many abused people I am in a cycle of emotional eating, craving sweets, chocolate, cake anything that will make me feel good for a moment in time, anything to feel the void, the big black hole in my stomach, in my head.
Then the guilt kicks in I start berating myself, I gain some weight, I feel fat, unloved, unworthy, my self esteem is at rock bottom, I feel under threat and the cycle continues. I reach for more comfort food.
For me I developed bulimia to cope with episodes of high level of stress it’s my way of coping. For other abuse survivors they turn to alcohol, drugs, self harm, anorexia.
These reactionary behaviours become habitual over time and will harm your mental physical and emotional well being. In 2000 I had a breakdown and the only way I could turn my life around was to ‘break the cycle’ of what I was doing. I needed to acknowledge that I had a problem, I needed to understand what was happening to me and I needed to find a solution to my problem. Not an easy task when you don’t trust anyone, when you are ashamed of who you are and are afraid about what will happen when you tell!
Through my training as a Trauma and Health Coach I have learnt that in order to maintain good emotional, mental and physical health we need to de-stress our bodies. We need to ‘live’ more in our para sympathetic nervous system, not our sympathetic branch of our nervous system as many abused people do.
Our para sympathetic nervous system allows us to rest, digest and regenerate. It allows us to ‘live’ in our neo-mammalian brain, the frontal lobe which allows us to be at peace with ourselves, it allows us to achieve everything that we want from our lives.
How do we start to move from a chronic ‘stressed state of being’ to a ‘calm relaxed and happy state of being’?
The easiest way of reclaiming a ‘calm relaxed and happy state of being’ and getting rid of the tension in our bodies is by mastering our breathing. Breathing into your belly rather than your chest takes you out of the sympathetic nervous system and into your para sympathetic nervous system, which means that you rest and your digestion improves, your sleep will improve and your general anxieties will reduce.
Any meal that you eat under stress will not be digested properly, you will not extract all the nutrition out of the food you have eaten. So you could be eating the healthiest food every day, but if you are stressed, anxious, worried and angry, you will not be giving your nervous system the best chance to extract the nutrients from the healthy food.
Just a minute a day of simply breathing into your lower belly can help you begin to adjust your system to help you work with yourself, not against it.
Try box breathing: breathe in for 4 slow counts and hold it for 4 slow counts, breathe out for 4 slow counts and hold it for 4 slow counts, repeat for 60 seconds – before you go to sleep, and/or before you eat.
My Top 5 Tips and Philosophy
Any change is scary. More often than not it is easier and more comfortable to stay with what you know even if you are being abused and are miserable. Some people even think that their abuse is ‘normal’ and that they deserve it; they don’t know any different.
I have 5 tips to share with you. They have helped me move on from my abuse:-
1. First, you need to have enough discomfort to want to seek change. You need deep-rooted ‘why’ or reason to make the change; because it will help you to succeed. It will help you through those dark times, tough times. It will make you commit to the change.
At the age of 15 I knew that I had to leave home; no matter what. I had no money, nowhere to live. I wanted to go to college and oh I was only 15! Howevermy discomfort of staying at home outstripped the challenges that lay ahead of me. I needed to leave my childhood abuse behind me. I wanted more I wanted to be loved, happy and healthy. I wanted security, stability and a family of my own. This is what drove me to succeed and fulfil everything that I set out to achieve. This changed and evolved as I got older!
2. Speak Up/Speak Out. Find someone you trust to talk to, to confide in. It might be a friend, a family member, a stranger or a group like S.O.B. NSPCC, NAPAC, the Samaritans. Do not think that you are alone; there are many people in the world that have been abused. Do not suffer in silence. Take the first step and free yourself from your abuser. Say NO to your abuser and tell someone about your abuse.
3. Be prepared for rejection or things not going to plan but believe in yourself and see your plan through. Life can be harsh and when you finally have the courage to speak up/speak out you may not be believed. If this is the case the person you have told is not ready to hear the truth; they may never be ready! Contact one of the organisations listed above. They can help you to move forwards and get you the help that you need.
4. Unburden yourself by taking the action necessary for you to lead a happy and healthy life. This is your right as a human being. After my breakdown in 2000 I had therapy to help me get through my childhood trauma. I was scared, felt ashamed, guilty. I was full of anger and resentment, all of which was making me unwell mentally and physically.
5. Look after yourself, be kind to yourself, eat nutritious food, learn to de-stress your body, choose an exercise activity that you enjoy and take time out for you!
To help me understand my abuse I read many books, listened to other stories, had therapy and wrote my book. I took small positive steps in the right direction, built up my confidence and went after what I wanted. I have done this through a positive mindset, nutrition and exercise.
I believe that you can achieve anything that you want to and with the help of people like me and my siblings who are openly talking about the damage of abuse decades down the line, YOU can move forwards with your life.
You just need to take the 1st step. I have two sayings that I live by: If nothing changes; nothing changes and Be True to Yourself.