"I Am...." | it's time for bold, fierce, unapologetic RECLAMATION.
re·claim /rəˈklām/ verb 1. retrieve or recover (something previously lost, given, or paid); obtain the return of.
bring (waste land or land formerly under water) under cultivation., to rescue from
an undesirable state, to restore to a previous natural state.
*trigger warning: childhood sexual abuse I used to dream of being the little girl in a long flowy dress dancing whimsically and with wild abandon - arms out effortlessly at my sides feeling the wind swirling beneath them.
But, I wasn't.
I could barely count on two hands my age in years when my cousin began abusing me. I don't remember how it started. I think it was because my best friend, Tara, asked him once where babies came from - and he told us (the truth) - and we snickered in shame like little girls would and thought he was lying. I wonder, did that make him think that what he was about to do was okay? He was eight years older than me. I was so small. When you are abused, your soul leaves your body - at least that's what spiritual folk say. Science is ripe is education in trauma theory and discusses the fragmenting of incoming sensorial input, the splitting of memory and the shattering of Self. When we are experiencing trauma it's such a violent onslaught of incoming information for the nervous system that the chronology of memories is altered, our ability to encode through higher-order-thinking-skills is turned off, and memories of the event arrange themselves in a haphazard way into random smells, momentary polaroid-like scenes, body memories, trauma language. Nature has evolved in such a way that we dissociate from the details of difficult events but our body never forgets. Actually, Nature is so keen that it imprints us with details of traumatic events at a molecular level (look up the epigenetics of trauma) - so we don't just carry around the struggle of our own life's happenings but also imprints of what happened to our parents, our grandparents, and our great grandparents. Urgh. No wonder we're all feeling so heavy. Anyways. I was way too small for the weight of the world my cousin chose to place upon me. And I've carried that weight for over 30 years. I mean, I did "my work" in University - therapy, survivor groups and the like. Technically, I've been healing since I realized it shouldn't have happened in the first place (that's to say when it stopped: when I was old enough to figure out this wasn't okay... and when my body finally saved me by beginning to bleed). I went down a deep spiral of darkness - this Straight-A, effervescent over-achiever suddenly plagued with darkness and secret grief. Obviously I never told anyone. - though, I can't remember how on earth he groomed me for that? Was I so emotionally void from emotionally detached (admittedly heavily life-traumatized) parents that telling them would have been less safe than the abuse itself? Yup. - and that's pretty typical. He didn't have to do much to convince me my parents weren't an emotionally safe space either. Did you know that being under-mothered or emotionally under-parented encodes as abuse as well? It gets WAY less media attention, though. Spectacular abuse cases and violent victimizations are far more news-worthy than emotionally barren childhood homes (likely because most of us can relate to them - nothing sensational about it). The fact is, we're imprinted early on with a sense of how safe the world is to live in... and if we have an emotionally unattuned caregiver or early abuse or even a lack of our physical needs being met - we'll spend our lives imprinted with the subconscious message that the world is unsafe, that people are unsafe, that our body is unsafe, that we are unsafe in this life.
Everything in our life is based on our sense of safety.
When we feel safe, we flourish.
When we feel unsafe, we suffer. What's curious is that when we don't have the self-awareness to recognize the cause for our lack of safety, or that we're even feeling 'unsafe', we get really good at blaming everyone else around us for our dissonance (that inner psychological tension, friction between our thoughts and our actions). When I had a vicious eating disorder and my parents didn't know why, they sent me to every child psychologist, every child psychiatrist, every alternative therapist - including a Mayan shaman - to find answers. I mean.. what's funny, is that - all the had to do was ask. If I'd been raised in a home to be emotionally present and safe, I would have OPENLY shared my truth (the way I did under the promise of confidentiality and non-judgment in every professional office - and shaman's living room - I sat in). We aren't hardwired to suffer alone - we learn to.
- and it's funny, I think everyone around me knew my truth except for my parents... safety among our primary caregivers is PARAMOUNT to every other wellness factor in our growth.That little-known limbic imprint is made first and stays forever. - well, I mean, it stays until we decide to reclaim it. Spoiler alert: I survived those tumultuous adolescent years. And to sum up the next decade it was basically a cavalcade of academic over-achievement and emotional destruction. I was fiercely insecure, wildly codependent, a serial non-monogamist with an insecure-anxious attachment style that convinced me I was only ever as valuable as the guy who loved me at the time.
In all of my studies in mental health and neuroscience, positive psychology was only JUST appearing on the stage - and nobody spoke of wellness. Medicine was cold, clinical, sterile, masculine - even more UNSAFE. I didn't know her to be intuition at the time - but I'm so damn grateful I was steered off that path... and away from academic research... and away from traditional employment.... and I didn't know her to be intuition at the time but I have been steered and nudged and pushed onto the 'right' path (even if seemingly against my will) my entire life.
And I'm not special. WE ALL ARE. We just need to learn to trust. (which is particularly tricky for most of us with safety-related trust issues). I've been thinking lately about the word RECLAIM: to retrieve something previously lost. Pretty much every single one of us spends our lives RECLAIMING ourselves to one degree or another (some of us to far more than others - some of us with much more awareness than others). Even numbing with sex and substances is an attempt to 'reclaim' a sense of enjoyment, pleasure, and normalcy to survive. there it is again - survival.
Everything comes down to safety.
So what is reclaiming truly about? In my work (and in my life, for that matter -)
To reclaim yourself is to
1. set free all the baggage, pain, maladaptive behaviours, hurtful actions, and frayed emotions you've carried your whole life (all of which were a response, a survival mechanism - to the pain you endured) 2. take back in all that which brings you pleasure, health, happiness, and whole-bodied, unadulterated joy! Why joy? Because PLEASURE IS MEDICINE. When we are emotionally detached from our primary caregiver, when our basic needs aren't met, when we're abused or secreted or shamed - our emotional imprint becomes one that ascertains we are not deserving of pleasure or joy. Sometimes these lessons are overt (as in many religious), sometimes more subconscious (i.e. witnessing our parents in an emotionally barren relationship). The first 4-6 years of our lives is spent learning subconsciously about how safe, available, warm, and nurturing the world is. The rest of our lives (or until we choose to change it) is spent suffering as a result. It's only when we realize we deserve better, that it can begin to become better, that we begin to align with a higher-Self that renovates our entire life from the ground-up. Ooof - but that getting to "I deserve better" is a doozy. It's the ultimate transformation - the most radical, extreme message to the world (and the Universe) saying - "I'm done with how things were and I'm ready for something new." So, where does "I deserve better!" actually come from?
Unconditional positive regard.
I learned it while studying at the feet of a Buddhist monk. It's the Buddhist definition of LOVE and I just think it's a super beautiful way to look at people and the world: with unconditional positive regard.
What makes me a good therapist? I'm exceptionally good at loving the sh*t out of peoples' inner child. What happens when our inner child has the sh*t loved out of it? He/she FLOURISHES! AWAKENS! COMES ALIVE! It's finally the full-circle re-arrival in the place we should've always been.... unconditional safety, unconditional acceptance, unconditional love. Yup, maybe our parents weren't able... but we are. And before we are, others in our lives can show us how.
And that's where it all begins... when we decide (or someone shows us) that we are worthy of unconditional positive regard.
** Take a look at the pattern here: if we learn early on that the world is unsafe and we treat people in a sh*tty way as a result - they'll obviously either respond in like or abandon us... further confirming our internal belief that we don't deserve connection, safety, love. When we do our work, change our beliefs, change our actions - we become people who act in alignment with the love we crave. BAM! Everything changes.
When a woman who's been sexually abused as a child begins to re-embody, when she decides that she alone is responsible for her sexuality and the choices she makes with her body - when she sets free the guilt, shame, fear, blame, and shadows of her past - she reclaims.
When a young man who was told his whole life that he's not allowed to cry, who was only ever modelled anger and coercion as communication - decides to openly express his softness and show compassion and empathy towards others in his life - he reclaims.
So then, if reclamation is the ultimate salvation, why do so few of us do it?
Because it's really hard to go against everything we've ever been taught (or subconsciously learned) about our value in this world. Reclaiming your (Self, body, sexuality, emotions) is a statement to the world that YOU DESERVE BETTER - and this requires the kind of confidence and deep inner-knowing that few of us were ever taught (or allowed) to have.
Reclamation is, by nature, an act of defiance; the ultimate message to the masses that you are different (and that can be a scary place to be). When you take the radical step to fly in the face of everything you've ever been taught - because you know it can be better - you (knowingly, or unknowingly) reclaim your inner divinity. Your inner loveable'ness. Your inner compass that's calibrated to sense red flags a million miles away. Suddenly, without apology, you know what you're worth, you know what you deserve, and you won't put up with anything or anyone or any situation that doesn't align with that bone-deep knowing.
It just takes teeny tiny steps of alignment - small little vibrations of awareness sent out into the Universe, that you're ready for more. For me, it was when I began dating without apology, acknowledging my whole sexual self, and the day I decided I was tired of hating my body. Sure, perhaps it was built upon years and years of subconscious growth and evolution, but the decisions themselves were pretty much like flipping a switch. I recognized what I'd always done, decided I didn't want to feel that way anymore, and I changed.
It all begins with the way in which you speak to yourself...