I realized today that it’s been an incredibly long time since I genuinely looked at myself in the mirror. I was never one to spend much time in front of a mirror, but I’ve reached pretty epic levels of mirror avoidance. I began to wonder to myself, why did I stop? The answer: Trauma.
When I was freshly widowed, I couldn’t stand to look in the mirror because all I saw looking back at me was a shallow, dead version of myself. The light in my eyes was extinguished. I couldn’t stand to face those dead eyes. They were haunted. I became a complete stranger to myself and I didn’t like her.
I’m realizing now that this was the first stage of my distorted mind-body connection that was a result of the injury that is PTSD. I have become utterly disconnected from my body. It’s the vessel that I exist in, that’s about it on a good day. On bad days, I feel utterly betrayed by my body as a result of my chronic pain and illness. I’ve spent far too much time resenting my body. I felt it was solely my body’s fault that I didn’t feel well. I never took the time to consider that my body was yelling at me because I wasn’t meeting her needs.
There’s been a negative feedback loop between myself and my body for about 14 years now. That’s a really long time to be at war with yourself. This feedback loop worsened after Matthew dying. It’s as if PTSD acted as a catalyst to further self destruction.
I only recently learned of the effect that PTSD has on the mind-body connection courtesy of the book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. (I highly recommend this book to anyone, even if you don’t have PTSD). I’ve been sitting with that new information for a few months now and contemplating that effect on me and my life. I realized pretty quickly that I have completely lost touch with my physical body. I feel uncoordinated and awkward trying to get my body to do anything outside of my standard day to day activities that I can do on autopilot. Even actions that I used to do without a thought in the past.
I’m hoping that having this knowledge will help me continue my healing journey. I’ve been taking the time to try and get in touch with my body again. I’m trying to nurture it. I’m trying to relearn how to listen to my body and relearn muscle control. I almost feel like I’m recovering from a physical trauma. Seems like an appropriate time to be starting physical therapy, how lucky I am to have that kind of synchronicity.
My healing plateaued for a while, there. I reached the maximum of what I could handle and was forced back in to survival mode and barely keeping my head above water. I couldn’t breathe. Now, I’m finally in a space where I can work to climb to the next level. And I’ll keep climbing that ladder as best I can until I reach a healthy baseline. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll even thrive. What an exciting future to work toward. I feel inspired for the first time in years.
So now, I’m going to spend some time looking in the mirror and getting to know myself all over again.