Step Three: Little Rituals
The third step to recovery is to create the little rituals that re-build our inner resilient core.
If you look at the philosophy of any self-help guru you will see that they are preaching the habits that they say successful people do every day. The affirmations and mantras. Visualising success. Journaling. Exercise. Meditation. They preach discipline over both the body and the mind as being the key to successful living.
This carries across to other industries & professions too: athletes who get up and train every morning from 5am; authors who just write, every day for their allotted time, whether or not they ‘feel it’; musicians who put in the allotted hours practice, every day. And so many other countless examples. To make a change, to get better at something, we humans have to put the work in. Even natural talents need to be enhanced by practice.
And it is the same when recovering from trauma. We are in a place of disempowerment, of feeling victimised (however much we reject that term) and we can often feel that there is no getting stronger. We may be learning to control our panic attacks from step two, but it feels that they will always be there, in the background, waiting to pounce. Our depression tells us that this is true. Depression is a very accomplished liar.
I used to get so angry with the term ‘resilience.’ Resilience is one of those things that is very easy to see lack of, but not to see in action. It’s my belief that us survivors have mountains of resilience inside us; we are still living after all and the battles we are fighting just to get out of bed in the morning are immense. In my client sessions I’ve been known to refer to the rest of the world as ‘ordinary humans’ and us survivors as ‘super humans’. Super humans are battling demons that ordinary humans have no conception of. To have got past three panic attacks before leaving the flat; traversing the commute with all those people rushing past; those smells and scents that can cause triggers, in a mere moment; and then, to put on the mask of ‘being fine’ with a smile on the face and doing a day’s work? That’s resilience.
So, we have mountains of it. It’s there, inside us. Yet, we don’t believe it. We feel weak and fragile and broken because that is the effect of the panic attacks, the flashbacks, the depression. We have to re-build our inner self-trust, we have to re-build our self-esteem by doing the things that make us proud of ourselves, and we have to do that despite all the pressures not to; the lack of energy, the lack of belief that it will do any good, and the self-talk that tells us that we’re not worth the effort. And often, we didn’t believe it was there ‘before’ anyway. We’re often battling life-long, years’ old patterns, that have been brought to a peak by the trauma, but had a strong grip over us already.
Beginning to take the steps to self-recovery of doing the small, daily practices that will have the bigger impact and help us build the core that will mean that we won’t need to self-rescue so often, and that when we do will be less pronounced, is easier said than done. And yet it is so critical to recovery. Putting those rituals into place, building consistency, creating the habit of self-care, has the impact of improving our sense of what is our normal. Slowly, naturally, organically, we start to live a fuller life.
The rituals that we put into practice can help us to reconnect to ourselves. We can build rituals to connect the mind, to connect the body, which are critical to put the pieces of us that were broken back together. Mindfulness is important; so, too, is learning how to be bodyful. We can also create rituals that help us appreciate our present, instead of resenting what our life has become, which serves no-one, especially ourselves. We can build rituals that help us release emotion, so that the pressure cooker inside us doesn’t get overwhelmed and triggered so easily (this is where I teach about towel yelling; yes, it’s a thing). And we can learn to build boundaries, instead of wearing the heavy armour that weighs us down and keeps us looking over our shoulders.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said:
Your beliefs become your thoughts
Your thoughts become your words
Your words become your actions
Your actions become your habits
Your habits become your values
Your values become your destiny
And this holds so true. I had just a one hour conversation with a girl in my Community. In that conversation we talked about many things, she was going through a low period. Recently, she wrote this:
"Back in November I was really struggling. I had an hour session with Emily on Skype and she suggested I commit to doing one thing every single day that I know makes me feel better so I chose yoga and meditation. 3 months later and I'm in India practicing everyday in this beautiful Shala overlooking banana plantations…"
When we do commit to doing that one thing every single day, and we do it, then we create real, transformative change for ourselves.
We can create rituals and habits that help us to create beliefs that serve us, rather than disempower us. It is far more helpful to us to believe that we can get better, than to believe the lies the depression and the panic attacks tell us that we can’t. Whichever of those beliefs we hold, will prove true.
The third step in the path to recovery, en route to living a ReConnected Life, is doing the things, every day, that little by little make us better and better. When we’ve re-built our inner foundational core, we won’t even need to rescue ourselves as often, and when we fall, it won’t be as far. We can start to re-build our self-confidence and self-worth and make decisions that stop us living a small, narrow, or half-life, and instead stretch our boundaries into living a fuller life. Little rituals have immense power.