I’m trying to write this month about what works for me as a survivor while I am working on healing. One thing that was essential for me to figure out has been to breathe.

To breathe is one of the most essential parts of continuing life. When you are a survivor who has been harmed as a child, when it comes to breathing and eating, it is a very hard issue to overcome. My mother, a mother-daughter sexual abuser, used to often smother me and also often put me under water when I was in the bathtub. Consequently I and my inner system have a lot of fear and anxiety around breathing. I know I have written on the blog about how hard focusing on breathing is and how non-healing it is, and how it can often bring on a panic attack. This is why.

This is how I approach breath now:

Holding in your breath can fixate you into perpetuating whatever you are feeling. Letting out a long even breath can help you to move onto a more calm state of mind. While breathing out it is good to focus on breathing out the upsetting emotions to help you return to a more calm and assertive mind-set. I do a big inhalation and then blow out the air through an open mouth in a long breath. Sometimes I do more than one breath, as necessary, but not a series of breaths. I got this idea from an episode of The Dog Whisperer where Cesare Millan would do this before he went into a home with a very challenging dog or before starting some exercise with a dog, to be calm and assertive, to bring clarity and cleanness to the work.

I do the breathing like this when I notice that I am feeling anxious or fear, which I can usually feel it in my lower abdomen area. I can feel it in my body, it tenses up, this usually happens a lot when I am around a lot of people or when I am in a tense situation. It helps me to return to a more balanced way of feeling and interacting with myself and the world. I didn’t think that I would find something that worked for me. I didn’t think that I would ever be able to focus on breath ever in a way that was helping me in healing and not being damaging or detrimental. It has been wonderful to find a way to work with breath that is healing, calming, relaxing, and helps me attain a healthy balance.

For me the most important part of this work has happened since I was able to assert to myself that some things do not work, even things that therapists or others believe in and that work for someone else, they don’t work for me, they might not work for others, therapists have shamed and blamed me when things that they think should work don’t and that is wrong to treat me like that.

I have been able to asset for myself that I have every right to find what works for me as a survivor, as I work on healing. As Stella says in the movie Silverado, if the world doesn’t fit you, modify it, make alterations. That is what I am determined to do for myself and to help others by offering what I am learning and saying hey if this doesn’t fit you, if other things don’t fit you, there is nothing to be ashamed of in that, you are a survivor and something that doesn’t work is not your fault, it happens, and perhaps all this stuff I am working on will give you another idea that might be better for  you, that might give you a better fit, a more healing bit of something into your life.

He Said, I’m Afraid

I was really proud of myself today. I was out riding my bike while giving doggie a walk.

It is a challenge for me to be the pack leader with her. She is the dog of the person where I rent, so I have known her as long as I have lived here. I love her and enjoy spending time with her. She gives me a lot.  When she is with me she needs someone to be the pack leader, most dogs aren’t natural born leaders and they get anxiety and fears like anyone when they are managing a life they are not confident in. Having to be a pack leader is a big job for a dog. And as Cesare Millan, The Dog Whisperer, would say, a dog needs humans to do that in the home, so they aren’t taking over and bossing humans around all the time, so that they aren’t anxious and afraid all the time.

As her pack leader I take my job very seriously. It has helped me to work on being calm and assertive and that has helped me in every aspect of my life. Doggie is a strong dog, from a strong breed, and so I have to work hard at managing her while out in public.

The nicest part of that is that she loves people. She loves to be around them, she loves time spent interacting with them, and she feels happier when they are close. Me too.

She also loves to see other doggies and always wants to meet them, which isn’t always possible. Sometimes she whines, sometimes she barks, and sometimes she bolts towards the other dog, all challenging behaviors I am trying to change.  I tell her, you can’t meet everyone, you can’t become friends with everyone, no matter what you want. Again, kind of reflects my own life. She might not understand the words, but I think my tone of voice consoles her. She likes being understood, I think. I am still teaching her proper behavior and social skills with new doggies. It helps remind me of what I expect of myself and to help me practice my own interpersonal skills.

I’ve been trying to notice reactions from others. Some give a look or make a comment, usually to say nice dog or pretty dog. I used to just bike on by, sometimes say thank you. Now I try to stop for those people and ask them if they would like to pet her. She loves that.

Today we were out and there was a group of people on the sidewalk and I decided to get off my bike and walk her through the group. Some people moved aside as we went through, but I got a good vibe from them, so I asked this one person if she would like to pet her when she started talking to doggie. She did. Several people did. Several kids did.

Then a guy, who was standing back, looked over at me. He said, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of that breed. I told him that she is nice and doesn’t bite. He said no I’ll just stand here.

I said okay, you don’t have to pet her. I told him she never bites, even once she got bit by another dog, and she didn’t bite back. I think that did it for him. He got this look on his face and this light in his eyes, I would call it courage. He stepped forward, several steps, and then, he petted her.

I didn’t know him, but I was so proud for him.