Three Life Lessons From Growing Out of Trauma

  1. Life is precious.

One day you are going to die.

I am going to die.

It could be tomorrow by getting hit by a bus, it could be in 20 years time with a horrible illness but the truth of the matter is that one day I will be a lifeless, cold, corpse and everything will be over.

Yes, this is pretty morbid, especially as most of my posts are bringing messages of ‘yes you can conquer anything, love life to the full etc’ but that joyful message doesn’t hit home as hard as the realisation that we are all going to die someday, life is short. Embrace it.

While thinking about that, ask yourself these questions:

  1. If you dropped dead right now would you be happy with how you’ve spent your life?
  2. Did you chase your dreams?
  3. Did you tell the people you love often enough?
  4. Were you happy with what you achieved?

If the answer to any of these questions is no then I seriously insist that you explore these questions more and ask yourself what the hell are you doing with your life?

We can often get wrapped up in the nitty gritty of life, and I get it, we’ve all got our things to do, got to pay the bills right? When you’ve come through a life threatening situation though, you see things a little differently and it’s as though you really see what matters.

I remember when I experienced this mindset change quite vividly. There was a poignant moment during the attack that I seriously thought “I am going to be raped, murdered and then left here to rot”. This was the exact moment that I seemed to spring into life. As though something inside me said “No fucking way”. It was the moment that I pulled out all the stops to get out of that situation, and I did get out of it. I survived and I’m here writing about it today. That situation was the scariest thing that has happened to me in my entire life and it has brought me a whole load of uninvited emotions that I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. They weren’t pleasant and I would never wish for someone to go through something as horrific as having to literally fight for their survival or to experience the rickershay of emotions that pop up at every trigger in the aftermath – the panic, the fear, the depression, the shame, the guilt, I could go on. However, without this experience I wouldn’t have the perspective I do now, so I’m passing this message on to you. We only have one life, don’t take it for granted.

  1. Fear is a signpost for growth

Fear is a funny thing, sometimes I know it’s there and I can really feel the terror, the butterflies, the anxiety – like I’m going to physically vomit  because of it, and then sometimes I can’t feel it at all but it’s there lingering in the background controlling my thoughts and actions behind my subconscious state. The second type of fear is the most debilitating, it’s the unconscious state of fear that causes us to disengage in a relationship, cause arguments to create distance and generally provoke negative actions in a way to protect ourselves.

What I’ve come to realise as I unpick the triggers in my post trauma state is that every negative reaction we have usually comes from fear. That means any judgment or blame towards others, the avoidance of a particular subject/person, numbness, suppression or outright anger – all of these deflection techniques are the ego’s way of protecting us when we’re in a state of fear. When we become aware of this and we can see the ego’s behaviour it becomes easier to question it and find out why the fear is there in the first place and from my own experience I’ve found that underneath fear are almost always signposts for growth.

In a recent situation where I was starting to become vulnerable with a man I found myself judging, blaming and becoming angry with him, I didn’t even realise that I was doing it until a friend pointed this out to me. So I decided to address it like all my other triggers. When I did this, at first I found myself in tears. I was terrified. I was scared that if I let someone into that vulnerable emotional space that something awful was going to happen to me and that I would experience all the emotions from heartbreak, attempted rape and the death of someone close all over again. I desperately did not want to feel all those emotions in that intensity again and I was terrified that this situation was headed that way. Having got to know my triggers very well, I know that they create a whole world of illogical scenarios in my head based on a couple of situations in my life and during those moments of fear I remember what those scenarios feel like which causes me to back out fast. The reality though, is very different because the past doesn’t determine the future and the trick is to remind myself of this reality when I’m experiencing what feel like very real occurrences. Practising that continuously is what has allowed me to grow out of trauma in to a more authentic and stronger person than I was before. The next time you find yourself bearing way from something, as yourself why? If it comes down to fear then it could be an opportunity for growth too.

  1. Communicating that we don’t know how to feel is the first step to connecting

Anyone who knows about Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability will already know that vulnerability is where human connections thrive. I’ve watched her TED talks, I’d read the books but what I hadn’t done is really practiced what she preached when it came to vulnerability and to be honest it’s because I wasn’t aware that I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. To be completely honest, I thought I knew all about vulnerability before I experienced my traumas but in reality I was running away from all negative feelings in my very privileged and somewhat entitled life, without the awareness that I was running. So when I was faced with so many difficult situations I got to experience first-hand what she meant in The Power of Vulnerability, especially when she explains about those vulnerable moments:

  • Making that phone call to the relative who just lost someone, even though you have no idea what to say
  • Telling someone you love them, without knowing if they feel the same
  • Admitting to someone you care about that you did something wrong and that you’re sorry

What all these situations do is communicate our feelings at the times when it’s the hardest because those are the times when it matters the most. When I was on the receiving end of these situations I appreciated the friends who called me and said “I don’t know what to say”, over those who just avoided me altogether because we could at least converse over the fact that neither of us knew how to deal with the situation which meant we were in it together. I also did this with the vulnerable situation where I acted reactively with the guy I previously mentioned, after I had become vulnerable. I explained that I was terrified and that I didn’t know how to handle the situation and because of that I had pushed him away. In both these situations I found that communicating the very observation of the feeling led to me becoming a lot closer with these people and that is the start of practicing vulnerability.

All our life experiences give us a choice. The choice to deal with them, learn and grow from them or the choice to shut off, avoid and live in a life of safe guards. For me, the latter meant that I would give up the nomadic lifestyle which was the very thing that made me feel alive, so I had to find away to grow out of it or I knew that I faced a life locked in silent misery, clouded by apathy and an inability to connect with other people. Urgh, no thanks.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

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Therapy Review – Ecstatic dance Ubud

Therapy Review – Ecstatic dance Ubud

It’s undeniable that dance is a therapy. In terms of exercise it releases a lot of tension in the body which builds up endorphins, music can also bring up your vibration frequency and, well it just makes me feel good really.

My research is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

The session

I’ve been to the ecstatic dance at the Akasha villa in Ubud a couple of times and the crowd never ceases to surprise me, it’s always full of vibrant and colourful people. The last time I went there was a man dressed as a unicorn and almost the whole crowd was wearing glitter or a face paint of sorts.

The dance is held in the beautiful Askasa villa about a 20 minute scooter ride out of the centre of Ubud (where the palace is) and as I walk in I’m greeted with a sacred smudging ritual. Whilst I stand there the man in front of me ceremonially waves a smouldering piece of wood from my head to my feed, ask me to turn around and then do the same thing from feet to head on the back of my body.

I walk up the path and to the left is a fire, alight in a large metal bowl. Directly in front of the fire is the swimming pool, complete with flowing waterfalls and a pagoda which some artists are using as their painting studio.

I can hear the music playing loud as I enter the main dance room of the villa, that’s where the DJ is; happy, engaged and whispering the occasional motivating sentences into the microphone. The villa is huge and the music can be heard from all around. Through the dance room is an archway that leads through to another large space. On the right are some steps which lead to another dancing space where at the back a man is serving tea with a blessing of sorts. On the left of the archway is a large couch which actually sinks into the floor, so I can literally step down into it. I guess it’s for dancers to rest if they get tired feet.

As I was past the couch, the double doors open up to some stepping stones right in front of me which are set in a beautiful natural water feature. They lead down to an enclosure which keeps a monkey on the left and a bamboo dome on the right, which is an exclusive naturally build bedroom. During the dances the bamboo dome is usually occupied, and off limits to dancers, but I’m lucky enough to have been inside during the daytime and I can assure you, it’s absolutely beautiful.

Ecstatic dance is a sober affair, on sale you can find vegetarian food, coconut water and raw food chocolate but there is no alcohol, no drugs and I rarely see anyone smoking, well not smoking cigarettes. All in all it’s a very holistic affair. It’s a place where anyone and everyone can feel free who be who they want to be. Want to wear glitter and do a yoga dance on your head in the pagoda? Go for it. Want to bop around subtly to some tunes in plane shorts and a baseball cap? Feel welcomed. It really is for all and the premise is just to dance. Just feel comfortable and dance, and what a therapy it is too. I can’t say for sure what the music type is because it’s a mix and it changes, but throughout the night there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re into house music, reggae, rock, jazz or anthems. It’s a good variety of beats to dance to. Also for those who don’t want to dance, you can soak in the pool, chill on the sofas or just chat to someone whilst sipping some coconut water. However I decided to approach this as a therapy, so for me it was the dancing that I explored.

As expected I felt anxious when I arrived. There are a lot of people this time and being surrounded by a lot of people these days brings up an anxiety in me, an anxiety that actually almost caused me to leave until a friend sat me down and stayed with me through that discomfort.

This fear sets off a negative chat in my head, and the battle to overcome it cane become challenging because all I really want to do is leave. Leave because of fear. But, fear of what? It’s the ‘fear of what’ conversation that helped me shake it off. I mean, I’m at a sober ecstatic dance in Ubud, spiritual centre of the Universe and I’m here with a group of friends – really what is the worst that’s going to happen? Even if I decided to strip naked on the dance floor, loudly confess my undying love for a randomer then do a serpent dance to the exit in rage-tears I seriously think everyone around me would just carry on doing their own thing as though all of that was completely normal behaviour. Some may even join in to help me embrace my emotional state, or sincerely cheer me on from the edges of the dance floor. As I realised this with my friend, I laughed. Ecstatic dance in Ubud wasn’t the place I needed to fear judgement of others. Acknowledging that highlighted that judgement was another trigger for me, another trigger that needed to be unravelled and reframed and what better time than now?

With a little pep talk and a few tokes on a walk-by shisha I was able to suck in my inner shakes and get on the dance floor, even if for me that can sometimes mean just swaying from side to side until I get into it. It’s one of those things where I know it will do me good in the long run and although it’s scary and difficult to climb over that barrier of fear, it must be done anyway.

By the end of the evening I was in full swing dancing and managed to stay until the end of the night.

Pre-session sense check (30 May 2016, 3pm –  1 hour before leaving for ecstatic dance)

Emotionally – I feel quite anxious. I’m excited for ecstatic dance because I love the dance aspect but at the same time I know there will be some triggers for me to deal with, and with them my own judgements and fear of being judged. I also know that all of this is in my head and it’s stupid, then I need to not beat myself up for being stupid – there’s a lot to deal with today. I’m generally in high spirits and I feel quite clear headed. I also feel very motivated today too and I know that I can shake off the anxiety, I just need to get myself to the dance.

Physically – the anxiety is like a flutter in my chest and stomach. It’s not too unpleasant and it’s not that strong but it’s still there, just a general sense of discomfort really. Apart from that I’m feeling good in my body. The pain in my shoulder is pretty much none existent these days, I feel healthy and alert.

Post-session sense check (30 May 2016, 12 midnight –  1 hour after returning from ecstatic dance)

Emotionally – I feel quite drained because I think that I worked through a lot of inner judgement at the dance. I also had a lot of triggers from the attack come up – fast movements in the dark because at one point there was some very active dancing. I persisted to stay and dance, even the moments when I didn’t feel comfortable in myself and this gives me a sense of achievement but I’m also tired and ready to relax.

Physically – I feel a head cold coming on, my head is foggy and I’m sneezing. I’m not surprised at this because physically and emotionally over the last few weeks I’ve released a lot of emotion so this is probably a sign that my body is ready for a rest, hence putting me out of action. Conversely I also feel quite energised, like the way you sometimes feel after a work out, strangely tired but energised at the same time. It’s a nice feeling, and there’s some purity to it because I spent the evening drinking coconut water and dancing in a beautiful setting.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

New Sketch! Meet The Emotional Cat

I met the emotional cat for the first time after the attack when I was in Mallorca, in the middle of my Yacht master theory course to be exact. It was lunch time and I was chatting to the instructor of the course who had decided that it was appropriate time to start criticising and judging me for no reason. Well, there was a reason and it was probably the same reason why a lot of people like to shoot down others – to make themselves feel better. It’s something that I see and experience regulaly as an independent women, working in a World where men feel imasculated (sorry about that but it’s not fault, give me a break already)!

This type of uninvited aggression was more than I could handle at the time, being in such a vulnerable post trauma state. I’m not sure what reaction this guy was expecting but it caused the emotional cat to jump out on me unexpectedly, leaving me in a blubbering mess of tears. The thing is that when the Emotional Cat decides to come out and play there is no stopping him. Worse yet, as soon as he rugby tackles me to the ground he gets bored and then runs off to find someone else to play with, leaving me floored and drained with everyone looking at me like I’m a weirdo – Thanks E-Cat, great job!

Since my father died, I see the Emotional Cat a lot more and I’ve learnt to accept him in my life and play with him when he’s around as we work towards a more balanced and healthy relationship where I control the cats behaviour, not the other way around.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Emotional and Physical Energy

2015 brings to the end a very difficult year for me, so what better way to start my first chapter of 2016 than going away with a Psychologist? Not just any Psychologist, but one that has studied performance breakdown as a result of trauma experience! Dr Jenn Bennett and I have been friends for over 10 years, back when we were University ‘freshers’ unbeknown to what the World would hold for us. Now we’re sitting in a Bangkok airport; Trauma Traveller and Psychologist looking at the World through very different eyes. As we chat on the bus to the airport we talk about a lot of things but stumble across the topic of The Meridian Energy System.

Although I don’t have it at the moment, one of the things that I’ve been struggling with this year is a pain in my left shoulder. It stems from the back of my neck, down my shoulder and sometimes down my arm all the way to my fingers. It feels like all my muscles tighten up and there seems to be nothing that I can do  to get rid of it on my own, no matter how much yoga I do or Epsom salt baths I take.

I used to suffer with this problem a few years ago but I had had it again directly after being attacked and then more recently in the last few months. To try and diagnose the pain I went down the usual route that most of us might – back to physiotherapy and acupuncture, after deciding that it was bad posture brought back on by the attack. I was given exercises by my Physiotherapist to do daily, but the pain would still come back sporadically, regardless of whether or not I did my exercises.

During the last year, I’ve read up on a lot of different theories about our bodies and how pain can be manifested by emotions. The most impressionable book on this subject was You can heal your life by Louise Hay that was given to me by a Sports Masseuse who I was visiting almost weekly to try and manage the pain. Other avenues that I was looking into were Colour Therapy, Spiritual Chakras and Reflexology, which after a few conversations with Dr Jenn led me to on to the Meridian System. In Chinese Medicine, it’s believed that energy (“qi”) flows through the physical body via a network, called the Meridian System. Although Western medicine hasn’t typically adopted this stance (as science hasn’t proved that ‘spiritual’ energies run through a physical body, however, it hasn’t disproved it either), having studied an element of science myself it makes perfect sense that different energy systems would be connected and that energy between the two would transfer. Anyone who has studied physics would know of Newton’s law – that energy is neither created or destroyed, it just transfers from one form to another. So, if emotional energy was suppressed – which is quite normal to do in a Western conservative society – then by following Newton’s law, it seems logical that this energy would transform and manifest somewhere else, like the physical body.

Back to my shoulder and the weird on and off pains… In Louise Hay’s book, the left shoulder is symbolic of feminine energy and the same thing came up when looking into Meridian System. When I found this out it was obvious to me that something was triggering this kind of physical pain but I just couldn’t work out what. That’s  when I decided to take a step back and look at things in a wider perspective. First question was, when exactly did I get the pain? What things were similar in my life situation during these times?

When I look back at when I first started getting the pain I remember that it was when I was travelling with my ex-fiancé, back in 2011 and it coincided with the argument that marks the start of our breakup. I continued to have this pain for the year and a half after, during which we stayed together but both weren’t happy. I don’t recall having the pain much in the 2 years following the breakup and during this time I was travelling around, working in a variety of jobs and generally being young, free and single. So when I started to get this pain again this year I started to dig a little deeper into what it could be. The attack obviously threatened my feminine energy in a large way because this was a direct threat of female violation so having this pain following the attack made sense in this context. However, it wouldn’t explain why a year down the line I was getting the pain again and somewhat sporadic, or was it? What I’ve failed to look at was other things in my life – I’d recently started dating again with someone who was committed to staying in the UK for a while. This person was very special to me I wanted to make it work and was considering how I could do this. Ultimately to give this relationship a chance it meant that I would have to give up travelling and this thought process coincided with when I would get the pain. To back this up, a topic that frequently came up in the counselling that I had after the attack and losing my father was that of commitment. Specifically, how a commitment of any kind seemed to compromise my desire to travel, thus compromising an integral part of who I am. This is probably why I have spent the last few years fine-tuning different skills to get to a point in my life where I can travel and work freely, however, relationships don’t really work like that, especially not if one-half is tied to a location or career, hence the pain.

This is just one example of a physical pain that has turned out to be directly linked to a suppressed emotion and after learning more about the link between emotional and physical pain I’ve actually become aware of a few other examples in myself and I now make sure that I take a good look at my emotional state if I feel a physical pain. It seems strange to write this having studied science, grown up in a family of medics and lived in a Western culture where there is an awful lot of shame and weakness connected to showing vulnerable emotions, but when looking at it from an objective point of view it actually makes a lot of sense. I guess if you want to know more you can try it for yourself, the information’s out there.

Chinese_meridians

“Chinese meridians” by KVDP – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_meridians.JPG#/media/File:Chinese_meridians.JPG

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x