I'm a big fan of breathing. I'm serious, breathing is pretty awesome. If we didn't breathe, we wouldn't get much done. Yet breathing is something we rarely even think about.
3 deep breaths can change your perspective.
I think mindful breathing is one of the most important, and one of the most overlooked, tools in the recovery of any survivor. Recently I was given a very good reminder just how powerfully effective proper breathing can be as we do the difficult work of healing from sexual abuse.
Dr. Howard Fradkin and I recently conducted trainings for 200 mental health professionals, social workers, and other healing professionals in Canada. It was the first time Howard and I had the opportunity to work together, and it was a fantastic experience. The full day trainings combined many of the points that we each make in our independent professional presentations. Many of the people in the audience had never had training in the psychodynamics of male sexual abuse survivors. More importantly, no one had ever sat through a training that combined effective clinical training along with first hand accounts from survivors themselves about the challenges we face.
During the trainings Howard and I both spoke often about the need for self-care, and we repeatedly invited the attendees to take deep breaths along with us. This became especially important as we read selections from Joining Forces: Empowering Male Survivors to Thrive, Howard's recently released book in which he includes the stories and suggestions of over a dozen other male survivors (I'm named as Christopher in the book, by the way). Some of the stories in the book are shocking and deeply unsettling. Like Jorge's story (p. 115) that describes "a tragedy involving many monsters who abandoned and betrayed me."
In the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, 1 out 6 males reported being sexually abused as a child.
As the non-therapist half of the team, I was honored to be asked by Howard to read some of the stories of my courageous brothers. While I'm certainly no stranger to survivor stories, this was the first time I had read some of these accounts in public, and it was not an easy task. Not only was it a challenge to simply read the stories aloud, I could also feel the collective energy in the room recoil in shock and sadness as I shared some of the hardest parts of those stories.
At the lunch break, I realized that I was beginning to have a little difficulty breathing easily. My chest was tight, and I could not quite catch my breath. A few years ago, it never would have occurred to me that I might be having a physical reaction to the stress of reading those stories. I might have chalked it up to allergies. More likely I would have either minimized or ignored the problem; perhaps I would have beat up on myself for letting myself get out of shape.
But I've learned through the course of my healing to pay attention to the signs my body is giving me when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I recognized what I was feeling as an indication of being triggered, and I knew that I needed to do some self care. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take a lot of time out at that second, because Howard and I still had another 3 hours of training to do. But I did take a moment to take 3 deep breaths while trying to focus on the color purple (it's a soothing color for me).
Do you ever struggle with what to do when feeling triggered? We've got information on MaleSurvivor's website that can help and support you.
Fortunately, one of the first things we did that afternoon was Paul Linden's Six Direction Breathing Exercise (you can read about it in this selection from Joining Forces, scroll down to p. 23). This breathing exercise is one of my favorite techniques we learn at the MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery. After doing one set, I felt immensely better, centered again within my body, and ready to jump into my next portion of the training.
It's common for survivors to get triggered by nothing more that a sound, a smell, or even just the sight of a face that looks like someone that has harmed us. With all the things out there that can trigger us, it's helpful to remember that we already have tools we can use right now to help bring us back into the moment.
Sometimes all it takes to come back to the present is to take a few deep breaths.
What do you do when you are feeling triggered? Do you have special tips or methods that you use to help when you're feeling triggered? Share them on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Have any thoughts or questions you'd like to share with me? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.