Spending Christmas alone

Last year I made the decision to spend Christmas alone and I have to say I had a lovely day. This year, however, I am spending Christmas alone when really there is someone I’d like to be spending it with. Circumstances won’t allow it and so this year I have a heavy heart.

I’ve seen so many social media posts this week wishing people a merry Christmas with loved ones. It seems to be an assumption, so often made, that we all have someone we love to spend Christmas with and that just isn’t the case. There will be many care leavers for example, and in particular, young care leavers, who will be spending Christmas alone this year. We don’t all have families that fit the current society’s definition of “normal” and that can bring about a sense of shame; shame silences us and perpetuates a feeling of disconnection, which brings about more shame and on and on it goes. I’ve certainly felt ashamed and disconnected today. But then I went for a walk and said good morning to a magpie and my perspective shifted.

Saying good morning to that magpie made my heart feel warm in the same way it would had I said good morning to someone I love, so I wished the tress a good morning too! There is a saying that blood is thicker than water. Well I am made of earth, so then, I can consider anything made of earth my blood.

Family is not limited to the human or that which we think of as blood, and I hope this provides some comfort and opportunities for connection for those of us who may be spending Christmas alone when we’d really rather not.

With love and warmest wishes,

-Zoe Patterson

-Fighting Back

An exploration of pain

In counselling, a therapist must show empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard. The embodiment of these basic core conditions creates an environment capable of facilitating change. The following is an extract from my journal and describes how I explored the physical sensations of grief in the body. My goal was to witness it (feel it) with an open heart and listen to it as I would a dear friend. To put it another way, I guess you could say grief was the client, the body was the counselling environment, and that which I think of as me held space and embodied the core conditions within this environment so grief could express itself fully without fear of judgement or rejection. This is by no means an easy process but it has been instrumental in my own healing journey.

This pain begins in the stomach and churns. It rises up into the chest like smoke, thick and heavy, it burns as it travels. It makes its way to my hands through the veins in my arms and shoulders, it feels like hot tar, thick and sticky as it chugs along – and here it stays churning and chugging along.

Sometimes it collects as a knot in my throat and I want to be physically sick or cry out and scream, the pain is so great. I want to run from it. The mind would have me run, it can take me away from this it says, as it’s done thousands of times before, and I’m reminded of the word avoidance, but I won’t allow it and I start to feel dizzy instead. It is almost debilitating but I take a breath and go back to the body.

It’s still there but now it’s lessened – it’s intensity washes over me like waves now, up the body, down the body, so heavy it is. So sad. It feels like it will last forever. How long can I tolerate sitting with it? There is a struggle. I give it sound, the pressure eases and my eyes water. The feeling of the breath travelling in and out gives the idea that there is space within this sadness, although the mind doesn’t quite believe it. Maybe this pain can travel out with the breath if I direct it to do so. It certainly feels like some of it is leaving as I practice this.

Now I’m left with a feeling in the pit of my stomach – it feels like the opposite of watching a sunflower unfold. Within a sunflower there are many tiny leaves unfolding at the centre as it grows and there’s no telling just where they came from or just how many there are – this twisting in my stomach feels like it’s going inwards though, turning in on itself and there’s no telling how many twists are possible or just how deep it’s going, it’s like there is no end to it. Maybe I am near the end though as it’s only in my stomach now. I want to hide from this even within myself. I push my belly out with the breath to feel an expansion. This feels good. My exploration of this is done for now.

No, not done. I stretch. This allows other parts of the body to come into focus that do not feel affected by this pain. The mind wants no part of any of this but it sees it is no longer in control and it quiets. I witness. It jumps in again – there is something it doesn’t want me to see or understand. It says this pain isn’t necessary. Even the body wants to agree with this. What judgements have I put on myself for feeling pain? I can’t go any further today.

With love and light,

-Zoe Patterson -Fighting Back

What’s cooking in your kitchen?

Earlier this week, as I was trying to concentrate on reading a journal article for a university assignment, I became very aware of a seemingly unimportant memory vying for my attention. I often notice things like this happening when I am busy with something else and my usual reaction has been to try and shut these memories out and carry on doing whatever it is I am doing. This week, however, I decided to stop what I was doing and give the memory my full attention. For me, this means becoming present to the moment, allowing all thoughts, feelings and physical sensations to arise and subside without any attempt to control them. My goal was to simply witness the memory in its entirety whilst remaining aware of the present moment, to include a felt awareness of the body, the breath, the senses and the space around me. Scientifically speaking, what I am describing is a shift from a beta brainwave state to an alpha brainwave state, which happens when one becomes consciously and vibrantly aware of this moment – otherwise known as a meditative state.

I was remembering one of the boys from Denver House, who had made himself a cheese sandwich and smothered it in tomato ketchup. He had such a big grin on his face and was happily enjoying the lunch he had made. At this point my mind jumped in to question why on earth I was remembering this now when I had an assignment to work on. I let those thoughts drift into the background without judgement and allowed my attention to return to the memory, because clearly there was something within me that wanted to explore it.

By now I could clearly see this boy eating his cheese and tomato ketchup sandwich and my eyes filled with tears. I tried to resist feeling the physical sensations of this sadness and immediately became aware of a sharp pain in my left shoulder blade. I softened and relaxed my physical body, allowed myself to feel the physical sensations of sadness and the pain in my shoulder dissipated. I then became aware of my peripheral vision within the memory. The boy was central to my vision but I could now also see the kitchen in my peripheral vision. The kitchen was usually locked up and inaccessible for us kids but on this particular day a member of staff had opened up the kitchen and allowed this boy to make his own lunch and choose whatever he wanted to eat. Even the serving hatch was open, which I could now clearly see in my peripheral vision. Upon noticing this I became upset again.

Now I was able to see the importance of this memory. I wanted to be able to eat freely like the boy. I wanted to be able to choose what I wanted to eat and enjoy it, all of it, from the choosing of the ingredients, to the making and the eating, but I couldn’t. I felt trapped in my body, unable to express what I wanted. I would have loved to have eaten a cheese and tomato ketchup sandwich with this boy and share in his happiness but I couldn’t. I couldn’t open my mouth to speak never mind take the physical steps needed to make lunch, such was the power of my early conditioning and the effects of being trafficked, whereby all of my early conditioning was reinforced.

This inability to express what I wanted or take the physical action necessary to bring those goals to fruition became a pattern of behaviour in my life that extended out into almost all other areas of it. As I reflected on the memory that had surfaced I wondered if perhaps the first step on the road to expressing your authentic self, in word and in deed, is to first be honest with yourself about what is occurring for you in any given moment, how you are feeling, what you would like and so forth, not too dissimilar from the process of exploring my memory which I’ve described. I guess the second step is to then be honest in your actions, be that going and making a sandwich for yourself or asking someone for assistance in making it. As an adult I’ve realised the kitchen is always open, however, sometimes I still require courage to firstly, acknowledge what it is that I want, secondly, take myself to the kitchen and make it happen, and finally, enjoy the fruits of my labour, just like the boy from Denver House who thoroughly enjoyed the cheese and tomato ketchup sandwich he made.

With love and light,

-Zoe Patterson – Fighting Back

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