“Just breathe in, breathe out”- Sounds pretty simple, right?!?!
As simple as this concept sounds, for many reasons, many of my survivor sisters, including myself, have a hard time with catching our breath, slowing down, and allowing God’s peace to wash over us and steady us. From my personal experience, allowing God to take care of me isn’t easy… it takes trust and dependency to release my worries and fears over to Him, when my human nature says to not give someone else that much control or power.
Fear– the four letter word that has haunted me most of my life. I wake at times in fear, I fall asleep with fearful thoughts stealing my sanity and peace, and during the day, out of seemingly nowhere, these horrible thoughts will come into my mind and once again fear is present. Fear feels like my greatest enemy because if I give room to it, it will take me out. I need to be ever-mindful of the thoughts I allow my mind to dwell on in order to take captive and turn them over to the Peace-Giver, Jesus.
When I was a little girl, being sold for sex and pornography, I wished that the earth would open and swallow me—that I would be gone, and away from my tormentors. Now, as an adult, it is my memories that make me want to disappear or not wake up in the morning. I’m sure that my survivor brothers and sisters can relate to this. As a child, I could allow my mind to take me somewhere else during the abuse, but now as an adult, the times when I decide to not feel the sadness, pain or fear, also bring about a disconnection from other feelings that are life-giving, such as joy, peace, and happiness.
While the ability to leave myself and escape fear worked as a child, it’s not a skill that I want to regularly give room to now as an adult. I needed that tool then because it helped me to survive, but now, I have grown-up thinking and have healthy tools and skills that God has given me in order to stay present, be able to sit in the emotion and not go crazy, and be able to move thru those emotions back to a place of peace.
Going through a Master’s degree program in counseling certainly has helped me—as I was learning the skills I needed in order to help my patients, I was able to begin to apply them to myself as well. I stopped feeling out of control and a victim and became a survivor. I was no longer without a choice but could do the things I needed to do to be in control of the outcome and to take care of myself and be safe.
Because some of these tools worked so well for me, I want to share them now with you in hopes that you too will find a few skills that you can apply when you’re not doing well and the old feelings of being powerless and stuck start to take over:
1. Count backward—When we count backward, our brains have to use a different way of thinking than when we count frontwards, so our brains start to slow down and become “unstuck.” Count backward slowly from 10 and see if this works for you. In between numbers, take a long breath in, and a long breath out.
2. Safe Place (or Anchor Spot)—When you are scared, feeling angry, overwhelmed and feel like your brain is stuck in those emotions, go to your safe place in your mind that brings the most peace. This is meant to be a distraction that will calm the inside and slow the thoughts down to regulate you. If your safe place is the beach, picture a beach scene with sand, beautiful waves and a glorious sunset (or whatever is peaceful to you). Allow the feeling of the waves to sweep over you, imagine what the sand feels like in your toes, and take some breaths of the ocean air and allow peace to come. When you are feeling more calm and safe, allow yourself to go back to your present moment, but take the feeling of peace with you. *The difference here between the disassociation I did as a child and what I call the Safe Place is that I am staying connected to my body, but imagining myself in a place that makes me happy. Disassociation involves removing myself from my body so that I’m looking down at myself but not in my body. I want to stay connected to my body now.
3. Grounding—Look at your surroundings, wherever you are right now. What do you see? Describe it in detail. I see a couch. It is green and has two cushions on it. The cushions are flowery in soft colors. The couch looks soft and comfortable, etc. Go into as much detail as you can as this will move your brain from being stuck on the right side (where the emotions are) to the left side (where your logical side is). This will slow down the emotions and mind racing that is happening so you can catch your breath and feel calmer.
4. Get up and move!—Movement is one of the greatest ways to calm the brain. There is something about movement that gets our brains unstuck. So, if you are laying on the bed, listening to horrible messages your brain is telling you, get out of bed and move around. Whether that’s just walking up and down the hallway for a minute while you practice deep breathing, or it’s going into the backyard or front yard and watching the street for a few minutes, it will distract and bring you into a calmer place.
5. Remind yourself that today you are safe!—You are a grown-up who has the choice to leave or stay. You are able to get help if needed from outside resources. You can call someone, or shoot out a text for prayer. You aren’t stuck! This has been the biggest help for me—telling myself that I have choices and freedom to do what I need to do to get help. I am no longer the little girl that was locked in the trunk of the car or the closet—I am safe and have found my voice and can use it! My voice is strong and powerful!
I hope some of these ideas are helpful! No one wants to be stuck in that place of fear, anger, sadness, or hopelessness. It’s certainly not what God has for us—He loves us so much that He has given our bodies and minds ways in which to cope and to find rest. May you feel the presence of God with you today and allow His grace to wash over you and fill you with His peace.
Amy Engle is a wife, mother of three, and a Marriage and Family Therapist. She resides, along with her family, in Phoenix, Arizona. Amy loves international travel and has a passion for women’s ministry and in particular, for those women that are newly out of the sex industry and need someone to walk alongside them as they begin their healing journey. In her spare time, Amy enjoys coffee with friends and a good book, as well as taking road trips with her oldest kids.