If you think you've exhausted all avenues, you probably haven't. Even with as much as knowledge, wisdom, insight, and information I have gained over the years, there is always more to come. There are so many avenues of healing, some that resonate at some points on the path, and some that appear to us as we grow. Healing doesn't have to be suffering with our wounds, but learning to "be" with them and one of the greatest of those challenges is self-reliance and learning to be safe in your own skin.
Two weekends ago I had the opportunity to reconnect with a veteran who has come together with his team to provide scuba diving experiences for combat veterans. I have never in my life ever considered the idea of scuba diving. Never. Not once. I love the ocean, but I have always danced in the waves above through surfing, honoring their strength, and aiming to stand on them, not beneath them. The goal is to stay above water when you have PTSD, not drown in it.
So here I am with a group of combat veterans taking on a whole new world and way of being. I was nervous, uneasy, and excited all at the same time. I tend to hang back a bit when I am getting my "sea legs" and I like to watch how other people are responding.The veterans did awesome. The instructors were professional and gave good solid instruction to get us all going and off they went beneath the surface. I, on the other hand, put the mouthpiece in my mouth and felt the panic ensue. My heart rate went up and I was scared. I didn't think I was going to be able to do it. Now, as you know from the story of the picture above, I overcame that fear and let me tell you how.
I was trying to be patient with myself, talking to myself inside my mind, telling myself to be calm. Now, if you have a mind like mine, telling yourself to be calm doesn't work and I'm a meditation teacher! No one ever gets calm by being told to be calm. Actually, that used to make me really mad some years back. Telling my ptsd to calm down is like telling a raging lion not to roar. So I put the mouthpiece back in and stuck my head under the water. I heard my own breath for the first time underwater and was scared by the sound of it. I didn't like hearing my own breath, even though it is evidence that I'm okay.
Some years back I had a Marine come to me that had a hard time with breathing exercises because it made him focus on the sound of his breath and he associated the sound of his breath with hearing his own breath after an explosion in Afghanistan. He popped into my mind when I came up out of the water and I thought this is what he was talking about. I couldn't stand to hear my own breath. Why? I wasn't in an explosion, but I have been intensely scared to the point that I couldn't breathe and being an asthmatic on top of everything else definitely plays a role. At this point in the session I was struggling. I didn't think I was going to handle swimming around under the water like the veterans were. They seemed at ease, why was this so hard for me?
As I as wrestling with my own mind, the female instructor came over and said, "So what's going on over here?" I told her I was feeling panicked. She assured me that she would walk me through this slowly and that I would be amazed once I got comfortable with it. She showed me hand signals to use that were clear and easy to understand. We went under the water a little at a time and when it was time to try to swim a bit, she held my hand and guided me. The entire time under the water I was scared of the sound of my breath. It's all I could think about so the rest of my body was so tense. It made me so aware of how I "hold" my body when I'm in a state of stress. She was an excellent instructor for my ptsd because she was aware when I was starting to panic and she checked in with me by putting her hand signals directly in front of my mask. It made wish I had a scuba instructor following me around for the last 16 years putting hand signals in front of my face every time I was checking out mentally and emotionally with the ptsd.
At one point we decided to go around the larger part of the pool, but still staying in the shallow end. As we swam, I could feel when I would begin to relax. It started in my legs and gradually worked its' way up to my upper body. When we came up out of the water, I told her I could feel myself relax and she said she could too. I was ready to go back under and now I found myself looking around, as if seeing the world for the first time. This was a new world, even if it was simply the bottom of a pool. It was learning how to relax my body in a new way, a chance to hear my breath and recognize that it is sustaining me, an opportunity to feel light, to flow through my experience. As you can imagine, I found many connections with meditation. I'll be writing about that more, but for now, I thought the journey of it was important to share first. The picture above is of me swimming in the deep end of the pool with no one holding my hand. I had all the tools I needed to be successful, but I had to believe in myself and get connected with myself. There is a lot to be learned from that in regard to how we move through our lives living with post-traumatic stress. I believe we have a lot of tools, but we just don't realize it. It is unique experiences like this that help us to tap into our own inner resources and find untapped reserves.
Thank you to Warhorse Scuba for the positive experience and the great pictures. You are doing great work for veterans and I appreciated being a part of this. www.warhorsescuba.com