Over the years, developing my concept of spirituality has been fundamental to my mental health.* I remember my first major exploration of the topic. I was newly separated from my husband and newly moved from a big city where I’d been living for over ten years to live in a much smaller city in a remote, northern location.
I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors in times of difficulty, to soothe my turbulent emotions. As a child, I would escape the confines of my home to walk away, alone, for several miles, out of town and into the rural areas where I could see horses, fields and fewer houses. We were fortunate also to have a cottage, and there I was comforted by the lake, by the rocky terrain and by the smells of the dirt and by the trees.
Out of the big city and now in the north, I was once again surrounded by rugged nature. In a university course I took when I moved, I learned a definition of spirituality that was “your relationship to, or how you fit with, everything around you.” This resonated with me and gave me an idea that I could have a sense of belonging when I was floundering after leaving my husband.
And I’d always been floundering — my unfortunate husband was a lifeboat for me as I’d tried to grasp for some sort of safety in the sea of my inner turbulence and unbelonging of my life.
The definition of spirituality I learned gave me solace. For the first time I considered consciously that I could be nurtured by the forests where I walked.
Now, in therapy for treatment of a dissociative disorder (dissociation nos) (therapy that is painfully long overdue, and that is a story for another blog post), I am once again at a pivotal point in my exploration of spirituality, and God.
The God who I know now is not that different from the forest; he is in fact the same as the forest and greater than the forest. God, for me, is “oneness”.
And God provides me with enormous comfort, stability and strength.
Part of my dissociation is about separating myself from any emotion that’s uncomfortable for me. The root of dissociation is trauma in childhood. As a child, I had to go through many, many terrifying experiences because of my parents’ behaviours and my parents were not equipped to provide me with the comforting I needed to cope with my emotions. This is the seed of dissociation. Without anyone to lean into, the child experiences his or her emotions as too much to handle and does the only thing he or she can to cope: he or she “leaves the scene” so to speak, with his or her mind; he or she dissociates.
With the aid of a highly skilled therapist, I am — very slowly — learning to be less averse to my uncomfortable emotions. I am — very slowly — learning that I don’t have to dissociate. When I experience uncomfortable emotions, I am very slowly realizing that what is happening is not the same as what happened so many years ago when I was powerless as a child. And that I can deal with it.
When a child has a healthy caregiver who can provide consistent comfort and security, that child internalizes that experience of comfort and security. In time, the internalized, comforting, caregiver becomes a part of the the child’s core self. Without that internalized sense of care, the child’s core self is unstable, like mine is.
This is where God comes in for me. I am working at internalizing God as my internalized caregiver. I am finding that when I am mindful of experiencing an uncomfortable emotion and when I can remember that “God is with me”, then that helps. And God is with me, not to take away the uncomfortable emotion I’m experiencing, because experiencing that emotion is a part of who I am. But rather, God is with me as I experience and ride out the discomfort of the emotion.
And so, for example, if I can be mindful that I am experiencing fear in a certain social interaction, and if I can be mindful that God is with me as I go through this experience, then I can manage much more effectively than if I feel completely alone and abandoned with what is happening which only adds to my fear and feeds panic and dissociation.
Where I’m at in this process has taken time to achieve. First, I’ve had to become more aware of the emotions that I’m feeling at any given time. And I’ve had to strengthen my relationship with God.
This has been happening, a little bit at a time.
And I’m getting better.
* For another perspective on spirituality and PTSD, you might want to check out Deirdre Fay’s article “Spiritual Perspective of PTSD” (http://dfay.com/archives/2400)