In this episode I discuss the importance of creating and nurturing a rich inner life. I open up about how my own inner world as a child saved my life and use this example to help explain how mindful cultivation of inner landscapes of beauty and hope can be an essential and potentially lifesaving tool during times of prolonged stress and crisis.
Tw/Cw: Child abuse, trauma, PTSD, stress, chronic illness, suicidal ideation, the pandemic, horror movie senarios used briefly in jest.
Hierarchy of Needs referenced in episode
I’m not saying you should check out. I’m saying you have the ability to create and find space within yourself to store and nurture creativity, strength, and hope.
00:14 *Intro music by Ramshackle Glory*
Hi thank you so much for joining me. I’m Hecate and this is Finding OK a healing podcast for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Today I’m going to talk about something that I think is potentially a lifesaving essential right now and that is a rich inner life. And now it’s time for…
00:48 *sound of twinkling chimes*
Trigger and content warnings for this episode include the following: child abuse, trauma, PTSD, stress, chronic illness, suicidal ideation, the pandemic, and at one point I bring up stressful situations from horror movies quickly in jest. Please check in with yourself and make sure you’re all right to continue.
It’s hard for me to articulate what I mean by an inner life or inner world to folks who may have become separated from theirs or perhaps never had a strong one. It’s not my desire to have this come off as a Barney rerun talking about the beauty of imagination. So instead lets put some fangs on that purple dinosaur and I’m going to start off with a personal example from my past that might resonate with people or help you understand where I’m coming from and why I believe it’s essential. When I was a child I had what I’ll venture to say was a stronger relationship with my imagination than other kids and it got me into trouble sometimes. Looking through old files I saw that my Kindergarten teacher said she was concerned I had trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy. The truth was that reality was boring and scary and unsatisfying and I found more interest in the augmented reality that I could create with my own mind. If you asked me to play as a child, we would play pretend. But I didn’t like calling it pretend and was super intense about it. I was a little method for some kids and they couldn’t meet me there, and they were happy to stop playing when a bell rang or it was time to go home. But the worlds I created and the characters I found there gave me space to experience and feel things deeply. That was me. I was a super intense tiny person and I was always anxious and shy. That’s just some background for ya. I’ve spoken of it in other episodes but in second grade I had an abusive teacher who bullied me mercilessly. She encouraged my peers to join in her derision. I didn’t understand what was happening. When an adult with power is abusive it’s normal for a child to assume it is correct, that they must deserve it. I became suicidal as months past and I retreated into myself. It took me decades to understand what I did and to comprehend and accept the meaning in what I found there. In order to survive I created an alternate universe that intersected with reality. I sank into that role of a different identity, or magical self that I created for myself. I created another world, a different culture, a different language, a different past, a mythos, friends and enemies, magic, telepathy, destiny, and purpose. It was a complex and intricate version of something I now know many children do in order to survive abuse. They partition their minds and activate psychological defense mechanisms. Some of you may have different versions of this in your past if you suffered abuse in formative years. I lived in that different world for many years, it sustained me, and being torn away from it was a trauma event. It took me a long time to accept and understand that world and its purpose. It was a secret and sacred internal world where I was able to nurture, explore, and safeguard my soul and my identity. Someone I should have been able to trust was spending every day trying to convince me that the person sitting at my desk was contemptible and a waste of everyone’s time and energy. So I took the most important parts of myself and created an internal world where who I was could be explored, challenged with adversity, called upon to grow, and even be honored and celebrated. I provided myself with what my soul needed and what it was being denied. I intuitively recognized that people around me were trying to take something essential from me and that I would not survive if I allowed them to. Sometimes my inner world would bleed over into my daily life among my peers, and as the years passed I became lonely and would sometimes invite others to join me there or participate with what I had created. This especially happened after I became chronically ill for many years and faced pain, illness, isolation, and an invisible disability that was met with ableist norms and disbelieved by medical professionals, adults, and peers. I was a weird kid. I’m now finally able to appreciate that child for what they accomplished and to love her and celebrate that achievement. I felt such guilt later for lies I told that were so real to me. I felt crazy. I was traumatized and I did what I had to do to survive. Fuck everyone else’s judgements. And if your listening and I said some weird made up shit to you. Sorry not sorry. I was fighting a war you weren’t privy to and that I barely understood. I not only forgive myself, I am so fucking proud of myself. I made it through hell and I saved the part of me that they tried to take or taint. So did you. You’re here with me, and so did you. Forgive yourself for what you had to do to survive. I am so proud of you. Make amends where you have to, if you have to, but shame over survival doesn’t serve anyone, least of all you.
So there’s some context for what I’m going to say next. You’ve probably noticed, but the shit is in fact bananas…and it is also on fucking fire. Fucking everything is super intense right now and I don’t know about you but it has been an emotional rollercoaster and it’s been a huge mental health challenge. I feel like every single day calls upon all my years in therapy, it’s exhausting, and it blows and it’s all just so, so intense. If you’ve got PTSD it is beyond brutal. Lots of us are struggling with our nervous systems being on overload. We’re living through a pandemic, it’s creeping up on a year now and that’s a long time to live with death as such a presence in daily life. Some of us have been alone this whole time. Humans don’t do well with that at all. It’s torture to us, solitary isolation is literally torture, the UN agrees. It’s incredibly taxing on the psyche. As I’ve been connecting with different people and talking to folks through the pandemic something I’ve noticed is that for the first time we’re all openly navigating and communicating with each other about our relationship with reality. What I mean by that is that we’ve all sort of accepted that it’s too much for us to handle straight up 24/7. That can be as simple as people drawing boundaries in conversations like, “I’m sorry I’m just not able to talk about the pandemic today, I can’t handle it” or as complex as people who have been alone and cut off for months having make believe conversations and relationships. There’s a whole spectrum of “dealing with this” and it can look like Netflix binges, it can look like throwing yourself into a project or work and allowing it to consume you and make use of mental energy, it can look like working out to burn off stress, it can look like relying on substance use to switch off for periods of time, it can look like blanket burrito or fetal position. *laugh* We are all finding ways to give ourselves some semblance of a break from constant crisis mode. And it’s hard, some of our coping methods may be healthy, some of them might be unhealthy. Honestly, these days it can be hard to tell and truth be told, judging them in the terms of a pre-covid world seems unfair. I think I watched four or five horror movies back to back two days ago. I just checked out. That amount of binge watching for me, especially when it’s horror, usually means I’m fighting off depression or some kind of building mental health crisis. Now, it was just what needed to happen that day for me to feel ok. I think a part of it might be that immersing myself in these horror stories and scenarios are strangely comforting and help me feel better about the state of things. *laugh* They give me a break from constant hovering unseen doom and instead I get a jolt and release of tension that a horror movie provides along with a weird relief in contrast with reality. Whew! Sure am glad I’m not trapped on a plane with a bunch of unrealistically aggressive venomous snakes! Sure am glad I’m not trapped in a sinking underwater lab being hunted by a bunch of genetically engineered angry genius sharks! Sure am glad I’m not trapped in my flooding basement during a category 5 hurricane with a bunch of hungry gators! Sure am glad that the nearest city didn’t explode 10 years ago with a ghost bomb and now a mystery ghost may or may not be trying to kill me! (Her hair looked super cute btws.) Sure am glad I’m not lost in the wilderness due to my own incompetence and obligated to guard a dead body half a mile from a grizzly bear’s den. Don’t watch that one it’s super meh. Sure am glad I’m not possessed by any demons or that I didn’t accidentally buy any cursed amulets (to my knowledge, knock on wood *knocks on wood*) or accidentally buy a house that’s haunted by malevolent forces. Let’s be honest, I’m a witch and I don’t put up with that shit. None of this nonsense please. You feel me. You get it. It’s a fun break with a worst case scenario that isn’t what’s happening. Through these binges I ate regularly, hydrated, walked and cared for my pets. I also slept regularly. I’ll call it good enough right now. We’re all doing our best and our best is what it is. Our best right now is getting through this however we have to. That’s why I’d like to offer some thoughts informed by the wisdom of my inner child and tempered by my journey as an adult.
Escapism gets a bad fucking rap and our idea of what that word means is flawed, it’s full of judgement and it discourages exploration and curiosity and I think it throws away a lot of unexpected gifts. We are quick to use the word “escapism”. I’d like you to question it and your use of it. Cultivating and exploring a rich inner life, within reason, can be healthy. I’m not saying you should check out. I’m saying you have the ability to create and find space within yourself to store and nurture creativity, strength, and hope. You are infinite. Give yourself permission to daydream, to fantasize if you will, to create an inner world that serves you and where you can seek solace and draw strength and inspiration when you need it. You feed it and it feeds you and all that nourishment is within you. Your mind is magic. Use it, let it help you and reveal to you what it is you need to keep going and growing. If you need a garden, built one for yourself within your mind. Cultivate your inner world with care and mindfulness. If making your way through daily life is feeling more and more like Dante’s journey through Hell, make a paradise for yourself and reside there when you must. Don’t stop! There is definitely that old saying, “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. What I’m talking about isn’t dissociative or escapist in a negative term. I’m talking about utilizing tools people maybe told you to put away when you were younger; maybe they told you they weren’t useful. They are useful; they’re essential and they can keep parts of yourself in distress from greater harm. Provide yourself with inner landscapes of beauty and hope to sustain you as you move through difficult times in your external world. Don’t get lost in them. Don’t disappear into them, but make time to seek spiritual shelter within yourself. You are infinite. Many of us are so stressed that we’re not using certain parts of our brain. Are you seeking out and listening to new music that feeds your soul, brings you to tears, makes you dance or lights something up inside you? I found some recently and I realized I’ve been starving for it. Are you looking at art? Are you watching dance? Are you learning? Are you reading? A lot of us were leaning into these things at the beginning of the pandemic but I’ve noticed many people have drifted from them as the crisis has stretched on. Our relationship to the Hierarchy of Needs is an interesting one and if you’re mindful of it, you can make choices that change your experience. When in times of stress we’re quick to shift away from those higher needs and that’s natural. If your basic needs aren’t met that’s absolutely got to be your priority. You can’t eat poetry. But so many of us have basic needs met, though often under threat or uncertain, and we’re neglecting higher needs because our body and mind are on this year long drawn out red-alert. You can’t eat hope, but without hope you might not eat. What I’m saying is don’t forget to feed your soul right now. Seek out awe and wonder, it is a human need. Look for it in the world around you and find it within your expansive self. Invite divinity or the expanding and miraculous universe to dwell within your eyes, your heart, you mind, and within every cell of your body. You have survived hardships, and no one but you can say what they mean. This time is ours and I believe it calls not only to be endured, I believe it calls for the best of who we are. It calls for kindness, generosity, empathy, patience, understanding, curiosity, ingenuity, resilience, bravery, and hope. Remember to nurture what is good in people, in yourself and in others. There’s something at the core of this for us to find together. For that to happen I think each of us has to remember what glows within ourselves. There is a light inside you that no one has been able to extinguish. That is where you reside. If you tucked it away allow it to light up the pool at the center of you so that the water that flows through you is made of light. Breathe life and energy into your inner world and nurture what is needed. Help each other. Reach out, but reach within as well. You are infinite. You are loved. You are love.
*inhales and makes drawn out sound of releasing emotional tension* Whoooo Ahhhhh! Thank you so much for listening. I plan to create future episodes to create inner spaces to assist those who may have difficulty creating theirs or folks who just enjoy some guided meditation. What would you like me to word weave for you? Please write in with feedback, listener questions, or episode requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know if you're interested in joining me on the show. I would love to have you. Finding OK is crowd funded and paid for out of pocket. I am unemployed and anything helps. This podcast will not exist much longer without listener support. If each listener gave $1 Finding OK would be fully funded. Please consider donating if you can afford it. A link to the Go Fund Me can be found on the podcast website www.finding-ok.com and I post links routinely on my Facebook page. I also post relevant articles, art, memes, and resources daily. Feel free to friend me, Hecate F. Okay. *spells name* You can also find me on Instagram. I have created a private Finding OK Facebook group for survivors. You are welcome there and I hope you'll join us. Please take a minute to rate and review the podcast to help me reach more listeners. Reviews are featured on the new website and you get a shout out on the next episode! Thank you so much for your continued support. Please share, subscribe, and donate if you can. Thank you again for listening. This has been Finding OK. Black Lives Matter. Take care of yourself.
22:10 *Outro music by Ramshackle Glory*
*fade in to folk/punk chords of guitar* Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep on loving. Keep on fighting. And hold on, and hold on, hold on for your life *echoes into brief silence*…(Chorus and full band) Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep on loving. Keep on fighting. And hold on, and hold on, hold on for your life. *triumphant and uplifting music plays till end*
You. Are. Infinite.