Deserving Desires: A Nervous System Story, Part II
This post is Part II. For Part I click here.
If I wasn’t so strong, I’d probably be dead.
If I hadn’t become so fiercely independent, perhaps I’d feel at peace; nestled securely in the warmth and sturdiness of – you.
“I wish you’d let me help you.”
“I want to be here for you, but my efforts just seem to make it worse.”
“You always know what’s best for you, so I feel like I have nothing to offer when you’re going through something hard.”
How to identify a nervous system pattern:
Since we met in spring 2016 Stefan has been trying to tell me something about myself that I was willfully blind to. I couldn’t see it. We’re never ready til we’re ready, right? Besides, I felt justified in my ways.
“You’re right,” I’d say. “I DO know what’s best for me. What’s wrong with that? I’m really good at knowing how to take care of myself and I don’t understand why this upsets you. Why is this a bad thing?”
‘Justified’ is a pretty unyielding state. On top of that, I secretly (or not so secretly) wanted him to be better at taking care of himself instead of relying so much on me.
No wonder it took a year to crack this one open!
More like 27 actually.
We sat facing each other on the couch a month ago when I told him “I need you to be self-sufficient. I need you to be autonomous. I need to know you’re ok without me.”
Here was that pernicious nervous system pattern of mine in action, the one hiding in plain sight all these years that – once liberated – was about to rock my world when a savvy therapist asked me a few weeks later:
“Do you believe you deserve the kind of relationship you truly desire?”
What I couldn’t see and didn’t know about myself was ruling my life and painfully influencing my relationship (and business, but I’ll get to that part later). My recent behavior and feelings were a direct result of my subconscious patterns, and I: their unwitting accomplice.
His reply: “Why are we in a relationship then?”
(He’s a smart one).
Human biology = energy in motion.
The nervous system exists as a communication network of feelings and sensations, highly driven by emotions (or, energy in motion), both past and present.
It’s the past stuff that trips us up, because most of us assume whatever we’re feeling currently is based on present moment circumstances, when really (unless we are highly conscious and present) – it’s mostly based on our histories and what our nervous systems learned about similar scenarios in the past!
We are most strongly influenced by our surroundings and experiences as children, when we are first learning who we are, what the world is like, who to trust or not and how to choose safety vs risk for ourselves in contexts like sports and activities, relationships, learning and communicating.
As we grow older, patterns we learned as kids either get reinforced or replaced.
When terror shows up, it points to what is most likely a very old, deeply rooted nervous system pattern from childhood.
For the first two months of 2016 there was one thing getting my attention like a 3am fire alarm almost every minute of every day: I would try to imagine how it could possibly work for Stefan and I to financially have kids within my biological time-frame, and I saw nothing but a spiraling out of control narrative that cast Impossibility and Catastrophe as the main characters. I felt panic-stricken, full of anxiety and totally alone with it all.
My “higher self” didn’t understand.
I’m the person other people come to when they need to hear “Anything is possible! There is ALWAYS a way. If you want to (fill in the blank, in my case have babies) – you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
My rational brain kept repeating an incessant accounting of what it will take financially to have a baby, and then over and over would promptly inform me that it’s impossible. My whole body would flood with terror and the most irrational sadness I’ve ever felt in my life. (I mean, I’m 36…not 60!)
My higher self would insist again “there has to be a way.”
War ensued between my rational brain and higher self, while Stefan and I were plunged into relationship upheaval.
Meanwhile, my business was mirroring my relationship.
I’ve spent the last 5 years finding my way towards financial abundance. I built a thriving private practice here in Boulder, CO. The stories I got to be part of were blowing my mind and heart open: people that physical therapists had told would never hike or run again were coming to me and hiking mountains again instead of getting knee replacement surgeries. People who underwent hip replacement or low back pain surgeries and did all the right things post-op (like physical therapy, acupuncture, massage etc) but were still in pain kept seeking me out; not only did they get out of pain, they reclaimed their active lives.
I’ve cried happy tears so many times in the last 5 years because helping people like this is the best feeling in the entire world.
My Facebook friends were hearing these stories and kept telling me they wished I could help them. Being someone who’s never truly satisfied once I reach a goal, I wanted to reach for something bigger.
I got it in my head and heart that I would help as many people as I could, all around the world; the ones who couldn’t get here to work with me in person. I wanted to reach all of you reading this with the message that anything is possible and pain doesn’t have to be a life sentence!
Mobility Mastery was born, and I started pouring my resources and attention into this blog and YouTube channel.
Instead of securing financial stability for myself with my private practice success, instead of nesting, instead of planning ahead with the intention to buy a house and have kids, I have used every extra penny from my private practice income to help people online – without asking for anything in return. That was part of the plan, of course – to make money online eventually; but I never even so much as put a donation button on this site the past two years.
That pernicious pattern was at play here too:
Apparently, I was willing to work really hard to give this all away, yet every time I thought about ways to make money online it felt like too much work. (My work ethic has never been an issue).
Pay attention to the signs.
That alone should have clued me in, but I was too comfortable in the old pattern to even see how it was sabotaging me…until two months ago, when I broke down sobbing hysterically in Stefan’s arms while telling him how ashamed and guilty and full of regret I feel, because if I’d saved the approximately $30,000 I’ve spent on Mobility Mastery, I’d feel safe to have a baby.
Instead – I have no savings, no health insurance, I don’t own a house, I have no family money or anyone that can help and I don’t even have credit lines to fall back on in case of emergencies.
Shame is a huge sign of nervous system patterning from trauma.
I’m usually the optimistic one, and I instantly tried to rationalize my way towards more security for us: I started coming up with all the ways I could make money (something I’m actually quite good at), this time with the intention of saving it. I found new inspiration, and for a few days I declared myself a total bad-ass.
Yet, every time I looked at implementing my ideas I felt the same terror-filled void of impossibility that I felt when I imagined having a baby. (This is partly what happened when I had that business meeting with my client, and immediately after got sick).
This wasn’t like me at all.
Acting unlike ourselves is another great clue an old pattern is up for renewal or replacement. Resistance is a good sign too. Fear is even better. Irrational behavior is the red flag waving in our face!
Instead of recognizing this for what it was, I began scrutinizing Stefan. Everything and anything was suddenly up for grabs to put under a microscope.
Every time I tried to get angry at him for where he’s at financially, I remembered where I was at his age: depressed, broke and clueless. So I migrated to his character instead, examining his everyday behavior to suss out if I could feel safe enough to have a baby with this man.
Everything, it turns out, (in an intimate relationship anyway), can hinge on a tiny insurmountable gigantic inane thing, like: dishes!
Squabbles over dishes.
Did you know you can gauge a man’s trustability by the way he does (or doesn’t) do the dishes!?
I watched myself doing all of this in horror, because I know that what we focus on expands, and if we go looking for trouble (or magic, but that’s not what this was), we’ll find it.
I was focusing on everything that was going ‘wrong’ (or could go wrong) and looking for proof that Stefan isn’t trustworthy. I knew better, and I couldn’t stop myself.
Of course – it’s never really about the dishes; or the piles of crap, or who makes the bacon vs who makes sure there’s coffee in the house. (There better always be coffee in the house!)
Ok, so here’s what I’ve learned about nervous system patterns:
They can get triggered by the dumbest, most innocuous and unassuming aspects of life. In fact, I think they almost always show up there because it’s so ridiculous we don’t give it much credence at first. Those innocuous things are easy-to-open doorways you see, for our higher self to get our attention.
Higher self says: I want love, connection, vitality, adventure, health and fulfillment in my relationships, work and physical activities.
Subconscious self says: you’re not going to do any of that until you acknowledge what’s here.
So we argue about dishes, or who’s going to bring home the better brand of bacon, clueless to the fact that the emotions surfacing and the body sensations arising that are clearly out of proportion to this absurd (and highly charged) conversation playing on repeat, are in fact our best opportunities to heal some old old old crap that has nothing to do with the other person, and actually get on with the life and relationship we truly want.
The hard part is stopping.
Our instinct is to keep talking, keep fighting over stupid things and keep feeling these awful feelings until someone runs away or the whole thing blows up. (Which would prove our baser fears true, in a self-fulfilling prophecy or self-sabotage).
The dishes do have to get done after all.
That bacon has to be won.
Someone’s gotta do it.
If we’re not ready for something better yet, we’ll keep replaying the same conflicts over and over.
If we want something new and healthier – then we have to STOP, peer under all these layers and choose something new.
Freedom requires that we move through our pain.
We have to stop long enough to feel what we actually feel, and get curious about what really matters.
We have to be open to seeing some of the ugliest, messiest parts of ourselves and the other people in our lives. We have to get vulnerable and honest and more real than we’ve ever been.
Unfortunately (or, fortunately) our higher self – the part of us that desires a great relationship, the ability to have kids or feels the pull of a life calling – is always at the mercy of our subconscious and nervous system patterning. (I believe they work together for our evolution, because we can’t have growth without pain, and we can’t have the good stuff in life without growth).
If you’ve ever tried to get in shape, date a “better for you” type of person or go after your dreams only to feel massive resistance, get bored out of your mind and go on a Tinder bender or decide “next Monday” or “next year” you’ll take action on your dreams, then you’ve encountered some of your own nervous system patterning at play.
Higher awareness is always opening doorways for our subconscious ways to be known to us; if one doesn’t get our attention, another will. If, say, we ignore our body’s warnings, another doorway will likely open up our hidden pain, such as our relationship or our finances. Sometimes, all the doors are blown open at once.
This is what happened to me this year.
These patterns can hang on for dear life.
Kind of like us; it’s called survival.
Remember in my last post I said “safety doesn’t mesh all that well with vitality”?
This is what I mean: we can’t be in survival mode and thrive. The two are mutually exclusive. At the same time, we have to feel safe enough in order to take healthy risks and find out just how alive we can feel.
If you have any survival mode nervous system patterns running (probably created in childhood for very good reason at the time), I guarantee you won’t have great luck in securing that relationship you want, the career, healthy body or whatever it is you truly desire. Or, you might get it; only to find out it’s not what you wanted after all. No matter what, I believe we always get exactly what we need, because our outer lives consistently reflect what’s inside. (Cue the Rolling Stones please!)
Our nervous systems are wired first and foremost for safety and survival.
Everything else is secondary.
“I can’t need you this much.”
“I can’t need you as much as I know I will if we have kids together. Needing you that much isn’t safe. Needing ANYONE that much isn’t safe.”
That’s the message my nervous system was telling me with all those sensations of terror and panic that gripped my gut and throat and made my whole body rigid for months, alongside emotions of fear, anger, frustration and that irrational sadness.
That panic had me in a vice grip every moment of every day for two months, until I finally succumbed physically and got the flu; which then turned into bronchitis.
Days turned into weeks. I stopped working. I became house bound, and for several days in a row I couldn’t even talk or I’d go into violent coughing attacks that brought me to my knees and left me huddled on the floor in tears.
Stop talking, my body seemed to be screaming at me. Stop thinking! Stop everything, and let me talk to you.
One day a dear friend brought me chicken stock and a “listening ear” of dried Indian corn, with a note that said “may you be able to hear the beauty buried in the pain during this tender time.” (Do I have amazing friends or what?)
I surrendered and started listening. I started reading and writing. I went to therapy. A few sessions later my therapist asked:
“Do you believe you deserve the kind of relationship you truly desire?”
The full answer showed up in all its messy glory the following morning:
I don’t believe I can depend on anyone.
At first, this realization sucked the life out of me. This isn’t a belief I adopted consciously, choicefully. It’s not one I’m proud to admit to. And – it was so true that I felt my entire nervous system take one giant exhale and relax.
This is something I’ve learned through repeated experience:
When we make our truth conscious, our nervous system relaxes.
I know I can count on myself. You can count on me too, I’ve always been dependable. But…depend on you? No. I don’t believe I can.
Instead of feeling down or sad about this, I got almost jubilant! Everything made sense now. This was an old belief related to trauma I’d already healed.
I learned to take care of (depend on) myself in a lot of ways from an early age.
My parents nurtured me in some truly beautiful key areas that shaped a lot of who I still am to this day; and (like so many or maybe all parents) in other ways they couldn’t give me what I needed. They were still growing themselves up (my mom had me when she was only 22!), figuring out how to do marriage and kids and make a living. We moved a lot. They separated quite a few times. Sometimes we had money in excess; sometimes they argued over how many rotisserie chickens we could afford.
I learned never to get attached to having money or not having it; money comes and goes. I learned not to get too attached to people; we’d probably move again. (Both of these are nervous system patterns have affected everything you’re reading in this story of mine).
We didn’t have extended family near us, so it was always just the four of us.
I know they did the best they could and we have great relationships now; we’ve healed a lot together, looked the past squarely in its face and moved on. I’m very grateful I have the family I do. And – for a while as a young girl during the most turbulent years of their marriage, I didn’t feel safe. I learned to “track” my outer environment and the people in it in order to know what I needed to do to create as much safety as possible for myself.
From 13-15 years old I went through a living hell.
We had just moved again, I was starting a new school and I had no friends. I was lonely. My parents were in survival mode and struggling a lot. A 30 year old (male) neighbor saw me as the perfect target.
He found a way to get me alone often enough to first befriend me, then little by little over months turned me against my family.
I dissociated early on. There are things I still don’t remember to this day. And, there are many things I do. He was a psychopath; a real Jekyll and Hyde. An alcoholic, drug addict and verbally and physically abusive, he cleverly hid those aspects of his character until he’d turned me against everyone, including myself. He was kind at first, and funny. Then, he turned into a monster.
My psyche had essentially been kidnapped after months of “grooming” and eventually, when my mind was too confused to protest, my body was violated. I didn’t trust anyone after that, not even myself. I thought I chose it. I felt deeply ashamed and terrified of everyone, so I never went for help. For 2.5 years I endured a systematic destruction of every part of me via terrifying cycles of punishment and repentance. My body, heart, mind, how I relate to the world, other people, family, friends, men – it was like I was put into a blender and pulverized, and the only one that could put me back together was me.
I definitely contemplated suicide, but my real self, my true nature, just couldn’t imagine giving up on life like that. I was born in an hour and a half. I often joke I was born ready, and apparently I was born happy too. My parents love to tell me about how I sang all the time as a baby. I was naturally full of joy and laughter, and always felt this conviction that there was something inside of me that would be a gift to the world.
I found my way back to that part of me, and summoned the courage to break away.
If I hadn’t been so strong, I’d probably be dead.
Midway through this experience, I made one true friend: Rachelle. She was my best friend, my lifeline and the only source of joy in my world at the time. I never trusted her with what was happening in that other terrifying world of mine, though I think she knew…and loved me anyway, without judgement or ever forcing me to talk about it.
Halfway through 11th grade, my family set out to move again, from California to Oregon. I begged my parents to let me stay and move in with Rachelle. Of course, they said no.
Rachelle was everything to me, and moving didn’t change that. We planned to go to college, and do life after high school together.
I was 17 the day I died while still alive.
A month after we moved I got a phone call telling me Rachelle had been killed in a car accident. My entire world collapsed. I wanted to go with her.
I stopped feeling anything at all in that moment. I didn’t even cry at her funeral. I dropped out of high school. I couldn’t cry for the next 6 years (though I tried and tried, but nothing would come out).
I was a ghost, walking and breathing and acting as if I was “normal” (whatever that means anyway), but inside I felt dead.
Healing comes if we’re willing to do whatever it takes.
I’m incredibly lucky.
I never went down a path of addiction or anything like that as a coping mechanism. My way was to put a lid on that box of darkness, until I was ready to open it again. In 2004 I opened that box, and then spent ten years in and out of the healing process. The last of that trauma left my nervous system for good in 2014.
You might understand, from the little I’ve shared here, why my nervous system created the belief that I can’t depend on anyone.
I’m not sharing this story to “process” it or heal anything today.
I’m sharing this story because the entire thing has made me who I am, and made me exceptional at what I do working with people in pain.
I don’t know who I’d be had I not gone through everything I have, and because of it – I have a gift.
I blame no one. I have no bitterness in my heart, only love.
I am actually, truly, in my bones and soul, deeply grateful I went through what I did.
I’m also sharing this story because I believe stories are how we connect, heal, inspire and empower one another. So many of us experience intense trauma, and then feel too ashamed, scared and alone to talk about it. I know I did for years.
I didn’t give up on me. I will never give up on you.
I started this two part blog by talking about nervous system patterns that can still be present even after we’ve healed trauma, healed the wound, healed the body or heart or psyche or all of them.
Sometimes healing changes those patterns for us.
Sometimes, the pattern hangs on for dear life, because maybe it saved our lives at one time. Letting go can literally feel like risking death.
This was one of those times for me.
The trauma has been out of my nervous system for three years, but this underlying belief was still there wherever I do relationship (including here at Mobility Mastery).
“Can I count on you?”
That is essentially what I had been trying to ask Stefan for so many months, without knowing the words.
These two beliefs (that I DO deserve the kind of relationship I’ve always wanted and that I can’t depend on anyone) were in direct contradiction to one another; and safety always wins if the nervous system is in control.
If I believed (on a nervous system level) that I can’t depend on anyone, how could I possibly create a thriving relationship with a committed partner, and feel safe enough to have a baby?
Stefan, by the way, is an amazing man.
He is just as human, which is to say just as messy, as any of us; and he brings his own set of nervous system patterns, beliefs, fears, subconscious blocks and all of that to our relationship. Cool! We get to grow together. He’s learning about agency right now, and figuring out how to stand on his own in the world. I’m learning how to stand down sometimes, and let him take care of me.
Those feelings of terror and aloneness had nothing to do with him. He may have “triggered” them, and for that I feel grateful! Together, we’re healing some old personal and family patterns. We’re both committed to evolving and growing together as individuals and partners.
Throughout the past few months of turbulence he’s become my rock, my best friend, my sanctuary and co-creator of dreams.
I trust him.
I can count on him.
(He’s also read this post and given me permission to share it – how great is that?)
I may have known how to take care of myself extremely well before.
Stefan is teaching me how to let someone else take care of me too.
I get to have both!
Want all the good stuff in life? Better say yes to pain too!
I spent far too many years being a walking dead person because I wasn’t ready to feel the mountains of pain buried inside of me.
My philosophy now is to immediately turn towards whatever I’m experiencing (pain and pleasure alike), because FEELING IT ALL is what makes us ALIVE.
Pain is part of life. It’s only one part, but numbing pain means numbing the good stuff too, and I want as much of the good stuff as I can stand from now on!
What about you?
This is how we identify those patterns: by allowing and feeling the disturbing sensations and emotions that arise in our lives and relationships to have our attention for a time, by honoring them and getting curious as to what they’re trying to tell us.
Pain of any kind is a request from some part of us (body, psyche, soul) to change an old pattern and evolve into a new version of ourselves.
I’ve come to view pain as our best opportunity to find out how resilient we are; how brave, how committed to the life we envision for ourselves.
Pain is an invitation to get to know and trust our bodies, our psyche, subconscious selves, perhaps even other people, god, and this world we inhabit.
Pain teaches us about what we value, what we want to move away from and what we want to move toward.
Pain is the essential ingredient (and always the catalyst) for changing a nervous system pattern.
How to change a nervous system pattern:
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just flip a switch?
Effective fascial release remains the best gateway I’ve found to change nervous system patterns quickly and effectively; still, it’s only as effective as our nervous systems are receptive to change. And that depends on our stories, beliefs, what is hiding in our subconscious and how willing we are to feel pain.
Some nervous system patterns are purely psychological, others purely physical; most are a combination of both.
Healing is often a necessary step in changing a nervous system pattern, though not always.
To change a nervous system pattern it:
1) Has to be interrupted, and
2) Must then be alchemized (or changed into something else)
Through these two blog posts I’ve tried to give you a visceral (perhaps even frustrating?!) experience of what it’s like wrestling with our subconscious selves in order to make conscious that which isn’t. There is no straight shot here, no one formula that works for everyone.
There is, however, ONE thing we all have in common:
Your body is a beacon of truth.
The human body is an amazing work of creative genius.
Our life story is literally inscribed on our fascia, written there by our nervous system just waiting for someone to come along and read it.
Our bodies faithfully carry us through the world, allowing us to experience all that life offers. If we’re not ready to experience something we go through, our body will store whatever that memory is and wait until we are. No matter what we do to or with our bodies, they do their absolute best to keep us healthy and alive. If we veer off course, they try to get our attention.
When we learn how to tune in, our bodies become a communication system between us and our higher selves, and us and our subconscious.
To alchemize a nervous system pattern, we have to stop the old one and replace it with something new.
Usually, it’s the opposite of whatever pain we were in. When I had knee pain, I had to create a pattern of healthy knees. If it’s a belief, such as “I believe I can’t depend on anyone,” we have to turn that into a new belief: “I know I can depend on people.”
For me this looks like: choosing to count on people like Stefan, my friends, my community; asking for help and receiving it; finding evidence that people are dependable (in general, and people I unconsciously believed I couldn’t count on previously). Brains are funny like that: whatever we focus on becomes our reality. There is plenty of evidence throughout my life that I could depend on the very people my nervous system believed I couldn’t at one time; but I wasn’t focused on that, I was still stuck in the same nervous system pattern that my trauma created to keep me safe a long time ago.
The really cool, truly astonishing thing to me is: we GET to play an active role in consciously creating our lives.
This isn’t a given.
It’s a choice.
A choice we have to make over and over and over.
Personally, I’d rather choose to be the creator of my own life, even if that means facing some hard and painful stuff, changing nervous system patterns that feel as scary as risking death – if it means finding freedom, joy and bringing back that sass and spunk I was born with.
Can I count on you too?
This blog can’t go on the way I’ve been doing it, without financial support. I have an exciting announcement coming soon about an offering that will allow me to help you even better than I’m able to now, with an online portal to a more cohesive, easy to navigate members only database of techniques, theory and how to’s, a Facebook group and live Q&A’s with me once a month (plus more). So stay tuned for that!
If you want to make a direct donation now, I would gratefully, humbly and with so much awe accept anything you can give – even if you can only give $5, that would mean the world to me! Your support will allow me to keep helping as many people as I can all over the world learn to trust their bodies, get out of pain and wire their nervous systems for vitality and coming fully alive.
THANK YOU for being here, for showing up for yourself, your body and your best life.
You’re the reason I’m inspired to keep going!