TRIGGER WARNING : This is a personal lifestyle session post where I share about my experience at a Yoga training for PTSD. I also go into some detail about the sexual assault that I experienced a few days before Christmas 2016. I am aware that most of my posts are of cute babies, precious families, and beautiful weddings. But if any of you know me, you know that I am passionate about sharing the ugly in life too. Without the ugly, perhaps we couldn’t truly value the beautiful? Without trembling in the dark do we really recognise the beauty of dancing in the light? So for those of you that aren’t about this real life stuff…just skip ahead or choose a different photoshoot to check out. No worries. Be well.
A few weeks ago I went to my first Yoga teacher training: Yoga Fit for Warriors (PTSD). Initially, I was going to do a one day training in Nashville, but as I researched Yoga Fit I came across a training for trauma-sensitive Yoga and I knew that I had to go. Some of you know my story and know that I was sexually assaulted by a stranger a few days before Christmas of 2017. He was an older man who had apparently been watching me as I went on walks with my kids to the park or on a run by myself. They did find him and I chose to prosecute, which was very scary for me to do. The last year and a half has been a whirlwind of ups and downs: trauma therapy, moving to a new home, learning how to feel safe again in everyday life activities, developing a mistrust for everyone, carrying a taser with me 24/7, moments of feeling brave, moments of crashing and being consumed by fear/guilt/shame. There is the obvious shame and guilt that sexual assault victims feel, but then add in the humiliation of destructive behaviour that is SO unlike me. Trauma does crazy things to a person. I could be doing something normal like washing the dishes and something would trigger me to relive any given moment of the assault. There were a few times I “blacked out” and became physical with loved ones. It is really hard for me to write that out, but it’s important for people to realise how trauma can affect a person in that way. It’s humiliating. My children have witnessed their typically fun, strong, goofy mother having MANY panic attacks on the floor of the bathroom within the last year or so. It’s where I would go to try and hide myself when I felt a panic attack coming. The assault also affected my marriage in deeply destructive ways and I still wonder if we can ever come back from where we have been this past year and a half.
Sometimes when trauma is experienced, manifests physically in the body. Have you ever had (or felt like you had) a “near death experience?” Remember how your heart was pounding? Remember how you felt like you needed to run or fight? Imagine having that feeling come, without notice, for weeks, months, years. All the while trying to smile and get through daily life activities. Going to the grocery store, or running any errands, was hard for me for months. Why? I had to put my kiddos in their carseat and my back was facing the world. I felt vulnerable and like I would be attacked. And forget going on a walk and feeling safe or enjoying nature anymore. It’s a terrible, indescribable thing to experience. EMDR therapy helped me tremendously, but so did Yoga. It grounded me and made me feel safe when my world was spinning and falling apart. It still does. So needless to say, I was THRILLED to register for this Yoga training. I’ve been teaching Yoga on and off for awhile, but now I have found my niche. I am so passionate about bringing trauma sensitive Yoga to everyone. Everyone has experienced trauma in some kind of way. Because this world is broken and life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. (In fact, I still haven’t seen a unicorn but I’m not giving up hope)!
So, without further ado, join me and let me introduce you to some of my new beautiful Yogi friends and see what a four day Yoga intensive training looks like at the gorgeous Life Adventure Centre in Versailles, KY.
Ahhh, warm coffee! I am a mother of two young kiddos…so hot coffee is a rarity. I must say, the first day I was a little nervous being somewhere where I didn’t know a soul. But holding a mug of endless warm coffee helped. I was like a sponge, ready to soak in all the info of Yoga that I could.
We had some beautiful Yoga practices that week. I learned so much about proper alignment and the importance of using inclusive, inviting language. I have found that teaching Yoga is different than teaching other fitness classes in that we aim to let go of judgment and competition. We are bringing awareness back to our strong, capable bodies and exploring what is going on within as well as externally. We are truly bringing mind, body, and spirit all together when we practice Yoga.
On one afternoon we did some equine therapy (ok they called it equine vaulting but I’m calling it therapy so whatevs) and y’all…I LOVED IT so much! The bus ride over to the barn felt like I was at summer camp again.
First we practiced on these barrels so we could know what it would kind of feel like on the horse. We then walked around with Maggie so we could be familiar with one another. I felt an immediate connection with her when I looked into her eyes.
We learned a few Yoga postures to try with Maggie. Life Adventure Centre works with a lot of veterans and at-risk families/children so they have this amazing equine program. The things I felt were really profound and healing, especially since the assault case was fresh on my mind. The entire week I just gave grace to myself and allowed myself to process what I needed to process, feel what I needed to feel, etc.
The main thing with Equine vaulting was to follow Maggie’s rhythm. I had to trust her. This was SO HARD. I usually like to go my own way and fend for myself. But in order for me to do any sort of Yoga posture with Maggie, I had to follow her lead. I had to pay attention to her movements with each step she took and become in sync with her. Once I did, the magic happened.
Now check out these photos of my beautiful friend Melissa. She was the first one to speak to me. I arrived late the first night because of a late photoshoot AND a snowstorm I had to drive through. I had such a hard time sleeping that night in the bunkhouse. Feeling safe is still an issue that I face after the assault. Early the next morning (like…the sun wasn’t even up) Melissa came right up to me with a smile and was so welcoming and loving. I immediately felt a sense of safety. Doesn’t she just radiate joy? She made me laugh a lot and was super encouraging to me. She is the one who witnessed my first proper alignment Chaturanga.
The days were filled with learning and I took so many notes and hoped to let it all sink in. We also did hands on practice with our Yoga postures. We dined together too. Now that was WEIRD. I am used to chaos and loud chatter during meals because…#boymom. But at the retreat, we would have nice conversations while eating or sometimes we would eat in a calming silence. Except for it wasn’t calming for me because I’m not used to quiet meals. At night we would chat, do some homework and review, and go to bed early to allow our brains to process all that we were learning. One evening, Melissa and I walked up to the labyrinth to take some photos before eating some s’mores around the fire. It was beautiful and peaceful up there. I truly value Melissa’s friendship.
This precious soul right here helped me TREMENDOUSLY. I didn’t think I would be triggered by anything during the training, but it turns out I was triggered by SO much. I had several freak out moments. Before that even happened though, she reached out and told me that at any time I could come to her and she would help me process some things if need be, as she is a trained therapist in EMDR. I took her up on that more than once, when fear and guilt and shame kept sneaking in. Her words of wisdom and words of peace/encouragement got me through some tough moments at the training. I am forever grateful and know it was meant to be that she was there when I was.
And then there’s Brittany. Goodness we are two peas in a pod. As soon as she walked in and started talking I knew we were just alike. We both talk super fast and can’t sit still. If you know anything about Ayurveda, then we are the Vata type. We move like the wind. Prone to nervousness, anxiety, fear, are light sleepers and are typically spacey. It got to the point where Shaye, our awesome trainer, just couldn’t stop laughing at us. She said they should video us interacting as the perfect example of a Vata Dosha. Brittany and I bonded over gluten free graham crackers that I had bought for our S’more time. She has also been through a lot recently in her life, and we shared in that as well. Trauma isn’t good, but it is good to know when you aren’t alone in the trauma you have experienced. She is an absolute delight.
On the last day, I received a phone call from the District Attorney. I had been writing my Impact Statement that I would read to the court on the sentencing date for weeks. Over the phone he told me that I would no longer need to read the impact statement because they had worked out a deal on the sentencing. I agreed that the sentencing chosen was appropriate but I was disheartened that I would no longer be reading my impact statement. In fact, it turned into a full blown panic attack after I got off the phone. We had JUST got done with a PSOAS practice, learning how to physically release some trauma in the body in our Yoga practice. So I was already super emotional. In fact I had spent the last 30 minutes on the mat crying because I just had SO MUCH going on inside my heart and mind.
The truth is, I felt like all my life I have NOT BEEN SEEN OR HEARD. “I am 6’2″ and take up a lot of space and yet nobody sees me. Nobody sees my heart. Sees who I truly am and loves me for me. I am so loud and bubbly but yet I am not heard. Nobody hears my true voice”. Those were the thoughts I worked through in my Yoga practice that day. So needless to say, after the phone call I was upset. I felt like I had a chance to be seen and heard and tell my perpetrator how his actions had affected me. And it was taken away from me, yet again. I really was visibly upset, pacing outside and and crying.
You know what my fellow Yogis did? People who had only known me for a few days? They helped me process through all of my feelings in a loving and encouraging way. They helped me see that he probably wouldn’t have truly listened to what I had to say anyway. Shaye, our amazing leader, came to me and asked me to read my impact statement to them. I was floored. I agreed to read it to them.
Can I just say something here about Shaye? She is a beautiful soul. I wish I had a better photo of her and she probably hates me (kidding…kind of) for only having the photo of her below. The things she said over those four days WERE. SO. WISE. AND. TRUE. AND. GRACIOUS. Lord have mercy. I will carry the things she said with me for the rest of my life. She talked about how tears are cleansing, healing waters that come after the hard work is already done. The hard work inside ourselves. She taught me to question why I’m making the choice that I am in my Yoga practice. Am I choosing the “harder” version of this posture because I want to look cool or better or stronger? Or am I accepting where I am and what my body needs? Shaye also has this crazy ability to provide insight on whats really going on with a person. Discernment. Lord knows I was already dealing with some DEEP stuff so I tried to avoid her sometimes because I didn’t want her reading me. Ha. She knows when I was too but it’s fine. She also has intense dreams that are meaningful and purposeful so we connected in that similarity as well. I could say so much about Shaye, but the main point is that if you don’t know her then you’re missing out. Go meet her. You’ll see what I’m talking about. The end.
Ah, so for our closing time we walked the labyrinth in a meditation, and when we all came together, I read my impact statement aloud. Shaye recorded it for me and I cherish that so much. These people who I had only known for days stood there AND TOOK JOY IN LETTING ME BE SEEN AND HEARD. They didn’t just let me, they truly wanted to and were so very supportive.
So yeah, I stood there like a dweeb and read my 10 minute impact statement from my phone.
At one point in my impact statement, I sang a song. I had planned to in court, because singing is a part of me. Of course I wasn’t singing it well at all, but a few of the others joined in and sang with me. We sang
“All this pain. I wonder if I’ll ever find my way. I wonder if this life could really change at all. All this earth, could all that is lost ever be found? Could a garden come up from this ground at all? You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of us.”
I released it all there. I spoke it out to him, to God (who already knows my heart as He’s been there the whole time), into the universe and I LET IT ALL GO. Y’all, I couldn’t carry the things I had been carrying around any longer. I just couldn’t. So I let it go. I will post my full impact statement at the end of the post, if you are interested in reading it.
Then Shaye gave us our certificates and it was a beautiful time of celebration. We said a few words, took some photos, gave some hugs, and then we parted ways. Though we parted ways, these people will always have a special place in my heart. I still feel them with me every time I practice Yoga. They’re my people. What is it that they say? “You will be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.”
THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.
This training was so amazing beyond words. If you are a Yoga teacher, I highly recommend Yoga Fit and I highly recommend doing Yoga for Warriors training. Pain is a part of life. We can’t avoid it. It will always be there or be on its way. But as my favourite author Viktor Frankl says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
I chose my way. I was sexually assaulted and that was out of my control. But I took that horrible thing and I will believe and choose to allow God to turn it into something for good. Beauty for ashes. Strength for fear. Gladness for mourning. Peace for despair. I literally received a small amount of money from Victim’s Compensation, and I used every penny to pay for this training. What that man intended for evil, will now and forever be used for good. That is my choice in the matter. I am excited about this part of my journey with teaching trauma sensitive Yoga. Namaste.
READ MY IMPACT STATEMENT BELOW (WARNING- MAY BE TRIGGERING OR GRAPHIC FOR SOME. READERS DISCRETION ADVISED)
Today you are probably thinking about the court case tomorrow and what the outcome will be. I have thought a lot about it too. I know that you are hurting. I KNOW THIS. I know it because people who are hurt, hurt other people. That’s what you did to me. And you have no idea how it impacted me. I don’t think you will ever know and I do honestly pray you will never experience the type of pain that I experienced. The thing is, what you did was no ok. It was not ok. It’s not ok to tell a complete stranger that “I wouldn’t be a man if I didn’t touch you because you’re so hot.” Glenn, that’s what you told me to call you remember? You said your name was Glenn. Glenn, that statement is a lie. There are many definitions of a man, and touching a woman’s body in any way without her consent, just because you think she’s hot does not a man make. My body is MY body. No means no. I said no even though your hands were already on me. I said no. What you did was degrading and humiliating and 100 percent without my consent. It affectd not only my sex life with my husband, but my trust with him and everyone else in my life. Many times my husband would say “Can I touch you?” because he wanted to hug me and bring me comfort. But you took that from me. That phrase isn’t the same for me and it feels threatening. Even after trauma therapy. You made me feel so unsafe. I felt that I was unsafe and my family was unsafe. Nowhere was safe. I couldn’t go to the grocery store or work without having a panic attack putting my children in their care seats, because I hated having my back facing the world. I started to drink more at night. As soon as I got home I would lock the doors and get my boys dinner and to bed so I could drink and not feel fear anymore. Then it got worse. I drank during the day because I couldn’t feel my heart beat so hard and fast anymore and my body shake so much. One day, my Mom came over and picked us up and moved us in with her because she knew I couldn’t go on living that way. For months we lived there and I felt a little more safe being at least 15 minutes away from you instead of one street over. We searched for a house and we got the heck out of that town because we needed a new start.
There have been many moments in this last year and few months where I haven’t been myself. I even went through two bouts of suicidal thoughts and walked down to a river near our new house. I had literally lost my sanity. Because I still had so much pain despite moving so far away from you and despite all the therapy. I walked into the water and I wanted to drown. Drown my sorrows as they say. Drown myself. But thank God above, I thought about my children and my husband and my family and my friends. And deep down I thought about how maybe I should save myself for myself too. Because maybe I’m an ok person and I matter. Then I felt shame and guilt after having those thoughts and acting on them. But it is what it is and I’ll rise up. It’s hard for me to admit I would sink as low as I did. But then again, being taken to a place with bars on the windows and having to fight off a stranger touching you in inappropriate ways is traumatising.
It’s been hard to explain to my 6 and 2 year old why Mommy is crying again. It hurts to hear your son describe what sadness is, saying, “sadness is crying on the bathroom floor”. He says that because that’s what he has seen me do. Hide myself in the bathroom, sink into the floor, and sob. These are big things that are hard for me to navigate as a young mother. I have done the best I can, but it makes me feel terrible that they’ve seen me that way. I pray that my children will not be negatievely affected because of me. Because of this situation. I pray you never do this to another person and I pray that me taking you to court scares the heck out of you from ever doing this again. Whatever it is within your soul that led you to do what you did, I hope you face it, acknowlege it, see if for what it truly is, and heal it. I hope you find healing so that the type of behaviors placed on me that day never come out from you again.
I don’t believe you are an evil person. I envision you on the day you were born and your mother looking at you with wonder and love as I did my children. She never thought you would grow up to be in such pain that you would inflict what you did upon me. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there was a disconnect with your mother and perhaps that’s part of the problem. Maybe you never experienced the warmth and safety and connection and theres a lot of shit you need to heal and let go. Either way, you are not a bad person. You did a bad, horrific, terrible thing. But you aren’t bad. You can choose to be kind and I hope you do just that. But that’s not up to me. However, I will speak that out into the universe for you because I truly hope you find what you need.
Sometimes I think that I wish that I could not be taken back to the place and the smells and the surroundings and everhthing that happened that day. I did 13 months in EMDR therapy to not be taken back to that place. I did Yoga nearly daily, sometimes more than once a day, just to try and recconect with my body and calm down because I was scared and jumpy and afraid all the time. What you did impacted me so negatively but it will be turned into beauty. The experience can’t be completely erased from my brain. It is a part of my life story now. Unfortunately, it happened and I will use it to promote health and kindness and love. I truly believe that heinous situations can be turned into beautiful things and I will try my damndest to have that happen. I also believe that I have God on my side to allow that to happen as well. He is the master at redeeming all things. There is a song actually that this reminds me of. You don’t know me. But I’m a singer and music reaches the depths of my soul. These lyrics are a hope for me but I also want to extend this to you. Because I hope that beautiful things are made out of you as well.
The songs goes.
“All this pain I wonder if I’ll ever find my way I wonder if my life could really change at all. All this earth Could all that is lost ever be found? Could a garden come out from this ground at all? You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of the dust You make beautiful things You make beautiful tings out of us. All around, Hope is springing up from this old ground Out of chaos life is being found, in you You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of the dust You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of us.”
So I come to this point. I forgive you. I forgive you because I can’t carry the weight around that I’ve been carrying. I release it. I can’t imagine a life of carrying around the weight of not forgiving you would look like. Abut first let me make this clear in what I mean by I’m forgiving you. Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander, who also experienced sexual assault, describes it perfectly and I will use her definition as it resounds with me greatly. Forgiving you means that I trust in God to make things right and that I release bitterness and anger and a desire for personal vengeance. It does not mean that I minimize or mitigate or excuse what you have done. It doesn’t mean that I don’t keep pursuing justice and peace on earth. It just mean that I don’t have any ill will for your life.
I hope you find peace. I hope your character witnesses that came on the court date and were obviously shocked to hear what you had done take you in and encourage you and sharpen you to become your highest self. Because when we do not speak out and against abuse we are enabling it. I hope they speak out against your actions while loving you as a person.
Today I am leaving a retreat. Yoga training for those who have experienced trauma. We all have experienced trauma in some way haven’t we? The program is called Yoga for Warriors and I love that. I haven’t loved the term “victim” in this process because I don’t see myself of that and never have. I have thought of myself as a warrior. Not a victim. Merriam Webster defines a warrior as a person engaged or experienced in warfare; broadly : a person engaged in some struggle or conflict. How appropriate. The past 13 months I have been actively engaging and fighting for my voice to be heard and for me to be seen and I will NEVER stop.
I was a warrior who said no and fought for the right to my body the second you touched me. I was a warrior when I chose to get up and face each day when suicidal thoughts creeped in due to this traumatizing event. I was a warrior when I allowed my husband to call the police to report what happened, despite feeling embarrassed. I was a warrior when I was too afraid and shocked to call the police myself. I was a warrior every single time I used my voice to retell the story of what happened inside your car. I was a warrior when I chose to face you again, because I will tell you that facing you was not an easy task. I was a warrior when I showed up to general sessions court and you chose to take the plea. I was a warrior when I was on the playground with my two young children and I got the call from the DA office telling me that you had changed your mind and chose to not take the plea bargain and wanted to take it to trial. I was a warrior when I made the phone call to confirm that I would testify in the case if it meant my voice would be heard. I was a warrior for the months preceding the trial when I chose peace instead of fear of the upcoming trial and facing you again. I was a warrior when I met with the victim coordinator and DA and had to walk through step by step what would happen during my testimony, which was grueling…considering I have never had a speeding ticket much less testify in a court trial. I was a warrior when on the night before the trial I cried and said I didn’t want to go and that it was too much. I was warrior when I got up the next morning anyway, and drove to the trial. I was a warrior as I testified on the stand, re-living some of the worst moments of my life. I was a warrior following cross examination, when I felt like my truth was twisted by your lawyer. I was a warrior in the days following the verdict, which I felt was unfair as it did not reflect what happened. I AM A WARRIOR.
I am a warrior and I am a child of God. I am Tara Tioaquen and I am safe. I am secure. I am supported and surrounded by love and light. I am choosing my own response to this heinous experience. And I have peace.