In Chapter 24 of Borderline Shine, I describe the trip I took in 2015 to Mexico with my friend Maeve. I included this experience because of the profound impact it had on me at the time. Five years later, I am now beginning to understand WHY it was so significant in my journey to wellness.
In Mexico, I discovered for the first time the power of water. I learned how to swim, or more precisely, I learned how to float. Spending hours in the Caribbean ocean, learning to trust the water to suspend my body, embrace me, cleanse me. I imagined all of my stress leaving me, and I do believe that I did let go of the years of tension in my muscles, my bones, my very cells. What happened is that I learned how to relax, and even more, I learned that it was safe to relax.
There were even more benefits in this exercise. As I lay on my back, immobile on top of the water, my breathing slowed and became regular. I intuitively began the dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) practice of paced breathing. As I starfished, my hands opened in the "willing hands" posture, a DBT skill used to facilitate "radical acceptance." With my ears below water, I muffled auditory stimulation, providing my overactive nervous system a break from the always too loud world above. My jangly nerves smoothed and soothed.
I spent the holiday allowing myself to care for myself, really care for myself. I didn't have to always be on the alert for the demands and assaults of ordinary life. And my nervous system further dipped a level down.
I could sleep. No alarms, no responsibilities. I ate when I wanted, when I was hungry or when the urge struck. I became more in tune with my poor body, neglected and abused for forty five years. No need to dissociate. I was safe.
After eight days of self care and water therapy I was in a state of mind and body never before experienced. It was revelatory.
What was equally amazing is that the lesson stuck. I learned how to replicate these feelings when I went camping, or even enjoy an afternoon at the lake. Low human stimulation, time to myself, water.
As I sit here on the shore of this beautiful Vancouver Island lake, I dearly want to share this learning with others. I know that there are powerful and influential writers and teachers in the world. I certainly am not one of them. And often my attempts as a mental health clinician to teach these DBT skills - cold water, paced breathing, willing hands, self care, self soothing, connection to emotions and to one's body - sometimes feel terribly inadequate. But here on the shore, I am inspired. I hope that even if I am only one small voice of many, I can perhaps influence and affect any readers who graciously spend a moment reading this blog.