January 1st, 2016 is the first time I felt my feet on the ground. I had never been able to connect to, feel, notice, embody my feet or the Earth below them before that. Because of early childhood sexual trauma, additional sexual trauma in my teens and early twenties, and gender dysphoria, I was almost always completely dissociated (opposite of embodied) from my entire body. In late 2015 after finishing my MSW, an abrupt breakup, and a move across the country to North Carolina from Colorado, I knew I needed some kind of change. I signed up for a mindfulness weekend and hesitantly went. While practicing happy baby pose in a restorative yoga class that weekend, I got extremely triggered. Because of not wanting to draw attention to myself, not wanting to disrupt the class, and freezing as my C-PTSD response, I stayed where I was. I repeated silently and frantically to myself ‘I am okay, everything is okay, I am safe.’ Eventually, we changed poses and my trauma response passed. This was a life-changing moment for me.
Embodiment in that moment was staying with my discomfort and fear. Embodiment in the next was noticing that those feelings passed and changed, like all things do. This was the spark of inspiration I needed to start embracing my full, true, most whole self, and actively start my healing journey. Shortly after this, I was practicing yoga at least 5 days a week, meditating daily, journaling often, writing a blog about healing from trauma, and sharing my story both publicly and with my loved ones. Because of the healing yoga has provided for me, I enrolled in and completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training focused on trauma and embodiment with no intention to actually teach. Little did I know, teaching yoga, meditation, and embodiment would become an important part of my life. (You can find me on Mondays at Colors of Yoga Raleigh)! Since then, I have completed another 200 hour yoga teacher training focused on social justice and diversity in yoga, and a 4.5 hour course focused on healing trauma through yoga.
Now, 4 years later than my first remembered embodied experience, embodiment is a consistent practice for me and important part of my daily life. I feel my feet on the ground and notice my connection to the Earth without even trying! I have put into place support systems - including therapy, bodywork, mindfulness, healing rituals, nourishing relationships, and a consistent yoga practice - to keep prioritizing embodied living in the ways it is most important to me.
Grief, Death, and Mental Health
One of my clearest memories from childhood was at my grandma’s funeral - seeing her in an open casket, witnessing the intense grief, anger, and confusion coming up for my mom and her sisters, and looking at death and funerals with my child eyes. At age 14, my best friend attempted suicide. I spent 2 full days visiting her in the psychiatric unit of the hospital in our hometown, supporting her, reassuring her, and holding space for her tears and fears. Although I didn’t know it at the time, these events started my personal and professional studies of grief, death, and mental health.
After one of my younger brother’s friend’s suicide when he was 17, I reactivated and lead a college chapter of Active Minds, an organization aimed to reduce the stigma around mental health issues through communication, education, advocacy, and providing resources. During this time, I visited another friend on suicide watch in a hospital, and continued researching suicide and death in my religion, sociology, and anthropology classes. After moving to Colorado, I continued my professional studies of grief, mental health, and death by completing a Masters in Social Work. I worked directly with transgender adults (who have an extraordinarily high suicide attempt rate: higher than 41%) and later with adults with major mental illnesses.
I know more than 10 people who have died by suicide and many others who have died from other causes. Death has been a constant in my life, but I didn’t know ways to incorporate it into my life’s purpose until a friend sent me an article about Death Doulas. I immediately knew this was a way I could support people in their dying process and incorporate my fifteen plus years of wisdom into one vocation. Because of the trust I have created in myself and the universe through my embodied living practices, I was able to invest in and complete a Sacred Passage End of Life Doula Certificate in Asheville!