The Garden

(Click here if you’d like to listen to Crosby Still Nash and Young’s “Woodstock” while you read.)

I remember Woodstock. Some of you are far too young to have it impact your life as it did us “older folks,” but perhaps you are familiar with some of the songs from that era. I love CSN&Y’s song, “Woodstock.” It reminds me of how important getting back to the “garden” is—you know, that pristine state we entered the world with. And, of course, a real garden, too! You know, sun, plants, butterflies, birds, bees, and God. It’s good medicine. It heals the body, mind, and soul.

Healing The Nervous System

The leading traumatologists claim that to heal from trauma that has disorganized our brain/nervous system, we need to do something other than talk about it. We can’t talk our way out of the feelings that arise from trauma because talking about it relives the trauma, taking our rational/logical thinking ability offline. (CBT often does very little for a trauma patient.) Talking about trauma is usually re-enactment without resolution. Our prefrontal cortex (the executive functioning region of the brain) goes offline when we talk about our trauma. Instead, our threat detection circuitry kicks into action, flooding us with stress hormones that make us anxious, depressed, panicky, etc. We can’t talk our way out of trauma. We have to act our way out, for it is the body that keeps the score and it is the body that will lead us back to peace and safety.

When we want to heal we need to keep in mind the 6 R’s. We do well to engage in activity that is:

  1. Relational (safe)
  2. Relevant (developmentally-matched to the individual)
  3. Repetitive (patterned)
  4. Rewarding (pleasurable)
  5. Rhythmic (resonant with neural patterns)
  6. Respectful (of the individual and culture)

Dr. Perry, a thought-leader in healing from trauma said, “To change any neural network in the brain, we need to provide patterned, repetitive input to reach poorly organized neural networks involved in the stress response. Any neural network that is activated in a repetitive way will change.” For me, the repetitive movements in the garden helped my brain and nervous system heal. The simple action of digging hole after hole—the push of my foot on the spade, the feel of the soil giving way, the lifting it out of the hole, the turning to my right and twisting the spade so that the soil fell to the ground, worked its magic on me. The same with deadheading spent blooms. My hand made the same motion over and over, allowing my body to calm down with each motion. Raking and sweeping also helped me, especially when I had a funky Pandora station playing, offering an interesting beat to keep time to.

Gardening in my front yard offered all of the six criteria. It was safe, suited to me, repetitive, pleasurable, rhythmic, and respectful. It helped me heal from my past trauma as well as the trauma of benzo withdrawal.

The Gym May Not Be The Answer

If repetitive and rhythmic action can help our nervous system calm down, you’d think that going to the gym to work out would be helpful. But that isn’t always the case while we are healing from benzo withdrawal. Although weight lifting, cross-fit training, and the use of some exercise machines are repetitive and rhythmic, they are often too strenuous for our fragile nervous system. However, walking is a wonderful repetitive action, and if we don’t push ourselves, it rarely stresses our fragile nervous systems. Swimming is another gentle movement that is helpful.

Dancing Our Way To Healing

Tripping the light fantastic is also a wonderful way to help our nervous system. If we look at indigenous populations, they often have ritual dancing as a core of their culture. (Watch a group perform a Haka and you’ll see what I mean.) One of the keys to healing and to maintaining a healthy nervous system is through movement. There is no mistake that 80% of the brain’s neurons are dedicated to movement. Even in benzo withdrawal, most of us can do some sort of gentle rhythmic dance. At the very least, we can listen to music and tap our feet and swing our arms, even if we are couch or bedbound.

Finding What Works

On the days when the weather or my weakness kept me from my garden, I found other ways to enjoy the rhythm and repetition that helped me. I learned to knit and crochet. Even those small arm and hand movements were healing. It’s a matter of finding what works for you. If you can’t get out and garden, or you don’t find gardening pleasurable, find a different activity that spark joy for you, and that you are able to do without compromising an already compromised nervous system. (Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a good choice to explore and we have a wonderful EFT practitioner in our community, Dede Moore.) Some in our community have even found solace in grooming horses, the long brush strokes and the energy of the horse a balm for the soul. Drumming, singing, and chanting are also healing. Find what works for you.

Gently Does It

Just as we can’t think (or talk) our way out of stored trauma, we can’t think our way out of benzo withdrawal. Sure, it’s best to have the most positive self-talk that we can, but our words aren’t the main action that restores our nervous system. We also need action and of course, time. It’s important to understand that repetitive and rhythmic activity is not about vibration. I want to make that very clear as vibration can jangle our nervous system and bring on a wave of symptoms. Gentle actions are best for those of us with benzo damaged nervous systems. I hope that you find an activity that you can engage in that will help your nervous system calm down and organize itself so that you are more at peace.

Mornings With Jenn
A Support Group

Although I can’t offer much in the way of physical activity, I can offer you hope, guidance, and wisdom about benzo withdrawal and your nervous system. I’ll be broadcasting live on the Mornings With Jenn closed Facebook group, starting April 1, Monday through Friday at 9:15 A.M. Pacific. Each session will run approximately half an hour. Members will send me their questions and concerns and I’ll do my best to answer them all. Members can also interact with me live, posting their questions and concerns in real time. The cost of the support group is $69 for a month, which is about ten hours of video time together. If you are interested, you can learn more here.  I look forward to being of service.