We operate primarily from our conscious mind during our normal waking hours. And then our subconscious mind takes over when we’re sleeping. Our subconscious is far more vast and powerful than the conscious mind. It is also the repository of the vast amount of memory, emotion and life history that we have failed to process.
The defensive armor that enables us to contain the backlog of emotion stored within our bodies softens whenever we consume alcohol and other substances, become physically ill or suffer as a result of an injury. We’re more likely to act out by doing things we wouldn’t normally do while sober when we are under the influence of alcohol and other substances. We tend to feel a greater sense of emotional vulnerability at times when we become physically ill or suffer from some form of injury.
The defensive armor that we construct also softens to some degree whenever we’re sleeping. Unpleasant feelings and memories that have been held within the body can more readily make their way to the surface during the times in our lives when we’re going through a breakup, having our abandonment issues triggered or faced with survival issues such as the loss of employment. These highly charged emotions can make it difficult for us to fall asleep. We may also find it difficult to stay asleep and wake up at times during the middle of the night or awaken too early in the morning.
MRI’s of people going through a breakup show increased in the areas of the brain associated with physical pain, reward, motivation, addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Fears of abandonment as well as the painful emotions that arise in response to a breakup also trigger the release of adrenaline and cortisol which is a steroid hormone. Adrenaline and cortisol interfere with our ability to sleep. The resulting sleep deprivation adds to our sense of emotional instability.
There were periods in my mid-twenties and on up until my early forties where I repeatedly found myself attracting and attracted to women who were either uninterested or unavailable. In some instances these women would reenact the traumas of my childhood and adolescence. What made it worse is that these patterns kept replaying themselves over and over again. The pain of not having my basic needs for love met was excruciating. My sleep was very irregular during these episodes. I would often fall asleep at various times of the day to compensate.
I would experience all kinds of fear, pain, feelings of loss along with a vast range of other intense emotions. I would experience physical pain throughout my chest and sometimes my entire body would ache. The emotions and physical pain were also accompanied with a wide range of sensations. I would sometimes experience these sensations all throughout my body.
Losing about half of my income when the economy crashed in 2008 triggered the worst of my survival fears. It felt as though the bottom had fallen out from underneath me. I would sometimes lay in bed for hours consumed by an overwhelming fear and anxiety and wonder how I was going to make it. There were many nights when I couldn’t fall asleep until two, three or four in the morning. I would often wake up during the middle of the night and it would take me a long time to go back to sleep. At other times I would wake up too early. The lack of sleep left me feeling exhausted, but I felt I had no choice but to keep pushing on.
I didn’t fully understand the process taking place as I found myself flooded with all kinds of painful emotions, but I had an intuitive sense that it was something I needed to go through. I made a conscientious effort to be fully present to the overwhelming fear and anxiety by breathing into the feelings as they arose. Breathing with my awareness fully immersed within the painful feelings activated the innate healing intelligence residing within my body and mind. Working my way through the intensity of emotion facilitated a profound transformation within. I grew stronger, became far more resourceful and experienced the kinds of changes that eventually made it possible for me to attract and be attracted to healthier companions.
I will sometimes lie in bed for hours breathing into all the feelings and sensations that arise. At other times I will get out of bed and then sit up in a chair while breathing into the feelings and sensations. I have learned to see these episodes as an opening because it gives me the opportunity to access feelings that would not otherwise be readily accessible. The more I can open myself to the feelings and experience them fully, the greater the transformation I experience. I have gained lots of creative insights as a result of staying fully present to the feelings and physical sensations that arose.
The intensity of emotion combined with the flood of adrenaline and cortisol and lack of sleep can be very hard on the body. We feel fatigued, frustrated, irritable and moody when our bodies are not able to get the sleep they need. Our energy is diminished, we find it difficult to concentrate and have difficulty performing everyday tasks. Failure to get adequate rest also weakens our immune system and that makes us more susceptible to many other health concerns.
We need to do certain practices and make use of various resources to mitigate the effects upon our body and mind. I found going out for long slow walks late in the evening to be very grounding. Breathing into the feelings as they arose during these walks would diffuse the emotions so that I got a better quality of sleep.
I had the opportunity to go through Pancha Karma with an Ayurvedic Physician when I lived in New Mexico. The combination of Ayurvedic diet and herbal remedies helped to balance my constitution. The emotions became more manageable, I felt more balanced and that made it easier to sleep. I also found that receiving acupuncture helped by balancing and restoring the healthy flow of the body’s chi or vital life force and the various organs and systems.
We need to be especially mindful of the foods we’re consuming while we’re in the midst of a breakup. We need to avoid foods or substances that contain caffeine and refined sugar as they tend to exacerbate our anxiety and confusion. Green leafy vegetables like kale contain folate, which produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to keep us calm. Tryptophan found in turkey, nuts, seeds and eggs helps to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that counteract the negative effects of cortisol. Antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries improve our body’s response to stress by reversing or limiting damage resulting from free radicals. Pistachio nuts contain crucial phytonutrients that provide antioxidant support for the heart. Dark chocolate can help to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol. The antioxidants found in cocoa cause the walls of the blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and increasing circulation. The vitamin D contained in milk can reduce the risk of panic disorder. Flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds contain magnesium which can help to alleviate depression, fatigue and irritability. Zinc found in cashews has been found to reduce anxiety. And probiotics have been shown to reduce activity in the parts of the brain associated with stress responses.
I do want to offer a word of caution here. Acupuncture, Ayurvedic Medicine and diet are important components to our physiological and psychological health and yet there is no substitute for doing the deep level processing that we need to be doing to heal the deep emotional wounds. We still have to feel the feelings.
The various forms of therapeutic massage such as deep tissue body work can bring a lot of emotion to the surface. Having all these intense emotions flooding my awareness wasn’t at all pleasant. But having all these feelings brought to the surface so that I could access them made it easier for me to do the emotional processing that accelerated my healing.
The work I have done with a number of powerful healers and the vision quest, a traditional Native American healing practice that involves going out alone into the mountains to fast for four days and nights without food or water, has done more than anything to diffuse the intensity of emotion and heal the traumas of my own childhood and adolescence. I have become more resilient and have developed more of the resources I need to handle whatever comes along in life and process any subsequent emotions.
I generally sleep much better, but there are still nights every now and then where I have trouble falling asleep or wake up at some point during the night. It can definitely be an inconvenience, but I see it as an opportunity to heal the underlying disturbances operating within my own psyche.
Many of the people I work with tell me that they sleep better as a result of the individual healing sessions. The presence working through me during this process facilitates the digestion of past traumas and any subsequent emotions such as fear, grief, hurt and anger. The triggers associated with traumatic events are dismantled while building a much stronger and more stable foundation. Those who have the opportunity to work with me experience a greater sense of wellbeing as the body and mind becomes more physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually resilient.
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Ben Oofana is a healer who began his training with Horace Daukei, one of the last surviving traditional doctors among the Kiowa Indian tribe. Call (913) 927-4281 to learn more or to schedule an individual session.