For this week’s episode, I spoke with Ailey Jolie- a trauma therapist, yoga teacher, and author of the internationally published book, My Body, My Story. In her work, she assists individuals who have experienced trauma through somatic and mindfulness-based psychotherapies, which is the same approach that helped her reconnect with her body after being sexually exploited. She’s passionate about embodiment, supporting others living fully and wholly in their body, and using her past experiences to change the world for the better.
In this episode, we talk about:
- Ailey’s book, My Body, My Story
- Why you can’t compare trauma
- Embodiment and reconnecting with yourself
- Playing it small
- Defining beauty
- Chasing perfection
- Dating and trauma
- Advice from Ailey
My Body, My Story
My Body, My Story chronicles Ailey’s experience of moving from sexual exploitation into embodiment, owning her trauma, and honouring how she used her eating disorder to cope with inner pain. For Ailey, the cornerstone of that experience was shifting from being deeply not in her body to deeply listening to the wisdom of her body in order to find freedom.
This book is a collection of 10 years of Ailey’s life experiences and her learnings from therapy. It’s essentially a collection of digestible thoughts organized in a greater motif that tell a hugely impactful story. The book holds so much transparency and power that resonate in the Universal truths it tells.
This book truly took me on journey- but you don’t have to have experienced what Ailey did in order to resonate with the content and have it help you heal.
Her Story Isn’t Special- What’s Special Is That She’s No Longer Living In It
Although Ailey lived through something atrocious and terrible, her story is not unique. Every day, people are going through various systems of violence, sexual violence, sex trafficking, sexual assault, and disordered eating. Those are not unique experiences. What is unique is that she realized she was not okay. She was broken. The special piece was that she realized there had to be something more in life.
Why You Can’t Compare Trauma
Ailey views trauma as anything that overwhelms our physiology to stay connected. When we’re not connected and our body is overwhelmed, life is chaos. It’s messy. It’s like we’ve been uprooted, and we’re essentially floating.
Ailey deeply believes that trauma cannot be compared. What happened and the feelings you have are valid, even if it doesn’t compare to someone else’s story. The story is what it is and it will be what it will be. It leaves a mark on your persona, your soul, and your spirit. That is what matters. That realization is where real healing comes.
When we start comparing trauma, we get turned off or discouraged if our experience of healing or peace doesn’t match. Comparison isn’t what leads to healing. That’s why Ailey says she’s so tentative of making her story and her journey of healing sound like an absolute truth- all human experience is relative.
What Embodiment Means To Ailey
We don’t live in a world where we are taught to feel, know, or understand our bodies. We’re taught the opposite of being present through social media, the patriarchy, and feminism. We don’t have a lot of gauges for what’s going on inside.
When it comes to trauma, going through all the things that happened in your head is an out of self experience. Real healing and embodiment is coming back to self. Embodiment is about asking yourself what emotions are coming up in this moment, why are they still here, and what can you do to soothe or express them. Embodiment is about starting to gauge some of that introspection and starting to grow that part of the brain.
Neuroscience has taught us that anything that feels off or overwhelming, that’s trauma. It doesn’t always have to be these horrific things. Trauma can just be someone teasing you in school and your mom didn’t comfort you after. All of those emotions and sensations get stored in the body. Embodiment, although presently is this really sexy term, is turbulent and messy. You store negative emotions, so as you come back into the body, your symptoms may go up. Because of this, you’re going to probably want to jump back out as soon as you get in- and this is where the help of a professional can be extremely helpful.
Embodiment is about recognizing the parts of your life where symptoms are showing up, and recognizing whether or not you’re in a place to do something about it. In this process, self-compassion also needs to be acknowledged. It’s not a destination of self-acceptance or self-love- you’re always working on them. It’s a destination, not an arrival point.
For Ailey, feeling small isn’t something she notices too much anymore, but it still comes out at times. Especially around consulting, there’s a lot of power, privilege, and men. That’s when she feels it and can somatically sense it in her body before the thoughts even start.
What she does to cope with this is create space for herself, engage in some full belly breathing, and take up as much space as she can. From there, she can see it from more of a somatic, structural way as opposed to defaulting to keeping it small. That’s an important distinction.
It’s an emotional mastery when you can notice when feeling small shows up in the body first before the thoughts come and it’s hard to catch up. If you can start to notice when those feelings show up, you get ahead of it so you can deal with it now or adjust now and acknowledge it later. I always give my clients permission that if they’re at work and something comes up, they can put it on the shelf for later.
That’s what’s interesting about disordered eating and any sort of control/numbing relationship. There’s a fine line in reconnecting with the body and processing what we’ve been trying to numb while also giving permission to numb occasionally in a way that’s supportive.
“Real beauty is not defined by external validation or ever even seen. Real beauty is felt.”
Throughout Ailey’s recovery process, she has questioned what beauty means for her. She started reflecting on what beauty meant to her and how she felt in the presence of people who she considered beautiful. When she thought about the women she realized they were all 40, 50, 60 years old. They weren’t conventionally young, thin women. There was a different quality about them. That led her to realize that she felt more beautiful when she was around those people; those women were showing up in their full honesty. They were showing up messy. Beauty is something that is more than the physical form.
When you think about the people you admire, also think about how you have that in yourself. Through that, I realized that I don’t have to feel threatened by the people I admire. I admire them because I see something that resonates with me. Often times, what you see in the people you admire is just a reflection of you. That’s the only reason you can see it is because it’s in you.
In My Body, My Story, a major theme is perfection. In the book, she describes how the closer she got to perfection, the further she got from herself.
Perfection was groomed into Ailey from a young age. It really sunk it’s talons into her by the time she was introduced to modelling and pageants. In her head, there was a very intense voice correcting everything that she was doing- every mannerism and every step. It was all up to scrutiny. On top of that, there was a very intense perception that her life was happiness. She had exteriorly made it.
Especially in the social media era, life is so filtered and tailored. The negative things aren’t shown. Ailey got to a point where her eating disorder was so strong that she wasn’t even seeing colour or able to taste anything she ate. But it was all kept quiet.
The more she strived for perfection, the sicker she got and the more she moved away from herself. In the age of social media, perfection is the social norm. But it’s not talked about.
Running Away From Your Old Self
Ailey realized what was going on was messed up and she needed to be free from it. She moved to a city she had never been to, signed up for a University that wasn’t English, and she did everything she could to extract herself from the perfect persona. She adopted some very feminist beliefs, cut off all her hair, got a bunch of tattoos and piercings, and dated all the bad boys. That period was so important for her to let herself just me who she needed to be. It felt so natural for her and there wasn’t any guilt and shame- she was tired of being perfect.
She knows that was very extreme, but it felt important for her to be that big.
I like to say to my clients that everything is a pendulum. Just like the binge and restrict pendulum that I’ve described before, so are the big actions in our lives. Sometimes we need to swing really far one way to get away from the other extreme. That pendulum had to swing to make up for all those times Ailey felt inferior and like she wasn’t being heard. There’s a balance and homeostasis in life overall, but there are also times in our lives where we might be playing with extremes. We can’t look at that with shame or guilt- if we do, that’s not doing yourself any service. It’s distracting from the acceptance.
Dating & Trauma
A huge piece of Ailey’s dating experience from a young age was dating men in addiction. That compulsion came from a place inside her that said if she could change and rewrite the story for someone else, then maybe she could also do it for herself. It was really interesting to notice that strong desire and recognize that she had to figure it out for herself first.
After her realization, she looked up counselling for childhood trauma. What she would have signed her boyfriend up for, she chose to enrol herself in. She recognized that if she was with someone who was struggling with their mental health so much, she was probably also struggling in some way with her own mental health.
If you’re more focused on fixing the other person than you are on the relationship or yourself, then there are probably some problems happening. It’s a trap that empathetic people often get stuck in where they just want to ‘get’ the other person. You can’t really do too much about what the other person is doing. They did it, and it’s not on you to figure out.
It’s not something to blame yourself for. It just is what it is. It’s a part of you that is trying to fill a void- like an inner child that’s looking for something. That’s not a justification, but it’s important to recognize and own these parts of ourselves that are still healing.
What is one thing you would say to someone who’s ‘deep in it’?
At the end of My Body, My Story, there’s a quote that reads,
“the words I want your heart to hear: that whatever happens in life, it belongs to you and you alone. So make it yours, take it, be it to yourself, even if it suffocates you as you swallow it whole. It will nurture you, it will become you. It will be the new marrow of your bones. It will be the essence and strength of your being. There is beauty in your brokenness.”
In those hardest times, that is when that internal healer and that essence is most present. Things have to fall apart sometimes to be rebuilt. The other piece of advice that I give comes from my own therapist- and it’s to slow down. You’ll get there faster.
At the end of the year, Ailey is holding a retreat in Bali that blends, yoga, embodiment, embodiment meditation, and holding space for some deeper psychotherapy work with another yoga teacher. The dates for that will be coming up soon!
Mentioned in this episode:
This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison, Intuitive Eating Counsellor. You can find her on Instagram @thefoodfreedomlife.
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