Sunday, 24 May 2015


I've been thinking a lot about cocoons lately. In the past I believed that wellness for me would mean that I would no longer have need of safe places, bolt holes, places to retreat when the world became too much. Recently, however, I've realised that it is not the need for cocoons which has changed in me, but the type of retreat and how long I need to remain there so that I can rebuild, or rest, or restore myself ready for the day to day battles which make up every day life.

In the past I would cocoon myself away for weeks, months on end. In many ways I was entombed within emotional cocoons for so many years. That's the effect of refuges which are not designed to release me to live a meaningful life, but those which enclosed around my internal pain, so that all my effort and strength was used up trying to live with the prickles on the inside of my 'safe places'. In some ways I was like a porcupine or hedgehog which had curled in on its own prickles, stabbing myself repeatedly as waves of emotional pain assailed me.

In nature, when caterpillars are wrapped up in their cocoons they are enclosed around nourishment, stored up fuel which sustains them until they are ready for release and new life. I have had to learn to experience nurturing refuge, time and space which rebuild positive emotions. At first leaving my pain outside the cocoon felt strange and awkward. I had to fight against the hardened belief that I did not 'deserve' to feel better, that I was not worth protecting from whatever was draining me at any given time. Instead I have had to work hard to focus on ways to be kind to myself. I have written about my 'self soothe' and 'Validation' treasures boxes, here: and

Some who misunderstand emotional and mental pain assume that there is a laziness, or desire to be miserable, which stops us from 'getting better'. Think about that for a moment. Is it credible to believe that someone who has suffered so much really 'enjoys' feeling that way? That someone who feels so much distress that they believe the only way out is to either cause more physical pain to themselves or to die, actually doesn't want to find another way?

I have learned to use cocoons to heal. It is tiring to carry both internal, historic pain and the day to day weariness of every day life. If I cannot accept and leave the past pain behind, then it will continue to turn up the volume on my current pain. So, I don't just carry the disappointments, sadnesses and pain of today, I also carry every moment someone or something has hurt me all my life. It is the focus of experiencing the present moment as it is, unfettered to the past which has helped me to let go of the store of pain so that I don't feed the present with the past.

Instead of wrapping myself in a cocoon around intense pain, so that I emerge exhausted and unable to function, I build into my cocoons activities and actions which soothe me until the pain has gone and I feel able to tolerate the company of others.

The other most important thing about cocoons which is helpful is that I set time limits, so that I am not tempted to stay there. Whether it is a matter of hours or a day, this means that I focus on making the most of my time, rather than letting hours drift into days, as I have in the past.

Here are some ideas to help you make the most of your cocoons:

1) Plan the time ahead. This is a Bank Holiday, I have made sure I have built in time with some good friends. However, after a week or two with intensive meetings and lots of thinking, I need to be alone. I have planned one whole day.

2) Make sure there are things which can keep my focus - I have stored up whole series on Sky+, am colouring in using 'The Secret Garden', I have enough food to make some delicious recipes.

3) As I move through my activities I do so mindfully, being aware of what unwanted emotions may arise and dealing with them using my DBT skills. I do not want the focus of my emotions to end up draining me - that would defeat the purpose of the cocoon.

4) Allow myself to enjoy it - even if I begin to feel guilty I must use 'non-judgement' skills to let it go. The aim is to rest and relax - that is okay I am practising self care and it will help me to be able to engage with and care for others.

5) Plan how I will re-engage with the world outside my cocoon - I cut myself off from Facebook and other social media. It is also important when I need cocoons that I don't engage with UK and World news - particularly at the moment I can become emotionally sensitive to injustices.

Above all, cocoons are as much a part of my toolkit as other DBT skills, I can emerge from my cocoon either drained or restored. I am learning to do the latter, the more I practice these moments of calm in a turbulent life.

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