One Thanksgiving morning, several years ago, I woke up feeling a little depressed and discouraged about my work. My marketing efforts seemed to have fallen flat and I found myself wondering if I was dumb as dirt to think enough people would want to come and sit with me in my pasture in podunk Pickens. And then I opened my emails and received one from a client who'd written a poem of our time together. It was called "Why I Am Thankful For the Place By the Creek."
Line by poetic line she expressed her thanks for the sights and sounds and the things that had touched her. And as I read, the soft tears came, until I reached the line that cut like a knife straight to my heart - "and a lightweight plastic lawn chair becomes the safest place on earth."
My little plastic chairs, some from the thrift store, one picked up from the side of the road, had become someone's safe place! In one fell swoop that simple line yanked my little ego-rug of self-doubt and I'm-not-enough right out from under me. And it all came crashing down as it hit me that all I ever wanted was to help someone feel safe, with me and the space I've created, and that it's enough - what I'm doing is enough, who I am is enough, and helping one person is enough.
And with all the enoughness came tears of gratitude - gratitude for the gift of sitting with others and hearing their stories and for the unique and humble privilege of creating, if for just one person, the safest place on earth.
Happy Abundance Day to all of you!
(See client's poem below).
Why I am thankful for the place by the creek . . .
- feelings that haunt the edge of life come into thoughts and expressions . . . finally escaping into reality
- wooden slats in a simple bridge catch tears and laughter, spilling them into the disappearing waters of the creek
- words that have never felt safe tumble into the peace of the mountain woods
- a soul, new and unknown, offers a way to touch Grace
- time belongs to the moment, not the future
- butterflies roam and flitter, feeling safe enough to land on those gathered to talk
- spirit and grace encompass all that is said or thought or felt
- a lightweight plastic lawn chair becomes the safest place on earth
- the creek moves and trickles, steady and unaware, accepting all that it passes by
- in fear, in the pain of life, in the words that never come and the feelings beyond touch,
There is always at the creek . . . the presence of God.
I have been fortunate to receive some grant money allocated for therapists who are treating victims of rape and child sexual abuse with body-centered approaches. It’s provided a great opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of these approaches in an empirical sort of way.
I’ve been working with a client for a couple of months and she’s been pleasantly surprised at a significant reduction, if not complete release, of chronic anxiety, hypervigilence, and hyperarousal. Recently however, she presented with an issue that she described as a “stupid overreaction“ to a seemingly innocuous event.
She was in a situation in which there were a lot of other people focused on her and the interaction she was having with a well-known public figure. She innocently reached out and touched him on his shoulder, in order to balance herself more than anything else, when his bodyguard intervened. She said she was mortified and felt an overwhelming sense of shame at having done “something wrong” in front of other people. She said that over the next few days she reached for her habitual ways to self-medicate, all the while berating herself for doing so, adding to her feelings of self-hatred.
As I invited her to work with this memory somatically, her deep feelings of shame and “I’m bad” evolved into a memory of CSA when she was 10 or 11 years old. She said she had always dismissed this memory as “playing doctor” especially since her mother dismissed it as “what it means to be a girl.” As we continued to track the feelings, but more importantly stayed with the body sensations underneath them, she burst into sobs and started rocking herself. I helped her stay grounded as the “energy” moved through her body and into awareness, at which point she remembered a particular detail of this event that she had completely blocked out.
She and her young perpetrator were “caught” while finishing the act, by other young relatives in the family. It was the look on their faces that left a deep scar of shame in her psyche. She couldn’t believe that with all the therapy she’s had, she had completely blocked out this vital piece.
I’m sure you’ve all had surprising experiences like this one while working with traumatic memories, but I wanted to share it, because it emphasizes the power of tracking the body and the felt sense. And I’m reminded once again, in a pretty dramatic way that . . .
"Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past."
Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, author of The Body Keeps the Score
Like a big honkin’ zit that was finally ready to pop, current events have brought the issue of sexual assault and sexual abuse to a head. It’s a good thing. So let the healing begin.
It’s not my place to say what anyone’s healing path should look like. I can only tell you that when it comes to traumatic memories, it can be tricky. My own experience is an example. First and foremost, it taught me that I can always count on my body to tell the truth and lead the way to lasting healing.
I had no visual memories of what happened to me. I still don’t. But in time I learned how to work with and release terrifying “body memories." Feelings of dread, terror, and rage would rise up, unexpectedly at times, exacerbated by the frightening out-of-control feelings that came from not knowing where all of the other feelings were coming from.
Of course there were plenty of times I doubted myself - figured I was just crazy. But the feelings wouldn’t leave me alone. My body was relentless and would continue to present me with physical pain, and an accompanying sense of something terrible happening, until I acknowledged the feelings and let them run their course.
Early in this process, I was working at a mental health facility whose director did not believe that sexual abuse really happened or that repressed memories were possible! So there I was, going into enemy territory it seemed, as a tightly wound ball of unresolved primal energy. It was a serious “walking-through-fire” experience, in which every button I had was pushed hard.
One fateful day, back in 1993, I was triggered by an argument with my ex-husband. I slammed down the phone in a red-hot rage and declared to myself, “OK. Let’s go. I’m ready to get this thing (traumatic event) out of me.” So I called on Divine help and let myself surrender to the full flood of feelings and sensations and let my body express and “act out” what it remembered.
Again, I don’t remember, in the way we typically think of as memory, but I can tell you this: whatever happened, whenever it happened, wherever it happened, I was very very small, I thought I was going to die, it physically hurt - my face and my jaw - and I felt trapped and tried to brace against it with my neck and the base of my skull. Afterwards, I was cold and wet, shivering, in shock and alone, and I didn’t want to be here anymore.
It wouldn’t hold up in court. I can’t prove it. But in my case, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that in those years of intense healing, I got really good at working with primal emotions, the bodymind, the felt sense, and the unknown. I came to trust myself and what my body has to say. I guess you could say that I got my body back and when I did I found something in myself that no one can take away – ever again.
And while I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else, I wouldn’t trade what happened to me . . . for anything.
Peace and healing to all of you,
To see video, Trauma and the Bodymind: Shelly's Story, click below.