Horse Therapy – Living Without Defenses

Three weeks ago I had a Horse Therapy session with Tonya Crady in Festus MO.  It took some coaxing for me to do it, but I finally agreed, having been called in many ways to find out more about this mysterious healing modality.  This was my chance.  I knew Tonya, and I knew she was good people.  The therapy itself gave me plenty to chew on, with Tonya’s support in assigning meaning to each of her three beautiful horses and seeing what they did when they encountered me.  During the session, Tonya gave me a task to complete and watched how I went about doing it, and took pictures of me throughout the session.  She also instructed me to pay attention to the other animals that showed up in my life on the day of the therapy, during the therapy and afterwards.  Days after the therapy we went through the pictures she had taken, which told me a whole lot about myself, what I’m up to on a social and emotional level, and a whole lot of other things I could have never learned in traditional psychotherapy.  Today I am arriving at some very exciting new realizations about defenses I have used against intimacy and what the Universe is trying to tell me about it.

The therapy session itself was kind of puzzling.  Trying to figure out what it all meant, trying to do it “right,” trying to do it efficiently, as my mom was kind enough to wait for me in the car while I did it, circumstances as they were.  We were there anyway, she encouraged me to do it, so I did.  After it was over, we all got into Tonya’s jeep and she proceeded to drive us back to her house where Mom’s car was.  It had gotten quite dark and when we were about halfway to Tonya’s house we all saw the possum with his gleaming eyes staring us down, there in the middle of the road.  Tonya slowed down to a crawl in her jeep, assuming that the creature would run and save itself, but when we got to where the animal was, we heard a sickening bump as the vehicle struck the animal.  Or did the animal strike the vehicle?  Tonya looked at me with an agonized grimace.  It had not been her intention to kill the little guy.  During the next several days, more dead possums showed up along with Skunk and Armadillo. Armadillo is said to represent armoring as a defense.  And Skunk also showed up representing defensiveness.  They all showed up as carrion, though.

What I’m coming to believe is that this phase of my life is about living without defenses.  The primary defense that was put on the chopping block that night was Possum, followed by Skunk and Armadillo.

Possum freezes, plays dead.  His nervous system shuts down so that his predator thinks he’s dead (or gone), and often the predator will lose interest and leave him alone long enough for him to escape.  Freezing, playing dead, shutting down until the danger is gone, and then leaving when the coast is clear is exactly what I learned to do, watching my sister Tracy’s attempts at independent thought, questioning authority, or fighting for her rights in the family, which brought a whole lot of noise and resistance from our parents, and sometimes even what seemed to me like violence.  It all felt like too much.  Individuating seemed like something I, personally, would never be able to pull off, being 4 years younger and so much smaller, so I avoided all that and did my best to get along.  I had defenses at my disposal, like stinking up the place with stinging criticism or an unflattering “truth” when the opportunity presented itself or if backed into a corner.  And for sure I armored myself to the hilt.

This might explain why I was so shy and felt so generally unsafe to be playful or controversial or vulnerable around groups of people.  Instead I was serious and hardworking.  I was “the good one.”  I listened carefully and did what I could to offer support.

This also might explain why I am affected the way I am when a loved one escapes injury or experiences a close call – with my daughters in particular.  While talking to Tracy yesterday I was explaining how when my oldest daughter told me about a close call she’d had, and how thankful she was to be safe, I noticed that the image of the disaster she escaped was still stronger than the information I got with my eyes when I saw her, all intact and smiling afterwards (more than two weeks ago).

I don’t have much in the way of childhood memories, but I get a strong sense that when we were younger, and Tracy was being threatened with violence and when there was a lot of noise and angry discussion going on, I must have been terrified for her safety and mine, and probably dissociated, and didn’t ever quite recover from that.  Unlike Tracy, who was duking her way out, knowing what she wanted, and believing that she could cause a ruckus and still have a family and a home afterwards, she moved through the normal cycles of discomfort, vocalizing her discomfort, getting various reactions from our parents; sometimes getting her way and sometimes not.  In any case, she didn’t learn that resistance was futile, as I did.  She could feel the rewards of her small victories, which at my age probably didn’t make much sense to me, whether it was fighting to be able to listen to a popular radio station, watch a TV program, stay out an hour later with friends or get an allowance.

Through Horse Therapy, I learned that I can get what I want and need, I am way more powerful than I ever imagined, and I have not only adoration, but also support and cooperation from those around me.  What is required of me is to believe in my power and worth and ask for what I want.

Here are the other animals that showed up:

The support Tonya received to help her prepare for the session and set the foundation for the session:

  • Barn Swallows – sun rays and playfulness; showering home with love and protection
  • Frog – connects us with world of emotions; supports us in time of change
  • Turtle (with missing foot) – take it slow. Be gentle.  Abundant wisdom.
  • Groundhog – Ability to watch out for danger and move to safety; family, community.

The support Tonya received during the session:

  • Fly – abrupt change regarding lies, gossip, dirty; impurities

The support I received to help me prepare for the session and set the foundation for the session:

  • Deer (in a large group with babies) – Sensitivity, intuition, gentleness; fertility

The support I received during the session:

  • Lightning bugs – Illumination

During the night after the session, I spent some time lying in the bathroom floor with cramps.  I processed some old memories about an ongoing trauma from my late teens having to do with my first husband and how our relationship began.

The support I received after the session for processing and release:

  • Armadillo – helps you define your space; armoring
  • Skunk – defense mechanism; prudence, valor, awareness
  • Possum – protects itself by dissociating, playing dead, becoming immobile

My old, automatic defenses are useless to me now, they don’t really protect me.  I can’t armor myself, cause a big stink or play dead anymore if I want to get what I really want, which is deep and rewarding closeness with other people.  I release the need to use these defenses any longer.  I allow myself to move through life in my power, using my voice to communicate with others about who I am, what I want, and what I need.

The support I received even later, for processing and release:

  • Pooping Hawk – awareness; sharp eyesight. Release.

The support I received even later, for processing and release:

  • Pooping Squirrel – Don’t be so serious; have more fun. Release.
  • Baby bunny – fertility, innocence.

Another important thing to note is that the session was on Saturday, two days after the full moon.  Lots of planets were retrograde.  We were still in the very powerful activation of release, with a need to slow down and just be where we were.  All of this served to kick up what had been in the shadow, so that it could be released.

Animals that have visited since:

  • Groundhog – watch out for danger, boundaries, and hard work; helps us bring up stuff to work on
  • More squirrels – fun, playfulness
  • Cricket – cheerfulness, good luck
  • Grasshopper – good Luck. Trust your inner voice. Take a leap of faith and jump forward without fear. This has to do with change on a larger scale, and has to do with how you perceive myself.  You are taking the right steps to move forward in your current situation. Go ahead and move forward, to get past what is hindering you.
  • Blue heron – immerse yourself in the world of feelings and look for your own truths.  If you only ever look at yourself in a negative frame of mind, you never really understand your true potential or see the opportunities that come your way.  Heron tells us that we need to really reflect on our feelings and get to know who we are intimately to find our true calling in life. He tells us to claim responsibility and face the enemy that lives inside us all.    Sometimes he wants us to find balance with our truths inside, work on our inner weaknesses and develop the inner strengths we possess so that we really own our spirituality.
  • Deer – sensitivity, intuition, gentleness; fertility
  • Turkey (maybe) – a spirit animal closely associated with honoring nature and the Earth. Symbol of abundance, this totem animal encourages us to honor our sources of nourishment, whether they are physical, emotional or spiritual. The turkey reminds us to develop a harmonious relationship with the land and our environment and consider them as foundations to our well-being and sustenance. The Turkey totem is a powerful guide to unlocking the fullness of life and feeling content with what we have instead of accumulating material belongings to seek happiness.
  • Cardinal – in this case, cardinal symbolism is reminding you to be clearer with your intentions. Moreover, setting a clear and insightful goal for yourself will accomplish everything you are asking for and more. The key is to focus and set your intentions clearly to expedite matters.
  • Hummingbird – lightness of being, swiftness, independence, courage, sensitivity, determination, love, beauty, endurance, wisdom, vitality, hope, and enjoyment of life.
  • Owl – intuition, transition, wisdom, silence, observation, quick wit, independence, power, intelligence, and protection. Prophecy and wisdom.

You can find Tonya Crady here.  Drop her a line if you want to set up an appointment.

Meet Mariana

Mariana is my Spanish teacher, my friend, my translator and now my publisher.  Here she describes her publishing house, Ban Pang – Casa de Harina Editorial.

Thanks to Mariana, my book is going to be available to speakers of Spanish anywhere in the world.  Being In My Body (Estar en mi Cuerpo) is now available in Spanish as a PDF.  Read more about the book here.  You can get your copy here.  By August 18 it will also be available in paperback!

Photo Shoot – Being In My Body (Estar En Mi Cuerpo)

This is what emotional work can look like!

This past couple days has been so interesting, as I wrestle with my body’s terror about being the center of attention and knee-jerk reactions to staying present in situations where resources are coming from others to me, specifically.  It’s really stretching my mind and my understanding and challenges the wiring of my brain.  Not always fun, and not always comfortable, but always held in love and gentleness and so much kindness and creativity.

Hope you like my photo collection!  Watch for more photos from the shoot which will be appearing on Facebook and other forms of social media over the next couple months.  They will make up the launch for Estar En Mi Cuerpo, but they will be professional photographs by Kitzia, who I am sure you are going to love.  For those of you who don’t know, Estar En Mi Cuerpo is the Spanish title for Being In My Body, What You Might Not Have Known About Trauma, Dissociation, & The Brain.  The other women in the photos are so dear to my heart – my translator, Mariana and her sister, Margarita.

Margarita, setting the tone for Day 1

Mariana, Shoot Director, Translator and Publisher

Kitzia, Photographer

Kitzia, Mariana, Margarita, at Bicycle Snack Station

Bicycle wheel table and reading the coffee grounds

Juice and coffee stop

Kitzia loves this pup

Photograph the photographer – What a love

It just doesn’t get any sweeter than this.

Aren’t I photogenic?

The Crew – Day 2

Pop-Up Wrap-Up 2017

Hello Pop-Up Clinic Healers and Care Seekers,

This e-mail will serve as a newsletter to wrap up the 2017 Pop-Up Clinic Year and to share my deep gratitude for your friendship and participation.  I also have four big requests for you, so if you want the quick version, just skip down to my “asks” at the very end!  Here is the long version:

The Pop-Up Clinic Movement began as a seed of an idea, and has grown beyond what I could have possibly imagined.  Thank you for the part you played.  The momentum that began in my head and heart in the spring continued in Ajijic Mexico, where we had clinics in July, August, September and October, and then in Missouri, where we had 3 events: 2 Pop-Up Clinics and 1 Alternative Healing Fair.  The Pop-Up Community in Mexico kept the flame burning while I was in Missouri by having a clinic in October, and continues to strengthen the lakeside healing network by benefitting from the connections and enjoying the friendships that were established through our movement.

Each fabulous clinic in Missouri had a flavor of its own.  The first one in Centralia was very connected to nature with some of our practitioners taking advantage of out-of-doors spaces to do their therapies.  What came out of this clinic was nothing short of magic.  People met each other who had been destined to meet for years.  They have since collaborated through other healing endeavors and have struck up friendships and begun talking about other possible cooperative connections.

The Marshall event was intimate but powerful.  Since there were only four care seekers and four organizers and healers/providers, the clinic divided itself into stages in which individual “readings” were offered during the first stage, followed by three groups: Guided Sentient Movement, Vipassina Meditaion and Basic Nonviolent Communication.  Again, pure magic.

The last Columbia event was hosted and facilitated by Judi Fullerton and Paula Curry at Parkade Center.  The ample space and organizational efforts of our hosts allowed us to offer individual sessions, casual consults and lectures.  I have a feeling this is just the beginning of something that wants to keep growing and evolving.  Our community is so rich in healers and truly gifted therapists.

I couldn’t be more pleased.  I see signs of growth, abundance and prosperity everywhere I look.  I am resting and regrouping in December.  In January I will be back in Missouri and in the following months I’ll be scoping out the possibility of bringing the Pop-Up idea to some completely new places.   I have learned so much in this process.  My takeaway this year is that we all benefit when we are willing to care for ourselves and when we allow ourselves to connect with and take advantage of the gifts of our fellow healers.

I will be in Mexico for the rest of December, but in Columbia and Jefferson County MO in January 2018.  Pop-Up Care Providers, I’d love to hear from any of you to better know how you are doing or to arrange a trade of services or have lunch, dessert or a yummy beverage somewhere.  As we move into the winter season I encourage you to continue the seed idea that began with the very first clinic: In order to balance giving and receiving we really do have to be willing to receive.  Reach out to a healer whose work you admire or yearn for.  Gift yourself with a session or a series of sessions to fill your well.  As you heal and grow, the quality of what you have to offer will unavoidably improve, and your world will be transformed in yet unimagined ways.  Reach for what you want more of.

On my Christmas wish list are more connections!  Do you have healer friends or family or know of amazing, gifted healers in any of the following places?  If so, could you tell me a little about them and put us in touch?

  • Portland
  • Seattle
  • Tucson
  • Chicago
  • Guadalajara
  • Other

Enjoy your winter holidays.  Let me know if you’d like to get together in January or just message me so we can stay in touch that way.  I appreciate you so much and am so proud of the network we are building.

My Christmas Requests:

ASK #1  Keep talking about Pop-Up Clinics and keep a list of people you will inform next time we schedule a clinic, whether you plan to attend or not.

ASK #2  Let me know if you have healer friends who are interested in building networks in their communities, and put me in touch with them.

ASK #3  Pass my name along if you come into contact with people who might benefit from my work or products.

ASK #4  (Pop-Up Healers and Prospective Healers) If you want me to give you a copy of our master Pop-Up Plan or any of our contact lists, please let me know.

Enjoy your winter holidays.  

Let me know if you’d like to get together 

or just message me so we can stay in touch.  

I appreciate you so much and am so proud of the network we are building.

Namaste!

Giving & Receiving – Pop-Up Clinic Style

Thanks go to our lovely hosts, Gretchen & Emmet at Laughing Frog Gardens, and all the healers, therapists and care seekers who came out.  In all, we had a circle of 13, not including the other sentient beings of the gardens and the homestead.  Formal offerings included:

  • Shamanic Astrology
  • CranioSacral Therapy
  • Reiki
  • Sentient Movement
  • Chair Massage
  • Active Dream Sessions
  • Safe Attunement & Connection
  • Techniques to calm the Central Nervous System

We have more events coming up:

Marshall MO on October 21, 2017

North Village on November 11, 2017

Questions?  Call me at (573) 999-6011 or send me an e-mail at [email protected]

What If The Body Came With A User’s Manual?

What I’ve been noticing lately is a shift in what I feel and think about consuming sweet things (and other “yummy” things) and maybe about rules and rigidity in general.  The word restriction has been popping up for me.  Re STRICT ion, and also the association between eating disorders and “rules” about food.

We want to avoid being overly strict or rigid in our lives.  So it’s good to be on the lookout for arbitrary restrictions that we place on ourselves, and then get curious about them.  I mean, yeah, if I had concerns (evidence) that I might be growing a tumor, I would maybe want to cut out sugar for a while.  I might want to go on a sugar fast or something.  But the sugars actually do have a place on the pyramid.  The refined ones are up there on the very top, but fresh fruits and root vegetables are a source of important nutrients – at least for me….today.  Grains seem to be less important, but not something I need to cut out completely.  Highly processed foods are at the little bitty point up there on the top of the triangle, where the space they take up is very, very small in comparison to the balance of what I eat.

I know, there are so many rules out there about food and what is actually good for us, but what’s important is for us to take personal responsibility and adopt some kind of structure to help us respond to our unique and changing nutritional needs.  Guidelines help us navigate our lives and make choices from the myriad options we face every day.  But just make sure you don’t let your guidelines become too strict or rigid.

One of the guidelines I’ve been using lately (and not strictly) is based on the pH of the body.  Some foods, when we consume them, make our bodies more acidic, others more alkaline.  Remembering that if I eat four times as many alkaline foods as acidic foods – an excess of acidic foods creates acidity in the body which supports the proliferation of parasites and yeast which I understand to be precursors of many chronic illnesses – my body will function better.  If I fill my diet with mostly acidic foods, my body is going to get out of balance.  So while I don’t need to be constantly measuring or restricting myself, I can keep that idea in the back of my mind, and if I notice that my health is slipping, or my energy levels aren’t what I’d like them to be, or I’m feeling that something is off, I can make some adjustments in the types of foods I’m eating.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that starting a couple weeks ago I was having really strong cravings for something.  It wasn’t sugar, though I did veer toward fried things.  But when I sat with it, and asked my body what it really wanted, it seemed more like it was asking for more high quality proteins.  Also entering my awareness from various articles and conversations I was having was the idea that I was needing to increase my consumption of high quality proteins and fats.  So that is the direction I moved in.

In this phase of temporarily self-imposed monkhood, I realized I had begun to associate high-quality proteins and fats with unwanted expense.  So I picked up a small container of cheap, highly processed peanut butter, and quickly concluded that this wasn’t what my body was asking for.  It just didn’t taste like food.  A couple cans of tuna, some cashews and some queso fresco later, the cravings went away.  I will need to make a trip to the gringo getting-place and pick up some tahini and almond butter, which will set me back some $15 or so.  Not a whole lot in the scheme of things.  I’m on it.

Note to Self: If I notice myself skimping, I may need to re-assess whether I’m associating not having what I need with my worthiness or ability to have what I need.  If I can put some attention there, I can see pretty easily that I am worthy of adequate nutrition (what my body needs to stay healthy).  For me, it is sensible and correct to include healthy proteins and fats along with the wide variety of fresh produce that I can get for next to nothing here in Mexico.  I can also assess whether I have adequate margin in my budget to cover nuts, nut butters, avocados, high quality oils, and high quality meats, and usually I do.  I don’t need to go overboard, but I do have enough.  (These things are up there in the top of the pyramid, just under treats and sweets.)  And yes, they cost a bit, but they are also my medicine, one of my best ways of building and maintaining health.

There is no doubt about it, sweetness is something we all need, and if for some reason you have been prohibiting or limiting sweetness in your life, that’s something I recommend you pay some compassionate attention to.

In summary,
  • There are different kinds of edible sweets available to us in markets and selling establishments everywhere. And there is also sweetness available to us from every direction in the form of connections with nature and other beings.
  • If I build sweetness into my lifestyle, I won’t feel like I need to “steal” it (impulse purchases at the check-out lane, etc.).  Sweetness then becomes a normal, built-in feature of my life.  If I include having a cup of tea with a cookie, or even a few little cookies, every day, I have chosen to make sweetness a regular part of my life.  (I tried this and I noticed that I didn’t put any sugar in my tea in order to make it feel like a special treat.  This way, my treat is one that I’m allowed – whole-heartedly – not one I’m “getting away with,” or sneaking off to consume, hoping nobody notices.)
  • Craving sugars, in the past, has pointed to a lack of the sweetness that I can only get through warm and authentic human connections and communion with nature. Now that I have lots of interesting and satisfying interpersonal connections in my life, I don’t notice as many cravings for sweets anymore.  This shift has required me to really pay attention and make adjustments as I go, based on what tastes good to me, and what feels good in my body after I eat it.  It’s an ongoing process, but a super-important one.
  • We are being bombarded by campaigns crafted by the processed food industry to increase our consumption of their “yummy” products (laden with high quantities of salt, sugar and fat), and what seems “normal” can get skewed pretty quickly if we’re not aware and purposeful about what we purchase and consume.

Add to Body-Owner’s Manual:

Having Cravings?
  • Check to see if you’ve been skimping on the relatively expensive high-quality foods that make you feel grounded and well-cared-for and probably build health and a strong immune system. If you are getting enough of those kinds of food, you’ll be less likely to crave those “kiddy” foods – the foods that the immature self wants – which help us know that at some level we are crying out in response to feeling unmet or unseen or uncared for.
  • Make sure to reach out to others and invest time in mutually nurturing friendships.
  • Connect with nature in some way that feels satisfying or nurturing to you.
Noticing Strictness or Rigidity?
  • Being strict is no substitute for staying as attuned and available as possible to the feedback that your body provides. There are a lot of guidelines out there, and if you find one that resonates for you, great!  Experiment with it and notice how your body reacts.  Notice cravings, energy levels, mood and immune system functioning.
  • Realize that your needs change over time, and the guidelines you use will need to be used with flexibility and openness to adjustment as your needs change.

For more on becoming an ally with your body, check out Toni’s Mid-MO Tour, happening in October 2017.

 

Toni Rahman Embodied – Mid-MO Tour 2017

After being south of the border for 4 years, Toni will be coming to Mid-MO in October to share two things:

1) Being In My Body: What You Might Not Have Known About Trauma, Dissociation & The Brain

  • Coffee & Conversation at Heart Body & Soul, followed by Book Signing on October 7, 10:30 am
  • Daniel Boone Regional Library – Local Author Fair on October 28, 10:00 am-2:00 pm

2) Pop-Up Clinics – a new way of networking and connecting with yourself and the abundance around you.  Read an article about Pop-Up Clinics in Ajijic Mexico here.

You can hear an interview with Toni on the Trauma Therapist Podcast here.

The Body Keeps The Score – Book Review

One of my favorite things to do is reading good books.  I finished reading Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score some months ago, but it has taken me a while to report on it.  Besides having gleaned 25 pages of quotes, I’m feeling the need to go back and re-read the whole thing.  This was a book of serious ahas.  Van der Kolk is himself a survivor of early relational trauma – a fact of which he was unaware until well into his professional career.  Currently the Medical Director of the Trauma Center in Boston, he is also a Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and serves as the Co-Director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress Complex Trauma Network.  You can read more about him here.

“Trauma,” says van der Kolk, “drives us to the edge of comprehension, cutting us off from language based on common experience or an imaginable past.”  Its effects are profound and lasting when it occurs before we have language to describe it or even hope to get the help we need.  But, “like a splinter that causes an infection, it is the body’s response to the foreign object that becomes the problem more than the object itself.”

I love this book because Van der Kolk gives me words for things I had no idea how to talk about before.  And he validates suspicions that have nagged at me for decades.  For instance, when I was 24 and had already ditched my first husband and abandoned my three-year-old son, I was puzzled by the lack of pain I felt.  What was wrong with me, anyway?  I had many explanations, some of which had to do with depression, being clueless about what I was going to do with my life, and feeling incapable of caring well for a small child while trying to do all those things that I had been taught that a husband was supposed to do.  Van der Kolk calls this “Numbing.”  In describing what one survivor of developmental trauma experienced, he says, “He desperately wanted to love his family, but he just couldn’t evoke any deep feelings for them.”

Numbing may keep us from suffering in the short-term, but long-term is another matter.  “…though the mind may learn to ignore the messages from the emotional brain, the alarm signals don’t stop.  The emotional brain keeps working, and stress hormones keep sending signals to the muscles to tense for action or immobilize in collapse.  The physical effects on the organs go on unabated until they demand notice when they are expressed as illness.  Medications, drugs, and alcohol can also temporarily dull or obliterate unbearable sensations and feelings.  But the body continues to keep the score.”

“After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system.  The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life.”

The seemingly endless path of breadcrumbs leading me back to my own trauma included my status as “stimulus seeker.”  Though I am most likely on the mild end of this spectrum, survivors of trauma don’t feel quite alive if they aren’t in the middle of some kind of chaos.  Says van der Kolk, “Somehow the very event that caused them so much pain had also become their sole source of meaning.  They felt fully alive only when they were revisiting their traumatic past.”

“That is why so many abused and traumatized people feel fully alive in the face of actual danger, while they go numb in situations that are more complex but objectively safe, like birthday parties or family dinners.”

All of this is determined at a very physical level.  “If an organism is stuck in survival mode, its energies are focused on fighting off unseen enemies, which leaves no room for nurture, care, and love.  For us humans, it means that as long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn, and pay attention to other people’s needs.”

Among van der Kolk’s research-based conclusions (and things to think about as you consider this idea he’s calling developmental trauma):

  • Exposure to stress relieves anxiety.
  • Addiction to trauma may be characterized by the pain of pleasure and the pleasure of pain.
  • Immobilization is at the root of most traumas (your heart slows down, your breathing becomes shallow, and, zombielike, you lose touch with yourself and your surroundings).
  • It is especially challenging for traumatized people to discern when they are actually safe and to be able to activate their defenses when they are in danger.
  • All too often, drugs such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Seroquel, are prescribed instead of teaching people the skills to deal with distressing physical reactions associated with repressed emotion.

Real healing, he says, has to do with experiential knowledge: “You can be fully in charge of your life only if you can acknowledge the reality of your body, in all its visceral dimensions.”  Here, EXPERIENCE, not UNDERSTANDING is what we need.

“…neuroscience research shows that very few psychological problems are the result of defects in understanding; most originate in pressures from deeper regions in the brain that drive our perception and attention.  When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.”

Treatment

“Treatment needs to reactivate the capacity to safely mirror, and be mirrored, by others, but also to resist being hijacked by others’ negative emotions.”

“…the great challenge is finding ways to reset their physiology, so that their survival mechanisms stop working against them.  This means helping them to respond appropriately to danger but, even more, to recover the capacity to experience safety, relaxation, and true reciprocity.”

Mindfulness, or the ability to hover calmly and objectively over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, is one of the primary tools van der Kolk teaches his patients.  This ability allows us to then take our time to respond,” he says, which “allows the executive brain to inhibit, organize, and modulate the hardwired automatic reactions preprogrammed into the emotional brain.  This capacity is crucial for preserving our relationships with our fellow human beings.”

Increasing “interoception,” or self-awareness, is another important feature of recovery, van der Kolk says.  “Because traumatized people often have trouble sensing what is going on in their bodies, they lack a nuanced response to frustration.  They either react to stress by becoming ‘spaced out’ or with excessive anger.  Whatever their response, they often can’t tell what is upsetting them.  This failure to be in touch with their bodies contributes to their well-documented lack of self-protection and high rates of revictimization.  And also to their remarkable difficulties feeling pleasure, sensuality, and having a sense of meaning.”

Noticing and then describing what they are feeling is a process van der Kolk helps his patients learn.  He begins the process by helping them talk about what is happening in their bodies, “not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations beneath the emotions: pressure, heat, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on.”  He also works on “identifying the sensations associated with relaxation or pleasure…their breath, their gestures and movements.”  He asks them to “pay attention to subtle shifts in their bodies, such as tightness in their chests or gnawing in their bellies, when they talk about negative events that they claim did not bother them.”

“…many programs (that try to help traumatized people) continue to ignore the need to engage the safety system of the brain before trying to promote new ways of thinking,” van der Kolk says.  He provides some ways to engage this part of the brain in his book.  Among them are:

  • Yoga
  • Theater Programs
  • Breath Exercises (Pranayama)
  • Chanting
  • Martial Arts
  • Qigong
  • Drumming
  • Group Singing
  • Dancing

“Our culture teaches us to focus on personal uniqueness, but at a deeper level we barely exist as individual organisms.  Our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe….Most of our energy is devoted to connecting with others.”

 

A few more nuggets I thought you might appreciate:

  • While you need to be able to stand up for yourself, you also need to recognize that other people have their own agendas. Trauma can make all that hazy and gray.
  • (As infants) our most intimate sense of self is created in our minute-to-minute exchanges with our caregivers.
  • Children’s disturbed behavior is a response to actual life experiences – to neglect, brutality, and separation – rather than the product of infantile sexual fantasies.
  • Our lives consist of finding our place within the community of human beings.
  • Babies can’t regulate their own emotional states, much less the changes in heart rate, hormone levels, and nervous-system activity that accompany emotions.
  • Learning how to manage arousal is a key life skill, and parents must do it for babies before babies can do it for themselves.
  • Securely attached kids learn the difference between situations they can control and situations where they need help.
  • Kids will go to almost any length to feel seen and connected.
  • Traumatized parents, in particular, need help to be attuned to their children’s needs.
  • Dissociation means simultaneously knowing and not knowing.
  • Early attachment patterns create the inner maps that chart our relationships throughout life, not only in terms of what we expect from others, but also in terms of how much comfort and pleasure we can experience in their presence.
  • It’s not important for me to know every detail of a patient’s trauma. What is critical is that the patients themselves learn to tolerate feeling what they feel and knowing what they know.
  • Rage that has nowhere to go is redirected against the self, in the form of depression, self-hatred, and self-destructive actions.
  • Eradicating child abuse in America would reduce the overall rate of depression by more than half, alcoholism by two-thirds, and suicide, IV drug use, and domestic violence by three-quarters.
  • Social support is a biological necessity, not an option, and this reality should be the backbone of all prevention and treatment.
  • As long as people are either hyperaroused or shut down, they cannot learn from experience. Even if they manage to stay in control, they become so uptight that they are inflexible, stubborn, and depressed.  Recovery from trauma involves the restoration of executive functioning and, with it, self-confidence and the capacity for playfulness and creativity.
  • In order to recover, mind, body, and brain need to be convinced that it is safe to let go. That happens only when you feel safe at a visceral level and allow yourself to connect that sense of safety with memories of past helplessness.
  • Being traumatized is not just an issue of being stuck in the past; it is just as much a problem of not being fully alive in the present.
  • Antipsychotic medications such as Risperdal, Abilify, or Seroquel can significantly dampen the emotional brain and this makes patients less skittish or enraged, but they also may interfere with being able to appreciate subtle signals of pleasure, danger, or satisfaction.
  • As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself. Hiding your core feelings takes an enormous amount of energy, it saps your motivation to pursue worthwhile goals, and it leaves you feeling bored and shut down.

I highly recommend this book.

Van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body In the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

It’s A Body Thing

There’s something the body does that reflects what the nervous system does – a reflex, in response to a trigger.  I’d like to explore this with you.  When a person encounters a trigger, the body closes.  What I seem to be noticing with myself and my clients is a popular trigger called “ALLOWING A PART OF MYSELF TO BE SEEN THAT I WASN’T SURE I WANTED TO SHARE.”  Since for many of us, opening up emotionally has been so unsafe in the past, it can understandably be really frightening, and before you even know what’s happening, the body reflexively closes.

This is really important because it’s in those moments that we do connect – that we have connected without our defenses up – that the brain is re-wired.  Whenever the body is guarded and only the intellect is open and engaged, no rewiring gets done.  It’s just kind of the same old same old.

And so the thing that just occurred to me now is that when a person tells a story over and over again as if they hadn’t already told it to that person, they are temporarily disconnected from the memory that this actually was a shared telling; this was a valuable, precious shared event, and that the person you are telling it to would actually remember that.  So you are disconnected from the experience of having shared a moment of connection and being heard together.  The wires are down.  It’s almost like the fact that we shared it can “disappear.”  Just like that, our most powerful resources can disappear when we are triggered.  The good thing is that we can learn to reconnect.  Reconnecting involves being aware of and relaxing the body (including the nervous system).  Don’t worry.  It isn’t as hard as you might think.

You have abundant resources.  They’re all around you and they are also right there in your brain.  But, as you have probably seen or experienced, survivors of early relational trauma have learned to disconnect from things they feel and know.  It’s part of what the body does in survival mode.

I came across a really interesting thing in a YouTube video called The Shoe.  Maybe you saw it on Facebook.  If you watch the body language of this kid actor, which the director catches so powerfully, you can see it for yourself.  It’s a visual representation of that shift that happens: from when the boy is snarling in disgust and frustration with the broken shoe at about 1.3 and then he sees the other boy his age with new shoes.  At 1.33-1.37 his body opens and you can see him shift from isolation – his own miserable, impoverished world –  to a place of allowing, where he can see the things around him.  He can see what is happening with other people, and empathize with their experience.  In this case, this ability to empathize ultimately leads to a brand new pair of shoes and this powerful (if brief) exchange with the other boy.  The boy doesn’t have the layers and layers of repeated trauma and loss that an adult can, so the shift happens readily.  This shift is possible for all of us when we learn how to put down our defenses; when we learn to physically relax.  When we can, we automatically reconnect with all the resources available to us in this moment now.

Interpersonal events are amazing things, and there is just so much that is communicated below the level of our conscious minds.  I have been learning that if I can keep my primary focus on my own body, I can make use of the complex wiring systems that have served to make us mammals the wildly successful, sociable creatures we are.  If I instead pay attention to what’s happening to you (what I can see and comprehend with my eyes), I have a much more limited and mind-oriented framework to operate from.

Paying attention to the emotional state of others has been my default, but that – thank goodness – has begun to change in the past several years.  Staying with and tending to my own sensations in the moment give me much more valuable information.  Here is an example.  I work with clients who have triggers, naturally.  And I have had moments with clients where I can see that they are suddenly triggered.  Incidentally, being face to face with someone who disconnects from me emotionally, can be a trigger for me.  But as I learn to manage triggers, there is more of me available to just watch, and not get carried away by the emotion and the story and the personal memory of the trigger.

I am remembering a particular time in which I am face to face with a client who has just been triggered by me, and I notice myself kind of freezing up, and I notice that I’m not able to communicate with a relaxed, open, spontaneous heart anymore.  I notice that what I say or do after that just sort of comes from my head, awkwardly, which neither of us can access with the heart, and my client can’t hear anyway because they’re suddenly all closed up and protected.

In life, and in therapy, it is a good practice to reach for those moments where we are able to feel safe enough to open; those moments when we truly connect.  Maybe we won’t even consciously acknowledge them when we are in them, but we can certainly look back and say, mmhm….I was open then.

This makes me remember a time when I was in grad school when I felt safe enough to open up with a particular professor.  I had reached out to her due to her specialty in domestic violence.  It was in a moment of trusting and hopefulness that I reached out – and from a place of newly identifying as a victim of domestic violence.

It was obvious to everyone that this professor had a great passion for teaching DV.  I had reached out to her in that moment of unguardedness and shared myself, my personal interest in DV and how happy I was that she was teaching this course, and then I drew back.  I hadn’t retreated or closed up consciously.  But looking back, I certainly had closed myself off to further interactions with her.  Maybe it was because I had shared a part of me that I was not accustomed to sharing.  For whatever reason, I pulled way back, and at the end of my school experience, that professor pointed out that I had opened up to her and then closed up again.

That she had noticed it really touched me.  I felt kind of disappointed in myself for closing to a potential mentor/ally/connection, but my pulling back had been a reflex, not a conscious decision; a reflex based on an unexamined trigger.

At that point I probably didn’t have the tools to stay safely connected.  This was also the professor I went to at the late stages of working on my final project and broke down in her office because I needed help and she wasn’t helping me in the way that felt helpful.  I didn’t even know how to ask for the help I needed except to say I had no idea how to finish a particular section of my paper/project.  It was the policy piece in the realm of teen pregnancy prevention.  I had been reading about policy but I had virtually no real-world information or experience from which to draw.  This was my final project and I hadn’t the foggiest idea how to talk about changing legislation or influencing public policy.  I didn’t know enough about government; I was clueless about how to talk about it.  And she couldn’t really help me because what I “needed” was for her to write the damn thing for me.  So I broke down right there in her office, and I was either crying or near tears, and I stumbled out, confused, overwhelmed, disconnected, disappointed.

I pulled through and I patched it together, but it was an excruciating moment and I never did connect again with her about this and in the process I learned something about myself that I am reflecting on now.

All this has to do with a physical reflex.  It’s not something that one does to manipulate or punish another person.  It’s not stubbornness or stupidity (I can’t vouch for everyone out there; people can really only know their own experience and motives).  But as we learn about what is physically happening, we can more readily recover, stay in the present moment and make empowered choices.  When we can do this, we can also begin to understand that vulnerable emotions are fairly universal, though the disabling and alienating impulse to hide them is virtually as universal in our modern, Western culture.

If you can identify with this, it is quite possible that you, too, have experienced such a neurological event.  If you have, you are in the right place to learn more about it.  Begin to notice when it happens without judgment.  Notice that it passes – it always does.  Do what you can to learn about how the nervous system works in trauma and under stress.  Pay attention to your own experience.  Eventually you can learn to recognize when it’s happening so that you are more able to stand back and observe your feelings instead of being overwhelmed or hijacked by them.  One day it will even be natural to share vulnerable emotions with others in responsible, attachment-enhancing ways.  Slow and steady.  Gentleness and curiosity will serve you so much better in this realm than perfectionism or high expectations.  And mentors and teachers are to be had if you know where to look.

The emotional work that you are being invited to do has to do with what Bessel van der Kolk and Steve Porges are talking about.  It’s noticing the moments when we do feel safe enough to open and connect (with ourselves and others); it’s acknowledging those moments – the moments when you let yourself be seen and you feel that you can let your guard down and your body physically relaxes.  That is when life turns around and you can operate from a place of presence, true empathy and compassion.  Reach for more of those moments.

The Shoe  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX3BVdONvZA