Like most people who have experienced anxiety, depression, dis-ease, or just a sense of being lost and low, I have visited many psychotherapists over the past 30 years. Many.
That’s what messed-up people do, don’t they? Get a therapist.
Therapy helped me to cognitively process and consider feelings, behaviors, and my history; but often reinforced the stories I told myself about being a victim of challenging circumstances. This either led to lavishing in self-pity or shutting down entirely.
I frequently left sessions feeling even more overwhelmed than when I had arrived and wondered how I was to approach all the topics my therapists suggested we discuss.
They would often utter foreboding statements such as: ‘if you don’t speak about this topic then…’ All the while I continued to rely on starving, drugs, alcohol, and codependent relationships in an effort to feel safe, to numb––anything other than the aching discomfort that seemed my natural state.
The more I discovered in therapy the less, in fact, I experienced relief when it came to major sources of pain from the past. I felt increasingly encumbered by it and confused by my subsequent reactions.
Why didn’t I feel better even though I seemed to be processing and analyzing so much?
In hindsight, I was trying to treat and erase my memories whilst neglecting my body’s wisdom, not realizing that this was where all the compressed trauma––a term I had not yet understood–– was held. Anorexia had been my means for disconnecting, disassociating, and trying to control my body, and thus the pain.
I thought the intense frustration and dis-ease having a body caused me to feel came down to my body being ‘bad’, and if I could make it ‘good’ I would feel better. And I spent a lot of time trying to shift the balance. I hadn’t yet come to understand the depth of the body-mind connection. Or that how I felt internally would only be reflected by my external projections.
By the time I discovered body therapy in the form of “Somatic Experiencing” I was desperate for new tools having exhausted those I’d developed as protection and learned in 12 step rooms. I found myself in an endless cycle of highs, lows; panic, exhaustion, and confusion all of which had become intolerable.
My first session with a healer was nothing short of earth-shattering. As I sat down a kind, this gentle woman offered me blankets and cushions to make me feel safe and comfortable.
When she asked me why I had come to see her, I began listing off all the things that were wrong with me and I what needed fixing. After several minutes of this, the practitioner looked me straight in the eye and said:
“Natasha, stop talking for a moment.”
I did as I was instructed even though it felt deeply unnatural to interrupt my self-analysis to do something as ordinary as breathe.
And then it began: My body convulsed and I released a noise from within that was neither crying nor whaling —it was pure stagnant pain and it was terrifying. It seemed as though giant waves were looming and crushing me relentlessly. I was afraid it wouldn’t stop.
My guide told me to keep breathing through the discomfort, and after a minute or two, the wave receded. My body relaxed.
After releasing some of that pain into the ether (a pain for which I had no words, and for which no analysis was required) I felt a periodic release.
For that moment, the physical release in my body was enough. Accessing the breath cracked open the door to freedom. It would take a long period of practice before I was able to push that door open enough to see what existed beyond the dark. Nevertheless, I had been invited on a new journey, one which would finally offer the medicine I had been seeking.
*Resource for trauma healing:
-Ashley Neese: “How to breathe”
-Peter A. Levine: “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma”
-Bessel van der Kolk: “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma.”
-Gabor Mate: “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction”
Originally publish: Jun 1, 2019
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I’m and Grief and Somatics Coach obsessed with gaining deeper insights into what allows us to truly flow and thrive in life. I support my clients to come home to their body and liberate their minds, by teaching them how to harness creative, embodied approaches to healing and transformation.
I work with brilliant, but often burnt-out humans who are ready to change the question from "what's wrong with me?' to "what do need in order to feel whole?'
© 2021 [Natasha mcDowell Coaching]