Resting in Love

Deep, arduous somatic work pulls me back to the surface of my life with a force that is both shocking and breathtaking. Up, up, up to the people that love me, the sensation of needs, desires, and disappointments, and the unbelievable beauty of the natural world. My woods. The stars. I have lost so much time to fear; I have missed my family. I no longer feel “dead in a city of pulses” as Rachel McKibbens writes in her poem, “letter from my heart to my brain”.

It’s the golden hour outside my window. The light here is warming me and I’m going to close my eyes to it for just a moment. There. God I’ve missed this place. I’m not here much of the time, not like this. My daughter is at home everywhere. She can rest, peacefully, in a home she’s only been to once. She sings to herself all day long. She is singing right now.

I’m incredibly tired, but I am here. Here on my alien shore that needs my care, that needs to be cleaned up and restored. My body — especially my fingers, toes, and mouth — feel pressed to pulp. I haven’t been drinking enough water but at least I know it. Signals reach through so clearly. Thirst. Hunger. Easy fixes.

I am resting in love.

Hi LB,
I am wondering how you are doing?

Hi P,
I’m here in the present and not hurting anymore (at least not physically), but I am very tired and very tender. Thank you for checking on me.    

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Inside a Somatic Session

Wednesday.

I walked into our space, our little blue room, and dropped to the ground. I imagined that it was so deep and so stable that it reached all the way to the core of the earth. P moved to sit beside me and was silent for some moments trying to feel my energy before speaking. I told him that I was overstimulated, losing strength and hope, and in pain between my legs. These symptoms are as familiar to me now as my own two hands; they have been with me for a very, very long time.

A pause like a door opening.

“Before we begin, LB, I want you to know that this is just pain. It can’t take you away.”

I nodded at the power of his words. In a way he was honoring the very fact of my survival and my dogged, if often buried, will to live. You are here, he was saying. The worst has already happened.

We began work on my body with focused intensity. I found neutral places, my left heel and wrist, where I could rest until it was time to return to the place where I had been hurt. I rubbed my delicate wrist with my thumb until it was soft and warm as a cradle. I imagined my whole body held there and P’s voice the softest lullaby above me.

He moved closer until we were almost touching. My body was its own levee protecting me from drowning. The edge I’d find kept getting deeper and stronger, the resting places more vital and soothing. I found that I could bear these rhythms.

“I’m right here, LB.” “No one is coming to hurt you. I will protect you.”

I pulled my sweater closed at my neck and P reached for a blanket and draped it gently across my legs. This afforded some safety and privacy that allowed me to settle and take some stabilizing breaths. P breathed, too, right alongside me. His were resonant and strong, and I took some solace in the fact that he wasn’t faltering.

Then I moved away from the edge towards the center of my body’s core trauma. The pain was total — sharp and astonishing. My breath caught and snagged somewhere above. The sharp ache, that depth, was black with grief and betrayal. P caught me and pulled me back before I fell away.

I opened my eyes to the grey day and a new, green plant that he had been using to ground. I told him that its angles, the reaching extensions, reminded me of the mighty beech tree in my front yard. We sat together and spoke softly, and I felt curled into him.

“I feel really close to you right now, ” I said.

“I feel really close to you, too, LB.”

To be continued…

Growing Up

I was deeply triggered by the end of my session today, but I left with a profound sense of strength and determination. Even as I felt a powerful vertigo, some spinning out of the world brought on by re-experiencing, I felt P’s love just as strongly; I carried it away from our session, and I can still feel it burning inside of me like a torch. This is new, and it is exquisitely tender. It feels like a superpower I’ve earned at this stage in our quest.

As P and I approach the two-year mark, I’ve been thinking about what has changed — both in my life and in our work together. There’s this surreal positivity that comes from knowing I haven’t been able to push him away. I have raged and fought and he has been a steady beam of light on my dark waters. In the world of object relations theory, I am in the process of destroying my therapist, and he is surviving that destruction. He hasn’t sent me away, hasn’t ended the work, and we are able to continue working through the transference.

And, yes, the separation hurts, but it also feels really, really good. (If I’m being honest, it’s almost orgasmically good, which I have learned isn’t at all unusual.) It was Winnicott’s belief that the analyst becomes “real” once he has survived the destructive by the subject, or the client. That reality, that understanding that the therapist is a separate, vibrant being with his own fears, doubts, and conflicts, takes some titration. The symbiosis and separation occur together for a time, and I feel like it’s the high I’m currently experiencing. It’s like P and I are attached by a rope, but I am free to wander with an ever-widening reach.

At the other end of this process is the isolation of existence that we all feel and share, our common humanity. It is my hope that I will no longer be on the outside looking in, and that I will finally feel like a human being with all of the rights, privileges, and horrors therein. I want to be a part of it all. I want to feel everything.

Here’s to separating gently. Cheers to how good it feels, how scary it is, and how much I’m looking forward to finally growing up.

Gentle Wandering

**Trigger warning. This post contains content regarding sexual abuse.**

Today was a gentle, wandering session (in pace if not in topic). We’d go down one road and then another, and it didn’t matter where we ended up. The end would be where it was meant to be, where we naturally stopped to rest until next time.

We spoke about my body, and particularly my sex, and how to navigate the pain I feel during intercourse. Growing up I was forced to engage in sexual acts with an older sibling, and I still experience colossal fear during certain kinds of intimacy. I’ve had to make do with creative solutions that allow me some pleasure without experiencing nausea, flashbacks, or spasms.

As so many of you know, this is slow, excruciating work, and progress is sometimes so minimal that it can feel hopeless. Some sexual triggers are still so powerful that I almost immediately have thoughts about suicide after. Shame washes over me, and the only way to fight it is to stop fighting and wait for the passage of time. (A beautiful thing, I have learned. Simply waiting.)

Still, I have so many good days and yoga, especially, allows me to pay close attention to my body in a way that isn’t overwhelming or all-consuming; I am so thankful for this gift, and for the gift of mindfulness in general. It is one of the few tools I have that actually works consistently when I need to walk myself back from some ledge.

And then there was more about my mother. We talked about her absence during those first years of my life, not to mention thereafter, and I said that I thought non-sexual, warm touch from him might soothe my fears around intimacy. That being vulnerable with him, whether touching hands, or embracing, might make it easier to let go with my romantic partner. I’m not so sure about this theory; I’m open to the fact that I might be very wrong.

(I read a study once that said that therapists who had been sexually abused themselves were much more likely to use non-sexual touch with their patients as a means of healing.)

Where else did we go? Hmm…

Oh, yes. His eyes. We talked about his eyes. I told him I’d noticed the pain in them the first time we met, and that I felt some sorrow in the fact that I knew him so deeply, but also not at all.

“Look at me then,” he said. “Do I have pain eyes now?”

Since I often don’t look at him during our sessions, I mustered the courage by closing my own eyes and rubbing my eyebrows to soothe. Then I looked.

“Yes,” I said.

His blue eyes were rimmed in gold, and he looked as though he was deep in some constant loss. Then he told me how babies have a spike in heart rate when they look at their mothers. That in order to soothe and regulate, they look away.

We ended with more talk about Winnicott, and I told him I’d like to go deeper but that time was up.

I left easily without any regrets.

Who was she? (Retrospective)

I found a photo of my mother when I was searching for Christmas bags in my basement a few weeks ago, and while I immediately perceived it as a ghostly appearance in an unlikely place, my husband admitted he had hidden it there in order to spare me pain. There have been other signs of her, too, though all with some sort of explanation. And I’m not sure that it really matters — I’m choosing to make them meaningful; I’m choosing to remember her with some new compassion.

A few days later I reached for a bookmark on my nightstand and it had her handwriting all over the back. She’d written her name and her date of birth out of her characteristic nervous energy, but I can’t help but think of it as a ritual she used to remind herself that she was indeed human. Our home growing up was full of envelopes on which she’d done the same. Her name, her date of birth, and a myriad of stars and other doodles. Could it also have been some leftover shred of innocence? Had she done the same thing as a little girl?

There was something in her, something so vulnerable and child-like, that made one want to protect her, and powerfully so. She wore her pain like a heavy cape on her shoulders, and she had a thin, sideways smile she could pull down like a window shade, darkening her whole countenance. You couldn’t see her, couldn’t look at her, without wanting to take some of her burden away first.

When I saw her photo, when I was confronted with her humanity again, I had a powerful urge to share her story; I thought of making a necklace out of colored yarn and tying her image around my neck for everyone to see, some quasi art piece. Who was she, they’d ask.

Who was she?

She was a woman betrayed by her father, and then her husband. She was a dead woman walking who slept through the seasons and willed time to pass, mercifully and swiftly. She was beaten, tortured, and forced to sleep with a man who first told her that she was disgusting and incapable of being loved, in a ceaseless cycle that lasted my entire childhood. I still hear her screams in my nightmares — a broken, hoarse, roar.

She was a woman who couldn’t protect her children from the same fate. She was a woman who chose not to protect her children.

She loved horoscopes and fairies, drugstore romances and hard candy.

She had green eyes.

Above all else, she wanted to be loved.

When she was 47 years old she finally left her abuser. He knocked her to the floor beneath the dining room table and choked her, letting go by some mercy before he killed her.

She died of cardiac arrest due to complications from a rare lung disease just five years later having never truly been free.

Exhausted

Because I’m absolutely exhausted, and because all I want to do is read Pema Chodron and Oliver Sacks in a hot bath, I’m going to shamelessly copy and paste an e-mail I’ve just written to my therapist about this impossible place we’re in. If you’re interested in attachment theory, and especially Winnicott, you should also read the paper I’ll attach.

Dear P,

Here is the Winnicott paper I mentioned. I’m going to write about it all on my blog (which you don’t have permission to read, by the way) and maybe I can bring some clarity into our space when I see you again. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Do we have a healthy enough respect for the fact that I’m experiencing the absence of my mother’s touch for the first time, in the present, with you? The transference is unbelievably painful, and unless we can work with it, especially your inevitable failures, I’ll go on compulsively creating scenarios in which I cannot have even the hope of being held. In some ways I feel like you haven’t even acknowledged what is happening, which of course is enormously painful. This is like the fucking massive trauma beneath the trauma.

Okay. See you Wednesday. Sounds like forever.

LB

Take care of yourselves!