Unwinding Trauma


Reunion with my therapists in 2010. From left to right: me, June, Peggy (a fellow MFR therapist and friend post Therapy on the Rocks), and Tina. These women gave me my life back. I love you!

Just as I was beginning to get the hang of being in my body, day three of the intensive treatment program began. On day three, all the patients, students doing skill enhancements, and two therapists meet for a group unwinding session. I am the only one who has not experienced or seen an unwinding. I have read about it and experienced local unwindings in my body. This does not prepare me for what I am about to witness.

One person volunteers to be first. She sits on the treatment table. All the others put their hands somewhere on this person. I don’t know what to do. June directs me to put my hands on someone who is touching the person on the table. As long as we are all physically touching, I am connected to what is happening. The person on the table begins to move like fluid and the hands move with her. They know where she is going to move before she actually does. They are not steering her. I can see that. They are following something in her that is coming before movement. [I learn later, that we can tune into feeling highly subtle movement coming from our bodies. It can be felt if you are relaxed enough and not in your thinking mind trying to anticipate the motion. I believe this level of sensing is taught in the martial arts.]

I feel terror. I disconnect and take my hands away, moving against the wall. I make an effort to touch each person as they are unwinding. I am scared yet curious. Terrified and fascinated at the same time.

Now there is no one left to go but me. My diaphragm is burning with fear as June says to me “you’re next”. I mumble, I don’t know if I can do this, as I sit on the table. My fear is that my body won’t cooperate. I’ve never done this; I can’t do this. My body won’t let me. These are the thoughts running through my head. I feel the light pressure of hands on my head, chest, diaphragm, back. There is a surge of adrenaline that knocks me loose of my frozen terror and my head goes down. I feel deep dejection and immediately start to cry. I feel a whirling tornado of movement inside me and the hands give me permission and support to be the tornado. I can no longer keep track of where I am moving. There are no words for the feeling. Chaos expressed inside out is the best description I have. In the whirl of my own movement I feel my back touch the floor. Hands are pressing down on my bent up legs and hands. I feel the suffocating fear I had the first time the rapist laid on me. The hands in the treatment room meet my hands and legs and I push back, terrified. It is so intense I have no choice but to get the cry out, “Get off me! Go away!” I cry and repeat the words desperately. My hands and legs are frantic now. I feel completely ineffective in my efforts to get them off. Powerless. They immediately back off. I huddle up to myself and cry. Shock at what has come out washes through me and still stunned, I slowly get up . June is drying her eyes. This too shocks me. She is crying with me. Somehow this is a relief. Someone gets how awful it was. I’m not alone in my pain.

Later I wonder: did the panic and fight stuck inside me really come out? I realize that I had repeatedly wished I could have done that back then – if only I hadn’t been afraid for my life. But, surely I could have done something to get away? What I just unwound sure didn’t work. I still felt helpless. Is/was there no way to break free? My feeling of powerlessness is intensified after the unwinding. But, yes, I guess I did what I said I couldn’t do. I unwound.
In time, I begin to understand the moment by moment response I had in that unwinding and the ones to follow. By not forcing or leading. By staying gently at each barrier for me, the therapists allowed me to feel and express what had been stuck inside me all this time: sadness, chaos, fear, desperation, fight, helplessness. They had allowed me to complete a process of escape I had only thought about while captured. Awkward as that first layer was, the feeling of powerlessness that I had buried, was finally surfacing after 16 years of suppressing it. Now in this protective environment, perhaps I could finally get the resolution I so desperately wanted.

My First Myofascial Release Treatment


John’s treatment room at Therapy on the Rocks

On the morning of my 36th birthday, I drive to the Myofascial Release Treatment Center, Therapy on the Rocks in Sedona, Arizona for my first ever myofascial release treatment. At this point, even though nothing else has worked to heal me and it all sounds good in a book, I still have my doubts. I am feeling like crap, but I know this is my best option. As I walk into the center, I look at the sign and think, “How ironic. I don’t feel any physical pain and I’m going to a pain treatment center.”

My first session is an intake with treatment for the remaining time. This is where, for the first time since writing my statement to police, I write down on paper that I was abducted and sexually assaulted. I write it this way because it sounds a little less horrible to me than being kidnapped and raped. I squirm a bit when the therapist reads and comments on this item. I don’t remember exactly what she said to me, but it took all my effort to hold in the tears. She understood my struggle intimately, yet we had only just met.

We then start treatment. She has me lie face up on the treatment table – a massage table. Her hands sink into my chest and I feel her inside it. I am caught off guard. No one has touched me this way before. No one has gotten past the wall I had put there. Not even my husband. This wall keeps everyone out. Somehow, I trust her completely. Not because of what she says to me, but how she says it, in combination with this new kind of touch. A deep, feeling connection has just been initiated. I have excellent radar for bullshit and there was no bullshit going on in her. She was genuinely connecting with a part of me I forgot I had. I named it somewhere in my journey as the essence of me. People have lots of names for that feeling. This is mine.

As she does a release of my head, neck and chest, I feel something, probably her arm, brush gently against my cheek. The gentleness of it is too much for my remaining wall to stand. In this deeply connected state, sobs escape me. Quiet ones, but the most spontaneous, heart wrenching sobs I had ever witnessed in myself. Gently, she says “that’s been in there a long time. ” Yes, it really fucking has. I hate that it’s coming out, yet at the same time, I feel tremendous relief. Thank god it’s out. She gently rolls me on my side, puts a pillow under my head and tucks me into a fetal position. She tucks a sheet around me and snugs me into an even tighter ball. It feels safe. Safer than I’ve felt in a long, long time. Then, she says: “Sometimes we need to be really tough. You’ve been really, really tough. You don’t have to be tough in here. Take as long as you need.” She leaves the room. Soft sobs come and go. It feels safe to do this. There’s no one to cover it up for in here. After my first treatment I knew this was the real deal and it was helping. My body and mind just knew.

Turning Point

The culminating point of pain – the point at which ignoring and denying the pain became in itself too painful, was the night in July 2004. My family were all siting at the table for dinner. At this point I was so self-absorbed I couldn’t tell you what brought the conversation to here. All I know is that my husband said in a stern but caring voice “Patti, you’re sick. You need help.

For the first time in a long, long time, I burst into tears in front of my two girls who were 6 and 4 at the time. When I could get myself enough under control to look up, I saw the fear in their eyes. This was and still is understood by them as the time Daddy made Mommy cry. It broke my heart to see their pain and fear. At that moment I made a pact, for them, to get the help I needed. Me, who never, never asks for help. Never wants to burden others. Never wants to believe I can’t do it myself. Never wants to feel weak.

This pact has been my constant source of motivation throughout the healing process. Because I did not believe I was worth helping. Doing this for myself had no meaningful purpose. Healing so I could be there for my children, because I knew I was good at that – now that was a reason I felt deep in my heart. I love them more than anything. Now that I could see how my suffering was hurting them, I refused to ignore it anymore.

The next day I made an appointment with my Physician. When I met her I could barely hold in the tears. The dam had been broken and there was no amount of patching that could remedy the damage. It was coming down whether I wanted it to or not.

I told my Physician I was having trouble sleeping; waking up with nightmares; having flashbacks during the day (what I liked to call daymares); I was crying alone a lot, feeling nauseous and unable to eat; couldn’t remember anything I was supposed to be doing at home or at work. Her face was full of concern and she said “this is no good, let’s get you sleeping and feeling better.” She was an angel. Someone who understood and could help me. She prescribed some non-addictive sleeping pills and anti-depressants. “You’ve understandably (she knew my history) come to a point where you need treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I’d like you to see a Psychologist.” She gave me the name of a wonderful woman who would, over the next two years, become my irreplaceable advocate in my healing journey.

I left my Physician’s office with a feeling of relief. I’d finally told someone how I was really feeling. I had renewed hope that the medications and psychotherapy would restore some level of normal to my life.

That night, having taken the sleeping pill and the anti-depressant, I slept soundly through the night for the first time in what seemed like forever.


The next four days were a period where something bigger than me came in to help. I cannot explain it. I simply know that I am continually in awe and forever grateful for what happened next.


Day one on anti-depressants gave me bowel changes, one of the possible side effects. Day two and three were similar to a shot of caffeine. I felt on the verge of mania, which made me feel almost anxious, but not quite. I thought maybe this was OK, because I wasn’t bursting into tears or feeling like staying in bed all day.

On day four, I entered the dead zone. I felt nothing. Not depressed, not manic, not a thing. Most of all, I realized that I was losing touch with myself. I was losing my ability to feel connected to myself at all, even if that self was a wreck. Sitting at my desk, losing my connection to myself, I decided that feeling dead to myself was worse than feeling like crap. It was frightening in a very different way than terror. If I had felt like a puppet while with my kidnapper, this felt like my entire mind, body and soul were the puppet now. At least before, I could still think and feel independently of what was happening to me. On the anti-depressants, I felt like I was being hijacked from the inside out.

Day four was the last day I ever took anti-depressants. I stayed on the sleeping pills for a few weeks, then tapered off them too. I’ve not taken any prescription medications since. That includes antibiotics and pain medications. I thank my inner self that it was so adamant about keeping me connected to that last thread of myself. I can’t imagine how hard this next part of my journey would have been, if I’d had to do it while having my feelings manipulated by a drug. It was hard enough to navigate myself without introducing outside roadblocks.

A Reintroduction

This is the email that started it all. This is the first “after healing” communication I sent beyond my myofascial release community – my healing tribe.

Take a read . . .

A Reintroduction

To my wonderful friends and family,

It has been almost 3 years since I wrote “An Introduction” letter to you my friends and family, to let you know that I was taking time off work to do some healing. Thank you, every one of you, for taking the time to read my letter. Your kind thoughts and words have helped and continue to help me on my healing journey. At the time I sent that letter I was very overwhelmed by all the letters and emails of support I received and was not able to respond with thanks. I was, in fact, speechless. Know that every bit of it helped – tremendously – thank you!

So what have I been doing for the last 3 years? Not what I expected that’s for sure. What I expected was to take some time just to do things I wanted to, learn to relax and then come back to work. What occurred in those three years, now that I look back, I could not have planned. It was both frightening and sad; frustrating and overwhelmingly amazing. The details will not fit in this letter, but the thing that happened is what I would call becoming myself. Uh, hence the title of this letter. In my own way, in my own time, with the help of some very courageous and gifted people, I’ve stripped away layers of the past, revealing the real me. We all have one. It’s usually buried under layers of “I’m doing just fine” and “I’ve never been healthier in my life” and “if I could just get that promotion, take my dream vacation, win the lottery, eat a piece of chocolate cake or have a drink with my friends tonight, I’d be happy”. These are just facades – they are empty. They are based in fear. They disempower. They’re not the real you.

I’m not writing to preach to people. Live your life how you want to. But ask yourself “am I truly happy where I am now?” I asked myself this question and the answer was painfully clear. No. But how do I get to that happy place? It took several months of rushing around, rediscovering my past, and running away from it to realize that what I had been doing for the last 19 years to feel better was not helping. Believe me; I tried everything I could think of to understand and get better. I got two university degrees in psychology, I became a police officer, I volunteered for the Sexual Assault Crisis Line, Victim Services of Windsor, I worked as a private investigator, I read hundreds of self help books, studied various religions and philosophies, saw a psychologist, saw a psychiatrist, took antidepressants, exercised and ate a healthy diet. All provided temporary relief or provided solutions so abstract and vague as to provide no real help. In the end, it got so bad I was unable to function in my day to day life.

So, totally exhausted and on that fine line between giving up and knowing there was an answer somewhere, I asked myself “is there anyone out there who knows how to do this?” That’s when I rolled over in bed and noticed a book on the floor. My sister had given it to me 6 months before, to which I had thanked her and promptly put it in the pile of self help books on the floor next to my bed. I saw the book, picked it up and read the quote on the first page: “And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaϊs Nin. My eyes were glued to this book. It was about people’s experiences of real healing told by them. It was not what I had expected. It was frightening really, because it was real and personal. I could relate to these people. I read the book and my skeptical mind – the one that has protected me from all the false promises of wellness – could find no holes in what this man was saying. A feeling of relief washed over me. Finally, here was someone who was making sense of my messed up life and better yet, he was doing this for real people and they were getting better. Not because he said so, but because they were saying so. The book: Healing Ancient Wounds: The Renegade’s Wisdom, by John F. Barnes PT.

What I learned from this book was that I was storing every trauma my body had ever experienced – stuffing it down, way down and willing it there by telling everyone I was ok and trying desperately to just move on. This was further validated by people praising me for how well I was handling it all and how they could count on me to stay calm and level-headed in even the toughest situations. These people all meant well. They did not know what I know now – that I was not ok – that no matter how hard I tried I could not will away the traumas of my life. That my body was storing and remembering everything that ever happened to it – good or bad. That holding it in required almost super-human effort and it only served to intensify my fatigue and to focus most of my thoughts on my past and not on my present. This came in the form of extreme fatigue, sleeping up to 12 hours a day, depression, memory blanks, stomach flu, tonsillitis and most frightening for me, suicidal thoughts. And so I learned that at some point, for no apparent reason, beyond my super human ability to control it and of course at the most inopportune moments, something inside me would say “enough” and began emptying the past it so desperately wanted to get rid of. I began to cry uncontrollably, I became angry and yelled at people I cared about. I had nightmares. I couldn’t sleep. My life was consumed with trying to cover up this letting go and there was no room left for happiness. I could not make myself feel happy no matter how hard I tried.

So now that I knew what was happening and I knew what to do. Within 2 months of leaving my job I was attending a 2 week intensive treatment program in Sedona, Arizona with John Barne’s team of wise and caring therapists. At this point, even though nothing else had worked and it all sounded good in a book, I had my doubts. I went into my first 2 week intensive kicking and screaming really. I felt like crap but this was my best option. As I drove up to the Myofascial Release Pain Treatment Center on my 36th birthday for my first treatment I looked at the sign and thought “how ironic, I don’t feel any physical pain and I’m going to a pain treatment center.” During my treatments, however, it became clear that my body was experiencing pain, but that I was ‘courageously’ tuning it out. Something I discovered was not so courageous since it was sending me an S.O.S. that it was being ravaged and I was conveniently ignoring it. I also discovered that emotional pain is in fact real pain that manifests as physical symptoms and that its effects can be just as damaging as a physical trauma. So here I was, only minutes into my first treatment and I knew this was the real deal and it was helping. My body and mind just knew.

So life was livable now after my 2 week intensive. A few months passed and I realized there was more work to be done if I was going to get back to work. So 6 months later I went back to Sedona for a one week intensive. That’s when I met John Barnes. Words do not describe this man. The best that comes to mind is kind, gentle, knowing. His presence changes the entire atmosphere of the place. You can actually feel him there, even when you’re not in the same room. It was during this second intensive, as I was being treated by a wonderful therapist, that she said to me “you have angels all around you and they seem to be protecting you”. At that moment and I still don’t know the connection between her words and my thoughts; it suddenly occurred to me that I had to do this work. It was helping when nothing else did and I was feeling better than I ever thought possible. How could I not share this healing experience with others? Knowing what I now did, it seemed almost cruel, inhumane even, not to share what I had learned and experienced with others the way I had experienced it – through another’s hands. Within a month of returning home I had signed up for the registered massage therapist program. 2 years later I became a registered massage therapist and attended 4 of John’s seminars so I could practice using his myofascial release approach. I am now in private practice with my sister using John’s myofascial release approach exclusively. I know it works. It worked for me. And it is what I can now, with love, give to my clients.

For those who know me personally, I am normally very cautious, conservative and guarded about what I say and do. To say that this experience was profoundly life changing and that it saved my life is an understatement. I cannot put in words what goes on in these sessions. As I heard the other clients and therapists (yes they all get treated too) talking about their experiences I realized it was unique, personal and special for every one of them, every time. No two people are alike and no two people receive the same treatment. Nor is each session the same for one person. Healing is a progression not an event. So, all I can say is that I now feel lighter, freer, and happier than I ever remember being. I am now in control of most of what I feel and do and that is the best feeling in the world. It is like experiencing life for the first time. For the greater part of my days the world around me leaves me in awe, time passes as slow or as fast as I need it to, people are beautiful and loving, and my body and mind feel strong and pain free. I can now honestly say, from my heart, that my life is beautiful. And the cool thing about it all is that I look forward to the next moment of chaos. When I feel my head whirling I can now, finally, patiently sit with it. Not try to drown it out with a movie, music, chocolate, a drink, to do lists. Because I know that if I can be in the chaos like I’ve learned to, the reward is a release from yet another part of my painful past and a calm like no other. Then that movie becomes the best I’ve ever seen, the music more awesome than ever before, and the chocolate like ecstasy. The drink pales in comparison to the feeling of being awake and present. And the to do list? Well it vanishes!

I do still have times of doubt (which I learned is a good thing), and yet I keep coming back for more treatment (and now courses) because it’s the one thing that consistently and continually brings me through the chaos and out the other end a more joyful person. I waited to send this letter because I needed the test of time to be sure my feeling better was for real and not just another temporary thing. Every week that passes I find myself hardly believing that I feel this good. And every week it gets better, no matter what else is going on around me. I don’t’ have to ‘make’ myself happy. It is happening now without effort. I know it took courage and determination to go into the pain of the past. I now know there is no other way out of pain but to confront it head on. You cannot transcend your past. You must fully experience it in all its sadness and horror in order to master it and then let it go – giving room to live in the present. This is true authentic healing. It feels like coming home. I am home now.

For those of you out there who are feeling like this level of healing is not possible for you, ask yourself “what’s the worst thing that could happen if I gave this a try?” What’s the worst that could happen if I trusted myself, opened my heart and just let go. Know that every single one of us was conceived with the ability to heal. But in this age of needing to prove we know better than our own awesome bodies, we’ve just forgotten how. That is what this work does. And this relearning is happening to millions of people worldwide, successfully. So my story is really not so unique, yet it would be nice if it were commonplace. That is my hope. That is my goal in writing this letter. That you will be inspired to take your own healing path so that you can truly experience the joy of life. Because isn’t that what we’re here to do?