Coming Back to My Body

alex grey
image, Alex Grey

Over the course of my two week intensive, my mind, now opened to an entirely new way of healing, began to reshape itself. I felt quite literally, turned inside out. Gradually, I became less freaked out by my body doing its healing thing. I also began to understand the dialogue given during treatment and how it allowed me to get out of my head and into my body.

Being in your body is critical to healing. As John would say “no work gets done when no one’s home.” There can be a lot of talking and thinking and even hands on treatment happening, but until you are physically able to feel the inside of your body and be in it – permanent healing does not occur. When I became a therapist, I attended a seminar and John showed us a stunning example. As a therapist lay on the table for a demonstration, John paused, stepped back from the person on the table and said two words – “road kill.” That’s exactly what someone out of their body looks like on the table.

That was me – a lot. Yet I was completely unaware of it because I’d been leaving my body automatically for decades. Now I didn’t need to leave. Everything was safe, but my body was on automatic and required the sensitivity of a therapist to cue me when I was doing it.

I’d be lying on the table thinking “what are they doing?” I was constantly analyzing what therapists were doing with me and thinking “they’re not doing anything”. Fortunately, they have this super sensitive feel and knew exactly when I was off thinking and not in my body anymore. I’d be thinking “where is this going” or “what am I supposed to be doing?”, then I’d hear the therapist interrupt my thoughts and say something like “where are you?” Normally, that statement would sound stupid. I knew where I was – laying on the table. But their timing was such that I felt exactly what they meant. I was not in my body. My awareness was floating up above me somewhere and I was simply thinking.

Each time I checked out, my therapists would let me know. Sometimes they would ask me to describe the feeling, sometimes they would simply say “come back in your body” They would completely confuse my intellect by asking questions like “what would happen if you felt that?” or “what’s under that?” or “you don’t have to feel that right now if you don’t want to. It’s your choice. You’re in charge here.” or “go in and get it”. I learned how to get to seemingly unreachable walls by feeling the wall physically in my body and then feeling the underside of it. I learned to feel the natural movement of my body as it unwound itself. It was a floaty feeling, which felt as if something inside was moving me.

My favourite quote was when my therapist said: “Patti, you’re not driving this bus. Get in the back seat and let it drive itself!” It was so, so scary to let go of control without checking out of my body – to let go of the steering wheel of this body-bus I thought I was driving and let it do the driving for me. Then, hands off the steering wheel, I would jam on the brakes many, many times and then slowly ease up on them; and when I did, healing happened. Feelings and memories I thought were buried forever came through and out of me. The thoughts and feelings that had replayed over and over in me began to disappear. The past was slowly losing its grip and a new clarity in present time experiences was peeking through.

Journey Home


West River Road

In retrospect, I (meaning my ego) went into my first two week intensive kicking and screaming really. It took until day three before I realized my neat and tidy idea of going to Sedona to get fixed and come home all better was not how life worked. I have this realization in the shower that morning of day three. I am hit with the absoluteness of knowing the truth – that this is a lifelong process. It feels like a life sentence and I cry in resignation, grieving the loss of my old way of living. There is no going back to the old way, even if I wanted to. The old way is craziness. It is swimming up stream and although this new way is scary, uncomfortable and requires continual participation, I accept it. I feel out my options and to me it feels worse to go back than it does to continue on. Yes, life is indeed the only journey and I choose real life. I choose authentic healing.

At the end of my two weeks I panic. I wish I could stay for three. I’m not ready to go home. My husband will not understand. How do I be this new person? I read a handout that is given to me in the take home package. In there are some comforting words that I will read over and over again back home. The most important. Go slow. Go slow. Go slow. I am given hugs by the staff and then quietly make myself small and disappear. Sadness consumes me and I go. I feel lost. I feel I have no home. I do not call the therapist they have referred me to for followup back home.

At home I barely make contact with my husband or my kids. I am sick in bed for ten days. I am raw and questioning what happened when I was there. I read John’s book again. I read the information I was given. I get stuck and then feel my way through a deep, deep depression. I have been here before, yet my body is responding with emotion this time. Not so frozen and stuck.

Gradually life becomes more liveable than before I had gone away. I still spend as little time as possible with my husband (don’t worry, there is a happy ending post coming), but I was connecting to my children in a new way that I hadn’t quite figured out how to convey to them.

I was still very much attached to my male friend at work. I decided that if he was with me, I could confront a few fears from the past. I asked if he could drive me to the place where I was abducted and make the route to the motel in Niagara Falls. He seemed honored. Applying the healing process I had learned to real life proved powerful. The one thing I did not want to do was go back to that place. So I did. I walked to the spot on the road and along the ditch. I stopped and looked and felt the inside of my body. My friend walked up to me and asked if I was ok. “I don’t feel so good,” I said. I felt this huge rush of fear and nausea come up and out of me. I started to shake. My friend held me. I shook harder and harder. My teeth chattered. “You’re shaking all over!” he exclaimed, fear in his voice. Yet he knew enough not to shut me down.
He drove me along the most likely route to Niagara Falls from there. Memories of the feel of the road put me back in the trunk of the car. Sitting in the passenger seat, I could feel the sunglasses I had been made to wear. I felt the fear continue to flow through me. There was a rise in the road and as the road peaked, I caught a glimpse of the Skylon. The tall tower which is a landmark of Niagara Falls. I count: two thousand and one, two thousand and two, then it is lost behind some trees. I am in awe as I realize that for the two seconds I had risked a glance at the road when I was being abducted, the Skylon is what I had seen. Seeing it had given me the information I needed to know where I was heading. How, in those two seconds, did I know to take a risk, open my eyes and look? I absorb the enormity of the power of gut instinct.
Inside the motel room, it is different. I can no longer stay in my body. I analyze the room, drawing comparisons from what I could glimpse from under the blindfold. It seems to be more or less match what I remembered. Spatially, it feels different, but then I did not have my entire visual field available then. I merge the old memory with the current. I have left most of my body here. It is not coming home with me. But the part left on the road by my bike is with me now and that is enough.

I process as much as I can. The gnawing anxiety that ping ponged inside me about confronting the past has significantly diminished. Throughout the next few months I bring my bike and ride the route. Each time, a new emotion, and its expression, find their way out of me. I finish the route I did not get to finish and get to the top of a hill with my favourite view. I sit and feel myself inside my body. A calm has settled in. I look out and see the expansive view. It looks like a postcard. Then I feel it with my body and the view becomes substantial. It goes from postcard to real life in an instant. So this is what the world looks like.

Thawing Trauma


Photo taken “off trail” across the road from Therapy on the Rocks

Over the week I gradually feel more comfortable receiving treatments at Therapy on the Rocks. This comfort vanishes abruptly as I hear words come out of my therapist’s mouth that slap me clear across the face – “Rob will be in to see you shortly.” Wait a minute. Did she just say Rob? That’s a male therapist correct? My mind was quickly calculating. Something it loves to do. Shit, it had not occurred to me that there would be male therapists at the clinic. Duh. John’s a male therapist, what did you expect? Yeah, but I signed up for the two week treatments that didn’t include John. I was not ok with this. The only male who puts is hands on me is my husband. OK, before that there were boyfriends, but, this was neither of those. OK, there were the obgyn’s who delivered my daughters, but I wasn’t in my body then. How am I going to get in there and have him put his hands on me? All the familiar feelings of the rape came to mind. Fear enveloped me. My mind went blank. I felt helpless.

Rob knocks and says “is it ok if I come in?” “Yes”, I say on queue. He opens the door a crack. He says something like, “I could feel you not wanting me in here all the way down the hall.” Then adds, “if you don’t want me in here, I can have a female therapist come treat you”. His acknowledgment of my fear and giving me a choice softened me a bit. I thought of the money that had been spent to get me here and decided I would go for it. “You can stay,” I say. It is a real challenge, but he is very patient. He meets me where I am. He nudges and tests my barrier, but never invades it. I begin to feel the difference between past feelings of invasion and present healing occurring. I begin to sense what healthy touch by a man feels like. Tears still well up every time I read this sentence I have written. Yes, it is possible to feel healthy touch from a man that I am not married to. It is not bad. It is not invading. It can be received. I don’t feel it as love, but it feels productive to my healing. As the treatment goes on, I feel, with his touch and words, a deep, deep deadness in me. So cold and lifeless. I feel myself floating over myself looking down on me, dead. The treatment ends here.

Over the next two weeks, Rob becomes instrumental in thawing the deep freeze I have been in for the past sixteen years. With each nudge, he ignites a long lost memory of what safe male connection feels like. He never pushes. He simply waits at my barrier, nudges, then waits, tests, then waits. Then, one day, he gets up on the treatment table and stands over my prone, face down body. He holds onto my wrists and holds my arms back and out in a flying position. He holds at my physical barrier and never yanks on them. And I thaw. My arms feel weak. I let them feel weak. They start to shake. I feel a wave of shame. Heat begins to radiate out of me. I feel excruciating pain that begs to be expressed. Grunting sounds come out of my mouth. My teeth start to chatter. I feel my entire body is gripping onto my wrists, not wanting them to let go, but I let them. My arms and hands go further and further back. My chest opens up. I feel my shoulders go back and my arms get longer and longer. It is so hot in the room, Rob has to stop and open the window and dry off his hands and my wrists. Sweat is dripping off of me now. I am shaking and sweating and feeling under pain and opening wider and wider. The handcuffed position that I had been in for sixteen years feels less and less prominent. I feel a sense of freedom. Of lightness. I am shaking and sweating the heavy weight I have been feeling all these years right out of me. The sense of helplessness I felt in the group unwinding is being overshadowed by an entirely new feeling – power. It is subtle. Not the “I could kick the shit out of someone right now” kind. It is a flickering, stirring, subtle kind. Subtle but unmistakable.

**A word about the thaw response.**

When any animal, including a human, is being attacked, there are three automatic, built-in responses: fight back, flee, or, if not effective, freeze/play dead. The freeze response occurs automatically, when fight and flight are not effective or are not possible. Once the danger has passed, a natural thaw response occurs, which discharges the trapped fight/flight energy embedded in the tissues. Once thawed, the animal returns to its regular relaxed and alert state. The one it was in before being attacked. Humans don’t commonly allow this process to occur. Yet, many of us are walking around in the freeze state. If you have ever been anesthetized prior to surgery, the freeze response was present. Any kind of physical or psychological restraint, or a situation that felt life threatening, could also induce this response. The freeze response is automatic, however, the thaw response can be shut down if we tighten our bodies enough. Once in a safe environment and given permission to let go, humans will let their guard down, soften their bodies, and start to shake, sweat, cry, and breathe very deeply. The cycle will come and go in waves. Unfortunately, I don’t have a human example on video, but click here to view a polar bear thawing.