Resolving Thoughts of Suicide

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Picture taken at the garden of Musee Rodin, Paris, France. August 2013

Once the big shocks of trauma and many of the symptoms of post traumatic stress resolved, a new layer emerged. It was there all along, but hidden under nightmares, hyper vigilance, outbursts of rage, and short term memory problems. That layer was a strong feeling and thoughts of wanting to kill myself. I understood the process of healing and realized I needed to go deeper to resolve it. Relying on the courage and skill of my therapist and the help of a group I call the MFR Tribe, I was able to get to the bottom of very serious feelings and thoughts of suicide. The lasting effects of resolution are still evident 6 years later. 

Building on my increasing skill at healing – it takes practice and I was two years into treatment – I had gained enough trust in the process and my therapist to reach out, deliberately decide not to kill myself and instead go into the feeling of dying. My therapist was able to steer my persistent thoughts back to feeling my body – which is where the resolution ultimately happened.

It is entirely possible to be free from thoughts of suicide, but to do so requires a highly centered therapist, skilled in this specific area. It cannot be done alone or with someone who cannot remain centered until resolution happens. It also must be initiated by the suicidal person and not the therapist. The healing process cannot be forced and the suicidal person has to take the lead. The power has to be firmly in their hands.

Here is a look inside the process . . .

I began to feel suicidal after a treatment and the next day, sent this email to my therapist.

February 28, 2007
Hi Dave,

I was glad to see your email on MFR Talk. It snapped me back from wherever I was after my last treatment – which was not particularly present. Thank you.

I find myself saying/feeling the words “this work has changed my life” to more and more people. Everything else I read and learn pales in comparison. It does not get at the heart of the matter.

Having said that, I have found the heart of the matter of what continually leads me in a downward spiral. It is a feeling of profound isolation. Of total disconnection with everyone and everything. I have never come back to my body – only visited like one visits a grave site. I am continually asking myself what I’m still doing alive, because I’m supposed to be dead. I’m a walking dead person! I know that until I relive (or undie?), you and I are merely treating a body with no soul and that is not fair to you or me. I also know that transcending this will be a big step forward.

So the question is, how do I get to this place or what is the question I should be asking myself or . . . yep, totally stuck here. I know that this work has changed my life and so I have faith that it is the way through. Any advice you can give will be gladly received.

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From Dave:
March 1, 2007
Just time for a short answer now, things did not feel complete last appointment, you may have noticed me hovering around as you left.

Just to be safe do we need to include another health care provider? or counselor?

Assuming not, how does it feel to be stuck?  What does it look like to be unstuck?  You say it is like visiting a grave site, do you need to “be in the grave”?

Do you need a 2 week intensive with John?

May I put out the body of your letter, without name or any form of identification on the chat line?

More later

Dave
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March 1, 2007
Hi Dave,
Thank you for your quick reply. I sat with the questions you provided last night. There were two things that came up. The first is that stuck feels hard and dry like a rock in my jaw eating into the center of my head. It also feels like being stuck standing, facing a corner in a room with no way out. I want to feel what unstuck feels like but so far I just wait.

The second thing was visiting myself as if visiting a grave site. I feel like I’m continually trying to feel in my body only to find it feels dead. Very cold in my throat and solar plexus, yet burning in my solar plexus. Then I feel the isolation.

Yes, please post. Anything would be helpful and I’m not in a position to post myself. I’ll be able to read any replies directly.

The other component of this is what I like to call my logical mind clinging to the past. If I feel the feelings of isolation then I can remain in my small cocoon. Then I make it tangible by establishing new relationships with people and then have them “abandon” me. I’ve worked on this with my psychologist in the past, but we’re pretty much at a dead end now. So I’ve just come to accept that I will always feel isolation. Fortunately my body rebels at this so all I can do is just keep searching for a way out. This is where MFR comes in. I feel connections now that I’ve been to Sedona. This has never happened before. I want to go back. When I saw the cancellation in March I felt sad because I want to go back but have various excuses not too (family, money, the usual).

I apologize if this is too much information. I just needed to get it out in black and white and I trust you.

Thank you for caring.
Patti
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This is what some call the Dark Night of the Soul. It is not a fun place to be. I wanted to just be left alone, but could barely stand the feeling of it. Talk of people’s happiness and how wonderful life was just intensified the feeling of isolation, so it was best to be alone or to be with Dave – a person who had the capacity to just allow me to be. This created an atmosphere of engagement and non-resistance, which interrupted my feelings of isolation and created a safe space where I could feel below death.

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From: Dave

Friday, March 2, 2007

Patti!

Have you seen the wave of support out there for you, even though they don’t know who you are. I hope some of the responses have been helpful.

The other thing to try is to feel it even deeper, when you have an appropriate time, like holding on to an object tighter and tighter. Hold on to it so tight that eventually you just have to let go.

Please let me know how you are doing.

Dave

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The number of responses that came from Dave’s help request on MFR Chat stunned me. People who didn’t know me but understood what I was feeling because they had been there themselves. Then Sheila posted the question “What if you WERE dead? How would that feel?” This prompted a feeling of falling into a deep, cold, black void. I felt my body and mind resisting the feeling, but I was losing my grip fast.

I called Dave. He guided me down into that void. Into the feeling of death. I felt intense fear and softened and allowed the feeling. I felt under the coldness. Then something shifted. There was light and warmth under the coldness of the void.

This all happened in a short phone conversation. It was all I needed. That final nudge to feel what was under the void. I had never thought there was anything good under it; and I had resisted it all these decades, for fear of dying, yet never knowing I could challenge my fear of death simply by feeling it go through my body – quite safely – without having to kill myself to experience it. Huh.

Feeling beyond the previous “dead end” into something that felt good, my mind no longer needed to search for a reason for the dead feeling and I stopped thinking about killing myself.
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March 8, 2007

Dave,

I started to journal my unwinding adventure and discovered I had no need to because I FEEL it’s affects. Words would dampen the intensity. Needless to say, I now know I can go to the places of my worst nightmares and you will be there cheering me on. That is the most powerful thing one person can do for another human being. 

So thank you for being there, in the middle of all that, guiding me with your big heart, comforting arms and compassionate words. Thank you for bringing me back from the abyss – finally, I feel alive!!

Now I can spend my vacation getting used to my new body! It feels strange and new and wonderful!

And I am actually feeling excited about the next time. That’s new too.

And please say a big thank you to the wonderful people who sent their encouragement. I could feel their support and it allowed me to summon my courage to feel into the fear.

Until next time,

Patti

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Dave’s email to the MFR Chatline:

March 8,2007
Subject: “Dave’s Client” clatient?

Details would be inappropriate, but I want to say thank you to all of you for your kind and wise words and your support.

Be easy with your self.

Dave

PS We use different terms to refer to the folks that we try to help in a professional way. Both patient and client can be pejorative. One term is associated needing care which may imply a level of dependence and the other is associated with an impersonal exchange for service solely for financial gain. I’d like to suggest the compromise “clatient”.

Out of my head and into my body

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Before I left Sedona after my second intensive treatment program, John referred me to, of all people, a male therapist in Michigan. I trusted the depth of resolution I’d had in my treatments and so I trusted John’s recommendation and set up my first appointment shortly after returning.

It was a giant step for me and one that has paid off in so many ways. Dave has been my source of constant reinforcement of the principals of healing I was just beginning to grasp. He has remained neutral and supportive, no matter what horrific or odd assortment of memories, feelings, emotions and positions in space that happened to be coming to the surface. Most importantly, he continually got me out of my head and back in my body so I could continue to soften the grip I had on the past.

A year after my first appointment, I sent Dave this email. It is my first record of writing anything down and it rightly displays the interaction I have with him. It also demonstrates what happens when a client begins to embody healing and fully take the reigns in their own treatment. Have a read . . .

Hi Dave,

I wanted to let you know that you have helped tremendously in bringing me to a new depth of healing. Your gentleness, caring and humor have been most important in bringing me to now. All my life, even before the time I remember, I have felt pushed. You have quite uniquely found the balancing place just behind me, where I can grow under my own control. This is so important that you have done this you can’t imagine – this ‘having only support’ – nothing else. Because nothing else is needed. It has helped me to find my power.

Now that I’m coming to that place with your support, I had my best self-unwinding yet the very next morning after seeing you. I was easy with myself, like you’ve coached, and softened into the place where I could unwind. This time it was not frightening. It was like I was below the frightened part and no longer freaking myself out. All the things I had been taught by you and others; all the information I had read; all the experiences of unwinding I’d had were suddenly second nature. I did not have to think – I just felt! I should also say that the other thing that got me to unwind myself was that the night before I was not feeling well. I felt very depressed and tired. I was feeling that no one else got this concept except the very few who do this work. I went to bed, slept, woke up early and started to feel the enormity of all the things that had ever happened to me, to my mom, to my sister, to my mom’s mom . . . I saw the cycle, the pattern that had unfolded to this date. It felt hopeless. Then, feeling cornered with no way out, I realized that my rational brain was creating all these thoughts. It was creating an elaborate shield to hide the truth from my intuitive and emotional selves. Then my emotional self would pitch in too and block my intuitive self. I couldn’t believe what I was realizing! So then I literally had a stern but caring conversation with my rational self. I said, “you have done an outstanding job. You kept me safe when it really counted. You kept my body still when moving would have meant pain. You kept me unemotional when crying would have escalated to injury. You focused on remembering every single little detail so that the information could be used for my benefit. You are unbelievably fantastic at what you do. You have gotten me to here in one piece. And now it’s time for you to take a rest; to move out of the way so I can heal. Let the emotional and intuitive parts do the job they’re meant to do. It’s safe now for the other parts to do their work.”

After that conversation with myself (that’s so cool that humans can do that) the unwinding was immediate. Feelings that my emotional self wanted to feel but could not at the time, came out. Movement my intuitive self wanted to make, happened. Every so often my rational self would have an aha moment and then step back again. And back and forth it went between the three parts – each sharing with the other – harmonious – cooperative – FINALLY!!

I hope that you benefit from this information Dave. I want you to know that you are a very gifted therapist and that you are helping me in a very big way.

All I can do is say, Thank You.

Patti

p.s. when self unwinding I learned I only need two things: a pillow for my head and a LOT of Kleenex 🙂

Authentic Healing

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Before treatment, I lived life by forgetting and moving on. Then life caught up with me and I began to resist and hold on tightly to what I had built. Then, life handed me a third option – authentic healing. The kind where I get to heal myself. This time, I had skilled, intuitive therapists guiding me; guiding me into the body I had deserted; reintroducing me to safe touch; coaxing my mind to get out of the way so I could heal; giving me permission to do what I needed to do, physically, emotionally, and intuitively, in order to resolve what I thought was unresolvable. The dead ends I believed and felt to be true became openings to a flexibility and power I did not know I possessed.

What occurred in the following three years after those two intensive treatments, now that I look back, could not have been planned any better. If someone had told me this is how I would heal, I would have said, no thanks. It was both frightening and exhilarating; frustrating, yet easy. When given the choice between bracing/numbing and softening/letting go, therapists persistently and gently remained at each physical, emotional and false belief-ridden barrier until I realized – on my own – that letting go was indeed my best option. Many times, I would face myself and fight myself at the same time. I was so tightly connected to my beliefs and fear, and loath to change, even when in deep emotional and physical pain. The pain fueled my perseverance and steered me squarely into a barrier I was too tired of fighting anymore. Exhausted, giving up the fight, I would feel into what I had believed was too hard or scary to feel. Afterward, feeling so much better, I would wonder why I had resisted with such resolve. Eventually, not trusting, getting results, then trusting, I resisted less and allowed more. In an open arena where I was always given the choice to resist or allow; engage or not; feel or not feel; be in my body and leave when I wanted – everything was possible and nothing I introduced from my horrible past was out of bounds. When stalled in my treatment sessions, the therapist would sense this and gently nudge with dialogue, sound, words, or a slap (not really a slap – this one is best left for it’s own blog post). There was never force unless there was an equal meeting of force by me. There was no bargaining, cajoling or directing by therapists of what I should do. They were showing me my own built in healing mechanisms. They were teaching me not to be afraid of them; not to be afraid of my body doing it’s own healing. Not to shut it down and let it continue to completion.

On my own individual route to healing, I learned, through trial and error with the outcomes I was getting. I experienced going into a session with no expectation or judgment as to how I would achieve my goals. Feeling improvement, I gained the confidence and trust to write down and say out loud what I wanted for myself. “I want to feel safe. I want to feel calm. I want to trust men again.” Then, once again fearful and anticipating failure, I would go into a session and have the feelings of threat, anxiety and fear immediately come up. Still, my therapists never stopped encouraging me to tap into my own powerful intuition. In an entirely neutral atmosphere, where there was neither a shutting down nor a forcing through of the healing process – trust in myself flickered to life. Tentative at first. Always bracing initially and softening secondarily. It took two years before trust in myself became the dominant state in my treatments. Trusting the process and softening into what was coming up instead of bracing against it.

Although I wanted it to be a straight, logical path, that was not how the essence of me needed to get there. I had to learn, through iterations, how to trust myself, my body, the therapist, the healing process, the next moment. The path unfolded how it needed to in order for the healing to feel genuine; in order for it to stand the test of time and the interaction of living. I now have great respect for my body – that it decided for me that holding on wasn’t my best option.

Before the John Barne’s Myofascial Release Approach to life, I lived with the following approach: shove the bad events and feelings down out of the way, force yourself to get up and move on – that’s how you get over the past; don’t pull people down by mentioning anything negative from the past – keep it to yourself, it does you no good to bring it up (This is true if the other person is not equipped to facilitate healing, but the lack of trust to tell your story becomes ingrained. So it becomes best not to say anything to anyone, even therapists.); follow the advice of the experts, because you can’t trust yourself – you know less about your own healing than they do.

Gradually, I developed the habits of a healthy approach to life, embodied consistently and perpetually in the John Barnes Myofascial Release Approach: never force, never lead, never tell anyone what to do, feeling is healing, trust the healing process happening spontaneously in you.

Healing, Traveling and Expanding

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The world feels different around me . . . because it feels. It smells, tastes, sounds, looks – intricate, rich, complete, brimming with life. There are pockets of life bubbling everywhere. In the bush, the bee, the clouds, the ever changing breeze as it hangs, heavy and soft around my face. Looking up, the wind ruffles a tree and smooths the clouds along an unseen conveyor belt.

Leaving the familiar atmosphere of home and traveling across the ocean to a globalized, yet foreign continent, changed my perceptions in a good way. Having practiced for 8 years now, how to let go and go with the flow of life, this trip was ripe for expansion of experience and by extension, of me.

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Being in a place where, number one: you have no history, and number two: no habitual responsibilities, left many subconscious bracing patterns back at home. Free from old constraints for a little over two weeks, more natural and spontaneous habits began to emerge.

My muscles were more relaxed. I was less tense in general and joined up with a friendly, social and absolutely delightful French family, who meshed with our family like long lost friends, it was impossible not to enjoy our time in France.

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The first perceptual change I noticed, was that my vision was embracing a bigger picture.

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Instead of absorbing individual olive trees, I was inhaling an entire visual field – the olive tree was a grove, which banked a rise, running into stately rows of grapes, halting at a typical French farm, framed by the lovely Mont Luberon, complete with sun rays and a thunder of cicadas – a hint of lavender entering my nostrils and nesting in my eyes, enriching the scene even further.

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Without being overwhelmed, there seemed no end to how much sensory information I could take in. It was the same with the people. Whether they were a cafe crowd, tourists, or locals on the Metro. I took in the whole of them. I wasn’t looking fearfully for pickpockets or terrorists. Taking in the whole picture, relaxed yet alert, the odd drunk Frenchman quickly stood out – and I simply laughed.

In addition to the bigger picture, the experience of driving in France blew away my tendency to hesitate.
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My perception of speed and spontaneity changed drastically. Navigating a countryside of spoked roads with multiple exits to the same town, all the while sensing blind corners hiding pockets of cyclists (enthusiastic to retrace the route of the recently completed Tour de France) required a level of spontaneity that bordered on an F1 car race. John was our outstanding driver, having been graciously lent our French family’s stick shift mini van. As the navigator, I quickly learned how to get us unlost after “Lizzie”, our lovely British GPS had us leave a roundabout at the 5th, not the 6th exit.

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We quickly became pros at making U-turns; merging onto packed roundabouts; properly stopping at traffic lights placed well back of intersections; driving the correct speed without marked speed limits, and locating open boulangeries for our daily baguette picnic. Each day, as we piled into the van – all five of us including our lovely exchange student – John would engage the clutch and I would sing a rendition of Willie Nelson’s “on the road again”. It was always an exiting adventure.

The third change in perception was simply an appreciation for the pure, natural tastes, sites and smells that the French countryside provided.

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We have plenty of beautiful countryside in Canada to enjoy. It just looks, smells and tastes different. I enjoyed engaging my senses in the new smells of lavender fields, pillows infused with the zest of grapefruit, buttery olives with herbes de Provence, moist baguettes, honey-flavoured melons, unlimited varieties of cheese and saucissons; an appreciation for a cool, crisp Rose instead of a heavier Cotes de Rhone, and an afternoon Ricard’s pastis.

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Returning to Canada and home, my perception remained expanded and I began to see Ontario and Canada through a traveler’s eyes. We have a shorter history than the French. They know who they are. They know how they’ve evolved to the present time.

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To them, believe it or not, we seem exotic. We are from the great white north. We are from a country that is so big, it appears as a wilderness in comparison. We have no traditional Canadian meals. We don’t have a lot of traditions native to our short history. We are seen as easy going, robust and always ready for a party. When I was explaining this perception to my sister Heather, she summed it up perfectly. Recently, she heard a group of Americans cheering. The sound was patriotic and assertive. You can hear them shouting “USA! USA! USA!” [fists pumping]. When the Canadians cheered, she heard “woohoo!” [translated: let’s party!] We are still young as a country and young at heart. I hope that never changes. The French, as far as I can tell, are not the group cheering type. Again, they know who they are. They don’t have to. They love to laugh and sing and joke around. They are also very passionate and open. They are wonderful to be around. I love them! And I love Canadian’s! And I love American’s! My world has expanded and it is more beautiful for the expansion.

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We cannot wait to introduce our French family to Canada when we next get together. We miss them already.

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Coming Back to My Body

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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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Thawing Trauma

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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.

Unwinding Trauma

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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.
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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

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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.

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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.

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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.