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.