I’m thankful for the once a week where I can walk into a room where trauma isn’t a foreign language. I’ve been spoiled in this sense. I can walk into therapy, sit there and say nothing and be understood. (I’ve done this once, in fact with almost a full session spent in absolute silence, and I totally don’t recommend this.)
Though this implied understanding served me well there, I’ve not branched into explaining my trauma to others in my immediate circle. Which has led to innate lack of understanding by those around me.
Let’s be honest, who WANTS to talk about trauma? As I discussed in a previous post, trauma stories are the elephant in the room that no one asks about. So when I was finally asked about it outside of the room of understanding, I was unprepared. Enter, my massage therapist.
Bodywork is a very vulnerable place for a survivor of sexual trauma to be in. Starting a relationship with a new body worker typically involves explaining why one is there. This goes like this.
“Hey. I’m *****, I’m here because I was assaulted in 2000. I injured my back & neck which flares up from time to time. I suffer from migraines and sleep issues. I’m on a cocktail of medications to help me ‘life.’ (they ask questions) Yes, still. (they ask questions) No, I have issues from time to time with emotional trauma flare-ups because of Complex-PTSD from the assault. (they ask questions) No, I didn’t have x-rays or an exam. I went to the hospital but didn’t stay.” (wait, what? This is about the time where the person flirts with the idea of asking more questions or not. This is also where I IMMEDIATELY know whether a provider is a sexual assault survivor. This one line of “I went to the hospital, but didn’t stay,” will fill in the details to most survivors of what happened. If they pick this up, I can usually dance a bit more into disclosure. If they move into confusion, I tend to move into another topic.)
Often this intake discomfort leads to a survivor staying with a provider for longer than they should, simply because they don’t want to go through this whole inquisition AGAIN. We get used to the routine, even if the routine isn’t ideal. We get used to the office, the room, the person, the routine etc. If we do find someone that makes us comfortable, we may even be wary of disclosing things in order to make sure to not make them uncomfortable from our story.
This dance of disclosure is dizzying.
It had been a while since I had to vet a new provider, and I was not looking forward to the process. Body work is already a tight wire to walk for a team to walk, survivor and bodyworker. I found my massage therapist through a recommendation of a trusted friend, who explained that this LMT had worked with trauma survivors. I had recently fired my previous body worker as she had worked on a part of my body after I asked her not to (due to flashbacks I had experienced earlier in the day.) I was wary already about meeting a new person, and on edge due to the previous experience, but in desperate need of a new #team member to help remedy some of the major damage left from the assault both emotionally and physically.
Fast forward to now.
I survived intake. I’ve been with my LMT for 6 months now. One of the best things about her is that her energy/craniosacral work is amazing. She spends enough time allowing me to unwind and just be. Over time she’s been able to access some hidden chapters in the story that has been written on my body.
For a long time, I put off turning off the emotional barrier I kept up to protect me from crying. She mentioned that several of her client’s dialogue with her during sessions, where I liked to be silent (spoiler alert, so I didn’t have to talk about feelings.) Over time, however, she’s been able to access further into the story of my body, and only recently I agreed to give it a try.
I’ve gleaned interesting insights.
- Crying in a massage is really vulnerable. You’re mostly naked, feeling exposed, and crying. I still have a really REALLY hard time with this. First, I hate crying anyway. I was told that crying was weak, and I just dislike feeling like the weak one in the room. During my church days, the leadership looked down on the “chronic criers” as needy, so I learned fairly quickly to shut that shit down. (Side note: I realize that this church was/is emotionally and spiritually abusive, yet old habits die hard.) I still worry about seemingly silly things. (“What if she gets my tears on her?” *And yes, I’m laughing as I’m typing this.* “What if I’m the only client who cries?” *Because THAT’S likely* “What if I cry EVERY.TIME?” *This is becoming exceptionally likely.*)
- Disarming the body is a moment by moment process. (And god, I hate the word process.) I spent a lot of time in my massage working on trying to disarm my body. As a trauma survivor, and someone who lives with PTSD, I often forget how “on alert” my body is at all times. I didn’t realize HOW “on alert” until I met my LMT and had an experience where my body fully disarmed for a period of time.
- Relaxation is not disassociation, but sure as hell CAN feel like it. During my rape, I disassociated and left my body behind. When I am able to totally disarm in massage, I am unfamiliar with what it can feel like to feel totally relaxed, it can feel like disassociation. It can feel disconcerting, and it is a feeling I’m not totally comfortable with, not having a hyper awareness of every part of my body at all times. (And, if I disassociate in the massage room, I am safe, and I will be taken care of.)
- Letting people into my world is okay. Letting people out of my world is okay. This isn’t a statement of my value, but of theirs. Not everyone will understand the language of trauma, but I can slowly give them a primer. MY comfortability speaking the language will inevitability lead to their comfort level being exposed to it. I will choose wisely, but so far, my gut has been doing pretty well.
- Breathing is good. This seems obvious, but one of the first things to go during a trauma scenario is the breath. Only recently have I even been SOMEWHAT comfortable with my LMT being anywhere near my belly or chest. It’s where I carry anxiety, trauma, pain, sharpness. Just today I *disclosed* that is where I was carrying tension, which in itself was a big deal because I knew that was an invitation to have that area be paid attention to. Saying that I have anxiety, causes anxiety. Saying “I have a hard time breathing” causes me to catch my breath. If you can do nothing else, you can breathe.
- Expect empathy. I was reading The Empathy Exams, and read this amazing quote:
A 1983 study titled “The Structure of Empathy” found a correlation between empathy and the four major personality clusters: sensitivity, nonconformity, even temperedness, and self-confidence. I like the word structure. It suggests empathy is an edifice we build like a home or office- with architecture and design, scaffolding and electricity. The Chinese character for listen is built like this, a structure of many parts; the characters for ears and eyes, a horizontal line than signifies undivided attention, the swoop and teardrops of heart.
I just love this. Expect that others have the ability to empathize, and offer empathy, (ears, eyes, undivided attention and your heart.)
- Give yourself some damn grace. You/I am doing the best we can. We’ve got this. Carry on, Warrior.