On Being a Carrier and Letting Go
I have been on a journey over the last year or so. Much of this learning began through experience at work as we delve into how best to serve individuals with history of trauma. At least 95% of all the people I serve have had long term, chronic trauma in their lives. As a result, we as practitioners need to be aware of how our buildings, forms, actions, and words may affect a person with this kind of history. I also taught DBT, which incorporates mindful awareness into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I was clearly punting.
Just over a year ago, one of my traumatized clients had to move out of the facility where he lived. I watched as he unraveled due to our lack of awareness of how this move was carried out would affect him. During this time, I had a deck of "Wisdom Cards" that I would choose from every few days for inspiration. I chose "I am Willing to Let Go" over five times in a row. I gave the deck to others to hold, I closed my eyes, I shuffled the deck. I drew the same card. I was not willing to let go, as I was horrified by how this move was being carried out and the effect it had on this individual. While the move has been positive overall, he is still recovering from it. I think we both are...
I began to look into mindfulness and meditation as ways to treat trauma, as this has been proven to reduce symptoms. I went to a workshop and followed up with a study group with coworkers designed to implement these practices into our work and lives. These practices are not only beneficial to trauma survivors, but to anyone experiencing life's stressors. Practitioners who work with people who have been traumatized tend to pick up on the trauma and carry it themselves. I began to work more in my own life on the concepts of radical acceptance, non-attachment to outcomes, and sitting quietly as I observed my thoughts and sought to non-judgmentally calm them.
I had the opportunity to attend two seminars on trauma as well. At these, I learned more about how the brain reacts to traumatic events. Fascinating! Our linguistic center shuts down when we experience trauma but our body retains the memory as a physical experience. Effective treatment is often linked to body movement through theatre, dance, yoga, or guided movement therapy that serves to integrate the traumatic memory in a way that can be managed by the individual.
Work was stressful. I began to hunger for a better way of relieving this stress in addition to desiring to be a more effective teacher and clinician and decided to look into yoga. There is a studio near my office that offers yoga, yoga therapy, and mindfulness based stress reduction classes. The more I read their website, the more I was convinced that these were my kind of people.
Today was Day 2 of yoga. The first day we spent practicing melting into the floor nearly the whole time, which sounds really weird, but was amazing and surprisingly difficult. I developed really sore muscles in my upper back and I was thinking "Really? From melting? Wow, am I ever out of shape!" But in the following few days, I would catch myself as I walked, realign my shoulders, and feel the positive difference as I walked along.
Today's lesson was more of the same, but with a focus on the shoulder and neck area. At one point, we laid on our back on the floor and had a partner press down on our shoulders. At one point when it was my turn, I felt myself quit fighting the resistance and allow my partner to just press my shoulders down to the floor. She exclaimed (quietly, because it's yoga), "You let go!" And I said, "Yeah, I did," and thought "Wow, that was weird..." And we stayed there and breathed a few times, then let up. But something had snapped in my brain.
As we moved from this into the "Dead Man" pose, which is where you melt into the floor and breathe and observe your thoughts, I was struck about how profound it felt to let go. And suddenly, tears were streaming down my face (screwing up my breathing) and I was thinking about how much I carry and have carried, since junior high or high school even, and being in awe of the power of letting go as a physical act. I later thought of how, in a literal sense, we carry things with our arms, and our shoulder muscles feel the strain, and how symbolic it is that I carry secrets and bear responsibilities and who knows what else I have as my load, and how ironic that my shoulders are bearing the strain. I thought about all I've been learning as head knowledge about how important movement is to recovery and thought, "So this is what they mean." And I laid there (not doing the dead man very well at all because I had to keep wiping away tears and attempting to breathe with some regularity) and trying to force myself to let go of the fact that I was currently sucking at yoga. Which is okay. I am by nature a carrier and have been since early on. My habit is to hold on, cling to, bear. I have not let go. But today, I found a new pathway in my brain. I can still carry. But now I can also let go.