Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Letting Go of (the myth of) a Happy Childhood

In the past week I've started seeing another therapist. No, not a replacement, in addition to the therapist I've been working with for years. The new woman specializes in using EMDR with PTSD, particularly childhood trauma. It is really stressful for me to take this step for all kinds of reasons (talking to a new person, having to honestly look at my childhood & process it, the feeling I don't deserve the tremendous expense of seeing 5 different care professionals, etc.), but it seems like such a necessary choice.

My primary therapist has been working with me to let go of the notion that I had a happy childhood on any level. I'm really fighting this. I can feel myself clinging to the idea that on some level, in some way I must have had a happy childhood. The truth that really I didn't have a happy childhood seems impossible to process. When I try to take it in I feel nauseated, dizzy, hopeless and notice tight pain in my stomach, heart & throat chakras.

That brings us to all the body work. I've started acupuncture again and once again it sets off little emotional bombs within two days of an appointment. I leave feeling rested and have a good day following and then some kind of breakdown. I had a couple of days where I felt utterly worthless and incapable of doing anything well. I had a couple of days where I just felt a lot of grief about my childhood.

After some discussion with all these amazing people who've done body/energetic work with me it is totally clear that there is a deeply somatic component to my PTSD. It is the reason why the cognitive work I do with my primary therapist is oftentimes so slow, so painful and at times feels impossible to learn. There are areas where the traumatic response is so physical, I don't get the negative voice of the Inner Critic so much as I feel the grief, the sensations of worthlessness and shame, in my body. I also am struggling with feeling a lot of shame around the fact that I didn't have a happy childhood, that on some level it was my fault after all.

So, in spite of my absolute resistance to working with another therapist, I am seeing one who specializes in the kind of somatic work with trauma I clearly need. On her advice I've also been trying to be more attentive to a yoga practice combined with regular visits for lap swimming or water exercise and using the steam room at the gym. A combination of burning off some of the energy and tapping into the comfort & safety I feel while in water or in the steam room.

I'm also returning again and again to the sensation of the breath in the body, my first and best known form of zazen. I'm combining this with a body scan to just take inventory as to what is there, not to respond, just to observe. Occasionally I offer in some phrases of Metta practice, but lightly and with less focused attention than I have used.


Loose Ends

I taught my last Tuesday class at Dishman tonight. I was a little sad before heading out, but felt OK once I got teaching. Which is usual.

I was surprised to end up teaching a more vigorous class including some sun salutations to warm everyone up since it has been so cold (for Portland standards). The requested hip & leg openers got right into some of the "crunchy" congested energy of my hips. The left one doesn't hurt as badly after all the acupuncture earlier today.

It was another long session focusing on detoxifying the meridians. More of the heart-protector again. Some discussion about the energy being caught in the muscles being anger. Not the kind of overblown rage that we often think of as anger, but the energy that arises to set a firm boundary. Something that was denied or taken from me growing up.

In five element acupuncture anger also represents the energy of spring that causes buds to open. It is the energy of rebirth and creativity. It is represented by wood. This is the block that stands out most dramatically.

The needles went into the surface of the back, the tender points between the shoulders, and tears came and stayed for a while. Not hard, just constant. It was a long session, sitting for only 10 minutes before lying on my side, wrapped in blankets except for the bare back for the needles and feeling the energy zoom around.

After teaching a delicious potato & broccoli soup for dinner made by CK while I was teaching. She's been working while I've been finishing up a couple of small art pieces. All the energy drained out of me about 90 minutes ago and I'm hoping I'll sleep better tonight.


Just Sitting

Today I got to do zazen with acupuncture needles in my back. Instead of a bell I would wait for JS to come back, see how the meridian points on my back looked. After the first round of 10 minute intervals he noted that I shouldn't strain my back muscles overly sitting upright as I was, but then observed that I was entirely used to sitting upright, still, quiet for long stretches at a time.

And I was fine. Quiet, doing metta practice for myself. Mostly just breathing. Just sitting. It was a rather intense experience being aware of the room, the needles, the sounds. Certainly the most interesting opportunity for zazen I've had in a long time!

Then the fatigue and headache started. JS had said I could carefully lie down on my right side or stomach, but I felt uncertain about movement with the needles still in my back. I've sat in the zendo while feeling downright ghastly at times, just present and waiting until the bell would ring. So I waited for the bell-like response of the door, staying present to the rising fatigue, so like what I'd felt in sesshin in August.

When he checked on me then JS said I should lie down and I agreed. I was settled onto my side and felt myself drifting slightly. Not spacing out, not exactly sleeping, but hazy. More metta, more feeling the breath, feeling the energy tingle and move across my skin. Many, many more minutes as meridians flared even more strongly before eventually settling down entirely. Over 2 hours would pass before I got up.

I'm very shaky tonight, very drained and depleted. JS said that the energy that's getting flushed out of my system by the acupuncture is deeply chaotic. However, he noted that it was the energy that I've been running on, regardless of how unhealthy it is. Getting this energy out, detoxifying my system from it will feel depleting, exhausting. He said I may even feel a bit like I have a hangover.

My doctor ordered lab work for my vitamin D to be checked. Will have to fit that in. No one, including my Mom, seems to know what my blood type is. CK and I are going to make plans to donate at the local Red Cross. It is a good thing to do, I used to actually do it regularly in college & my early 20s, and it is apparently the quickest, cheapest way to learn your blood type! JS is very curious to know the lab results and the blood type, noting there may be some nutritional things to recommend once he knows that.

I stayed home from the Dharma center tonight and CK stayed with me. We picked up take-out from Pho Jasmine and have been watching episodes of Buffy on DVD. The energy cycles go from depleted to drained entirely, I'm trying to keep drinking lots of water and green tea to help my system flush toxins.



Last night I felt pretty darn good post acupuncture. This morning I woke up feeling less pain than I expected - I'm quite often sore the morning after a yoga class. I'm not pain-free, but there's definitely been some kind of change. I was feeling pretty hopeful as I went downstairs.

Then something about a mis-communication between CK and I really hit me wrong. I found myself feeling emotionally overwhelmed and unable to really control it. We got it sorted out but I was still just feeling wrecked - emotional, weepy and nauseated. I finally went back upstairs and lay down on the bed.

JS mentioned that acupuncture doesn't stop when I leave. This makes sense because the work that I have done in massage therapy or the craniosacral therapy IW does continues well past the actual appointment. CK came upstairs, rubbed my back a little, reminded me that she wasn't angry at my crying, and that like the muscle spasms I'd had during the acupuncture treatment, that perhaps the weepy, overwhelmed feelings were a kind of emotional "spasm".

I had 5 meetings lined up, mostly back-to-back until 1:30 this afternoon. I went ahead and worked from home. The flood of emotion had left me feeling really depleted and my head was ached. Having an emotional outburst, particularly tears, feels really unsafe for me, particularly if there are other people around. It felt reassuring to stay home since in the event I was overcome with the urge to weep again I wouldn't have an audience.

I felt grateful that the shaky emotional space persisted but didn't turn into crying again. I got through all the meetings and tried to focus the rest of the afternoon. Around 5pm I felt hugely fatigued and lay down. It felt like the same kind of exhausted state I experienced during sesshin in August. I wasn't sure I was truly sleeping, but I felt like I was drifting in and out of dreamless sleep and focused attention. When I felt that attention, felt present, I did metta practice for myself and the rest of the time I just let myself drift into something sleep-like. About an hour of this and I felt more wakeful and not terribly groggy.

For a long time my therapist has told me that she doesn't think I rest enough. I am constantly in motion, constantly working on projects, teaching, and judging myself for not getting enough done. She even has suggested I don't rush to replace my teaching nights in the new year, that I just take some time to really rest. I am not sure I really know how to rest.

It occurs to me that I don't know how to really let go and rest because for the vast majority of my life if I really rested, things would fall apart. Granted that things fall apart all the time in life, but in my experience they would fall apart because the people I depend upon to pick up the slack, to be responsible, would fail to do what they promised. Decades of this taught me that I must always be alert and ready to step in to fix things right away or end up being stuck with the mess anyway.

This is part of the anxiety I feel relaxing into my relationship with CK, why having a responsible partner is on some levels traumatizing. I have no skill for letting go and resting, for trusting that the other person really will pick up the slack and take care of the things that need attention. It may take me quite some time to really be able to trust that I can depend upon it.



I had my first visit with an acupuncturist today. It surprises people that I've not tried acupuncture to help with my back pain, but I have had some resistance to it. I think there's some child-part of me that went through so many medical procedures as a child that I just had a hard time looking into this. It is one of the few things I haven't investigated.

I've been having the muscle spasms more frequently and some stuff seems so stuck. So I finally asked IW for a referral. Her connection apparently has got me on the list of an acupuncturist that's difficult to see as he doesn't usually take new clients. My massage therapist even tried to see him once and couldn't get an appointment! JS specializes in a older school/style of acupuncture, Classical Five Element.

He was very quick to put me at ease and we talked about my back pain as well as touched upon some of the assorted trauma I've been through in my life. He was interested to hear about things I've encountered during sesshin practice as well. We also talked about general medical stuff, like medications, supplements, etc.

CK was there for most of the time spent during the actual procedure. As I've been told, the needles (which really reminded me of the cats' whiskers more than a needle) barely hurt at all. The first session I spent a long time with the seven needles in for quite a long time and my body had some interesting reactions. I was really grateful CK was there. Although I didn't feel the same level of anxiety that I get at a lot of physical exams & some dental appointments, it was still comforting to be present to my body's reactions with her nearby.

I left feeling tired and heavy. Not in a lethargic, mired down kind of way. Just the sensation of the weight of my body parts as I tried to move them. I got home, had some leftovers for lunch and took a couple of calls. JS had suggested that I try to nap or rest some today, especially before teaching tonight, but I felt fairly energized. I worked on some art projects for a little while and eventually lay down for a little bit.

Teaching tonight felt pretty good. The heavy feeling had subsided somewhat and the series of twists and warrior poses I did seemed to shake it off. Afterward I went and steamed at the gym, deciding to add to the energy cleansing quality of the acupuncture and the twists, with the chance to warm up to my core and sweat out any toxins. I felt really energized by the time I had a cool shower.

I'm seeing JS again on Thursday then once a week for a few weeks. I'm using some money from savings to cover the appointments. I think it is really worth trying to get at this energy that seems stuck in my body. CK also mentioned to me that I should let her know if I needed some money from her to make things not as tight this month - which brought up the usual mix of anxiety & guilt, but I gently reminded myself that it really is OK that she helps me when I need her to and that she won't be angry at me for it.

Very curious to see how I'll feel in the morning after the class and the long acupuncture session. I'm supposed to stay away from alcohol (not a big deal) and coffee (a disappointment) for the next little bit. He suggested I have as much green tea as I like, so it will be good for me to switch from my pots of black tea & regular lattes for a little while.