Archive for June 25, 2010

A tidal wave of love after disclosing child sexual abuse

I’m feeling incredibly loved and supported these days. Why? Ever since I published Confessions of a Trauma Therapist people have been coming up to me to express their caring and sadness that I carried a heavy burden in my earlier life. I’ve never had so many hugs.

Readers have been thanking me for helping them deal with their own painful childhood memories. Many express their appreciation that I put into words the way my memories gradually surfaced. Others tell me my struggles help them validate their own difficulties and feel less shame for what was done to them. They all send me their thanks and their caring.

As well, I’ve heard from old friends who send me love and their understanding. Some knew about my childhood. Some didn’t. One dear friend whom I haven’t seen very much in recent years, shared with me her own recovered memory of child abuse.

Publishing my memoir was, on my part, an act of courage. It took me a long time to decide to go public with a story that laid bare my unsavoury childhood and would bring pain to my extended family. Did I have a right to upset my sister and my nephews and nieces? I had to balance this against the good my book would do out there in the world.

I decided to put my story out there to help the thousands of others suffering from the invisible wounds of childhood trauma. I never anticipated all the love and caring that would be directed my way when I told my story. I am once more reassured that telling our secrets is healthy and good for everyone, even though telling sets off alarm bells in our psyches.

EMDR? What’s that?

Before I learned Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing, I had considerable success in treating victims of childhood trauma. Yet, there were always some aspects of trauma remaining. People were still triggered into panic by sounds, smells or sights which are benign in the present but propell them back into a terrifying past. This happens so fast there is no time to think about it. As well, their exaggerated startle response to any sudden noise remained.

What wasn’t known back when I was using standard therapies, is that trauma is held in the right side of the brain, the emotional side. The trauma does not have access to the left brain, the logical, cognitive side. It’s only an eighth of an inch between the two halves, but the spark can’t jump the gap, so to speak. EMDR allows the right side to connect with the left and “reprocess” the experience.

How is this done? EMDR treatment involves the bi-lateral stimulation of the brain: left side, right side by directing the eyes from side to side, tapping the hands, using headphones to send sound to the left and then to the right ear. This bi-lateral stimulation uses the brain’s natural way of dealing with upsetting emotion. Think of the rapid eye movement when someone is dreaming. Dreaming is not enough to handle the terror of trauma. The brain needs added help to clear the emotion.

EMDR takes advantage of the brain’s natural way of dealing with emotion. The EMDR practitioner guides the client’s eyes with her fingers, a light wand or a light bar. Sometimes the practitioner uses light tapping on the hands or knees.

Typically, clients start out very upset by the memory and end up putting the upset in the past where it belongs. Measuring the degree of upset on a scale of 0 – 10, people may start out with a 10 and end up with a 0 or 1.

Practitioners of EMDR specialize in helping clients heal from psychological trauma. They are psychotherapists with a thorough understanding of trauma and its effects on people. The eye movement described in this post is safe only in the hands of such professionals.

You can find out more on the EMDR website at www.emdr.org.

8 reasons why focusing may be for you

Have you ever heard of Focusing? It’s a sort of inner yoga and it may be just what you’ve been looking for. Focusing teaches you to access your own deepest, wisest self. It takes you to a deeper level of awareness than is ordinarily possible. It teaches you to be with yourself in a compassionate, caring way.

Check out the reasons it may be right for you.

1)Are you wondering what underlies your anxiety, shyness, depression, malaise?
2)Do you have voices in your mind telling you you’re no good, stupid, unworthy, lazy, dirty, bad?
3)Do you feel you’re to blame for the bad stuff that happens around you?
4)Do you have trouble being compassionate with yourself?
5)Do you have trouble making decisions?
6)Do you look to others to tell you what’s right?
7)Would you like a sure-fire way of knowing your life is on the right track?
8)Would you like to experience yourself as a unique and wonderful organism in the universe?

In other words, would you like to have a way of knowing what’s right for you without asking somebody, tossing a coin or getting out the Ouija board?

Would you like to be able to check inside your body for guidance? Focusing teaches you how to recognize your body’s signals, those physically felt responses to your life that are meant to keep you doing whatever is life seeking for you.

In my book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist, I tell how Focusing helped me safely access my repressed memories of child sexual abuse and how this practice guided my healing. If that sounds useful to you, I’ll suggest some ways you can learn to Focus.

You can learn to Focus from the Bantam paperback by the same name or go online and find a teacher at www.focusing.org. It’s simple to learn and, as most profoundly simple things, it can take you to some very deep places.

Three essential life lessons my yoga guru taught me

During my ten years of studying with Swami Sivananda Radha, my guru brought order to my inner chaos. One of the most effective practices involved determining priorities for each day. Everything else could fall into place around the most important events. Balance was central to the yogi’s life. Balance, however, did not have to occur in the space of one day. It could be over a period of time. For example, on some days getting things done might be the priority. On another, relaxing and self-care might be central themes.

She was the first feminist I met. Women need a room of their own, she told me. Very few women, even those in large houses, have a room where they can close the door and leave everything untouched until they return. If you can’t have a room, at least have a part of a room which is out of bounds to others.

On energy: think of your energy like fuel in your gas tank. Never run on your reserve. Another time she told me that energy was like a bank account. Some activities and people give you energy. These are like deposits in your account. Other activities and people drain you. These are withdrawals. Try to keep as much money in the bank as possible.

On food: if you think it’s bad for you, for goodness’ sake don’t eat it.

On abortion: It is hard to find a human birth. Usually the soul does not enter the fetus until the last moment. If a fetus is aborted, the soul is not destroyed. It simply goes looking for another birth.

On an altar: Make a special place in your house for prayer and meditation, even if it’s just a place where you don’t ordinarily sit.

Today, thirty years later, many of these practices still serve to structure my life.

Why yoga?

Long before I knew that my “irrational” fear and anxiety were caused by child sexual abuse, I was drawn to yoga’s promise of inner calm. This was in the 1960s and ’70s when most North Americans associated yoga with culturally dissonant contortions performed by skinny men in loincloths. I knew no one who practiced yoga.

As it turned out, yoga was the perfect choice for someone who had lost any sense of her own body to child abuse. I was desperate for some way of relaxing the spasms in my shoulder, neck and back muscles. In my yoga class, I was safe and separate on my own mat. There was no competition. No one was watching. For the first time in my life it was safe to concentrate on what was happening in my body. I was fascinated.

As the months went by, my muscles firmed up. I felt more energetic and even peaceful for hours at a time. I was hooked. It was possible to imagine another way of being: a way that was relaxed and joyful.

Today, there are many types of yoga available. You can choose the one you prefer. Classical hatha yoga was what I found and later taught. After class I always felt soft and loving toward the world. I also studied Iyengar yoga which the founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, designed for the western body. It is strengthening and emotionally grounding. By contrast, following a class I always felt ready to take on the world. There are many other varieties. Shop around until you find the one that suits you.

Back when I was a yoga teacher, adults did not generally go to fitness classes. People like me were attracted to yoga, people who had never been keen on sports or exercising. Maybe this is because we associated breathing heavily from physical effort with the terror we once felt.

Today there are so many types of fitness classes. The choice is infinite. But I still think yoga offers remarkable healing power to those who were traumatized as children. Yoga teaches us mindfulness, the opposite of dissociation. In yoga classes you learn how to relax your own tension and change your emotional state with your breathing. Yoga puts you into a friendly partnership with your own body. This in itself is uniquely beneficial.