In the Beginning

In order to understand the nature and flowing references throughout my blog, I recommend reading my initial post The End of the Beginning first.


The Spiral

I am a firm believer that the universe brings you repeated situations - new players and details but the theme remains unchanged - until you learn the intended lesson. This provides an opportunity to learn, grow, and apply new skills in a familiar, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, scenario. I've come to call this The Spiral and I am living one right now.

A year ago (see recent Anniversary post) I found myself in a circumstance where I did not feel safe at my home. I had arranged a few months' reprieve from work travel in order to spend time with my mother during her temporary stay. But as the days and weeks went on, the unfolding of my Breakthrough Crisis rendered me feeling inexplicably and extremely unsafe. I clammered for and even forged a couple of hasty business trips simply to escape my at-home exhaustion. I hated the speedy pace of business travel but was desperate to get away from the house and my mother. It did little to assuage my discomfort. As it turned out, I did not feel safe anywhere.

This year, I am in a different city and a different house with a job that requires very little travel. The last four months I have concentrated much on creating a peaceful and safe surrounding to aid my healing process. It has been working out swimmingly until recent events of death, dismemberment, and harassment ensued. It seems there is no pause button on life in the midst of one's healing journey.

My neighbor's dogs viciously attacked and killed my eldest cat in my own front yard a week ago. The experience was traumatic to say the least; picking up parts of his body, feeling his broken spine, noticing his missing pieces, and taking him to the vet for immediate euthanization. I grieved the loss for several days; he was a good friend to me for 17 years.

My youngest cat has been missing for 2 months; I no longer have hope that he will return as I suspect he met the same fate. I contacted Animal Control to get the scoop on local laws, and in fact there is one prohibiting free roaming dogs. In talking with other neighbors I now know that there have been multiple killings in the last year including cats and chickens. This is an epidemic but everyone has been reticent to communicate with the responsible neighbors. Now I know why.

I waited several days to talk to them so as to communicate in a calm, orderly manner. I relayed the sad story of my kitty and sited the ordinance which requires them to keep their dogs contained on their property. The conversation did not go well. They exploded in anger, proceeded to defame my character, denied all responsibility (despite the eye witness account) and ended the exchange with threats of property damage. Later that evening they retaliated in a number of ways with bright lights and noise which prevented me from getting any sleep.

This feels strangely like last year when, in a state of hypervigilance from unsurfaced abuse memories, I could not sleep in my own house despite all efforts. I felt/feel trapped. I felt/feel victimized. I felt/feel both helpless and hopeless. Again I am clammering for some reason to travel, a way to flee the situation with which I cannot deal. This is the point at which I would normally zero out and dissociate for days or weeks.

Instead, I am trying to see that I am simply in the spiral. It is continuous and it is virtuous. It can be my friend. Each time I revisit a place that feels familiar, I can only hope to be at a higher level of understanding and consciousness because of the previous completed cycles. I am more aware, have a better sense of self-grace, and an increased ability to comprehend and deal with the circumstance. Though the situation feels the same, I am different. It's not easy. It can be very frustrating and painful, for I viewed the most recent healing spiral as possibly the last one. It always feels like the last one but the truth is it never ends. That is what brings out my hopelessness, but it doesn't have to. My response to each event is infinitely more important than the event itself.

And so I have decided to view this as an opportunity to change, to respond differently, to transform. This is my moment to be brave! Instead of hiding, I will stand up for what's right. Instead of running, I will confront my fears. Instead of suffering in silence, I will reach out for help. After all, I have an army of loyal supporters now. I am not a princess who needs to be saved. I am a soul who has suffered loss and needs love and strength from willing participants. And oh how my army is rallying.

I see this cat/neighbor ordeal as a microcosm of the macro potential of sharing my abuse story. The memory (death) has surfaced, the perpetrator (dog) has been identified. The time for speaking truth is at hand. The neighbor ordeal has made me feel stronger in standing up for myself and others who have suffered the same loss. I have already addressed it with authorities and feel very empowered in my ability to procure my own sense of safety. Simultaneously, I am working on a plan with my wonderfully supportive brother that will unearth our family secret as a necessary step in my healing journey. It isn't easy, and it might be some time before I am ready. We often don't know when the time isn't right for something so big, but we almost always know when it is. I will be ready. More importantly, I will be supported and loved through it.

I am so much stronger than I was a year ago, and I have the spiral to thank. Scientists say a spiral appears in nearly all things in nature from honeycombs, seashells, the human ear and bronchial lobes, pinecones, and flower petals, all the way to the formation of galaxies. This spiral, represented by the Greek letter phi and best understood through the Fibonacci sequence, is referred to as the Golden Ratio or the Divine Proportion. I like to think that my spiral follows the same celestial pattern and that my healing journey is somehow connected to the healing journey for us all. In this, there is purpose, there is meaning. And there is hope.



It has been almost exactly one year since the onset of my Breakthrough Crisis. Celebrating or at least recognizing milestones is an important rite of passage in any culture. I often find that looking back on where I was helps me to appreciate where I am. It's why I journal so much. How else am I supposed to gauge progress?

Unstuck includes a number of journaling exercises at the end of each chapter. The book views depression as a call to change. An initial exercise is to outline the specifics of your call and how you can respond to it. These are my answers from one year ago.

1. What's going on right now?

I am extremely dissatisfied with the level of busy-ness in my life due to my demanding, hectic, and travel filled job. I've figured out that I am a person who needs a great deal of stillness, downtime, and routine in order to thrive. On top of this I am trying to deal with the fallout of realizations and changes in my relationship with my mother. Feelings of guilt, resentment, anger, and mostly depression are near consuming me.

Underneath both of these issues is a deep sense of loneliness because I have few friends and little time to build a personal life due to my job. I've spent all of my life's energy, time, and money in fixing my mother instead of investing in myself and my future.

2. Where do I want to be headed and what changes are necessary?

I want friends I can call to have dinner, watch movies, and see the city with. I want to sleep in my own bed most nights. I don't want to feel tired, rushed, behind schedule, and out of control all of the time. I want to enjoy my free time instead of feeling like I'm merely recovering in between times of intense work. 

I want to feel energized and hopeful about life again. I want to regain my sense of wonder in nature, God, people, and animals. I want free time and space to do good for others which makes me feel expansive. I want to express the full range of human emotion, to inspire and be inspired. I want to express Who I Really Am and feel I am making a difference in the world by doing so.

3. What are my first steps for getting where I am going?

- Make an appointment with my doctor to discuss depression and rule out any possible physical causes such as thyroid, hormones, or adrenal abnormalities.
- Find a therapist and stick with it, at least until my major symptoms subside. 
- Talk to friends. Stay connected.
- Pursue closeness with key family members; they are more important than friends.
- Make some modifications in my diet to support health and well-being: more beans, oatmeal, eggs, salmon and water; less coffee, cookies, chips, and crackers.
- Pursue a job change. 
- Set up my mother's care in a way that minimizes my involvement. 
- Integrate things into my life that I know support Who I Really Am: yoga, volunteering, running, hiking, nature, time with my dog, family, reading, traveling for pleasure.

Looking back at this is quite helpful, and I can almost not believe the progress I have made. I was able to make all of the changes I wanted in less than 12 months.

I found not one but two wonderful therapists; the work I've done with Dee and Em has been life altering. I went on two international trips for pleasure. I have a new job that I enjoy which requires little travel. I moved back to a city where I had an immediate circle of supportive friends. I set my mother up in a new living arrangement that no longer requires monthly oversight from me. I bought a lake house surrounded by nature and a peacefulness that allows plenty of time for stillness and introspection. This has enticed my family to come visit which has allowed us to grow closer than we've been in a long time.

When I started this post I thought I was going to lament the passage of time. A year sounds so long. And yet, seeing my own progress laid out in this way I now feel differently than when I began. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to integrate such massive change in a relatively short amount of time! But I believe it was necessary. I could not focus on my healing in the midst of near-constant travel to perform in an overly demanding job, nor when I was consumed with the care and well-being of my mother. I had to identify the barriers and then remove them one by one in order to create a safe place for me to process, reconnect, and integrate.

Most of all, I am amazed that my inner wisdom knew exactly what I needed and precisely how to guide me here. The universe responded to my call. I am forever grateful.


On Shame

If anger is a surface emotion then shame is the bottomless pit far beneath. Jungian analysts say that shame is the "swampland of the soul." Research shows that shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders. I have experienced d) all of the above.

Rage shattered the wall of my silent shame. I began having more abuse memories, so many that I had to name the events so that Dee and I could use a common framework for discussion. At first they came in the form of dreams or in lucid states upon waking, some of them nightmarish. Soon these morphed into body memories which could then be reprocessed and associated via EMDR. Sometimes these puzzle pieces would connect amidst activities like driving or running. Other times they came in the middle of my supposed functional workday. I found the latter particularly disturbing. It was one thing to have memories while alone in a safe environment where I could feel and process what was happening; it was an altogether different experience when I was around people with no place to hide. I had to pretend and keep going, not feel, to be on stage and en pointe. This was a harrowing time for me. I felt like I was falling apart. Fragmentation, guilt, shame and fear plagued me from all sides, but none more pressing than the in-side.

The Hand: I have a distinct memory of being touched while in bed. This was the first one to surface after The Theatre and was difficult for me to acknowledge. Previously I had convinced myself that The Theatre was the only scene of abuse but in this new memory I am in a lying down position, one not possible in a theatre setting. A bed, perhaps not mine. I have no external context for this memory - no understanding of the room, furniture, or house - but an immense amount of detail. Exactly opposite of The Theatre, where I have tons of context but little to no detail. The Hand is touching me - as in my lovely little lady parts - from behind and I am pretending to be asleep. I am hoping that if I lie still and quiet it will all be over soon, much like the stone statue in The Theatre. And likely in a similar fully dissociated state.

Please Don't: Another memory, another position, another time and place. The detail and body memory is different for this event, enough that I am able to distinguish it from The Hand. The most salient piece of this memory is that I feel my body about to sexually climax, but I am praying and begging God to not let it happen. I don't want to. I feel terribly ashamed that this is happening and that my body is responding in this way.

Notable connections and feelings bubbled up during acquisition of these memories. As we processed the events, I was obsessed with my attire. In EMDR sets I would spend an inordinate amount of time "looking" down trying to figure out what I was wearing at the time of the abuse. In my mind, wearing a skirt or nightgown meant that I had given him easy access and was partially to blame. If only I had been smart enough or more careful, I could have prevented it. This is a dangerous rabbit hole for survivors of sexual abuse. It is our #1 fear... that the abuse was somehow our fault. That I showed interest, that I prompted or invited it in some way, that I didn't stop him and therefore that means I must have wanted it. This shame has plagued me for 25 years and is likely the cause of my memory repression and dissociation, aka The Black Oil.

Here is where I tell you how very much I love my therapist Dee for moments like this one. After weeks of obsessing over my attire and the thought of possibly inviting the abuse, she called me out. Inching closer to the front edge of her chair, she looked right into my tear-filled eyes and said, "I don't care if you stood up in that theatre, stripped all of your clothes off and danced around in front of him naked. You were a child. He was an adult. It was his responsibility to hold the boundary and he didn't. There is nothing you could've done to make this your fault and so I want you to stop this clothing bullshit here and now." Her exasperation and brutal honesty shocked the obsession right out of me. I haven't thought about my attire in these or any other abuse memories since.

I have learned through therapy and my healing process that shame and self-blame is often the only way a child can make sense of the terrible trauma of sexual abuse. Uneducated and inexperienced with how the body works, the resulting physical pleasure from unwanted touch is confusing. This response gets misinterpreted by a child as fault when it is anything but. Furthermore, it is easier to blame the self than to acknowledge and understand that adults are not trustable and that the world is indeed a scary place. If only we were told the truth: that monsters are real and they don't live under your bed. They live down the street, in your neighborhood, in your backyard. And sometimes they live at your uncle's house.

Brene Brown says that shame requires 3 things to survive: secrecy, silence, and judgement. My story had equal, hefty doses of all three for 25 years. Once I understood this I did the most difficult thing imaginable: I started telling my story. First my 2 therapists, next I told my 3 closest friends. It was awful and wonderful at the same time. Content with my close circle of five, I continued with therapy and regular conversation with my small support army for months. I have since shared my story with 5 more trusted people in my life, including 2 family members. My army is growing.

LearningToLiveInsideMyBody is a critical part of my healing journey. To aggregate and articulate my process, to share for the hope of healing for others, to rid myself of the shame that indeed this is my story. Some days I have an enormous vulnerability hangover from what I've posted. Other days I feel superbly healed, that the process of documenting these experiences gets them out, as in out of me. They no longer live inside, swirling around and adding to the Black Oil. My story lives on these pages, my computer, the blog server, and now your screen.

A few days ago I made a list in my journal of what complete healing will look like for me. It includes several items related to this topic such as:

  • not hiding
  • no shame
  • no fear that people will find out
  • no self injury
  • no dissociation
  • sleeping all night
  • no panic attacks
  • no stabbing pain of remembrance
  • talking about it with no tears
  • no vulnerability hangovers 
  • no need for an army
  • feeling whole
  • freedom

There are many more items on my list. I look forward to the day I get to experience all of them. For now, I am satisfied with shattering the wall and moving forward on this journey.

On Rage

One Sunday in January I went to church as usual. During praise and worship, we sang a song with the lyrics "All things work together for my good" from Romans 8:28. All of the sudden I stopped singing as I felt the familiar lump of impending meltdown welling in my throat. The tears began streaming but it was not the usual variety of grief and despair. This time I was filled with rage - pure, utter, unadulterated rage - so much that my fists were clinched tightly and my fingernails bore into the palms of my hands. I envisioned punching someone in the face. My mind raced....

Really? All things work together for MY good? Because I can't think of one single fucking good thing that can possibly come out of being sexually abused, at least not for me. I am so angry with God for letting this happen. Wasn't I already going through enough at the time with schizophrenic-abandoning mother? Where was God in this? Why didn't he protect me? Why didn't anyone? Am I supposed to think that this was all worth it so I can write a book someday? Does that make my suffering meaningful? Acceptable? Fat. Chance.

I went home and took a nap. A thick, deep, foggy sleep that awoke with a start. I was panicked. Heart racing, anxiety in my throat, the booming sound of heartbeat in my ears and pounding in my chest. I was also, strangely, extremely sexually aroused. I realized then that this had happened no less than 3 times the past few weeks since talking to Dee about The Theatre. The acknowledgement overwhelmed me, as it was this moment I first understood the source of my deep shame. Whatever had happened while I was being molested, my body responded even though I didn't want it to. I must have been aroused by whatever he did to me. And even though I didn't remember what "it" was, my body remembered.

The next morning I experienced a different kind of rage meltdown. As I drove to the airport for my next business trip, I was reflecting on the anger and shame revelation from the previous day. A moment of clarity came and all of that rage was now directed at my body. It betrayed me! There I was in the middle of this horrific circumstance of being sexually abused; I should have been fighting or at least appalled but instead I was aroused? This was unacceptable to me. A completely inappropriate response to the situation (or so I thought). And yet I could not stop it, control it, or even curtail it. I was utterly disgusted with myself and completely furious with my body.

My rage continued to morph into various forms and direct itself toward sundry targets - my boss, myself, God, my real-estate agent, myself again, the driver in front of me taking too long when the light turned green, the grocery store clerk who squashed my loaf of wheat bread, myself again - and then it landed smack dab on the crowned head of my mother. It has been resting there for many months now with no signs of movement. (I write more about this in a later post called The Wolf.)

I've learned that it is important to let myself feel whatever it is I need to feel without judgement or attempts to control it. Just let it be what it is. I spent much too long suppressing and denying my feelings; I need to let them out. Keeping them locked deep inside is what got me here: depressed, anxious, unable to have a functional intimate relationship, lonely, fragmented, dissociated.

Anger and even rage are a necessary part of the healing process. In fact, healing from sexual abuse is much akin to the 7 stages of grief:

  1. Shock and Denial: I did this for about, oh, 25 years.
  2. Pain and Guilt: Yep, plenty of this.
  3. Anger: Thus my rage.
  4. Depression: Does near constant suicidal ideation count? Yes, I think it does.
  5. Upward Turn
  6. Reconstruction
  7. Acceptance and Hope

And so I am processing 25 years worth of rage and pain. I told you this is the middle of my story. My sarcasm helps me to see just where I am now, and it appears I have not yet reached the upward turn. But I long for it, I believe in it. 

I believe in hope.



I was a music major in college, a double major in music and psychology and then acquired an advanced degree in a specific area of psych in graduate school. Inside me - somewhere deep where the Real Me resides - I am an artist wrapped in scientist's clothing. Music has always been a source of inspiration and healing for me. During my darkest moments this playlist would sometimes help me dissociate, other times it kept me grounded. For much of my life, I didn't know the difference between the two.

Over the past year I have disappeared into this playlist for hours on end - at night to keep the demons at bay or to draw them close; in the car to force my brain into functional form or to numb/zone out so that I could survive another day; in dark moments to dangle my fragile self in blissful suicidal ideation or else to zing me back to life.

This playlist is both my oubliette and the source of stabbing remembrance. I play it when I need to feel, and when I need to not feel. Sometimes the music is my only way to feel, the scalpel reopening my gaping pain. Above all, it helps me to know this is real; this is really happening. The story, the memories, the truth, my truth. And in this knowing and remembering, I have survived.

My soul would forever weep without music to express the pain which has imprinted itself far beyond where language can reach.

You can listen to my Dissociation Playlist in its entirety on YouTube, or each song is listed and linked individually below.

Alice In Chains - Am I Inside
Radiohead - How to Disappear Completely
Alice in Chains - Brother
Alice in Chains - Right Turn
Radiohead - Everything In Its Right Place
Zero 7 - In the Waiting Line
Radiohead - Codex
Radiohead - Give Up the Ghost
Smashing Pumpkins - Disarm
Plumb - Cut
Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
Flaming Lips - One More Robot
Kenna - Hellbent
Unkle - In a State
Pink Floyd - Breathe/Run
Gary Jules - Mad World
Coldplay - The Scientist
Radiohead - Morning Bell
Mad Season - River of Deceit
Nirvana - Lithium
Pixies - Where Is My Mind
Radiohead - Climbing Up the Walls
The National - Afraid of Everyone
Alice in Chains - Don't Follow
Nirvana - Something In the Way
Junip - Don't Let It Pass
Imogen Heap - Hide and Seek
Alice in Chains - I Stay Away
Evanescence - Bring Me To Life
Radiohead - Last Flowers
FC Kahuna - Hayling
Air - Playground Love
Placebo - Running Up That Hill
Massive Attack - Angel
Alice in Chains - Rotten Apples
Sarah McLachlan - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
Radiohead - Let Down
K's Choice - Butterflies Instead
Pink Floyd - Learning the Fly
Lower Dens - Truss Me
Flume - Insane
Sarah McLachlan - Do What You Have To Do
Plumb - Need You Now
MercyMe - The Hurt & The Healer

I added some of the later songs as my healing progressed. There is a noticable difference in the nature and tone, a milemarker of sorts along my pathway to recovery.


What You Resist Persists

...and What You Embrace Dissolves.

Typically my posts are an amalgamation of processed learning over the course of time. As an introvert, this is how I integrate then articulate my healing journey. This post is different, a real-time experience that happened in yoga class tonight.

I have posted before on the healing powers of yoga nidra in my Pursuit of In-Bodyness. I've not been to a formal yoga studio class in quite some time, having lately been consumed in the process of moving and changing jobs. I returned tonight to my home studio for an hour of bliss-filled mindfulness and it far exceeded my expectations.

During deep relaxation I had an experience that brought me to tears. Yoga nidra is usually a time of restful, floating dreaminess filled with pleasantries of the mind's eye. However, tonight I could not settle. In a state of body steadiness my mind could not relax and the visions it produced were anything but pleasant. It was filled with dark images: spiders, monsters with open mouths full of sharp teeth, a virtual black hole of sorrow.

These visions were centered in my drishti gaze, directly in the front line of my field of closed-eye vision. I found myself avoiding these dark images with all of my might, searching for some place of light and solace in the periphery. As I attempted to look away from these images they only grew darker, scarier, and more vivid. I felt my physical self succumb to the body stuff of my dissociation, mostly heavy arms and elevated heart rate approaching panic.

Exasperated, I simply let go. I looked right at them. I stopped trying to control them and instead stared those demons right in the eyes. And all at once, they melted away and transformed into a beautiful lotus flower. The dark images were replaced by light and soft color. I found peace.

We come into this world full of love; it is our natural state. It is this life, this world, and the illusion of separateness within it that creates fear. The way of the Buddha is to stop resisting fear and to instead embrace what it has to offer us. It is the only way to reclaim vitality and thus, our true nature.

Even our demons give way to beauty when we embrace them as an essential part of ourselves and our journey. Only then can we truly Overcome Fear.


Mom-Sized Hole

I read the book Are You My Mother? as a child and it has stuck with me for decades. The main character in the book is a baby bird who is hatched while his mother is away. Fallen from the nest, he sets out to find her and proceeds to ask everyone he meets along his journey - including a dog, a cow, a kitten, an airplane, and an enormous earthmover - 'Are you my mother?' Naturally they all say no, except the earthmover whose mechanical snort frightens the baby bird as he becomes ensnared within its massive shovel jaws. But then the jaws magically open and set the bird back into his nest thereby reuniting him with his mother, much to both their delight. Ah, happy endings.

I have felt like this baby bird for much of my life. I am powerfully and chronically drawn to older, nurturing women - teachers, friend's mothers, sisters-in-law, therapists, coworkers, even women I meet on airplanes - like a lost baby bird. Except my internal question is something more akin to 'Will You Be My Mother?'

I have often referred to this as the mom-sized hole in my heart. There is a longing inside me to have a real mother that I can scarcely put into words. Only someone who has lost their own mother could possibly comprehend the size, shape and texture of this hole. It has rendered forming relationships with women incredibly difficult for me; it is an endless dance of pull-you-close then push-you-away, inordinately painful, and at time leaves me feeling pathetic and empty.

Atop the trauma of abandonment, I have also suffered an incredible amount of shame because of this mom-sized hole. As a teenager, I did not have a role model to teach me about being a woman. This includes things like how to dress, fix my hair, or put on make-up; feminine hygiene and deciphering the changes in my body; nor understanding (or at least attempting to understand) relationships with boys. Being sexually abused at that vulnerable age only added more and severe complications to the latter.

One of the things I have focused on in mind-body skills work is changing my perspective about the mom-sized hole. Em is wonderfully nurturing (and thusly, an easy target for my mom-sized affection) but more importantly, an intuitive and spiritual being who helped me channel this longing. It is through her Buddhist influence that I have been able to find a source of healing, a flowing river of love that helps to fill the vast chasm in my heart.

I grew up in a home which centered on the traditional patriarchal view of God, the proverbial wise old man with flowing white beard. I had a very difficult time connecting with this view of God because, as it turns out, I actually have a pretty wonderful father of my own. Sure, he has his flaws but for the most part my dad has been a source of comfort, advice, and acceptance for most of my life.

It wasn't until I read The Shack that I began to see a possibility for changing my perspective on God and gender. The book's main character, Mack, spends a weekend in an old shack with God in three forms, one of which is a sweet, southern black woman. In Mack's case, this was someone with whom he could connect and it changed his entire belief system and thusly his ability to heal from an atrocity he experienced at a younger age.

As a humorous aside... the first time I read The Shack I got so angry that I literally threw the book across the room. Near the beginning there is a quote that reads "Your greatest hurts in life shall come through relationship, and so shall your greatest healing." That sentence elicited an unbearable amount of pain in me, likely because I could identify with only the pre-comma portion. I now see the truth in the sentence's totality, but it took me years of therapy to get there. Now I look back on that book-hurling scene of myself and simply laugh. What else can I do?

In my work with Em, we replaced my visual representation of God with the Mother Earth. Her dress is the skirted green and blue planet. There are flowers, butterflies, and trees all around her; they are part of her. Her outstretched arms are clouds in the sky, and her hair flows like rainbows. Those arms are stretching out to me, wanting nothing more than to envelope me in the warmth and safety of her love. And not just any love, but hesed, the Hebrew word for God's love. This love is consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, and unrestrained. Precisely the opposite of what I have experience from schizophrenic-abandoning mother. Now this is an image with which I can connect!

And so in my mind's eye and especially when I meditate, this is the vision of love that centers me, protects me, and keeps me safe. My childhood was woefully lacking in the arena of motherly love but as an adult, it is up to me to fill that hole. Thanks to Em, Mother Earth, and hesed, this has become a critical part of my integrated healing journey.


The Theatre

Memory repression is a condition in which details of an event are consciously blocked due to high levels of stress or trauma. Survivors of abuse and those who exhibit symptoms of PTSD commonly experience memory problems and sometimes even have damage in the hippocampus, the area in the brain responsible for memory storage and converting short- to long-term memory. Physical manifestations of repressed memories can show up as irritability, trouble sleeping, emotional numbness, and exaggerated response to surprises or trigger events that conjure trauma remembrance.

Even when memory is repressed by the conscious brain, experts believe that body memory can help recover hidden psychological memories and details. Through therapy, these details can be collected and reprocessed, thereby freeing the rememberer from seemingly inexplicable physical and emotional suffering triggered by reliving subconscious trauma. There is often a memory sliver - a breadcrumb so to speak - that can help elicit and open the door to full remembrance of traumatic events. For me, that sliver was The Theatre.

I always knew something bad happened in The Theatre. Nary a moment did I suspect invalidity of this occurrence though I did not have conscious details of how far it went. I had vivid contextual memory - who I was with, my relative age, transportation to and from, seating arrangement, body position, the fact that we visited the toy store afterward so he could buy my silence, but most importantly the moment when the touching became "not ok." I had no detail beyond that. What I have learned through the course of therapy is that the reason I had no detailed conscious memory is because this is the moment I left my body.

I remember making myself sit perfectly still, thinking that if I were compliant then it would be over faster. I convinced myself that if I could somehow turn into a stone statue then it would be better because stone statues don't feel. And if I didn't feel it, then it wasn't really happened. I was playing a lot of Super Mario Bros. 3 at the time and used the visual of Tanooki's stone statue which Raccoon Mario can turn into at will after he grabs a feather. I remembered this, but what I didn't know was all of the definable steps leading up to the stone statue nor how they related to my dissociation stages.

In the face of trauma, the human mind-body has three possible responses: fight, flight, or freeze. I chose the latter. In fact that is what most children who are being sexually abused do, because there is seemingly no other choice. We are small with little or no strength to fight; he was a 40+ year old man, how could I possibly ward him off? We are reliant upon the care of others; if I fled, where would I go? We are taught to respect authority and obey adults, which too often results in the inability to say no even when we know something is wrong. We are also taught shame from a very early age, which I would soon discover was a significant contributor to my frozen state.

It took me a long time to tell Dee about The Theatre. Seven therapists in 13 years and I had never breathed a word of this to any of them. I never felt comfortable and, quite ironically, I never thought it was relevant. Or perhaps I hoped it wasn't. In some ways the knowledge of this sliver was like a fly buzzing around my therapy sessions. I knew it was there, its appearance and persistence annoyed me at times, but I was able to shoo it away enough to focus on what I considered the real reason I was in the office. (I elaborate on the irony and subconscious functionality of using the masking event of my sick mother to hide the true root cause of my trauma in a later post called Goodbye Panda.)

It wasn't until after the appearance of the Black Oil that it became glaringly apparent something was lurking beneath, a dark demon of shame that was bigger than the problems with my schizophrenic-abandoning mother. Dee and I spent many EMDR sessions focusing on the Black Oil; sometimes I was able to look at it but most of the time it simply forced me out of my body. Those sessions exhausted and depleted me. I lived a hazy existence for weeks, barely functioning at work and in a near zombie-like state around my family during Christmas 2012.

The ASCA Survivor to Thriver Manual lists a series of general steps in the healing journey from child abuse; step two is Acknowledgement. On January 2, 2013 I finally acknowledged that I was sexually abused. During many months of therapy with Dee, she inquired no less than three times about the possibility of abuse during my childhood. Each of her inquiries would produce a dreamlike state wherein I could not form a coherent response. It was as if my lips were buttoned and no words would come out. All I could say is that I had gaps in my memory, that I had an inkling that something happened in a movie theatre, but I wasn't sure if it was real and it made me feel crazy to think about, much less talk about it.

After Dee's third inquiry (which came at the end of a session - ding, ding, time is up!) I went home in an out-of-body state. I trusted her and was ready to talk about it, even if it led to nothing significant. Even if it had no bearing on our work related to schizophrenic-abandoning mother. I had never written about this topic in 25 years, though I have dozens of journals documenting my personal growth. I could not bear to see this story in my own hand writing. And so I typed it out as a draft email with no intended recipient.

The next week on my way to see Dee I had sufficient resolve to share my story. Except I also had an incredible amount of "body stuff"... headaches, nausea, and heavy arms which made it difficult to drive. I even passed her office though I had been there at least 20 times. My mind-body did not want reveal. I had also been doing a lot of fingernail stabbing that week. This is one of my methods of self-injury. I shove my fingernails so far up inside the thumbnail on each hand that they bleed. The pain is satiating in a strange way such that it grounds me and almost feels good, and I have done this for decades in moments of stress. (I write more about my other tendencies for self-injury in a later post called Puzzle Pieces.)

I had been stabbing so much the week leading up to my session with Dee that squeezing a lemon in my Perrier brought me to tears. After talking with Dee, I now know that children are most likely coaxed and/or threatened to keep the abuse secret in ways that get planted in their psyche so deep that they don't even realize it. Likely this stabbing behavior was a way to secretly and subconsciously punish myself for what I was getting ready to do: violate my promise to him that I would never tell.

And so I told her. I think Dee knew for many months that this is where my therapy was headed. She is incredibly insightful and also infinitely gentle; she was patient until I was ready to reveal but in her own way let me know that she also saw the buzzing fly in the room. We later discussed the fact that my symptoms - these dissociative tendencies - are not something that would likely blossom from moments of abandonment, which can be deeply traumatic but not in the freeze variety; nor was this a response to attempts of suicide, which calls for action not a frozen state. It turns out childhood sexual abuse is one of Dee's areas of specialty; I did not know that when I sought her out but the universe did. She had much experience in the arena of dissociation and even shared stories with me (anonymously, of course) about some of her other patients' tendencies and the kinds of modalities they used in therapy sessions to uncover truth and release pain. I was ready to do both.

We began to use The Theatre as our trigger event for EMDR. Progress did not take long. At first I was not able to be "in" the theatre seat for it was much too painful. And so we constructed a visual exercise where I would pull up a comfy brown beanbag in the favorite room of my house and I would surround myself with trusted supporters so that we could watch the "movie" of my trigger event together. It was unsettlingly ironic that we were watching a movie of me watching a movie; it reminded me of the surreal dual reality in Being John Malkovich where people experience life through the eyes and body of another person. Using this technique I could observe and talk about The Theatre as if it were happening to or through someone else.

I had been studying and practicing tonglen, a Buddhist meditation technique, with Em for many weeks. Part of tonglen is gathering the image of people who are loving and supportive to help guide your efforts and energy throughout the practice. Like many meditative exercises, I did not consciously choose the visions and people who came to me; it is inner wisdom that presents exactly what is needed. In my case the figure of Christ is behind my right shoulder, St. Francis is on my left, and standing behind me are my two spiritual teachers Gyandev and Diksha who reside at an ashram in California that I have frequented in my yoga study.

At first when constructing the comfort zone from which to view The Theatre for EMDR, all 4 of my supporters joined me. But when we turned on the movie of my movie, I had to ask Gyandev and Diksha to leave. I was overwhelmed with the shame of what we were getting ready to observe and I could not bear for them to see it. It was ok for Jesus and St. Francis to stay because they weren't "real people" and henceforth it was always just the three of us.

I could write many details about what I know now about The Theatre and the variety of healing techniques Dee and I used to integrate this event. There are three things that are most mentionable here: the connection of The Theatre to the steps of my dissociative process, the arduous work and my body's response to repeated reprocessing of this event, and the ways in which I have been freed from the trauma through EMDR.

Through EMDR I came to understand that the details of this event are specifically and intentionally linked to each step in my dissociative process as witnessed by The Watcher in Israel's Key. It goes like this:

  • At the moment of "touching not ok" my ears are flooded with the sound of my heart beating in sheer terror and panic. The throbbing is so loud that it deafens me to the point where I can no longer hear anything else.
  • I become the stone statue so as not to feel the monster touching me. This survival mechanism allows me to pretend it isn't happening, but it also produces a sensation of extreme heaviness (stone is rather weighty, after all) and so first my arms and then my chest feel like lead.
  • I am so ashamed of what he is doing to me. There are people in The Theatre around us and I am terrified that someone will see. I realize that if I am not careful, I will let loose a whimper or some sound of distress that might call attention to this horrid situation. And so I stop breathing so that I won't cry or make a sound. Please God, don't let anyone hear or see.
The set where I had this last revelation nearly did me in. In the EMDR state of dreamlike knowing and reliving, my body put up a tremendous fight. I gagged to the point that I felt certain I would vomit all over Dee's lovely green couch. This would happen several times over the course of the next few months but I am happy to report that I never actually threw up. (I share more on the subject of my body's keen use of nausea and vomiting as a coping mechanism for trying to "rid" myself of these demons in a post titled On Shame.) I shook, I cried, I held my breath, I curled up in a ball. I regressed to a childlike state of frozen terror. It was one of the most awful things I have ever experienced. I say 'one of' because there would be many more moments like this to come for it is a necessary part of the reprocessing and desensitization process. In all honesty, it is hell on Earth.

Gradually I was able to "sit" in The Theatre instead of watching the movie of it. I was able to relive, re-experience, remember, reprocess and then make peace with this trigger event. Once we peeled back the layers of this trauma onion I was also able to recover a great deal of detail about the scene - peripheral vision, position of people around me, what I was wearing, and the movie(s) that were playing because, as it turns out, this happened more than once. It took a tremendous amount of work and effort but it was both necessary and worth it. 

A wonderfully healing facet of EMDR is that through diligent practice, the survivor is able to change the trauma memory into something more comfortable, palatable, livable. It is through this event molding process that the survivor becomes empowered, protected, and safe. For me this happened when I was finally able to visualize my adult self - Big Me - coming into The Theatre, kicking my abuser out of his seat, sitting down with Little Me and covering her up with a blanket (so as to be safe, warm, protected from harmful touching) while we proceeded to watch the movie together complete with popcorn and Twizzlers. This initial introduction of Big Me and Little Me would become a powerful healing tool that Dee and I would call upon again and again in the months to come.

Similar to my EMDR success with mother's suicide attempts, I am now able to talk about The Theatre without mind-body trauma symptoms. Well, almost. I am still haunted by the truth of this memory and I grieve its occurrence, but I am able to acknowledge and speak about it without being overcome by it. This process took many weeks, some with 2 long EMDR sessions and emergency phone calls in between to help me get a grip. During this time I was still traveling for work and wearing the face of success, which felt a lot more like a heavy shield. Life. Was. Exhausting. But all of this was critical for my healing journey. Though I did not know it at the time, unraveling The Theatre was only the beginning of recovering full memory of the abuse I suffered. A breadcrumb indeed.