A New Therapeutic Avenue

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how fortunate I am at this stage in my life. While my anxiety had cast an unspeakable pall over my 20’s and 30’s I find myself on a road that seems destined for not only recovery but an entirely new sense of self with new goals. Well, the goals aren’t that different, so much as that I see them as far more attainable than before.

I’m back in Huntington, WV a day early so I can be back in Charlotte by Friday. That Friday morning I’ll be starting EMDR (that’s Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy with Dr. Barbara Birge. Now to be honest, I don’t know as much about EMDR as I should but I know just enough to decide it was something I wanted to do. I’m actually very excited just to meet Barbara – she’s one of those people with a voice that just radiates compassion. As soon as she got a few words out, I thought “wow, this woman is right for me.” 20 years as a therapist will do that, I suppose.

I’ve been reading “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk and it really set me on fire because so much of it jived with my somatic experience. Bessel argues that what we commonly refer to as PTSD is far more prevalent than realized; that ultimately the body-mind can be traumatized and hold onto a variety of physiological and emotional patterns for decades. These patterns of frozen trauma can take years to surface, building on each other until the symptoms manifest as a constellation of symptoms ranging from anxiety and depression to mood swings, physical pain, avoidance behaviors, and many other easily misdiagnosed disorders that are explained and/or medicated away. And that has me thrilled because it means that despite how baffling my experiences have been on the level of the individual my actions have been perfectly in line with my emotional and physiological experiences from a human perspective. In short, what I’ve been doing is exactly what you’d expect a person with my makeup to be doing. What a relief!

In reading both Dr. Bessel and Peter Levine’s work (Waking the Tiger & In an Unspoken Voice) I’ve come to realize just how fundamental proprioception (body awareness) is and have tried to cultivate it further. Yoga was an overall miss for me but mostly because the class I joined was too advanced for me. I still bring a lot of postures and practices in when I exercise but I haven’t made yoga a staple of daily living yet. Meditation still works for me and I’ve delved more into breath and bodily awareness, results pending.

My thoughts on my overall stance towards my body have been interesting as well. Namely that I’m rarely aware of it until it starts to act up. If I’m in pain, feeling anxious, am worried about a disease, have to care for it, use the bathroom, or eating, then I’m aware of it. But for neutral moments I rarely put much attention into physical sensation and proprioception in movement, instead choosing to almost always be aware of thinking and mental movements. That’s mindfulness of mind – but I’m extremely imbalanced in that direction. I’m sorely lacking mindfulness of body in my practice and I think it’s been a major reason why despite having done meditation for so many years I haven’t seen the gains I’d expect. I’m full of frozen energies that can’t move because I’ve made too sharp a division between mind and body when both actually give rise to the other in various ways.

So EMDR. I intend to feel. A lot. I’m scared and excited in equal measure. Scared because from what I’ve read once the lid comes off you’ll often feel intense surges of bottled up emotions when you least expect it. Fortunately, I have a pretty antisocial job so that’s not overly concerning.

But I’m also excited because I feel like there’s a possibility of doing so much more with my life. Of galvanizing my potential and resources in new and exciting ways without a visceral fear of human interaction looming in the background. While anyone who knows my stories knows I’ve done quite a bit those stories are always tainted by “and then my anxiety got the best of me so I left.” Most think I just get bored easily because I’m a Renaissance man world-traveler. I mean I am but that’s not the main reason why I wander quite so much. It will mean the world to me to finally be able to finish a chapter in my plans before moving onto the next thing.

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