You likely won’t be surprised that many of my close friends are therapists. What might be surprising for you is how we sometimes spontaneously do our healing work in the middle of a visit, and not always in the most private of places. Case in point, the following account of a hike with my friend Vince.
Vince and I are hiking on Sandy Cove Loop by Harrison Lake. We’re doing what we often do when we hike: we’re talking about our personal healing journeys (with some playoff hockey analysis thrown in). As we arrive at the far point of the loop, I’m telling Vince about how, when I was a boy, my mother would tell my brother, sister and me about all the New Age ideas she was reading about, things like reincarnation and souls ascending to other dimensions when they had done the necessary work. She was clearly excited about all of it. I was afraid of getting left behind and troubled about leaving others behind should I earn the right to move on.
As I told Vince about this, he mentioned that I was gripping and rubbing my fingers. He mentioned this because we’re both healers who work directly with the impulses in the body that arise as we express ourselves and because he’s keenly aware of moments that are ripe for healing. I’m also aware of moments that are ripe for healing, so when he asked me if I wanted to explore that movement closely, I said yes.
With Vince’s guidance, I slowed down the gripping/rubbing movement while tuning into any sensations and emotions in my body.
Not long ago, my mother told me that when I was about two years old, she and my father went away for a few days and left my brother and I with a babysitter that we didn’t know (my sister was not yet born). She told me about this because I had told her about trauma that had been surfacing for me in my healing work that I wasn’t clear about. She told me that when she and my father returned, she found me sitting on the potty making a constant monotone sound while rocking back and forth. And I didn’t recognize them. The babysitter said that I had been doing that for most of the time they were gone.
My mother didn’t say that I had been gripping my hands together, but I would be willing to bet that I was. In that extremely dissociated state, I can easily imagine my two-year-old self gripping and rubbing away in an attempt to manage the intensity of the fear and aloneness. I don’t blame my parents for what happened. It was before we understood the importance of the parent-child bond and how to care for it. As my mother said to me, she didn’t know any better.
I don’t know for sure if the emotions and sensations that I’m feeling on the hike are related to the time when my parents were away. They may be from some other time. It doesn’t really matter if I know or not. What matters is that I stay with my sensations and emotions.
As I tune into my gripping, rubbing fingers with my eyes closed, my body becomes distant and I feel as though I am slightly above it. I have to will my attention into my body. I find some tightness in my chest and share that with Vince. The impulse is to reach for his hand but there is a strong fear with that impulse. Vince and I often support each other in our very vulnerable places, so the trust between us is immense, and yet the fear is there – when trauma surfaces, it brings the past emotions with it. The trauma part doesn’t know that things have changed. If we don’t have the tools, resources, and support, we will act out that trauma based on the past. With the tools, resources, and support, we can bring that part into the present, feel with it and help it learn and trust the appropriate expression or action.
Slowly, slowly, I separate my hands and reach with my left hand for Vince’s hand. When Vince’s hand meets mine, the frozen dissociation begins melting and the tears flow. Still following the impulses in my body, I turn toward Vince, still with eyes closed, and let my head fall against what I think/hope is his shoulder. The grief is a rushing river and his shoulder helps me stay with it. When the tears slow down, I say some things that I think my young self need to have acknowledged: “I got left behind. I needed my mother.” I feel extremely vulnerable as I say these things, but I stay with that vulnerability, and Vince helps by affirming each thing I say.
Nausea is the next thing I notice in my body, so I name that. Part of me wants to run from it, but, again, I will myself to move toward it. Before long, I’m coughing and spitting, and then dry heaving. Just like in previous healing sessions in which nausea has come up, I don’t know what the nausea is linked to. Maybe I’m not yet ready to know, maybe I don’t need to know. Whatever the case, some very loud dry heaving ensues. Vince starts belching and coughing beside me. Vince is a very talented healer with many tools, one of which is the ability to metabolize trauma through his belly. I don’t know exactly how this works, but I know that belching is a part of the process.
This might be a good time to mention that Vince and I are not deep in the wilderness and far from any signs of people. Sandy Cove Loop is not a popular trail, but there are hikers going by from time to time maybe twenty meters from us. What Vince and I know is deep healing work others might view a bad hangover or who knows what. I do my best to stay tuned into my body and my traumatized part while also listening for anyone coming along – not easy to do. Perhaps, the odd hiker passing by is an important part of the process. Maybe I need to show my young parts that I’m not going to leave them (remove my attention from them), no matter what. Perhaps I need to let myself trust that Vince is taking care of things.
I end up lying down on my belly with my head hanging over a small ledge while Vince holds onto my feet. I spit out the last of my nausea and give myself to Mother Earth. I don’t want my cap to fall off my head, so I take it off and throw it behind me. It hits Vince, but he doesn’t make a sound (later he tells me that it hit him right in the face!). He is focussed on me and the healing process.
When I sit up, a recurring dream comes to mind, a dream in which I struggle to pull off something stuck to my tongue, pulling so hard that I almost rip my tongue. I follow this pulling impulse now and it brings up disgust that I can barely stand. More dry heaving. Vince helps me slowly pull and pull (we’re not pulling anything, just doing the motion). Sensing that there may have been a blocked fight response in whatever happened, Vince invites me to slowly push his hands away. As I slowly push away, I notice that the young part of me is torn about pushing Vince’s hands away; it doesn’t want to lose the connection. As awful as whatever the experience was, there is a fear of being left alone. It’s a catch 22 that I resolve by holding one of Vince’s hands close to me for connection and support while pushing the other one away. This holding while pushing option came to me a few months ago while I was working with a client and I’m glad to have it for myself now.
I somehow find my way through the disgust and come to a somewhat centred place, sitting cross-legged on the ground with Vince at my back. I feel strong and open and there is an impulse to reach forward, so I do. Slowly, I reach to the tree in front of me, to the air, to life in general, not reaching for something, reaching just to connect. When my arms are fully extended, I open them out, spreading them as widely as possible. I squeeze my shoulder blades together so I can open my arms and chest all the way. It feels tremendously wonderful. The sky is the next destination for my hands, and it feels wonderful up there, too. Then I lean back and back until I am on the ground. Open and surrendered. I think it is over, but it isn’t.
Vince sits down next to me and begins to do more clearing around my solar plexus and belly. I don’t know what is going on but my heart tells me to be as still as possible. Vince is belching away and scooping and waving with his arms. I want him to rest. I’m worried that he’s pushing himself. He helps people in this way all week and now he’s helping me on a Sunday. But I stay still and quiet. This is how our friendship goes. We’ll talk more hockey later on in order to balance this out.
When Vince thinks it’s over, he starts remarking on how powerful, deep and beautiful the process was. He can’t get over the amount of territory we covered and the ways in which we navigated. Thanks to the trust between us and our training and experience, and to our willingness to dive in, we co-created a healing work of art, not a work of art in terms of how good it was but in how it was informed by creativity and was utterly beautiful to experience. Maybe it’s more accurate to write that we co-created what we experienced as a healing work of art.
But it’s not over. There is rage rising in me. Believe it or not, it is a rage about having to hold back my life energy and my love. I don’t know why this is coming up but I am utterly enraged about my love being blocked. I grip the earth and growl. I’m tearing up moss with my hands, which I don’t like, so I find a giant tree root and squeeze and pull and roar. I’m so pissed off. Vince cuts through my rage to tell me that a family is approaching. I don’t hear him at first, so he starts telling the family that I’m just stretching my shoulders. I hear Vince this time and immediately switch to a groaning stretching sound. When I look up, there is a girl who is about 8 years old looking at me with a curious smile. I smile back at her and smile inwardly because I trust I am showing her a healthy way to express strong emotions, and because it’s funny to me to be healing in this way with strangers passing by.
When it’s finally over, Vince and I strip down and plunge into freezing cold Harrison Lake while kayakers paddle by, veering away upon seeing us. We roar with the cold and laugh and laugh because there is much to laugh about on this adventurous path we’ve chosen. Then we go to the pub, order veggie burgers and green tea, and watch some hockey.