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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

“I’ll bet,” she mused, ‘that if the shaking that often occurs after surgery were allowed rather than suppressed, recovery would be quicker and maybe even postoperative pain would be reduced.”

“That’s right,” I say, smiling in agreement.

Peter Levine – In an Unspoken Voice: how the body releases trauma and restores goodness (page 8)

Is it possible that I have at last solved a mystery that has been haunting me for 46 years?

It is extremely tempting to believe I have, but my inner sceptic is urging caution.

So, what on earth am I talking about?

Drowning in Pain

The basic problem dates from 1974. I’ve blogged at length about this already so I’ll deal with it briefly here.

I attended an Encounter Group weekend in the summer of that year. It was a fusion of Reichian Breathwork and Janov’s Primal Therapy. Both of them use controlled breathing to gain access, in their different ways, to deeper levels of what I will call here somatic memory. The encounter weekend’s aim was to reconnect attenders with ‘primal’ pain by focused breathing. My earlier account reads like this:

Saturday was the day I dynamited my way into my basement. Suddenly, without any warning that I can remember, I was catapulted from my cushioned platform of bored breathing into the underground river of my tears – tears that I had never known existed.

It was an Emily Dickinson moment:

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge, . . .

I’m just not as capable of conveying my experience in words as vividly as she did hers.

Drowning is probably the best word to describe how it felt. Yes, of course I could breath, but every breath plunged me deeper into the pain. Somehow I felt safe enough in that room full of unorthodox fellow travellers, pillow pounders and stretched out deep breathers alike, to continue exploring this bizarre dam-breaking flood of feeling, searching for what it meant.

This process went on for what seemed hours. The theory was that the more deeply you went into the experience, the more likely your were to connect with its cause. Many years later I did have a successful integration of this kind with a different set of feelings (see link). That didn’t happen this first time, nor was I ever able to connect this pool of tears with any specific event or determine its meaning. When I discovered it, I realised it had always been there. Decades later it seems that it always will be, as long as I live in this body at least.

I puzzled over where this sense of loss and pain stemmed from. Was it from my being carried in the womb of a woman grieving for her dead daughter, from my being born into a house steeped in an atmosphere of grief from which my arrival did nothing to rescue it, from my being born at a time of war and experiencing trauma I couldn’t even remember, and/or from having a father re-experiencing war for the second time in civil defence after serving for the first time at the front line?

Rebirthing

A key sentence for present purposes from the account of my 1974 encounter experience is this one: ‘Many years later I did have a successful integration of this kind with a different set of feelings.’

This was when, on 11 July 1985, I went to see a therapist in Shropshire who used a similar breathing model to the previous one called Rebirthing. It was my last session with her.

The breathing had gone well as usual but this time, after less than half and hour, I began to tremble, then shiver, then shake uncontrollably. This was not a result of hyperventilation: I’d got past that trap long ago. She quietly reminded me that I simply needed to watch the experience and let go. Watching was no problem. Letting go was quite another matter. I couldn’t do it. I knew that it must be fear by now, but the fear remained nameless, purely physical. And this was the case for more than two hours of breathing. Eventually, we agreed that, in terms that made sense for me, Bahá’u’lláh was with me at this moment and no harm could befall me. There could be no damage to my soul and almost certainly no damage to my body.

And at that moment I let go.

First, the quaking literally dissolved in an instant – the instant I let go – into a dazzling warmth that pervaded my whole body. My experience of the energy had been completely transformed.

Secondly, I knew that I was in the hospital as a child of four, my parents nowhere to be seen, being held down by several adults and chloroformed for the second time in my short life, unable to prevent it – terrified and furious at the same time.

This all came as a tightly wrapped bundle falling into my mind, as though someone had thrown it down from some window in my heart. It didn’t come in sequence, as I’m telling it, but all at once. It was a complete integrated realisation – the warm energy, the situation, the feelings and the thoughts.

I knew instantly that I had lost my faith in Christ, and therefore God – where was He right then? Nowhere. And they’d told me He would always look after me. I lost my faith in my family, especially my parents. Where were they? Nowhere to be seen. I obviously couldn’t rely on them. Then like a blaze of light from behind a cloud came the idea: ‘You’ve only yourself to rely on.’

This was more like a preverbal injunction to myself for which my adult mind seemed to find words instantly. For the child I was at the time, it had been a white-hot blend of intolerable pain and unshakable determination. It shaped a creed that had been branded on my heart at that traumatic moment, and its continuing but invisible hold on me till the explosion of insight was why it had taken me so long to let go.

Two such different experiences, eleven years apart, using the same technique, the first I had no explanation for and the meaning of the second was all to plain to see.

Only now, 35 years later, have I come to see a possible explanation for the first inexplicable encounter with my well of pain. And that is thanks to a completely unpredictable piece of synchronicity.

A close friend in Australia had stumbled across a book in her local library and, knowing my interest in trauma, thought it worth bringing it to my attention. I read a positive review on The Psychologist website (you’ll need to scan down to find it), and decided it was worth a look. It’s synchronicity, not because of the close correspondence of the patterns I’m about to describe, which would apply regardless of the time at which I encountered the book, but because I came across it just after I finished revisiting Donaldson and particularly Covey, something which had prepared my mind to be especially receptive to absorbing its significance.

And that’s what brings us to In an Unspoken Voice: how the body releases trauma and restores goodness.

Nancy

The case example of Nancy, which Levine uses in this book,[1] rang so many powerful bells for me. During his session with her she had reported seeing ‘nightmarish images of herself as a four-year-old child struggling, to escape the grasp of the doctors who held her down in order to administer ether anaesthesia for a ‘routine’ tonsillectomy.’ He goes onto to explain that ‘[t]he shaking and trembling, occurring in the warm and reassuring presence of a reliable other person, and allowed to continue to completion, helped [her] to restore equilibrium and wholeness, and to be freed from trauma’s grip.’

A key sentence that seems to me to mirror my own transition from terror to warmth comes on page 23: ‘She was overpowered and held down against her will by all-powerful masked and gowned giants. In our hour together Nancy’s body contradicted her panicky feelings of being overwhelmed and trapped.’

More of this next time, to unpack how this helped solve the mystery of my pool of pain.

Reference:

[1]. Pages 20-25.

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Given my reference to James Joyce’s Ulysses in the next post, it seemed a good idea to post this poem now.

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After yet again recently revisiting the period of my father’s death in a poem, it seemed only fair to republish a few poems from an earlier sequence that will help put that in context. I have missed some from that sequence that don’t relate to the grief, and some others that I’ve only recently republished.

Reading in the Park

 

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After yet again recently revisiting the period of my father’s death in a poem, it seemed only fair to republish a few poems from an earlier sequence that will help put that in context. I have missed some from that sequence that don’t relate to the grief, and some others that I’ve only recently republished.

Memories

 

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After yet again recently revisiting the period of my father’s death in a poem, it seemed only fair to republish a few poems from an earlier sequence that will help put that in context. I have missed some from that sequence that don’t relate to the grief, and some others that I’ve only recently republished.

To my Father v5

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I thought it would be useful to republish this as background to Monday’s and Thursday’s poems.

Caesarian Death v2

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