How can survivors of infant surgery and/or invasive medical procedures performed without anesthesia begin to move away from a lifetime of re-enacting symptoms of trauma and move toward a lifetime of experiencing health, fulfillment, and joy? How can we get our pain, anger, and confusion out so that we can feel peace, clarity, and compassion? Here are a few steps I have taken over my many years of finding my way:
2. engaging in psychological therapy
3. doing somatic body work, in my case, Middendorf Breath Work
4. writing (journal, poetry, short stories, memoir)
6. joining groups of people struggling with the same issue (overeating, grief, depresssion)
7. finding true friendship
8. finding a companion and getting married
9. singing/joining sound (vocalization) circles
10. taking drama workshops
My journey, thumbnail version: I started my recovery by writing in a journal, working with a therapist, and drawing pictures. I learned so much about myself. Perhaps it’s best to start with writing since it’s both free, as in inexpensive, and powerful. I moved into writing poetry and then, when I wanted to write longer pieces, prose: first, memoir and later, short stories. While exploring my thoughts and feelings in a journal, I was lucky to find a therapist with whom to work, who allowed me to pay her on a sliding scale, that is, determined by income. It’s great to know that you’ve got someone to talk to about anything scary that might arise in writing.
Writing groups are great, too. You can form a group of peers. My friend Suzie, who was also a writer, was a great support for me. A highlight of my week was meeting her in Edy’s coffee shop on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, right across from the public library, to share journal entries and talk about our lives. She was a great listener and I was fortunate; she really wanted to know about my life. I wish upon you this type of friend. She was not afraid of my suicidal feelings and accepted all. In turn, I listened intently to her, thrilled at how we were able to be honest with one another. Writing enables this.
When I wanted to understand at a deeper level what had caused disturbance in me, I wrote my memoir. I began with a series of pastel drawings, which dealt with the early surgery. They were disturbing pictures filled with blood, knives, babies hanging from ropes, and explosions. You might say I drew myself into the material. I was so frightened to confront what had happened to me that I had to begin with an intermediary, in this case, visual images. Somehow, finishing this series of pictures allowed me to go forward into the writing of The Autobiography of a Sea Creature, which is now a manuscript on an agent’s desk.
At a certain point, I needed more support in continuing to explore this material, so I started taking Middendorf Breath classes with Jeurg Roffler. What a gentle way to confront the toll the surgery had taken. The breath became my guide into the writing. In fact, in my memoir, the last two sections of the book chronicle the journey that I took with Breathwork or Breathexperience, as it is called, as I began to reclaim my body. This somatic work showed me how I had dealt with a horrifying experience–by walling myself off from the pain and hence, my body. I had learned to inhabit my body as minimally as possible and still live. Using breath work, I was able to find my way back.
Dance, drama, and voice served as further outlets. These activities brought me into contact with others and balanced out the isolation that writing can bring. And I almost forgot to mention one of my best friends and supports: reading. How many autobiographies, novels and short stories did I read in trying to connect with others and understand my emotional turmoil? Countless numbers.
Currently, the blog has become the place where I discuss these issues, find community, and inform others so that they can find help. In this way, I heal myself. I have also brought the study of medical humanities into the classes that I teach at community college. Getting the word out about Post-traumatic Stress is a passion for me these days. Why should people suffer needlessly when there are tools available with which we can dig ourselves out of pain and discover the light? I believe we were meant to thrive. We are not simply psychiatric diagnoses and/or the names of our medical conditions. We are human beings who recover from fragmentation and grow into wholeness. I know. I am doing it and I know you can, too. Allow yourself to know the great beauty that you are and have always been. Step onto the path of ease and joy.