I’m off to The Healing Art of Writing Workshop at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, a city in Marin County just north of San Francisco. I am hoping to make some strong connections with other writers and healers, affirm my dedication to writing, revel in the company of writers and artists who are devoted to or interested in the field of medical humanities, and learn new techniques and strategies for expressing oneself with clarity and power.
For the first time, I have submitted writing to the workshop that does not have to do with my memoir manuscript about infant surgery, The Autobiography of a Sea Creature. I wrote a brand new piece to share titled “My Mother’s Ears” about my mother’s hearing loss and the effect it had on me growing up. My mother’s hearing was damaged after undergoing a surgery at age twenty-five in which she had chosen to try an experimental anesthetic rather than suffer the debilitating effects of ether.
I had heard many times about how her hearing loss occurred, how the resulting tinnitus affected her, and how my mother attempted to rectify the problem early on. Tinnitus, according to Merriam-Webster online, is “a sensation of noise (as a ringing or roaring) that is caused by a bodily condition (as a disturbance of the auditory nerve or wax in the ear) and typically is of the subjective form which can only be heard by the one affected.” The condition sounds rather benign in this definition but the ringing in my mother’s ears was so severe that she could not hear the outside world without hearing aids.
Growing up, my mother told the story of her hearing loss over and over in the same way each time. Similarly, she had a particular way of telling and retelling my pyloric stenosis story–the same time-worn phrases again and again. Repeating a story of trauma is one of the clues in identifying a person who may be suffering from PTSD. When we hear ourselves and/or others telling a story over and over in the same tone and with the same words, something is stuck or frozen. The person needs a little kickstart to begin the journey of healing from whatever wounded him or her.
I am only now discovering what it means to live a normal life, that is, one in which post-traumatic stress does not dominate. In a way, I’ve been reborn. I still have symptoms but I recognize them quickly and work with them in order to free myself from repetitive or stuck patterns of thinking and behavior. Just this morning in my meditation, I found myself frozen in a breathing pattern that I probably learned as a three-week old coping with acute pain after a stomach operation. My face above my nose is numb and my upper body completely rigid. This strategy enabled me to deal with a difficult situation as a baby but now when the pain and danger are no longer present, it is disturbing and limiting.
John Fox’s poetry workshops might help me out. Each morning at the workshop, I’ll be sitting in a circle of writers, listening to and discussing published poems and then writing and sharing poems of our own. Perhaps I’ll take this PTSD symptom on, the latest one calling for resolution. Writing a poem about my frozen head and shallow breath might free me up. In the meantime, here’s an affirmation I’ll try: I breathe naturally and fully, energizing my entire body. Breath awakens. Breath is my friend