In my last post, I described the ways that my former therapist, Lee O. Johnson, worked with me –through my body, my emotions, and my intellect. I want to share another example so that you get an even better idea about how trauma can be untethered through therapy in which one does more than talk.
Once she had me lie down on the floor on top of a large piece of butcher block paper. She outlined my body in magic marker and asked me to label some places that were “hot” spots or in some way an issue for me and places where my feelings were positive. Then she suggested that I write a brief story about that part of my body next to each marking.
I know for one that I circled my left wrist, the one I cut deeply when I was drunk as a teen-ager. I marked my tempero-mandibular joints or jaw joints, that were always inflamed due to constant teeth grinding, especially in my sleep. I circled the scar on my belly from my surgery for pyloric stenosis at 26 days old. I marked my arms; I’d always felt good about them, for they were strong and freckled, which I liked. And I marked my cheeks and nose–had I thought them cute? Maybe. I circled my eyes, brown and clear, as positives as well. Even though I needed glasses, I liked them. My eyes were home.
After I finished, Lee asked me to tell her about some of them. What I recall most from this exercise is the enormous amount of shame that I felt–shame about the places on my body where I felt good and where I felt bad. My body was one big bag of shame. A burden baby body. We spoke of this, and I remember the relief I felt acknowledging my true feelings. When I left that day with the paper rolled into a scroll in my hand, I felt lighter and freer. I didn’t feel joy or happiness, but I felt seen. I felt me more. More solid and real. Embodied.
A witnessing had taken place. Lee had quietly watched me draw and listened to my narration of the stories. She asked me some questions, encouraging me. I suppose this exercise was a way of clearing away debris so that the spaces were clear again. These parts of my body were mine, were me. In some way, I took a step that day in reclaiming them. Re-seeing them.
Allowing another to see my body through my eyes–through drawing, written words that I read aloud, and the words that I spoke in dialogue with Lee–was a sacred act of disclosure. I was no longer alone in my shame and heaviness. Sometimes therapy that integrates body, emotion, and insight is the answer to untethering trauma.