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I'm fixed! EMDR, Somatic Freeze, and Early Trauma

Much to my delight, EMDR is slowly eroding some deeply held somatic patterns. I had my doubts it could work on trauma held in my body for over six decades. But in time, I am changing. I am recognizing more quickly when I’m in a freeze and learning how to disengage from it in a self-caring way.

What is somatic freeze anyway?  My somatic freeze is a state I often find myself in when I’m engaged in quiet activities. For instance, I may be reading and notice my breath is shallow and my chest and belly are hard as a wash board. I am breathing in the most shallow way possible–the way I breathed as a baby after stomach surgery for a stomach blockage to reduce the pain and discomfort. Taking a big breath hurt! How do I know this?  My breath patterns and somatic freezes tell me.

Years ago, a powerful dream came to me about this. There on the hard wood floor lay a brownish-purple, liver-like organ. I saw it through the white slats of my crib. Dead, I thought. I approached it, thinking to haul it away and throw it out, but noticed it was pulsing ever so slightly. Oh my god, I thought, it’s alive and I almost threw it away. I woke up panicked with what I’d almost done though I also felt relief.

In EMDR, I worked with this image. A wise adult self, a part of me that has become activated in my wanding sessions, picked up this organ and brought it to the baby in the crib. “Here, it’s fixed,” she said. “Put it back in.” “No,” the baby answered, “What if it isn’t?” “It is. Trust me.” Baby me, doubtful, put it back into my body. The wise part said, “I’ll help you. We’ll work on this together.”

Sure enough, every so often during the wanding, this mature, nurturing, good-mother part approached baby me: “It works, yes?” “Yes!” I cried, giving her a thumbs up. She’d leave and shortly return to ask again: “It’s working, right?” “Right!” baby me answered. In this way, I am integrating the fact that I am fixed, so there’s no need to unconsciously go into a somatic freeze in order to protect myself from pain and near death that happened decades ago.

So now, outside of therapy, when I feel myself go into somatic freeze, this wise part shows up. “You’re in one of your freezes. It’s ok,” I tell myself. Then, my body (baby me) simply relaxes. I know I’m ok and there’s nothing to fear. This mother part is non-judgmental, loving, and wholly supportive–something I didn’t get from my mother, who did her best to help me.

EMDR is helping me know at a very deep level that I am fixed and work perfectly. The freeze is old and can be let go. There’s no need to berate myself for freezing up. In fact, there’s every reason to feel compassion for myself.  EMDR is facilitating my healing journey as I steadily and certainly come home to my body.

5 Responses to I'm fixed! EMDR, Somatic Freeze, and Early Trauma

  1. I really appreciate the metaphor of the wise adult and the vulnerable baby and how their interaction leads to integration and healing. Thank you for sharing this story, Wendy.

  2. Every post teaches me something more about the troubling extent of your ptsd, Wendy. Thank you for yet another graphic and beautifully written account.
    Your and my infant surgery journeys started with IHPS, have run parallel and in many ways similar courses, but it also keeps surprising me how they have differed. Your fearful breathing pattern or somatic freeze I have never known, and I’m grateful. I love the powerful dreams and telling images you relate, but have had none of them, although my mind like yours does pick up all sorts of associations with my story – but that’s a different subject.
    Thank you again for the beautifully clear way you convey the depth of your pain and the benefits of EMDR to your readers here.

    • Thanks so much, Fred! Sometimes I feel afraid to share such details and go into such depth, but I feel that if anyone else suffers these weird symptoms and body states, I want him or her to see that there is a way to work with them in order to free oneself and that these strange patterns don’t mean he or she is crazy. I’m so glad you have not had to deal with those ptsd symptoms. Perhaps your mother was able to touch you or sooth you in a comforting way and help you realize the pain was past. One thing’s for sure, each person reacts so differently to a set of circumstances. Thanks for affirming my post and my supporting me in my desire to be helpful to others if I can.

      • Wendy, I love your blog and look forward to reading more articles you have written. It occurred to me recently that perhaps my pyloric stenosis surgery (in 1956 at around 2 1/2 weeks in a small Illinois town) had an impact on my ability (or should I say inability) to have and maintain friendships & marriages. I’ve always felt so isolated and uncomfortable with myself, whereas my 2 older sisters are “normal” people, if I can say it that way. I might check into the EMDR; until then, thank you again… very grateful for your information.

        • Hi Helen, Thank you so much for writing. I’m extremely pleased my articles are helpful. More glad than you know, for sharing this information gives my life meaning. Yes, your ps surgery could certainly be the culprit. Do you know much about it? Did your mother talk about it with you? Up until I was 26 years old, my friendships came and went. I could not sustain an intimate relationship. I was cut off from myself, unable to trust in my feelings and perceptions, and therefore, unable to share my feelings and perceptions with others. I was cut off in an essential way from my body. I didn’t know I had PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). Back then in the 50s and 60s, by the way, the term did not even exist. Yes, I’ve often looked at “normal” people in wonderment, puzzled. How do they do it? Thank goodness in 1978, I found a therapist who began to help me understand and integrate my early trauma. When you have time, look into my blog’s archives. For many years, I posted every week and you might find something important there. Also, my PS friend, Fred Vanderbom (from his Stories from the Survivors of Early Surgery blog) and I are co-creating a blog so that our articles can appear together and in a more accessible format. Hopefully, we’ll be up and running this fall. Many thanks for taking the time to comment. Welcome to the family of folks healing from the effects of the early trauma of pyloric stenosis surgery.

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