Significant Conditions

My mother’s parents- Elizabeth Mayhew and Eugene Nichols

From behind the wheel, my mom turns her face towards me, her right arm reaching across the upper part of the seat-back. She tells me she loves me. It’s ordinary the way she says it. How easy for me to tell her “I love you, too, mom.” But I am 13 years old. I am unsure, unsteady, conflicted, angry. I am blocked.

It was typical for me to ride my bike to T.H. Rogers Jr. High, but this particular morning, the one that stands out in my memory more than any other, it’s my mom that drives me to school in our copper-colored big American station wagon. She pulls to a stop at the nearby intersection and I get out from the passenger seat. My backpack is on the seat behind me, filled with heavy textbooks, spiral notebooks, and my lunch. I open the rear door to grab it. That’s when I see her face and hear her saying to me those three awkward words.

Before I close the door, all that I have lived from birth to this moment becomes compressed into a pause of two seconds. She tilts her head, and I can feel her eyes begging me for reflection. She asks, “You can’t tell me you love me?” Two more seconds of heavy silence passes. I close the heavy car door, swing my heavy backpack onto a shoulder, and walk away heavy.

I’m so sorry, mom. I couldn’t say it. I didn’t feel it. I didn’t know what to feel.


No Optimus Prime Time

At this point, we’ll pick right back up from where the last two posts left you hanging. My final words in the previous post were, “Thank you for this day, sweet universe. I don’t understand you. But now I am open.” 

What the hell does that even mean?! And then the post just ends. 

Friends, followers, (countrymen?), here is what it means. Going from blocked to open was transformative. A bona-fide breakthrough! There’s no way I could have imagined it, either. I have gone through the looking glass that I did not know existed.

[Pause…breathe] I also want to be careful not to overstate what happened on Oct 12th. Those six somatic cycles I went through did not transform me from a car into a six-story tall fighting robot. No miracles occurred. I did not lay down on the futon wearing dark-rimmed glasses and get up 2 hours later wearing tights and a cape. When I say transformative, it’s on the scale of how a person might appear different from beginning to end on an Extreme Makeover reality show. But the cool thing about my “makeover,” is that changes took place on the inside.  

To get a true feel for what this transformation really felt like, we unfortunately must first spend more time talking about trauma and what it is to be “blocked” in the first place. The perversely good news is that emotionally blocked is how I’ve been all my life. It’s what I know best. Being open has only been my experience for about two and a half weeks.

But I’ll tell you, the contrast between these two emotional states of existence really pops when you cross over from one side to the other. Did anyone notice that I only began using the terms blocked and open (within this specific context) after the Oct 12th, super-sonic breakthrough? Only after reaching the wider lens of the looking glass could I then turn around to see where I had been. In the post To The Healing Side, (published on Oct 10th), I had the concept but used the word “disconnected.” Yes, that is a big part of it as you will see, but blocked paired with open feels much more accurate.

With these concepts revealed to me and the short-hand to describe them, my challenge is now to make blocked and open as clear to you as they are to me.

Trauma, Bury, Disconnect

When a person is blocked it means that childhood trauma has caused them to bury their rightful emotions and disconnect themselves from the feelings of others, and from their own feelings, too.

Notice the italics I have added to the three terms I will be diving into today- trauma, bury and disconnect. Same as the word “inconceivable” from The Princess Bride, each of these words may not mean what you think it means. Let’s begin where the trouble begins, with trauma.

A quick heads up that I will be going back quite often to the terms body-self and mind-self because they are so key to grasping the physiological underpinnings of what it is to be blocked (and then open). Review anyone?

Trauma Is Not So “Bad”

“No House of Horrors” was the subtitle I used for one of the first segments of my post, Breeding Ground for Suicide. Here is how I summed-up my childhood then: 

“What’s amazing to me is just how relatively close to center my early upbringing was. There were no alcohol-fueled episodes of physical abuse, no child molestation, no cages, no torture chambers, no material for a future Netflix documentary. The dysfunction in my childhood home was the product of two parents living inside their own blind spots.”

I know the word “trauma” first brings to mind explosions, violence, rape, incest, etc, but I want to make it clear that trauma, specifically childhood trauma, comes in many forms- angry ruptures that go unrepaired; direct (and indirect) emotional abuse; an absence of nurturing love; and willful neglect. My list is not exhaustive, but enough to make the point. Notice, physical abuse is not on the list. That’s because it is additive, not required. 

When young Gary both witnessed and experienced these less headline-grabbing forms of trauma without any means of escape, he/I learned to cope. The trade-off was to become emotionally blocked. My body-self was born to scream and cry and love, but when the parental forces around me would not support these natural human emotions, my mind-self had to figure out how to hold the whole of me together. Evidently my answer (and that for males almost everywhere) was to toughen-up, to put a lid on my emotions. This required turning off some chemical “switches” buried deep inside my body.

Backyard Burial

The next paragraph is one I wish I didn’t feel was necessary to write. It makes it seem like I’m trying to explain sciencey stuff in my blog when a scientist, I am not. Just relax, Max…I am simply passing along something I read about recently, but also quite literally felt. This I will explain after you hear what the science says…

Peer-reviewed, scientific research studies on adults who’ve had trauma in their childhoods confirm there are real-life biological, physical, and identifiable changes that occur within the human body directly correlated to trauma—lower cortisol levels, higher stress hormones, and these little things called “methyl groups” that attach themselves to certain genes, turning them either on or off. Quantities of these measurable physical attributes even correlate to the severity of the trauma.

All this is saying is that trauma affects the chemistry of our bodies in ways that can be measured. But I didn’t have to read this in a book before I knew it was true. The six somatic experiencing cycles I went through on Oct 12th, left me physically feeling changed. [Hey, I’m just telling you what happened.] To be clear, I am not talking about feeling these changes right away. I mean, I kind of did, but I’m slow to trust anything that seems too good to be true, especially while still under the elevating influence of cannabis. However, by days three and four the jury was in. The physical changes were not an illusion or a biased perception. They were just as real as a new haircut.

What kind of physical changes are we talking about? Familiar pains in my right shoulder, right hip and left knee all felt better right away. My body-self was clearly happy to finally complete some full cycles from Danger to Safe, from Anger to Safe, and from Sad to Safe. It was epic!

My right shoulder was especially different. With weights at the gym I do these exercises called shrugs so that maaaaybe my shoulders won’t look so boney. I hang onto a 40 lb dumbbell with each hand and then shrug like I’m saying, “I don’t know” over and over again. If I’m not careful in how I do these lifts, I will feel a crunchy pain when my right shoulder moves in certain ways. After the breakthrough… Gone! [Okay, so that’s not 100% true, but the age-old pains I was very familiar with were reduced by like… a whopping 90%.]

Extra! Extra!

Though the physical changes were quite remarkable, the larger headline font should be reserved for how much different my mind felt- GARY MAKES PEACE DEAL. I am telling you…the literalness of this change is still hard for me to wrap my head around. I had no concept a transformation such as this could be a real thing. The closest relatable feeling I can think of is the one you would experience after learning a piece of good news has cancelled your need to worry and stress; like a weight has been lifted. What is that, right?! Well, the stuff I read about changes to cortisol levels, stress hormones and genes was exactly the type of sciencey confirmation a born skeptic like me appreciates to explain this feeling of change (and change of feeling). In a nutshell, when my direct personal experience is backed up by science, I’m all the way in.

Completed somatic cycles changed my body’s chemistry for the better and I am happy to let that be true.

The day after my super-sonic breakthrough I wondered to myself what I’ll say the next time someone asks me, How are you? I posed the question to myself first and came up with an answer that both sounds kind of humorous and also feels like there’s truth in it. I will say- I haven’t felt this good since I was 3 months old.

Connect Four

Prior to my very first session of therapy in the first part of May, I added a note to my phone with an absurdly long header, “What I Hope to Get Out of Therapy and Questions I’d Like Answered.” In the note I list 13 things. Item #4 relates to this idea of connection. I wrote, Will therapy help me figure out if being “Mr Jokester” all the time is a crutch? Ha! Now I have my answer… Abso-friggen-lutely!

Now that I am open, it’s not difficult to make sense of my own behavior patterns as a person who was pretty dam-blocked. Being Mr. Jokester is not a bad thing, overall. [C’mon, I’m funny sometimes, right?] But my problem was always cracking jokes when the situation called for a higher degree of seriousness and sensitivity. I didn’t care about people in the way I should have. Meaning, I could intellectually care about someone all day long, but what’s always been missing was feeling it

I can recall a specific moment from when I was 16 years old and working at the beloved (and long-since closed-down) amusement park in Houston called Astroworld. I was working in the “Oriental” section near the Runaway Rickshaw ride when I saw a little boy off by himself, crying and lost. I went over to him, but really didn’t know what to say. Just being honest with you, I felt uncomfortable handling what should have been an easy task. About a minute later, an area foreman named Willie Wamble (Yes, that’s his name) was walking by so I grabbed his attention with a wave and motioned him over. Instinctively, Willie goes straight to the crying little boy and squats down so they are at eye-level. The way Willie speaks to the kid is something I’ve apparently never forgotten. He is so caring and sensitive. He first comforts the boy, then reassures him his parents are definitely looking for him right then. Willie says to the kid, “I’m going to help you, alright? You’re gonna be okay.” Meanwhile I am standing a short distance away thinking, Wow, I could never do that. 

Seeing how Willie interacted with that little boy was something I could intuitively admire, but my instincts to do the same were unavailable to me. It’s episodes like this that let me know deep down that something was wrong with me. Being blocked from having normal human feelings not only inhibited my ability to connect with others, but also to myself. It would take me 40 years of cold living, a personal blog of deep psychological exploration, and six months of somatic therapy visits before I would begin gaining access to my own healthy and appropriate human emotions. 

Hey! Better now than never, right? What I would really like to do at this point is test my hypothesis. If you happen to lose your small child, let me know and I’ll help with the search. 😉

Sorry Mom…We Got Disconnected

The opening scene at the top of this post is one of my most uncomfortable memories. Reliving this moment hurts now, but I needed to tell the story to show you what being disconnected looks like. 

What a far different, more complicated and complete, picture I have of my mother today! If my mom were still alive, this is the conversation I would like to have with her…

Mom, I know the sudden loss of your own mother when you were 13 was a rupture that no one could ever repair. While I never heard much about your father I have connected enough dots to conclude he was an abusive alcoholic and your mom left him when you were around 7 years old. He had a lot of mental problems and spent the last 15 years of his life at the Ypsilanti State Mental Hospital in Michigan. He died when you were 25 of pancreatic cancer, but also written on his death certificate next to “Other Significant Conditions” are the words, Psychosis with organic brain disease. I can translate that– Your father was horribly abused as a child.

That was your dad. How about the other men in your life?

I know your first husband (Tommy’s father) was physically abusive, and you left him. Your second husband (my father) was emotionally abusive, and you left him. You had one more significant relationship after my dad with a mercifully kind-hearted alcoholic, but an alcoholic, nonetheless. It took many heartbreaking years, but eventually you left him, too. Your vibe attracts your tribe, mom. You were blocked, and so were all of the men in your life, including all three of your sons… including me, mom. Tommy and Bill succumbed to their inner world of pain, but for reasons I cannot yet understand, I am the son that has survived.

Now I am here to tell your story and connect it to my own. All our family ever knew up until now was disconnection. Well, now it’s time for me to connect.

I do not have children of my own to repair the family’s chain of abuse, neglect, and disconnection. However, I’m writing a blog these days, mom. I think it’s really good. Maybe there’s someone out there that will read it, and it will help them make the loving connections we never could.

More Than Words

One thing you might still be confused about. I say that both my mother and I were blocked, lacking access to our emotions, right? But we all hear my mother turn to me and tell me she loves me. This speaks to the internal battle everyone living in the blocked world faces. Our body-selves crave to feel the love that trauma prevents us from giving or receiving. Our mind-self can intellectually match-up this innate craving to what we know we should be saying and feeling. In short, we try. All our lives, we try.  My mother was trying. All her life she was trying.

The understanding I now have of my mother (and every member of my family), is at an all-time high. More pieces of my family’s puzzle are yet to be discovered, for sure. But I’ve got the bulk of it figured out. The bottom line is that we were a disaster of a family. Disconnection breeds disconnection and the painful results speak volumes. All of us, blocked, blocked, blocked. 

On a brighter, more positive note, I want to tell you about my mother’s death. [Wait! Don’t smack me. I’m funny sometimes, remember?!] What I’m going to tell you is that the happiest stretch of my mom’s life was definitely the last 15 or so years. She had bouts of depression throughout her life, but I remember maybe only one episode of it in her final decade and a half. I do not believe she ever healed from her trauma, but she certainly worked at it. For that she deserves mad props. 

Dam Aunt Sana

Before wrapping up this post about what it’s like to be blocked, there’s someone I’d like you to meet– my Aunt Sana. She was my dad’s older sister and a perfectly pleasant individual, but whoa Nellie, blocked like the Hoover Dam. The family joke was that if Sana came to pay you a visit in the hospital while you were on your deathbed and dying, she would be sure to tell you first, “Well, when I was on my deathbed and dying…”  

It was only about one month ago that a few new pieces of my Aunt’s life (and my dad’s) fell into place. The family called her Sana, but her given name was Helen Randolph Breaux. Randolph is a family name intended for the first born son. (It was my older brother Bill’s middle name, as well.) My “female” aunt showed up first but still snagged the name Randolph. I’m adding quote-marks to “female,” because my aunt had uncommonly large dimensions for a woman. She was 5’11” and built like a tight-end. My dad (the last born) was more slender and two inches smaller, like a second-string running back (which he was on his college football team). 

It’s a trippy thought, but it’s as though my Aunt Sana should have been the boy, and my dad the girl. Gender identity issues were never discussed over family Thanksgiving dinner, but as I look back, it’s almost guaranteed that my aunt was never able to live life as her true self. I do know she lived into her 80’s, never had a boyfriend/girlfriend, voraciously devoured romance novels, and was a virgin to the day she really was….on her deathbed and dying. 

For my dad’s part, to think that he might have been gay, trans, or at the very least, sexually confused, and having to suppress his truest nature, would certainly explain a lot about his awkward personality traits. And also explain the degree to which he was emotionally disconnected from everyone around him. My dad even had quite a few physical “ticks” that I think were a direct consequence of the trauma he suffered growing up. He had this odd, repetitive way in which he would move the thumb on his left hand, like there was a tight rubber band underneath his skin and he couldn’t get it to snap no matter how many times he tried. 

Being Blocked Is Soooo Yesterday

Seeing myself in these two examples- the I love you non-exchange with my mom at 13, and also the story about the lost kid at Astroworld a few years later. How could I have been so cold and uncaring? It’s because I literally didn’t possess the ability to connect- the mechanisms of trauma wouldn’t allow for it. Connecting is seeing. And I mean truly seeing another person, taking the whole of them into account when you’re communicating. Being able to feel and reflect-back the other person’s emotions, not just intellectually, but because your own are available to share, as well. That is connecting. 

I can see now how my attempts to insert witty comments (to be Mr. Jokester) into otherwise serious conversations were too often a substitute for sincere listening. Frankly, it’s a tell-tale sign of a person who is blocked. Another flavor of this same blocked condition is found in people (like my Aunt Sana) who talk about themselves non-stop. [Oh, you mean like the guy who’s writing this giant blog?] What you are witnessing from people in your life that exhibit this trait in spades is a person who cannot leave their own heads long enough to connect to yours. 

The coda to the story about my mother and me is this. Eventually I reached a point in my life where I could tell my mom, I love you, but sadly, while she was still alive I was never able to feel it. Do I feel it now? Honestly, I don’t know yet. Coming into the open world is new to me. [It’s barely been two weeks!] My capacity to love freely is uncharted territory. Plus, great progress on my part does not mean my growth as a person is over. Ha, wouldn’t that be something! It’s more likely that I am just getting started.  


So, that’s a lot more about being Blocked. Plus, a little more about what it means to be Open. But we haven’t even gotten to the craziest part of it.


Pre-emptive Strike

Listen to what I was saying back in February: 

“You know me. You’ve known me for a lot of years. If anyone in this world is grounded, it’s me. And that’s not gonna to change. I’m telling you this in advance, Boris / David / Maria / Vanessa / Double-D / Rob / Isaac / Wels… (and you, too, Greg). I need to say it now because… If I go down some weird path and find out there actually is more to it all, I need you to stick with me, okay? I’ll need you to believe me. I mean, this is Gary speaking. Whatever it is I might discover up ahead, you know I’m gonna keep it real either way.”

To be precise, I did not literally have this identical conversation with every person in my orbit (but you know who you are). I also want to really emphasize the timing. This is what I was saying way back in February, before the Covid shut-downs, before therapy was even a thought in my head (much less somatic therapy), before I’d decided to sell my house in Austin, leave my job, and begin a new life in Spain, before the blog, and way too long before I ever knew childhood trauma even had a healing side

For whatever reason, however, I had a strong sense then that something was on its way. Perhaps I would discover some curious insight from tripping on mushrooms or LSD. You know, mystical-realm type stuff. As it turns out, however, neither of these substances have had more than a tiny influence on me at all. I never actually did a whole lot of either, just some timid doses here and there. So far, my experiences on that front have given me nothing much to report. Hey! I am keeping it real! 

And with that as your set-up, let’s start our fully-grounded mind-bending adventure towards understanding what it means to be blocked.


In this post and the one that will quickly follow, my goal is to make some keep-it-real-world sense out of “SE” -somatic experiencing- that freaky-ass voodoo stuff I’ve finally been able to access in my therapy sessions. Turns out there is a logical explanation for what goes on during a somatic experience. And it’s not voodoo after all. [Still pretty freaky though.] 

I will be using a couple of fresh new terms that I’ll need you to grok (FULLY understand) for my thesis on SE to make sense. The terms are body-self and mind-self. What I am doing is deliberately simplifying the body-brain-mind package into having only two parts. Trust me, it will work for this purpose. The body-self is the primitive, nervous system based part of you that would still be there even if your frontal cortex, home to your mind-self, was removed. Throughout my explanation, body-self and mind-self will align with: nervous system and frontal cortex; ancient and modern; squirrel and human. You’ll get why adding “self” to body and mind is so important as my explanation unfolds.  

There’s A Nerve Cell In My Soup

Imagine yourself attending a casual dinner party for eight where seven of the guests have been close friends since birth. It’s awkward immediately because you arrive late, but it gets even worse. Much of what goes on at the table- the inside jokes, the subtle digs, the knowing looks -will be lost on you.

Keep that feeling in mind, but switch out the characters. Let your nervous system be one of the friends that’s been there since the beginning, and your frontal cortex be the new guy, able to see and hear the conversations, but with scant ability to pick-up the unspoken queues and greater context of the stories being told.

I think this analogy is useful because… when we go diving into the body-self’s primordial soup, the stuff from which our nervous system cells got their start, all of the elemental forces of the universe were already sitting at the table. Inside the tiny little microscopic bodies of whichever multi-celled creatures eventually evolved into us, nervous system cells are there to aid in survival. These cells of ancient origin cut their proverbial teeth on all variety of invisible signals coming through the ambient that modern iterations of our brain are not specialized to detect or interpret in the least. 

We observe examples of animal “intuition,” such as when they run for higher ground before a tsunami approaches. For the animals themselves, they are simply catching a vibe that says danger and heading somewhere they feel safe.

What does any of this have to do with SE? Hold. HOLD..! I’m getting there. 

Safety First

At the truly primal level of existence there is no seeing, hearing, or smelling, but there is feeling. And that feeling needs only two modes to operate in. As I’ve already hinted, I will label them Danger and Safe. I could have chosen 1 and 0, On and Off, Alert and Calm, Rupture and Repair, or any other two terms with similar import. But Danger and Safe are good choices within the larger context of my particular type of trauma. Also, in case it’s not obvious, 0, Off, Calm, Safe… this is the default mode we need to be in to thrive. Danger Mode is where we go when we need to survive. 

To bring it all together… our nervous system (the body-self) knows danger and safety at the most basic level our universe has to offer, but that knowing can be overpowered and controlled (think suppressed) by the highly adaptive and ever-dominant frontal cortex (the mind-self). When I was a child “trapped” in that house on Creekwood, hiding under the bed, waiting to get a spanking from my father for reasons I could not make sense of, my nervous system was switched into Danger Mode while the rest of me was trying to figure out how to cope.

But here’s the clincher. That house on Creekwood was a breeding ground for suicide. I lived in Danger Mode. Even when my dad wasn’t around, I didn’t feel safe. What if I did something, broke something, for example? My dad might find out and then what? 


It’s so funny to me seeing how a squirrel will bounce away at the most innocent change to their environment, i.e. me walking down the sidewalk. Their acorn-sized brains (so ironic) are dominated by the ancient nervous system where Danger and Safe modes are most of what they have to work with. But that’s okay. The beauty of the squirrel is not just its fluffy tale and oh-so-cute face. The brain of a squirrel has the effortless ability to scamper back and forth between “Danger, Will Robinson!” and, “Yeah, I’m cool…and cute.” 

If only I could have switched back to Safe Mode. Instead, my adaptive frontal cortex had to find a way to tamp-down my nerves by controlling and suppressing the emotions I deserved to be feeling- particularly anger and sadness. In my childhood of 5,000 ruptures and zero repairs, turns out my body-self never stopped keeping score. 

This left me blocked, unable to truly connect with people, to patiently listen, broadly see, and intuitively feel the universe around me and know my place within it. Fortunately for me, the story does not end there…


I feel like this is already a lot to digest, so I will stop here to give us all a chance to breathe. Look for the fascinating second half in just a couple of days, when I’ll go from Blocked to Open. It’s a supersonic ride!

To The Healing Side

Ethan and I stand towards the mirror. Dave is a few feet away, facing us. Covid keeps us all in masks as we begin learning the basics. First, Dave demonstrates exactly how to stand, shift weight over the feet, punch and protect. I’m watching with interest as Dave talks, but also eye the signed posters of boxers trained by Dave hanging on the walls. I make note of at least two yellowed newspaper clippings, encased in frames. I’ll look at them more closely later. 

One at a time, Dave coaches us on how to take-on a stable boxing stance. I go first while Ethan watches. Red tape on the floor marks off a large “plus sign.” Being right-handed, it’s actually my left side that aims towards my opponent with my left foot placed in the top-left quadrant, my trailing foot planted wide to the back-right. I’m no fighter, but I’ve come into this gym today with the intention of facing all those moments of my life when I should have been. As best I can, I adopt the posture per Dave’s instruction. My fists are high, placed almost in front of my face, elbows-in to guard the body. In front of a wall of mirrors, I stare straight into my past and feel the enormous power in simply standing with my fists up. Dave and Ethan have no clue of what I’m feeling on the inside. I am bristling.


Never in my life have I set foot inside a boxing gym before. Same goes for Ethan, though he was on the high school wrestling team five years ago. The way Ethan is talking it seems like he’s trying to become an amatuer boxer. Me? My therapist suggested it could be helpful. 

Dave owns the Front Range Boxing Gym, a minimally converted army barracks hidden at the end of an industrial office park. He is also the gym’s trainer. Every newcomer automatically gets a 60 minute intro-to-boxing lesson from the man himself. Dave is not a big guy, not very tall anyway, but he’s stout. You can visually see that Dave’s biceps and triceps have been put to good use throughout his 70 years. When Dave demonstrates how to throw a punch for Ethan and me, his strength, quickness and power have scarcely diminished since his fighting days. 

When we learn how to combine punches, Dave shows us a combination of moves and then has us practice it through a few times. Ooof! It’s not easy. I’m struggling to get my legs to move and slide in rhythm with my punches. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Dave has to correct me several times, and starts speaking slightly faster and louder. It’s a left jab, right cross, then two more left jabs, with the feet moving in rhythm. I am trying to get it, but can never quite hit the mark. And Dave’s frustration ticks up one more notch. 

After owning Dave’s attention for several minutes, it was Ethan’s turn. Oh nooooo. If I was bad, Ethan was 10 times worse. Since he used to be a wrestler, his stance is waaay off- his upper body’s too low for a boxer. Dave corrects him, once, twice. What am I seeing? A wave of familiarity washes over me. I see Ethan struggling to get it. In him I see my brother Bill, less coordinated than me, more nervous, not able to follow dad’s instructions. At one point Ethan steps forward when the combination Dave just talked about requires a side-step to the left. Dave’s frustration bursts into the open with an audible grimace, his full body twists around to the right as his arms move like he’s tossing a heavy weight. It’s a big gesture that carries Dave back a full step. His body has exploded with impassioned anger. 

Much Needed Repairs

But then the most amazing thing happens. Less than a complete second later, Dave turns back towards us with one palm in the air, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” he says, bringing up the second palm. “I don’t mean to be hard on you.” One of his hands comes down onto Ethan’s shoulder. “You’re doing great. You’re doing great,” he says twice. I see Dave’s eyes above his mask, which has momentarily dipped below his nose because the elastic is getting old. His other hand comes to lift it back into place. Dave’s eyes- I see them smiling. His mouth, it’s covered. But his eyes…they smile with a playful warmth when he looks at each of us, apologizing again. He is genuinely embarrassed for losing his composure. It is Ethan and I that end up reassuring him that it’s no problem. We know he’s only trying to help.  

In the parlance of psychology what I had witnessed is called a rupture. Dave’s frustration got the better of him when young Ethan wasn’t able to get it. Dave lost his patience. But what followed was an expression of regret, kindness and nurturing; something I had never seen from my own father. It’s called repair

I talked about the incident with Gabe, my therapist. He gave me the language for what I’d seen. As he put it, “If there are 5,000 ruptures, you need 5,000 repairs.” I could easily glance back into my own childhood to see 5,000 ruptures from my father, the man whose flesh and blood produced my own….and zero repairs. 

I don’t know much about Dave or his life’s story, but the compassion he demonstrated that day towards Ethan (and towards me, as well), was more powerful than any punch he’d ever thrown. Dave had the intention of teaching us the basics of boxing, but unknowingly gave me a lesson in something far more important– rupture and repair. I will never forget it now.

Maybe one of these times I visit the gym I will get the chance to talk to Dave about topics unrelated to boxing. If the moment ever presents itself, I would like to put my hand on Dave’s shoulder and tell him, “You’re doing great, Dave. You’re doing great.”


Give Me Just One More

Welcome to the first of five “final” posts of the 1 More World blog. Yes, after these five there will still be more down the road…since so much story remains. I am 55 years old and restarting my life in Spain; you bet I’ll be writing about it. But the central story of the 1 More World blog has been my 1000 piece puzzle, and that one is mostly solved, both externally (Search for the Pearl) and internally- as you will read about below and in the next posts.

Real slowly. There are some mind-benders in this one.


Childhood is a world unto itself. Blessed are those who grew up in a world of love and safety. Unfortunately, this is not the experience of many people. This was not my experience. As my childhood gave way to the next world, the one where we have to be adults– who I became, the decisions I made, the relationships I had, and the happiness and joy that I missed, all have roots that extend back at least three generations (at a minimum!). Uncovering truths, connecting dots, and healing from injury is the path that has led me to believe… After childhood trauma and the adulthood it shapes, healing has the power to open up one more world. And this one I will live on my own terms.

This post will have several embedded links in it. Use them to pick up the backstory, if needed.

What Has Therapy Done For Me Lately

The third Monday in September I arrived once more for my appointment at the Innate Path clinic on Holland Street, another of the weekly visits I’ve been going to for 5 months. Forty minutes prior, I chewed-up 15 mgs of cannabis in a form that closely resembled a Sweet-Tart in size, shape, and even the tangy taste. Gabe greets me at the door as always and I begin following him towards the room in the back-right, where all of our previous sessions have taken place. But today, Gabe suggests we try a different room, a larger one with a futon-style couch in it instead of a lounge chair. 

Every session with Gabe since the beginning of May has been me doing drugs (either cannabis or ketamine), putting on an eye mask, lying back in the lounge chair, and attempting to access a somatic experience. Despite my never having achieved this mysterious state, it was still true that interesting things were revealed by nearly every session.

Oh yeah? Like what? 

In a plot twist everyone saw coming…. this blog you have been reading is the what– THIS IS the therapy, at least the non-somatic part of it.  The central story-arc of this blog began with the sixth overall post- Puzzle of a Thousand Pieces -and a scene from my childhood where I find my half-brother Tommy moments after he commits suicide. It begins with these two short sentences:

“I cannot remember my brother’s face. I was six years old the last time I saw it, and blood was everywhere.” 

With this for an opener I am clearly not writing a “travel blog.” From that post through to this one I have strived to pick apart the hidden forces that have shaped my life and share them with world.

I am also expressing my basic human need to be seen.

Rock On A String

In the week before my first somatic experience I’d been thinking a lot about a recurring theme throughout my life– not feeling understood. My relationship struggles with Jessica consistently centered around insurmountable failures in our communication. But the deeper, richer, and more troubling reasons for those failures stayed hidden from me until just a few weeks ago. The revelation I’m about to share with you may be the largest piece of the entire 1 More World puzzle. This idea, this thought, these dots connected, are closely related to a very specific an unwanted physical feeling, too.

When Jessica and I struggled to communicate, stress would show up quickly in my stomach. We didn’t even have to be actively disagreeing for me to feel it. It would just be there, hanging like a rock on a string inside my core. When I couldn’t communicate with Marianne (the neighbor), that same familiar physical sensation roared and rumbled. In truth, I can now look back at my entire life and recall the haunting presence of that rock hanging there within me, swinging and tumbling every time I failed to truly connect with someone.  

I was out for a walk when the revelation hit me. [In the area where the above photo was taken.] The epiphany was so deep and profound, I stopped walking and put my hands on my head. Now it made sense- Jessica CAN’T understand me. There is much more, but please pause here and absorb that what I mean is quite literal. Look at my broken left pinky finger in the pic. After an injury I could no longer straighten it. If you ask me to….I simply CAN’T. My ability to extend it has been taken away by the trauma my finger suffered long ago.

Jessica has been a hugely important and special person in my life. We first met in our late teens. She was my first girlfriend (on and off) for about 2 ½ years, until we finally broke up completely and went our separate ways. For the next two decades plus two years we had no contact until one day the universe placed us back into each other’s lives. This time our (mostly amazing) relationship lasted almost 10 years. In the latter stages, when I knew deep down something wasn’t right, I searched in the darkness to explain the psychological bond that certainly existed between Jessica and me. I never found it until now.

Jessica’s elemental connection to my parents and to me is ironically disconnection. My dad was totally disconnected, unable to see the anguish of my brother’s six-year old face when Bill struggled to read the clock. My mom was disconnected, too. When her first son (and my older brother) Tommy committed suicide, my mom was both unable to see it coming or cry after it happened. Jessica, the most enigmatic character in the story of my life, for her own complicated reasons, was never able to see me. But OF COOOUURRRSSEE this is not just on her, attentive readers, nor is any of this her fault. I, Gary Breaux, was unable to see beyond my own protective wall, as well, and perhaps even more so than her. I was living my life just as disconnected and unable to love as either of my two parents. Holy shit! This is big stuff!!

And what about that feeling…..about that rock in my stomach that tumbles on a string when I am not being understood, not being seen, and not being loved? I will need to find that rock because it will be the key that opens the door to my first somatic experience.

I promise we’re getting there. But first please indulge me a rant on why somatic therapy is such a challenge.

Restricted Access Only

The brain and the nervous system are really one and the same, connected no less than the roots of a tree to its trunk. And imagine how the tree first begins to grow from a seed, it’s always the roots that emerge first. In a similar way, our nervous systems are the roots of our-selves. In evolutionary terms, the frontal cortex of our brains- the ivory tower where all that smart thinkin’ happens -is the youngest, and our nervous system is as old as the earliest trees.

To say our nervous system is buried deep within us is exactly right. From our towers on high, we tend to think of our bodies as being somehow separate from our minds. No way, Jose! Body-brain-mind, we are one organism. Of course it’s all connected!

The whole aim of somatic therapy is to access that primitive body-brain circuitry (the body-self) and let it do what it needs to do. That is the freaky-ass-voodoo part I still don’t get. But those sciencey types have figured out that when we experience intense threats to our safety, and fight or flight options are not available (like when we are kids), our body-brain-mind system devises alternative and usually unhealthy ways of coping. Cutting to the chase- when ruptures go unrepaired, our nervous system- our body -will hold on to that trauma until it can be dealt with safely.

Not So Fast

So, how exactly does an emotionally-restricted knucklehead like me access my body? The 1-2-3 answer is that I go to a clinic that specializes in this type of therapy, I ingest cannabis- a chemical compound that lowers the barrier to achieving this result, and then I try over and over again (for umpteen weeks) to close my eyes and mentally zoom-in on parts of my body that might be sending me vague “signals.” Meaning anything that feels tight, twitchy, colored, warm or cold, or pretty much any sensation that seems to stand out. From my earliest sessions in late April all the way up to when I finally had a genuine somatic experience the final week of September (next two chunks below), it was most frequently my right shoulder that seemed to have something to say. I can only imagine what could be in there. 

Last aside before the good stuff. For all of my efforts, I still have no idea what the hell I’m doing! This is uncharted territory. Exactly what I am looking for when I descend into a meditative state is unknowable in advance. Am I doing it right? I don’t know. It’s an obstacle course in the dark. But perhaps the biggest challenge of all comes in realizing the best mental pathways into the body’s nervous system typically run through the emotions a lifetime has been spent suppressing.  

Now let’s get rollin’….

On The Futon River

Today’s session begins like they all do with Gabe and I engaged in roughly 30 or so minutes of preliminary conversation. As we talk, I feel the edible sweet tarts begin to colour my brain and body. I’ve done 15 mgs worth of edible in previous sessions, but what’s different today is that I also add two 5-second draws from the vape pen. [Yes, vape pen. That’s a side-story I’ll be sure to circle back to in some future post.] This is the highest dose of cannabis I’ve ever done. 

Ready to be settled, I place the eye mask just beneath my frontal cortex and fully recline my body, placing a small cushion under my head. Whoa! The cannabis is really getting strong. Gabe steps out of the room to grab a bluetooth speaker- a background of flowy music can sometimes facilitate this process. By the time he returns, my mind is already starting to enter my body. I say out loud, “Just to let you know…I’m really rolling right now.” 

I distantly hear Gabe say something encouraging before he takes a seat. The music comes on, I take a few extra full breaths, and begin to go deeper….and deeper.

Fantastic Voyage

In addition to thinking and having memories, the mind-expanding powers of cannabis enable my brain to create an array of visual representations of my body based on the subtlest of impulses emanating from my tissues. Remember that 60’s era sci-fi movie where a shrunken crew of explorers goes on a journey inside the human body? Well, it’s sort of like that but with a random storyline and in color (and with faaaaar better special effects).  

The physical sensation of not being understood (my rock on a string) was a challenge for me to mentally conjure up during a session. Gabe’s core function as a therapist is to see and understand people, so I wasn’t going to recreate the sensation by talking to him. I would have to use my mind.   

Slowly, things start to happen. My mind begins to flow from the pebble I manage to find in my stomach up to something in my right shoulder. A muscle fires within it causing me to twitch one time. A few moments go by and Gabe checks in with me, asking where I am right now. I tell him I’m paying attention to my shoulder; it seems like something’s there. He says to keep watching it. It twitches again. And then again.

Cracking the Code

Holding a gaze with the eyes is easy, but directing one’s mind in a single direction for any length of time is not. But I stayed focused as best I could. Another, larger twitch, pulls both shoulders in for a blink. The spot within my right shoulder seems to be growing. Slowly, slowly… I allow myself to tense up.

There is a progression to what I am experiencing and my mission is to keep leaning into it. Starting also around my right shoulder, a low-level fizzy sensation begins bubbling up within my limbs. At a very hushed volume my body begins to quake and quiver, like trembling, but different. It slowly grows louder. Even in this state, I think about how I might express what is happening in words. [After all, I’m a writer.] The physical manifestations of my nervous system’s release of energy continues to grow until the random vibrations I’m feeling bring to mind what it’s like to ride a city bus as it rumbles and shudders down a old street.   

It’s all getting weird but I’m intent on staying in the moment. I feel a growing internal pressure to take a deep breath, but I recognize it in real time and resist. That’s how I’d always coped with the emotions my trauma conditioned me to avoid. This is the critical moment- a big deep breath is how I would normally hit the reset button, how I would push the volcano back under the ground and avoid deeper emotions. My breathing quickens as I tense up, but I am able to consciously override the urge to make it go away. I remain on course; even thinking to applaud my own self-awareness while it’s happening. Holy crap! I am so fully present! 

At some impossible to define stage in the progression it somehow feels like I’m all the way in. I’ve done it; I finally cracked the code. I am having a somatic experience. Gabe knows I’m in it and tells me I’m doing great. To be clear, all the while this physical stuff is taking place, I am still me. It’s not like I’m unaware of my condition. In fact, I am hyper-aware of it. 

The number of minutes this goes on is difficult to say. Maybe between 3 – 10? Or was it 15? Guesses are all I have. Once I had “cycled through” the somatic experience and I was back into the room, taking my eye mask off, I felt mildly bewildered but also content. I had broken through. 

Through to what, is an answer I don’t yet have. 

Taking Sides

I began this course of therapy knowing I had stuff to work on. The internal notion that something isn’t quite right has been with me all my life. In Life As Compost, I tell you about my brother Bill’s deep and desperate desire to remove the dark burden of trauma placed upon him growing up. He never got the help he needed to escape that burden and killed himself with a handgun 10 years ago.

For whatever reason, the universe had different plans for me and I’ve managed to survive; and even do quite well by some objective measures. However, I know in my bones I carry unwanted burdens. And I know there’s a love that is missing. I’ve never been able to maintain a healthy relationship, and worse…I have deeply wounded others along the way. For this I am profoundly sorry. 

So, what of my therapy? Is it working? Have my burdens all been lifted? Am I a new man? Yeah right! You know as well as I do it doesn’t work that way. It’s a process with an undefined beginning and an end that never fully arrives. But, I will say this….

Take a second look at my broken finger. You see how it rises from the fingernail to a hump at the knuckle where scar tissue has formed around the injury. It then slopes back down to connect with my hand and the rest of my body. If my broken finger can be a stand-in for my therapeutic progress, sloping upward is the injured side, and that will always be there, but….

A few days after my first somatic experience, after I’d visited Austin and said goodbye to my house, after I’d come back home to Boulder and digested all that has taken place just in the past couple of weeks alone, the leaves of fall and I were changing. For the first time ever I caught myself wondering if I’d made it over the hump. Then a faint breeze swept through my interior. I know there is a lot more work ahead of me, but something within is telling me… I now live on the healing side


I am super proud of the next three posts, especially. Forward!!

Smoke ‘em If You Want to Live

That’s strange. Where’s my garden hose? I wondered to myself. The disturbing answer to my question came much later in the day.

I only noticed it was missing because I wasn’t able to water the flower beds that morning before going to work. It was Austin, late in the summer of 2016, and my flowerbeds couldn’t go too many consecutive days without water.

Around 2:30 pm that same day, I am camped in my cubicle at work. My cell phone vibrates on the desktop next to my computer. It’s a call from a number I don’t recognize. I answer…because I’m like that.

“Hi this is Treasure, M’s girlfriend. I’m really worried about him. Do you know where he is?” There is urgency and stress in her voice. Immediately, I am feeling just as worried. I know M’s been in a bad place lately. I tell Treasure I will do my best to find him.

Seconds later I call M on his cell phone. He’s always hard to get ahold of, even on his good days. Today, I’m preparing myself to double, triple, and quadruple-call him.

But he answers right away with a flat, hello. I could tell through the phone he’s somewhere outdoors. 

“Hey, what’s going on? You okay?” Really, I’m shocked that he’s answered. 

“Not really. I don’t know.” He is speaking from a sunken place. “It’s just hard. I’m trying.” I can hear what sounds like a police radio in the background. This is America. M’s six-foot-seven and black by birth. 

“Where are you, man? Tell me where you are and I’ll be right there.” 


A recurring theme of this blog is paradigm-smashing; how old ideas can get up-ended by ah-ha moments. Since smashing paradigms is considerable work, let’s take a “smoke break.”

For most of my life, I harbored a preternatural personal disdain for smoking. Of course, there is no shortage of people who dislike smoking, but not like I did. All for reasons I will attempt to explain. I will also build a new case for why smoking cigarettes should not be looked upon with such negative judgement, but is instead deserving of broad and empathetic understanding.  

Several years ago I was listening to a Freakonomics Radio episode about cigarette smoking. [If you don’t already know this show/podcast, it’s one of the best.] Two things from that podcast stuck with me in particular. The first was when one of their guests, a medical researcher, described nicotine as, “Good drug. Bad delivery method.” The researcher went on to explain nicotine’s “health benefits,” such as increased levels of beta-endorphins that reduce anxiety, to name just one. 

The other amazing fact they reported was that the most commonly shared characteristic among cigarette smokers is “mental illness.” [Screech!] Stop right there!! I wish to be super clear this is what they reported and substantially different from the better and more nuanced personal conclusions I’ve made on the subject. Stay with me while I attempt to connect a few dots.

Can I Get A Light?

I have never been a smoker. Well, not voluntarily. From as early as I can remember, and even before I can remember, smoke was in the air. My mom was a smoker and didn’t even think to slow down her habit while being pregnant with me. My dad didn’t light up as frequently, but he smoked on occasion, too. It was the 60’s. Practically everyone smoked. Even my first words were, “Can I get a light?”

When you are the child of a smoker, you are in a tough spot. You cannot simply make different lifestyle-choices and avoid being constantly surrounded by cigarette smoke. I disliked it VERY much. And once information started coming out in the media about how smoking was bad for your health, I despised it even more. I loved my mother, duh!. Watching her smoke pack after pack of cigarettes was the worst. Then, the final straw… I was maybe 14 or so when I became aware that some people thought I smoked cigarettes because my clothes, laundered by my mom, smelled like it.

My kid-logic brain created a monster-strong aversion to cigarettes, cigarette smokers, and pretty much anything smoking related. Smoking = bad. End of story. 

Now that I’ve accrued a decent amount of life experience I am able to understand the phenomenon of smoking in a far more robust and nuanced way. There are people in my life today that smoke and, while I don’t care to sit downwind from them at a table, I still appreciate them without negative judgement. 

A Tether Back to Earth

Several years ago a very close friend of mine- let’s just call him M -was going through a life-threatening personal crisis. He was distraught and suicidal like I’d never seen him. I was letting M stay in the spare bedroom of my house at the time; though he was out so much I rarely saw him.

On the day he planned to take his own life, M unscrewed the garden hose from its bib on the front of my house and carried the green coiled up mass towards his vehicle. In the dark hours before another unbearable day began, M parked his beat-up SUV behind a nondescript retail shopping center, right next to a dumpster. His plan was to stick one end of the hose up the exhaust pipe and leave the other end inside the car, windows up.


My friend M is a smoker. When I found him that day in a suburban neighborhood alley, in the midst of four police officers and two squad cars, he was smoking like a fiend. Finish one, light another. Repeat. On that day, in that city, those cops were (thankfully) the good guys. They helped M find a clinic where he could get some legit help. The whole story is compelling and maybe someday the time will be right for me to tell it in full. For now, we need to stay at his side.

While three of the police officers were occupied by standing around, one was making arrangements so that M would have a safe place to go. For a few hollowed out moments, my friend and I were able to talk. Like I said, his cigarette smoking at that moment was in high gear. Out of pure curiosity, I thought to ask him, “What is happening when you smoke like that?” 

I found his response both revealing and fascinating. In the middle of this high-stress, intense, existential reckoning, he gave my question a moment’s thought and uttered, “It’s like…Okay, I’m alive.” This stripped down, raw, visceral response cut through so much mystery for me. Nicotine and/or the other compounds in cigarettes were somehow providing a tether back to Earth at a moment when stress levels threatened to hurl my friend into the darkness of space. 

Resolving the Rubik

On another front, I’ve been exposed to several different discussions of late about chronic stress that have me thinking about its connection to smoking in a new light. Each discussion had a completely different context, but I am seeing them all as different colored squares on the same Rubik’s cube. There was a story a couple years ago on NPR about the psychological effects of living in the US while being undocumented. More recently I heard about studies that show how simply being poor can put a person into a state of chronic stress, which makes total sense. An entirely different source, and at a later time, discussed how being black in America induces chronic stress, too. And one more- Recent deep dives into my own personal history have taught me how chronic stress can be the body’s innate response to even relatively mild forms of trauma during childhood. 

The last cube to turn… About 2 months ago, someone suggested I listen to Joe Rogan’s interview with an engaging Brit named Johann Hari. Ostensibly, the discussion was about depression, but that’s only where it started. Addiction. Medication. Self-determination. Civilization, and much more. It’s ALL connected. The podcast is 3+ hours long and totally worth a listen. The giant takeaway from the interview is that depression results from a much larger list of societal ills than most of us ever imagined. By the way, that someone who suggested I listen…was M.

Now I’m ready to resolve the Rubik and put all of these seemingly disparate data points on the same side. It’s not mental illness that is the most commonly shared trait among smokers, it is anxiety. Survivors of trauma whether acute or constant, and victims of chronic stress, have to battle anxiety with each breath. The chemistry of cigarettes gives those that smoke a brief but desperately needed respite from anxiety. Finally, I can look upon my mother’s smoking addiction with fresh, sympathetic clarity. The mother I knew as a child was steeped in worry. She was trying to survive her trauma, both past and present. She was stressed the fuck out! 

Her husband, my dad, suffered from his own issues and was honestly impossible to live with. Their constant arguing over everything from the thermostat to the “right” way to slice a stick of butter, created a home environment for her that was a petri dish for anxiety and stress. It’s long been my conclusion that when it comes to relationships, emotionally healthy people are drawn to each other and, unfortunately, the opposite holds true for the damaged.

My mom would never have ended up with my dad were it not for her own trauma-filled past. At 13 years old, my mom left for school one morning… without a clue she would never see her own mother again. When she came home that afternoon, strangers were going in and out of her house. She was told her amazing mother, the closest, dearest, most loving person ever in my mom’s young life, had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. The strangers helped my mom gather up a few belongings before sending her to live with an aunt. This was only temporary, as were the series of foster homes she would be placed in while finishing out her teenage years. These were also the same years she takes up smoking.

Cured By The Flu

There you have it, full circle. My mother’s addiction to cigarettes makes disturbingly perfect sense within the context of her own personal hardships. 

It should be noted, by the way, that my mother eventually did quit smoking. She got sick with the flu one season and was seriously knocked off her feet for several days. While coping with a fever, sore throat, chest congestion, sinus pain, and all that comes with the flu, smoking a cigarette was the furthest thing from her mind. After getting better, her motivation for that next cigarette mercifully never returned. Her addiction to cigarettes was miraculously “cured” by the flu!

Though, I have another theory. The last 20 or so years of my mom’s life were perhaps her happiest. She had a part-time job she mostly liked, a quiet, peaceful living situation, several wonderful new friends, and at one point, three quirky cats she more than adored. The stresses and drama of her prior lives were now absent. Smoking was no longer needed.

My mom lived to be 84. The final year of her life may have been her best, and I hope to tell you about it in a future post. She passed away 9 years ago…

…from lung cancer.

Closing caveat: Most certainly there are many good people who smoke for reasons having nothing to do with trauma, stress, or anxiety. Can they not just enjoy it? Yes they can. You know, it’s not my jam, but different people like different things for all sorts of reasons. We should all be careful not to develop preconceptions about every smoker before getting to know them.  

The next post is….well…I’m really not sure what to say about. It’ll be interesting.