Hey-O! After several months of writing steadily I enjoyed a little break-ee-poo. But things are still movin’ and shakin’, so let’s get back out on the dance floor.
This post (and probably the next few) will contain segments that are all part of my larger story but not necessarily connected to each other. Expect direct follow-ups to what I call the blog’s ‘central story arc’ (all previous posts), fun new announcements, and progress updates on my move to Spain.
Let’s jump in it!
The Fortuitous Veer
My last handful of posts (from To The Healing Side to Welcome To The Party, Breaux), were exclusively centered around my success doing somatic experiencing therapy. If you read each post in order, you were witnessing- almost in real time, my methodical shedding of childhood trauma, and the a written unveiling of the Gary I was supposed to be all along.
It is a minor aside at this point, but I want to say that my initial vision for the blog was to simply share with everyone how I arrived at my decision to move from the US to Salamanca, Spain. Veering off into jarring family stories of suicide and heartbreak wasn’t part of the original plan at all. It just worked out that way….just as it needed to for me to internally heal from the trauma I’d been carrying inside all my life. Somatic therapy was the innovative and ingenious technique I used to heal myself, but it was also the opening up of my mind- as facilitated by the blog -that gave space and opportunity for my body-self to do what it needed to do. When writing about the circumstances of my childhood, I dove far deeper into my psyche than I ever had before. And made revelatory new connections between past and present. It was my mind and body working together that brought me home.
In the end, the blog will forever stand as a body of personal reclamation and universal redemption. I am thrilled to have been able to share it with you (and the world). I am also enormously pleased that at least a couple folks that follow my blog are firmly on their own path of healing from childhood trauma, too.
I am proud of myself. I did something. I barely have a sense in words of what “pride” means, but I know I have felt it more than a few times in recent weeks. It’s a feeling of accomplishment, I suppose. Appreciation and admiration resulting in satisfaction. How does that work for ya?
Proud of what? This blog. This healing. This Gary.
Pride is not the only “new emotion” I have felt recently. Since therapy breakthroughs moved me from blocked to open in terms of my emotional access, I have also felt genuine anger for the first time in….well, forever. Sadness, too. My overall ability to empathize is much greater, as well. Little more than a week ago I was in the presence of a friend who was hardcore venting his way through some harsh emotions- it was a manic episode, in truth. As I sat and listened, my body began to shake and quiver until I started to cry along with my friend. Pretty incredible, right?! No, I am not the Gary you thought you knew.
Even laughing feels different. With the same friend I cried with, (on a different day) I had a laugh so deep I felt it in both flanks of my torso.
Born At Zero
After giving my therapist (Gabe) plenty of thanks, praise and thousands of dollars (over the course of six months), I have now moved forward on my own with all the tools I need to continue doing somatic experiencing at home. My plan is to set aside some time (almost) every morning to keep it going.
It’s been great so far. And the more I do it, the better I get at it and the more I learn.
The concepts of being blocked or open to emotions are something I’ve learned quite a bit about (and now written about extensively). Not surprising to anyone that knows me, but I’ve also “quantified” what it is to be blocked on an imaginary scale of my own invention. [Reminder: Blocked is when someone cannot fully access their emotions, or is unable to regulate them in a healthy, normal way.] Check out this fancy graphic:
Open 0 ——————————————— 100 Blocked
Simple enough, right? Here’s how it works. We are born our pure selves at zero, “Open” in my terminology. This is the mind-self and body-self being synchronized so that all natural human emotions can be accessed and experienced. But as abuse, neglect, disconnection and general dysfunction in childhood accumulates, our blocked score goes up. Narcissists (like Trump, for example) have shitty, abusive childhoods and grow into adults blocked from their emotions somewhere in the 95 – 100 point range. (Psychopaths are right up there with them.) Knowing everything I know now, I would give myself a blocked score in the 65 – 70 point range. My ex-girlfriend and many of my friends [your vibe attracts your tribe] are all blocked by roughly the same amount. (No, not all. I do have good friends with blocked scores very much on the lower end of my made-up scale.)
By the time I said good-byes to Gabe, I estimate that my somatic breakthroughs had reduced my blocked score down to around 35, about half of where I started. This left me comfortable and experienced enough to continue this type of therapy pretty much anywhere, anytime. Further work at home has dropped my score down even further- probably to the 10 – 15 point range. That’s REALLY LOW, folks!!!! Good on me!
What will I be like if I make it all the way to zero? Should I start shopping now for tie-dye shirts and headbands? My answer to this is, NO. I don’t say no flippantly. I plan to remain quite firmly grounded outside and in. This is what I foresee as being my niche within conversations that depart from the material world into one that’s harder to detect with our traditional senses. I will make sense of the non-material “dimension” by anchoring it firmly to the everyday world we see all around.
In Other News….
I have a new adventure I am super-excited about– a podcast. Yes, I know….there are already (quite literally) a million podcasts out there…. but I’m telling you, none like this one. The name of the podcast is Marty & The Bro. Don’t look for it yet because we haven’t even recorded the first episode. Preparations are definitely underway, however, and I am feeling pretty rosy about it.
So, if I am The Bro (per how my last name is pronounced, though not spelled), who the hell is Marty? Readers that have been with me since the beginning were (somewhat) introduced to Marty already. The fourth post I did was called, Smoke ‘em If You Want To Live. Go back and read it if you didn’t already. It’s a great post and still ranked as the #1 most read post of this entire blog. One of the stories I share within that post is about a friend I refer to only as M. The story involves the day he planned to take his own life. M is Marty. Marty LIVES! Marty is my partner on the podcast.
Marty’s given name is Marcellus Wright, Jr. In his old neighborhood a lot of people called him Marty and that’s how he introduces himself in certain situations. I won’t say much more about Marty now or how he and I got to know each other. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out. He’s a remarkable guy and I am excited for others to get to know him as I do. Our plan is to launch the podcast the first week of January 2021.
Don’t Forget Spain
My visa application to Spain is a work in progress. There is quite a lot to it– an FBI background check, medical certificate of health, financial records, health insurance, translations, etc -but I feel like I am still on track to start my new life in Spain on or about February 1st of 2021.
In case you were wondering… last week I received the FBI Background check. And they found nothing! So there! HA!!!
My body is internally “buzzing.” I’m not so aware of it when moving around, but if I stand, sit or lie down, I can feel an electrical activeness within my tissues. Less than a buzzing, really; it’s more of an internal vibration. I park in front of the massage therapist’s building, shut off the car and sit for a second. The vibration is obvious–feeling. It’s like the car’s engine is idling and the whole car is vibrating. But I shut it off…and my car is all-electric anyway; it has no engine.
It’s so subtle, I cannot tell whether the vibration is coming from within me or from the earth. This all started yesterday in the immediate aftermath of what I’m calling the big breakthrough (on Oct 12th).
Tamara greets me at the entrance to her building and takes my temp (Covid precaution). I’m clear! That’s when I start telling her, “I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this, but I’ve been doing these somatic therapy sessions lately, and, uhm… yesterday was a pretty big day. I was thinking maybe you could kinda…” I jockey my hands in front to unconsciously gesture how uncertain I feel towards my own words, “…re-balance me.” My voice actually curls up at the end so it’s more like I’m asking. That’s when Tamara tells me she’s done somatic experiencing herself and is also trained in the practice. Holy mountain of dark chocolate, WHAT!?!
Seriously! I had no idea she had experience with this stuff. I thought Tamara was just a regular massage therapist. Suddenly, she’s my “shaman.”
Pause… wait, what’s going on here?
Once I had moved from being emotionally blocked to open, very quickly coincidences, lucky breaks, and other seemingly random events told a very different story from the one I thought existed. Second pause… I am by no means pointing to a single fortuitous happenstance with a massage therapist and saying “Ah HA!” Not at all. Since the previous day’s breakthrough I’ve been seeing and feeling an entire kaleidoscopic montage of connectedness everywhere. Knowing Tamara was exactly the right person for me at that moment felt like overwhelming confirmation that the universe has some sort of meaningful flow to it. GASP! I said it.
More on this new-agey mumbo-jumbo later, so stick around for that [or run in the other direction…Rick]. For my money, however, the real reason to keep reading is because a little later you will join me underneath the cream-colored sheets on Tamara’s massage table in nuttin’ but me skivvies. I promise you it will be the most bizarre massage experience EVER!
As Real As Gravity
“But we haven’t even gotten to the craziest part of it.” That was the teaser that ended my last post. Was I exaggerating? You will judge– tears flowing on a massage table….sadness trapped inside my buttocks (hip)….orange bolts of energy shooting from my head? Maybe this is normal in your world, but it sure seems pretty crazy to me. [By the way, sincere hugs to those that communicated with me how much Significant Conditions resonated with them. There was definitely a lot there!]
Embedded within all the strangeness you’ll be hearing about in this post, I was just sharp enough to pull out three “super-truths.” And by that I mean universal truths. Like…I can’t see it, but this feels just as real as gravity type of truths. All three truths will tumble forth for you as this post unfolds. But here… since I’ve already half-given one away in the opener, I’ll just say it for you plainly…sans the gasp: Everything is connected.
Last thing before we move on. If at any point I start sounding like a “life coach” or a mystic, please know it’s unintentional. My whole M-O has been and will be to simply tell you what happened. I won’t stop now.
One of my very good friends here in the Denver area is Dr Becky Chance. She’s both a basic knucklehead (like me) but she’s also a bad-ass who earned her PhD just last year at 45 years of age. If you’ve kept up with my blog from the start, it is my own muddled “hero’s journey” that you’ve been reading. Well, Becky has been on quite a hero’s journey herself. In fact, if her and I were to compare personal growth timelines, she’s leading me by about two years.
Similar to me and my situation, Becky has had to overcome the challenges of a childhood filled with trauma. But, thanks to a course of her own therapy (the more traditional type), Becky managed to move herself to the healing side of trauma a couple of years ago. As this shift was occurring within her, there were no big breakthrough moments (such as what I experienced). What Becky got instead was the cumulative effect of hundreds of ah-ha moments, each one a shift towards everything in her life taking on new meaning. At her own pace, and when she was ready, Becky moved from blocked to open. As this happened, she was able to make connections between the string of life events that led her into a new reality– one where the universe reveals its true nature on a daily basis.
Becky and I had dozens of past conversations where she would tell me about something that happened in her life that…maybe, didn’t quite go like she thought it would. But she would say to me, “I guess that’s not what the universe wants for me.” Annoying, right?!
Bumped and Nudged
My own personal mistrust of the guided by the universe concept is on display several times within this blog. It’s wrapped in the things-happen-for-a-reason packaging, but it’s really the same enigma. I’ll happily admit that a great many things have come together for me this year. All of the twists, turns, epiphanies, people, things, events… they seem to have been neatly aligned to bump and nudge me towards this really sweet state of being I find myself in right now. But is it really “forces of the universe” doing the work?
Whenever Becky would use this phrase about what the universe wants, I found myself stuck between an eye-roll and a 10 minute rambling soliloquy about how such talk doesn’t quite add up for me. My wagon has been hitched to the “not buying it” pull-car ever since I departed the nonsensical village of Christianity at age 16. I even look back at my childhood full of Jesus with a good deal of condemnation (how ironic). Not to veer too far off course, but… I once heard it said about both religion and masturbation— neither should be done in front of children. [Amen to that!]
But now get this. All of my universe-schmuniverse thinking came at a time when my modern mind-self was blocked by trauma from my ancient body-self (Explanation). Once these somatic experiences opened up access to the body-self’s vibration, the universe got a whole lot closer. Suddenly, I wasn’t just looking back at twists, turns, epiphanies, people, things, events and wondering if they are connected, I could intuitively feel their connection. Yes, everything really is connected.
Whether you can feel it or not could indicate which side of the blocked / open divide you might be on. But don’t think too much about that right now (if you’re blocked you probably won’t get it anyway), I’ve got to move on to my second and third big truths and how they both sprang from a fractal in nature. [If anyone can figure out what I mean by this, I’ll Venmo you $10 (just to the 1st person, please. (..and maybe the 2nd))]
I’d love for you to have a better feel for the progression of my somatic therapy sessions over the course of the last six months. I’ll describe it using terms all red-blooded Americans will understand- Are you ready for some FOOTBALL!?
You are looking at a football field. When my somatic therapy sessions began in May, I was starting at the goaline with 100 yards to go. Every weekly visit was a simple, predictable 1, 2, or 3 yard run up the middle. BORING! –Go, talk a little, try to meditate, talk a little more, drive home. But I never punted and was steadily (albeit unconsciously) gaining enough on each play to keep the drive alive. The good thing about this therapy was that I never lost yards. With every weekly visit, the gains were virtually imperceptible to me, but I was moving forward.
My particular type of trauma, the kind that left me emotionally blocked, is a tough dam to bring down therapeutically. The biggest gain I made was maybe about a 7 yard run at the start of the analogous second quarter. I was using ketamine in my sessions at that time and finally managed to access a worthy cry after punching a sofa cushion with my fist. That session was followed by a couple of no-gainers, so then I switched to cannabis and kept on fighting for small yardage up the middle.
After 5 months of weekly visits, I was only at mid-field. Granted, I had no sense of my field position at the time. I just knew it had been slow-going and the endzone didn’t look so close. I needed a big play. And got one- my first somatic experience. I’ll call it a 15 yard pass to the tight-end. I missed a week due to scheduling, but once back in the clinic for my next sesh, I completed another pass to the wide-receiver for a gain of 20! Then, on my day of six somatic experience cycles…I scored a touchdown!
To be sure, this did not mean the game was won. Scoring a touchdown was a game-changer for sure, (and my end-zone dance was EPIC!). But I also knew that the 5,000 ruptures I harbored in my body could not be vanquished in one play, regardless of how spectacular it was.
The week after the touchdown, I aimed for a two-point conversion…. and got it. More somatic cycles, more breakthroughs, and even more deep truths revealed about how the universe actually works.
Get Out The Way
I love the football analogy because it makes clear that somatic therapy is a bit of a grind. But, once my first genuine somatic experience was in the bag, I was almost there. So, if any of you therapy-inclined friends out there want to check-out somatic therapy for yourselves, you will have an almost unfair head start because I’m about to tell you one of the keys to doing it.
When I go down into a meditative state and mentally zoom around my body in search of bigfoot, I mean, signals coming from my body, or the somatic experiencing “wavelength,” or whatever we want to call it… what I should really be focused on is simply getting my ever-vigilant mind-self out of the way. If I were starting my somatic therapy today from scratch with this knowledge….? Fuggetaboutit! I could have shortened the field and been doing my endzone dance in far less time than 6 months.
I know I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the nitty-gritty details of somatic experiencing, but not without good reason. This point about getting your mind out of the way is a slam dunk, money-saving, take-it-from-me, pro-tip for anyone interested in doing somatic therapy work themselves. And, it is also the second of my three new big truths!
So, where are we? #1 Everything is connected. #2 Get out of the way. Let me show you how this figures into real life and how not knowing any of this led me to my life’s biggest regret.
Off By One Degree
Hands down, my biggest fumble in life [wait, I think we’re done with the football analogy] was getting my degree in accounting. I understand today why I made this poor decision way back when, but that does not soothe my regret. It all traces back to childhood trauma, wouldn’t you know. And also to my first and second big truths.
I chose accounting for purely practical reasons. You’ll always have a job, is what I heard over and over again. They weren’t wrong, either. But where was the advice about making a decision based on what I was feeling? Since I was way blocked from my feelings at 23 years old, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, but still. If I’d had access to my feelings and, by extension, was open to that whole universe business, the right answer would have come to me….if only I could have gotten my mind out of the way. All that practical thinking definitely steered me onto a career path that was ultimately not a good fit.
Coulda-shoulda-woulda, right? I wonder how many signs I walked past because I was too blocked to see them. If signs were there, the gentlest and truest interpretation of my missing them is that I was simply not ready.
Which leads me to that third big truth. And wait until you see where I find it.
This is a long post, folks. My apologies for that. And you’re only about half-way through. Ugh! But I have some good news. This last part is FASCINATING!!! So, take yourself a little bio-break and then buckle-it up for the bizarre massage and other Gary’s Believe It Or Not moments.
Also, this will be my last post for a while. I need to dedicate time to filling out the Visa application for Spain. Andole!It has been an absolute blast of learning, growing and sharing!Thank you so so much for being a part of it!!
Welcome to the Party, Breaux feels like a good place to draw “Act 1” of the 1MoreWorld blog to a positive and gentle soft-close.
So Where’s My Damn Sadness
Somewhere in the midst of one of the six somatic cycles on touchdown day, Gabe asked me if I could “find my sadness.” I scanned around my body and with a little voice answered only, “I don’t know.” At that point in time, the concept behind Gabe’s question was still very foreign to me. Once I am in Tamara’s hands, it will be found. And I promise we’re almost there. But first…
This wackadoodle notion of the body having “stored-up emotions” has not been an easy one for me to wrap my head around. But the more of this somatic experiencing I do, the easier it is to internally feel this is exactly what happens when traumatic situations are not processed appropriately, especially in childhood. When you are not allowed to cycle-through intense emotions, the tension remains until you (on a sliding scale) become a bundle of nerves. I know that when I’m in a meditative-somatic state, electrical impulses are firing muscles all throughout my body. There was even a moment in one of my sessions with Gabe when I felt two small orange “charges” sort of shoot forward and down out of my head. If there’d been a slice of pizza in front of me, it might have gotten scorched. [I’m kidding. It wasn’t that strong. But pizza does sound good.]
One of several ways my body felt “different” after the big day, was that it instantly felt more relaxed (even with the vibration-thing going on). I went straight to the park after that session and did some stretches- basic yoga poses, really. The vertebrae along my spine easily “released” as I twisted my torso, much more so than I’d ever felt before. Other joints, too. Orange bolts of energy or not, I was demonstrably more loosened-up from head to toe. Plus, it was like all of my standard 55 year old body aches and pains had just received a power-washing and a fresh squirt of oil.
So where the hell is that damn sadness? Tell you now, my ass!
Donut To The Face
Tamara steps out for a moment and I undress down to my aforementioned “skivvies” (briefs, of course). Her return finds me under a soft sheet topped with a light blanket. My feet protrude out the bottom, because I prefer them getting air.
It’s actually my second massage with Tamara. My first was 3 ½ months ago and it was awesome, though also pretty “standard” as far as massages go. [In case you’re wondering, I get massages maybe 2-3 times per year on average.] I heard about Tamara from my friend Vanessa, who felt so inspired for me to go see her, she even paid for my first visit (as a birthday gift).
For my initial massage with Tamara I did about 8 mgs of an edible beforehand. Note that I checked with her in advance to make sure this was okay. Interacting with the world while being elevated by cannabis was not something I had much experience with so I was ever-cautious. Motivating me was that I really wanted to see what a massage would feel like with the heightened body-awareness you get with cannabis. Folks, it was an exceptional experience! Afterwards, I concluded that MOST regular cannabis users already know this “innovation” and would never consider getting a massage sober.
For my session this day (Oct 13th), I did 10 mg, only a slight increase from before; so still not a super-high amount.
My face is down into that little donut thing at the end of the massage table. Soft music is playing from a speaker and Tamara begins. I let my mind-self start floating to the side. She is touching my back with long slow motions that slide along muscles deep beneath my skin. It’s not long before my body gives forth a somatic response- meaning I “flinch.” And, then do it a few more times. Soon I go into more of a full somatic tremble. Tamara is further tuning-in to the fibers within my right shoulder that have apparently been holding onto…..well, something. As I lie there, I am fully aware of my body’s response to her touch, but feel extremely safe in her presence… enough to let my body-self do whatever it needs to do. That’s when, from great depths, I begin to cry.
Envy the Bizarre Massage
For the record, this is not an ugly cry, the one where you fight to hold back and it makes your face all contorted. No, I am flowing and it’s all quite wonderful. Tears are the relief valve of the soul, I once heard. The part of my mind-self that has stayed online acknowledges the bizarre scene I am participating in. I mean, who the heck cries like this in the middle of a massage? But…you know….given everything else I’ve been experiencing lately… it’s all good.
As the massage progresses, Tamara moves down to my lower back and the area around my hips. My earlier crying cycled through and I had momentarily returned to calm. But the best (the worst…?) is yet to come. Gabe had asked me if I could “find my sadness” and I could not. But Tamara will. With the knowing touch of a mystic, she presses deep into the tissues of my right hip; I begin to shudder again. This time even more than before. Never in my life have I felt crying like this. The concept of storing away sadness within the body is no longer foreign to me. It is true. It’s all true and I am feeling it first-hand. The body does keep score and all of the sadness that rightfully belonged to me as child growing up in the breeding ground for suicide is still fucking there.
I cry full body until keeping my head down in the donut isn’t allowing me to breathe. That’s when I prop myself up on my elbows and keep going. Tamara’s experience in this somatic world is invaluable to me. I thought about how Vanessa (with no knowledge of Tamara’s somatic training, btw), not only told me about her, but felt strongly enough about it to buy me a Groupon to make sure I went. I am telling you again, everything is connected. Coincidences are gone! I think about this while crying through the massage. As more and more tetris pieces of evidence find their fit inside my head, a crazy-deep laughter joins into the crying….until it becomes impossible to tell which is which.
Gary’s Believe It Or Not Moment
Last crazy thing from the bizarre massage. At one point, Tamara asks me to roll onto my back, which I do. As she continues to work her hands into my hip area, my body-self’s somatic reaction does not stop. In fact, it begins to escalate even more. I have given up my internal controls to Tamara and simply follow the guidance of her touch. After I reach some sort of crescendo, she slowly brings me back down again to a calm state. The somatic shuddering slowly slows to a stop, my breathing eventually returns to normal. My eyes are closed throughout, so I feel everything. The flowy music continues in the background and I lay completely still once again. Tamara’s hands, both of them, now rest gently on my right hip.
An image of what I’m feeling inside my body forms within my mind like it’s a computer simulation. I feel and “see” an orangish current of energy flowing up from my right leg in the direction of my hip. I feel into my upper body and sense the same flow of energy channeling in the opposite direction, down towards my hip. Then it hits me, Tamara is pulling the fucking sadness out of my body! What the hell is going on!?!! This is freaking my ass out…in a good way. I’m not complaining, it’s all just so far removed from the seeing-is-believing world I’d previously known.
Really?! Do I think I’m going to write about this in the blog? I don’t know, man. I’m not sure if I’m ready for this. Are you?
Ready / Not Ready
Okay, I am done with recounting somatic experiences….almost. I have to share with you an important lesson (the third big truth) that came from my last somatic session with Gabe (Oct 19). This is six days after my bizarre massage with Tamara.
While Tamara had ‘found my sadness,’ and even released a bucket of it, my hip area was still home to a great deal more. Not just sadness, but anger, fear, and who knows what else. After finding my way into a somatic state once again– body-self alert and quivering –I tell Gabe I can feel a “swirly sensation” down in my right hip. He coaches me to keep watching and notice if it changes. It does. The swirly sensation morphs into a colored blob and my body-self instinctively becomes more agitated.
Gabe asks me if it would be okay for him to put his hand there. Without hesitating I fearfully blurt out, “NO!”
Moments later, Gabe asks, “Could you take your own hand and touch it to your hip?” I visualize making this seemingly simple movement, but the thought alone makes my entire body flash with fear and everything within me tightens up another few degrees. I shake my head back n’ forth and say these words out loud, “I’m not ready.” Gabe reassures me that’s okay. He explains that it’s normal to feel conflicted between wanting to protect oneself against an outpouring of potentially difficult and painful emotions, and feeling secure enough to let those emotions express themselves without constraint, knowing they have a safe place to be received.
I did not touch my hip that day, metaphorically with my mind, or physically with my hand. I wasn’t ready. Instead, I just hovered in that somatic state of being for as long as I could without doing anything more than I was ready for. There was too much stored inside my body to let it all come pouring out at once. My mind-self was thinking, Just be here. Do what you need to do, body-self. I will hold the space for you until you are ready.
What stayed with me from the ‘hip-touch challenge’ was another one of those big truths. As I now see it, the concept of Ready / Not Ready applies at any scale- it is universal. So, yes…you have freewill. But that’s a discussion more fitting for another day. Also being saved for later is the rather mundane reason why the universe is connected and flowing in the first place. [Hmmm, maybe I’ll write a book.]
When the universe bumps and nudges, it will only change the course of your life when you are ready. Being not ready is perfectly acceptable, too. The universe will hold space for you, if you get out of the way and let it.
A Million Percent Right
As I mentioned when talking about my friend Becky earlier, once she had crossed over to the healing side of her trauma, she was able to look back at all of the turning points in her recent life and see overwhelming evidence in support of an ‘everything is connected’ universe.
None of this made sense to me while I was stuck in the blocked world. Being blocked left me disconnected from so much, including the true nature of the world around me. As soon as that block between mind-self and body-self was lifted, the connectedness of everything became suspiciously obvious. I called Becky the same afternoon of the big breakthrough day and admitted to her, “You were right.” I said this with playful confidence. However, the truth was that I knew it was way too soon for such firm declarations. What if I come back to earth the next day and see things differently; and realize that ‘connected universe‘ feeling was all a bunch of hooey?
Well, that next day was the same day Tamara ‘sucked sadness from my right hip.’ It was also the same day I could see and feel very clearly how Tamara’s perfectly timed entrance into my chain of life events broke the back of random chance. It was all there, strung out behind me like fallen dominoes. Each one a bump or a nudge to direct me forward…through the looking glass that connects our material world to the instinctual side of existence.
It’s much like nature adjusts and directs the flow of a river over time– sometimes it’s a quiet lean from changing patterns of vegetation….and sometimes it’s an avalanche.
About 24 hours after I’d called Becky to half-confidently say she was right, we had the following short text exchange:
Gary: The “universe is speaking” concept is becoming laughably undeniable. You were not only right, you were a million percent right
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, (publishedon 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.
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%.]
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.
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.
Since this is the second half of a two-parter, you should read part one first, because I’ll be jumping right back into it without much in the way of chicanery. But perhaps one quick shenanigan…. I am one-third of the way through an excellent book called The Body Keeps The Score by some dude with four names and two initials- Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. The book does a groundbreaking job of demystifying all the different types of trauma including mine. To be clear, my explanation of SE (Somatic Experiencing) did not come from this book or any other, it came from me. I was never comfortable with the mysterious “voodoo” aspect of this trauma healing process, so I leaned pretty darn hard on my mind-self to figure this shit out….until I could put it into words I could stand by and present to the world.
(Props also to my therapist, Gabe Schneider- the dude knows what he’s doing.)
Look What I Can Do
The evolutionary distance between my body-self and mind-self will become crystal clear during today’s somatic therapy session. It is Monday, October 12th and I am back at the clinic lying on the futon once again with roughly the same amount of cannabis assisting my brain as the previous week. The music I have requested for today’s session is by minimal techno artist Boris Brejcha. [Good workout music, too. Sample]
Gabe sits in a chair nearby. The music plays. Here I go, back into the depths….
Even after achieving a somatic state on my two previous visits, tuning-in to the right meditative wavelength for my body-self to take center stage remains elusive; it’s like trying to throw a strike blindfolded. After I have been lying still for some time, Gabe gently checks-in with me. I think for a moment and conclude, “I think I might be asleep.” [(The metaphor was unintentional)]
That is the kind of mind-self / body-self separation I actually want to occur. It means I am closing-in on the sweet spot. If I successfully float my mind-self out of the way, my body-self will begin to express the feelings it has been holding onto for decades. I think about mentally “falling backwards” into a blank space. That technique seems to somewhat work for me.
But still, I remain engaged enough to listen and talk to Gabe when needed; and also keep a mind’s eye on any sensations in my body that feel interesting. I’m looking for buried emotions- a nonsensical concept for most. Where is my hurt locker? I don’t know. I watch and nothing comes forward. [This is what being blocked is.] I will have to tease it out of hiding. To the best of my abilities I relax my mind even more, leaving it open to see whatever memory comes to the foreground first.
From the family room, I am looking at the back door of our house on Creekwood. It’s the door my father used to come through after getting home from work. It was also the door he’d slammed over and over again after fighting with my mom. I tell Gabe where my memories are going, but also that I’m not feeling anything in particular. He asks me, “Why do you think that is?” I consider the question, picturing myself at the house in scattered scenes of me at home with my family. I sense where this is going and feel that sadness is nearby, but my mind-self holds on to its control. I hear myself speak these words as I might have thought them when I was six or seven years old, “Because I’m the smart one.” There’s a long pause that hangs in the air, and sadness comes closer. Gabe acknowledges me with a, “Hmmm,” then repeats my words aloud, ’Because I’m the smart one.’ My chest begins to shudder, and my breathing shortens. “Yeah,” I utter softly.
The body-self I can rightly call “I” speaks in the only language it knows and I begin to shake and quiver from head to toe.I sloooowly curl up my hands into fists and draw all my limbs in closer to my body. The atmosphere- the yelling, the anger. How wrong it all was, and scary, too. Goddammit! I tighten-up even more, my breathing, too. I should have been pissed as hell. I should have screamed back at my father, “Stop it, Dad! Stop exploding like a madman. I see you yelling at my mother. I see how you treat my brother. What the fuck is wrong with you?!” I protrude my jaw and tremble all over. But I am the good kid, I am the smart one, the angel of the family. I can never say ‘Goddammit!’ I clench my eyes hard beneath my mask. I’m 4, 5, 6, 10, 14….you thought I would NEVER yell and scream like you! Well, sure as hell I’M SCREAMING NOW!!! I squeeze down into my body as hard as I can, until I just can’t go any further. THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT!!! I finally give in and allow myself to breathe bigger, slowly heading towards a state of relaxation. I am safe now.
Holy frijole, what just happened? This is a somatic experience, folks. It probably lasted 1-2 minutes long. So picture me there on the futon, moving through all of this in super slow-motion….with Gabe nearby for guidance and support. Here’s the instant replay in case you missed it:
I begin to shake and quiver from head to toe.
[Gabe: “Stay with it.” “Let it build.”]
I slowly make my hands into fists and draw all my limbs in closer to my body.
[Gabe: “See the legs coming up.”]
I tighten-up even more, my breathing, too.
I protrude my jaw and tremble all over.
[Gabe: “Notice the jaw tightening. You’re doing great.”]
I clench my eyes hard beneath my mask.
I squeeze down into my body as hard as I can, until I just can’t go any further.
I finally give in and allow myself to breathe bigger, slowly coming back down to a state of relaxation.
I am safe now.
[Gabe: “Notice how things change as you relax.”]
Wait! What?! Where did all the other stuff go…? The part where I’m standing up for myself. Um, yeh…well, here is the real noodle-twister. The words written further above, the more “complete” version, that is me today speaking on behalf of my nervous system several days after the fact. And also 35-50 years after the fact. I am filling in the blanks based on memories of what it was like to be me…the smart child growing up in the breeding ground for suicide on Creekwood.
You see, during the somatic experience, none of that talking back to my father was ever said, not out loud, and nowhere in my thoughts either. My body-self nervous system is not capable of expressing itself in words, only in physical actions. Cycling-through a somatic experience is completely silent. My mind-self is thinking stuff like, “Okay, Gary, just let this happen. Don’t get in the way. Geez, this feels weird. Am I doing this right? How much longer? Can I stop now? Maybe I should hang in there. It doesn’t seem like I can squeeze much more. How do I know when this is over?”
(By the way, writing this section has provoked a somatic response. I am trembling inside.)
The experience I describe above was the first of three meaningful “hot waves” my body cycled through during the 2 hour session. Each wave is built upon a different realization, some thought that clicks into place and makes so much internal sense that my body-self feels liberated enough to give physical expression to whatever emotion it’s been holding onto (be it sadness, joy, fear or anger). For me, it’s mostly been bottled-up anger. Afterall, I had 5,000 reasons to be pissed off.
There is no need for me to detail every hot wave I cycled through. I don’t even think I can remember them all. But I’ll tell you that the third one sure seemed like it was extra-strong. So much so that when my body-self got through it and I was relaxed again with my frontal cortex fully back online- meaning I had left the somatic and meditative states of being and returned to the room. I sat up, removed my eye mask and told Gabe, “Whew! That was a lot!” He smiled excitedly and said, “Yeah, you did great.” My response back to him was something like, “Sure, but oh man! I kinda don’t want to do that again.”
In the immediate wake of a powerful session like this one, I’m aware that it’s waaaay too soon to be talking about future sessions. And besides, as I would soon find out, I wasn’t even done cycling through more emotions this same day.
Free Them All
I am still quite elevated from the cannabis as I gather up my belongings, say good-bye to the futon for another week, and relocate myself to the “recovery room” nearer to the building’s entrance. Driving home now is out of the question. I don’t even park my car in front of the clinic. Instead, I leave it in a lot next to some softball fields about 1 ½ miles away to ensure a logistical buffer for myself.
The recovery room is devoid of comfort. Maybe they don’t really want clients hanging around for too long; there’s not even a chair in it. The one thing it has going for it is a lumpy mechanical massage table. I’m not interested in turning it on today, so… with only two choices- massage table or floor- I lay down on the lumps to burn off some time. But think about it, a lot of big stuff just happened in my regular session. I have a lot to process and integrate- the term therapists like to use. I am both physically exhausted and still elevated like Cheech & Chong put together.
As soon as I lay down on the table and close my eyes, my nervous system says its game on; immediately I descend back into a meditative-somatic state of mind. While my mind-self coaches from the sideline, my body-self runs the plays. I have three additional hot waves.
Alright Alright All Right
Exorcising the burden of childhood trauma is a topic many Hollywood movies have depicted. It’s typically the most dramatic and pivotal scene of the movie where the main character visits their childhood self and tells them it will be alright. Good Will Hunting and Rocketman (the recent biopic about Elton John) are two movies that did some version of this effectively. But I don’t know, man. Seems so cliche to me, maybe even corny. I just can’t imagine myself crouching down and hugging my child-self. Sounds lovely, but I just don’t see it happening.
….until it happened.
On my third hot wave in the recovery room, and my sixth one of the day, I drifted down deep into my psyche, somewhere in between mind and body, and searched for little Gary. I looked for myself at different ages. I wanted to find him at just the right point in time, before he started to harden, before the person he was born to be had to become someone else in order to block out all the pain he was surrounded by.
One of my earliest childhood memories, vivid to this day, is sitting on the floor in front of our Zenith tv and watching the first moon landing. I was 4 ½ at the time so that’s around the age I needed to look.
Found him! Looks like he’s a smart kid ;-). I need him to be, because I want him to understand and hold on to what I have to say. In my thoughts, it’s like I was putting a hand on his right shoulder. I told him, Hang in there, Gary. You’re gonna make it through this. You’re gonna be alright.
Instantaneously, all time collapsed. What I said and what I heard, me- the child I was and the adult I am, the one now sitting up on the lumpy massage table, shuddering and crying out tears of joy and relief. Yes, the whole of me heard the words– Gary, you’re gonna be alright.
Thank you for this day, sweet universe. I don’t understand you. But now I am open.
“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.
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!
My fate was sealed, my dad would soon be using his belt to give me a spanking. But why? I didn’t understand why. We didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. We were playing with our toys and they broke. We weren’t doing anything stupid, we were just playing with them. What am I being punished for? It didn’t make any sense to me. To my angry dad, however, this is how he would teach us a lesson about taking better care of our things.
While my brother was getting spanked first, I slipped away and hid underneath my bed. It’s such a classic, child-like response. But I’m a small boy, about to be a victim of injustice, (or should I call it abuse…?). At six, I had no adult options. So I hid.
I can hear them calling my name, all of them. Yep, including my brother Bill. After he got it with the belt, he was happy to join the search party. At one point early in the hunt, I see Bill enter the bedroom we shared, the bedroom where I’m hidden. His feet walk over to the closet. I see it swing open. It’s quiet for a moment while he looks. Then it closes. I’m right here underneath my own bed. Surely he will look here next. But he doesn’t. He leaves the room and I am still unfound. Even at that age I had the presence of mind to think, How absurd is it that nobody has thought to look under the bed?!
Because of how our house was situated, I could hear some of their conversations from my hiding spot, “Where do you think he is?” My mom asks, “Do you think he could be hiding in the garage?” My brother says he’ll check and I hear the back door open and shut.
Underneath the bed I wait and worry. I’m confused about what I did and what to do now. I don’t want to get a spanking. It’s gonna hurt. I start thinking, Seems like I’ve been under here a long time. Should I try to make a break for the front door? But then what would I do? Where would I go? Maybe if enough time passes, they’ll kinda forget about it. Or maybe once I’m found again they’ll be so happy I’m safe…I won’t get spanked. But I also consider that maybe I will get it double.
I hear my brother come back from the garage. “He’s not there.” More conversation. “Look in the bedroom again,” she tells him. The scariest real-life game of hide ‘n seek is coming to an end. My brother enters the bedroom a second time. I see his feet stop in front of my bed, he crouches down and sees me. He lifts and turns his head to aim his voice down the hall and shouts, “Mom! Found him!.” He turns back to me, smiling, and says, “You’re gonna get it now.”
Why All the “Voodoo?”
When referring to somatic therapy, both in the subtitle immediate above and in previous posts, I include the word “voodoo.” I even titled one entire post “Freaky-Ass Voodoo.” (which you might want to read before this one). Why such a seemingly derogatory / potentially offensive word choice? Am I trying to delegitimize this type of therapy from the get-go? Actually, not at all. The most obvious reason for calling it voodoo is… because it sounds funny and gets your attention. More interesting is the second reason. There will be aspects of this type of therapy that, when you hear about them, will seem borderline supernatural…like voodoo.
somatic – Here’s what Webster’s says is the definition:
1. of, relating to, or affecting the body; 2. of, or relating to, the wall of the body
To keep it simple, when you hear “somatic therapy,” just think “body therapy” and you’ll be fine.
Somatic therapy works from the premise that unresolved emotional injury (trauma) is “stored” in the physical body. One quick example of the general mind-body link that should be relatable for many is the “nervous stomach.” I once heard the stomach referred to as our “second brain.” This certainly resonates with me. When I’m stressed out, my stomach will surely let me know. External stresses can turn a normal stomach into a storeroom for anxiety. But it doesn’t stop there. Back problems, neck pain, and even less obvious body parts of the body like a knee or shoulder, can house emotional pain which sometimes manifests itself as physical pain. And there is no statute of limitations on unresolved emotional injuries, either. Childhood trauma doesn’t magically go away. It stays buried in your body and agitates to be resolved.
No Bells No Whistles
Despite feeling pretty sure this whole psychedelic-assisted somatic therapy thing I committed to is on the level, a part of me reserved suspicion. Before being introduced to my therapist, I thought… if he pulls out a bell and starts ringing it in a circular motion around my head in order to ‘harmonize my chakras,’ I’m out. No hate for harmonized chakras here, I’m just saying that’s not the type of therapy I signed up for.
I met Gabe for the first time in-person on May 20th. Our first several appointments were via Zoom (thanks to Covid), and all were what they call “dry” sessions, meaning without any drug-assistance. On that Wednesday, it was my first time at the brick ‘m morter Innate Path Clinic on Holland Street, and my first time in the lounge chair. I can assure you that no bells touched my chakras, and I found Gabe to be just as firmly grounded in the rational world as I am.
In a typical session, what is it that I’m actually trying to do? That’s my question. Immediately, I have found it gets tricky. As I understand it, I’m trying to mentally navigate my way into a state of mind where I can see/feel the connections between emotional-memories and specific sensations in my body. No, not an easy thing to do. First, you have to get your mind hyper-tuned-in to your body and, just like with meditation, that takes some practice. The second factor is that somatic therapy will have you burrowing into some rather uncomfortable emotional-memories, which can be extremely daunting for many.
Yes, I’m saying “emotional-memories” because for somatic therapy to be effective, you have to do more than simply recall a moment in time. Unfortunately, you may have to emotionally revisit times in your life that really, really sucked.
But don’t worry, you will have two allies in your corner- your therapist, and the wonders of chemistry.
Step Aside, Self
Whoa! Altered states of mind can be super cool and I will take you inside my head in a few minutes. Just a couple more things need to be said first.
As we all know, the human mind has some truly incredible capabilities. Add psychedelic compounds to your brain and you’ll be absolutely astounded at how incredibly expansive your mental capabilities become.
Along those lines, I want to re-emphasize a point I made in a previous post, one that I regret not calling out more forcefully at the time. You should remember me talking about how hard its been for me to make a decision about what to do with my house in Austin (now that I’m living in Colorado). Keep it or sell it was the simple question, but my emotional/sentimental ties to that house I’d owned for over 30 years made it anything but simple. One evening back in April I ate a square of dark chocolate with 10 mg of cannabis. By the time I was ready for bed, its effects were diminished, however…. As I was falling asleep I continued thinking about the question, keep it or sell it? Keep it…or…sell it? With surprising clarity (in at least the thinking part of my brain), the right answer emerged from the deep: Suddenly, I knew I should sell it. Here’s how the cannabis effect was key. When in my “elevated” state of mind, I still had all the same sentimental concerns towards the house, but now those emotions sat down next to my rational thinking self, and did not stand in front of it.
That’s one of the special little powers of cannabis, ketamine and other psychedelics, and why these compounds have become useful therapeutic tools. Asking your emotions to stand on the far side of the room for a few minutes allows your rational mind to think through difficult subjects more clearly.
It can also work in reverse. For someone like me, someone who protects himself by thinking his emotions away, it may be my rational mind that is asked to “take five,” so that my emotional self can find its way to the front of the room.
Why You Be Trippin’
I went through the checkout line at the Sprouts the other day and took notice of something we’ve all had both direct and indirect experience with in many different situations. The cashier rang up my items and sent them down to the end of the station where I stood ready to bag them. As I placed the arugula, fruits, cereal, chopped pecans and another half-dozen items into my [Virtue-signalling alert!] environmentally-friendly, brought-from-home shopping bags, I took notice of the cashier. In that small window of time between her scanning my items and me completing payment at the card reader machine, I noticed that the cashier’s eyes were fixed to some non-location half-way between me and who knows where. She was gone, taken by her mind. I kepted bagging, but also watched to see how long she would hold this spacey stare before returning to her place behind the register in lane 3 of the Sprouts on Arapahoe in Boulder, Colorado.
And………… she’s back, ladies and gentlemen. I was tempted to ask her, “Where’d you go?” But I resisted, thinking she might feel embarrassed at being busted for her daydreaming. The point of all this is to give you a sense of what it’s like to “trip.” She was at work, stone cold sober, but still mentally transported to some other time and place, even if only for half a minute. Daydreaming is tripping. Meditation is tripping. Sleeping is tripping. Getting into the zone…. is tripping. These sober categories of tripping vary in their flavor and intensity but they all demonstrate your brain’s natural ability to transport you away from the here and now.
When certain chemical compounds are introduced into the brain, they do an awesome job of accentuating this everyday ability we already possess. Add a therapist, a blindfold, and a comfortable lounge chair, and there you have it. Welcome to psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Good Enough for Me
Last thing before we take a little trip ourselves. I started doing the somatic therapy in April. It’s now August. You’d think I should be able to confirm to you whether it “works” or not, right? Agreed, but sorry… I still cannot say. Not because I’m being secretive or cagey, I can’t say because I don’t know. The course of somatic therapy is a bit of a process. Among other things, it involves some degree of trial and error. Patience is unfortunately required.
In talking about psychedelic-assisted somatic therapy, I want to be super clear that I know almost nothing about it, really. And it’s better this way, right? What you’ll hear is solely my experience, siloed away from outside influences. You see, before committing myself to this method of therapy, I did about 2% research. [It’s how I roll, yo.] I got the gist of what it is, it made intuitive sense to me, plus my friend said the clinical research studies behind it are legit. That’s good enough for me.
As this post goes live, my course of therapy is still ongoing. So, wherever I’m headed…I’m not there yet.
Canada, Going Rogue
The therapy clinic where I’ve been going makes use of just two types of psychedelics, both legally available- ketamine and cannabis. Yes, cannabis…the same substance that is legal in Colorado but still counts as a crime federally and in a bunch of states I wouldn’t want to live in.
If you thought psychedelic-assisted therapy meant tripping-out on LSD or mushrooms, you were wrong. Just as I was wrong, too, when I made that same assumption in the beginning. LSD and magic mushroom therapy does exist but only in certain radical, rogue nations such as….Canada. But it’s okay. If it’s been found that cannabis is effective in this treatment, no shade needed.
Ketamine, the other psychedelic used in my therapy, is one of those drugs that already had 18 different medical uses before they figured out its potential in this context. Ketamine affects the mind by distancing it from the body in a way that’s helpful to this therapeutic work. It causes you to mentally drift away from your body, the chair, the room. Even so, you remain perfectly lucid. It’s strange but nice feeling.
Ketamine Tastes Yucky
Here goes! I take a tablet of ketamine out of the prescription bottle and place it underneath my tongue. It tastes quite yucky, something like an aspirin were you to let it dissolve in your mouth instead of swallowing it with a gulp of water. Gabe tells me it’s best to just let it sit there, to not suck on it and move it around like you might do with a cough drop. I resist swallowing even my saliva, letting the nasty taste build up in my mouth. If the ketamine enters the stomach, it’s useless to the brain. But when absorbed into your bloodstream through the tissues of the mouth, in about 15 minutes, it will begin to take you away.
“I think I’m starting to feel it,” I tell Gabe. The ketamine tablet has dissolved completely at that point and I luckily have a mint with me to replace its taste with something more pleasant. I place the blindfold over my eyes, pull the little ringed cord on the side of the Lazy-Boy lounge chair, and recline myself back as far as it goes.
“What are you feeling? Describe it for me.”
“I feel kind of a tingling sensation in my arms and legs.”
Gabe asks me to turn inwards and see what else I notice. Pretty soon I feel like I’m floating around in my own mind. My attention comes to my body and I give it a slow mental scan. My right shoulder feels cool on top. I wonder if that means anything. Should I tell Gabe it feels cool? Wait, what was that? My left foot feels like it’s buzzing? Is that something…or is that nothing? What I am supposed to be noticing? Honestly, these are the thoughts I’m having. The whole experience is shrouded in mystery.
Gabe asks me to “zoom in” on whatever part of my body is calling my attention. I do this as best I can. In a short time, my mind ends up surfing around my childhood home on Creekwood. I am very willing to let myself go there because I figure that’s kind of the point. In theory, the person I was supposed to be got left behind in that house a half-century ago.
That’s one thing I experienced with the ketamine. Childhood memories became more than just stories I’ve told and retold throughout my life. With the assistance of this drug, I am able to put my mind back in the house on Creekwood with little Gary and visualize in greater detail what each scene was like. I want to be clear that we are still talking about fragmented memories and visualizations. It’s not like watching a movie.
It’s my first time ever doing ketamine so today’s session isn’t about seeking breakthroughs. The body and brain must first be comfortable with ketamine’s effects. It’s a foreign state of mind so trying to rush into the hard core therapy work doesn’t typically bear fruit the first time you do it. It’s a step-by-step process, not a one trip and done type of deal. Even so, my first time on ketamine I visited the memory of that is the scene described in the opening to this post. The hiding beneath the bed, my brother finding me, the spanking, the injustice…this was not a lost memory that the ketamine helped me recover. But what the ketamine did was bring the whole scene closer to the forefront. I was much more able to mentally crawl beneath that bed with my six year old self and be a present-day witness to his confusion.
I feel this story of the unjust spanking must be significant, meaningful. But whether revisiting it in the Lazy-Boy or as a scene in my blog, I’m not able to feel it. I cannot find the emotion of it, the fear, the injury. The protective shell I have placed around my emotions is strong. More work is needed.
My first two sessions with Gabe were dry, the next three were aided by cannabis (edible). Now I’m working with ketamine. But regardless of the chemistry, every session is 90% me lying still and going into what is essentially a deep meditative state. Gabe mostly just sits there and observes me, occasionally checking-in to see where I am.
Much of my personal challenge is tapping into hard-core emotions. This is true of me in the everyday world and within the context of therapy, too. I am all dammed-up. Seven weeks into my therapy and I haven’t shed a tear. The small waste basket, partially-filled with used tissues, that I always see waiting there to the left of the lounge chair as never had an addition from me. Maybe I got a little misty-eyed once or twice, but I have not been able to “crack the nut,” as it were, in order to let it go.
There was one particular session with the ketamine where the feeling of being dammed-up became more prominent than ever. I was frustrated. Why can’t I do this? Every week I lie back in this lounge chair and “nothing happens.” Gabe hears my impatience. He summarizes in words what I’m feeling and offers them back to me. “Why isn’t this working?” “Why can’t I get it.” I nod my agreement.
I am so used to meditating that when I feel my eyebrows are furrowed or my jaw is tensed, I consciously exhale to relax them. But Gabe has told me it’s more useful to lean in towards those feelings and not try to breathe them away. So I furrow my brow and let it be. I tell him I’m having flashes of angry thoughts and feel like I’d like to hit something. He asks me if I’d like to try punching a cushion. “I don’t know what that would do.” I say to him, “That seems gimmicky.” I pause for another beat, before saying, “I mean, I’m open to trying it.”
I hear Gabe leave the room and return seconds later. He brings over a large sofa cushion and holds it in front of me. Still with my blindfold on, I sit up in the chair. My right hand makes a fist and I stick my arm out forward until I can feel the fabric of the cushion on my knuckles. He adjusts it so it’s a little closer. “Okay, you ready?” I ask him. He tells me to go for it.
I cock-back my arm and punch. Something moves within me. I reel back my arm and punch a second time, even harder. A wave of something within pushes me to a cliff. I feel my anger! Pressure builds at my face, behind my eyes, and I clench my teeth. I punch the cushion a third time with all the rage I can find….
That’s when the dam breaks. It breaks, and I gush. For the first time since childhood I cry from my core. Waves of raw emotion are released and I feel them tumble out of me like warm water has been poured over my neck and shoulders. Throwing those punches has unlocked a storehouse of anger and I am finally able to let a chunk of it go.
For maybe a minute I sob heavily and relish in the feeling. Tears drip from beneath my mask and my sinuses clog. I reached blind for the box of kleenex I’d always seen on the small table next to the lounge chair but never needed until today. Gabe assists me and places a couple of tissues in my hand. I go through them immediately and ask for a few more.
“Wow!” I exhale. “Just wow.”
After the deluge has subsided, we talk softly about what happened. Minutes pass, some in silence, then Gabe asks me if I would like to go for another round. I accept the invitation. Once again he brings the cushion up to my fist and I release upon it another 4 or 5 times. The tears come again, not as intensely as before, but I am still very happy to see them. Gabe helps me find more tissue.
I am now aware of being balled-up in the lounge chair, my back arched forward and my knees up close to my elbows, the blindfold still covering my eyes. I am drained. In this pose, I sit. Gabe waits patiently.
After a time, I lower my feet back to the floor. A smile comes to my face. A bit of joy has entered the room. I did it. With my head still bowed forward and my blindfold on, I slowly raise my arms above my head in triumph. I have the feeling of…victory.
It’s a Process
Indeed, it feels good to finally see a crack in my hardened shell. But I also know this “breakthrough” does not mean I’m at the end, not by a longshot. However, for someone like me, someone who’s heart-range is severely limited, anything that expands my emotional capacity is a step in the right direction. I am happy for the “progress.”
I will continue to blog about my experiences in therapy and do what I can to bring you along for the ride. Where exactly we are headed remains unclear to me. However, as I continue to peer further and deeper behind the scenes of the forces that molded me, my suspicion is that love, or the lack thereof may somehow lie at the core of it all. Stay tuned.
Next up, the 1 More World blog finally arrives to the night of the avalanche. Now you will see how every previous post fits together like pieces of a puzzle.