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Archive for the ‘body memory’ Category

Robert Clover Johnson comments below on my previous post, dated January 21, 2013, about Robin Grille’s article “What Your Child Remembers–New discoveries about early memory and how it affects us.” I want to thank him personally for having the courage and taking the time to share his experiences and his knowledge with us. He is a pioneering educator on the subject of the trauma of infant circumcision, and I am honored to have him post on myincision.  His thoughts are extremely important for us all to consider.

Thanks for bringing my attention to the work of Robin Grille. I am perhaps a case study of someone who coached himself through various forms of regressive therapy to discover the sources of lifelong tensions and depression by opening up the repressed memory of infant trauma. Grille describes this process very well, though his description is so succinct that some readers might suppose that just a few sessions of exploring postures and breathing techniques might lead to such revelations. My story spans three decades with lots of distractions and detours and important life events intervening. But as a result of my therapy I know from personal experience that infant surgical trauma is deeply imprinted in the amygdala and can have serious deleterious consequences throughout one’s life unless dealt with in a very caring, sensitive way.

In 2005, I re-experienced the cutting sensations of my infant circumcision during a therapy session. At that time, I knew nothing about this surgery. This experience has altered my life in many ways. One of the hardest aspects of gaining this somatic knowledge and the book-learned knowledge that followed is learning how to share what I have learned constructively. Most Americans still simply do not believe that such memories can be accessed or that they have any effect whatsoever on adult life. Alas, these imprints do affect us and the news is not so good. In the case of circumcision, the infant is not only traumatized, thus losing trust in the benevolence of parents and humans in general, but also most of a man’s erogenous nerves are cut off and thrown away (or sold to pharmaceutical or cosmetic companies for commercial and medical uses).

Most people in our society have adjusted to this unnatural reality, primarily through suppression of information about it and the propagation of such lies as that “the foreskin is just a useless flap of skin.” (It also naturally lubricates sex, by the way, so the effects are felt by women as well as men.)  Fortunately, such organizations as Intact America and NOCIRC are gradually making headway and fewer boys are being cut than in the past. I urge everyone to look up those organizations online and become enlightened, if you are not already enlightened.

Robin Grille is right. Infant trauma can be remembered, and it has bad effects whether or not we consciously remember the trauma.

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One can always be more free. As the year comes to an end and 2013 is upon us, it’s a good time to let go of things one doesn’t want to bring into the new era.

As a baby, I got wired for trauma. Being operated on at 26 days old for pyloric stenosis, a blockage in the stomach, set the stage. As a baby, my belly was cut open and part of my stomach actually drawn out of my body to fix the problem. In many ways, I am still frozen, holding my body rigidly as I cope with a trauma that occurred 60 years ago. Amazing!  It’s called PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

So earlier this morning, I was sitting in bed with my legs extended, preparing for meditation. I settled in, covering myself with a blanket, allowing my body to sink into the earth and be held as I listened for my heartbeat and tuned into my breath. I realized though that my face was stuck as if it was frozen from the cheekbones up, including my nose. My lips were pulled back and my nose and brow were literally numb. I was smiling a weird lips-pressed-together-and-pulled-back type of smile, more like a snarl, and breathing as shallowly as possible.

What was going on?  I tracked the tension in the rest of my body–my shoulders, hips, chest–and realized that I was straining against something. Flash! In all likelihood, I was straining against whatever hospitals use to tie down infants who are going to be operated on. Back then, my head was secured to the table and here I was in 2012 still fighting to free myself.

Often in my morning meditation, I’m so busy dealing with the somatic repercussions of infant surgery that it’s a challenge to allow a meditative state to kick in. Some days, I simply deal with what I call somatic freeze and other times, I break through to information that my higher self has to offer.

One way I work with this rigid state is to allow my breath into the frozen area. I don’t forcefully bring breath in by taking a deep breath but simply allow my natural breath to return. I invite a quiet breath movement. In this process, I actually began to feel my nose and to exercise face muscles that I didn’t even know were there.

Another strategy to cope with PTSD freeze is imagery. During my meditation, a liberating fantasy brought excitement and a feeling of power.

I am a baby strapped to a gurney before surgery, wanting to escape. I rise and break the bands holding my head, shoulders, hips, and feet and grab the surgeon’s scalpel. It becomes a sword. I’m standing on the gurney now, a super-powered baby swinging her sword, daring anyone to approach. Oh, what fun!  I love watching their shocked and frightened faces. They run out of the operating room and I smash up the place. Oh, more fun!  

So am I suffering from frozen rage?  Am I stuck in that moment of facing my own mortality and being unable to do anything to save myself?  Yes!

I may have been given a local anesthetic before the surgery. I may have had no anesthesia but received instead a paralyzing drug. In this case, I would have been awake but incapable of fighting. Still I would have tried to be free. Certainly, my nervous system cried out, escape! Perhaps before being administered general anesthesia, I fought against being tied down. Since I had been starving for weeks and weighed only four pounds, I was pretty weak. I doubt though that I was fully anesthetized; the level of tension and stress in my body suggests I wasn’t.

My body has been engaged in a lifelong fight with itself and for the last 10 years, through meditation and Middendorf Breathwork, I’ve been finding freedom from this struggle. I am discovering my power. I am learning that more freedom is always possible. For 2013, I am getting a new face–less startle, more real. More truly me.

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Lots of good changes coming to myincision!  By January 2013, this blog will be part of my website ReStory Your Life. This website will not only house my blog but will announce my speaking engagements, workshops, and publications and showcase my poetry, prose and artwork.

I am excited to announce my first presentation of 2013, which will take place Saturday, January 5th at the Fair Oaks Library, 11601 Fair Oaks Blvd, Fair Oaks, California 95628 from 1 – 3 pm. Griffin Toffler of the Women’s Motivational Meetup Group is hosting me. Everyone is welcome, and I would LOVE to see YOU at this event. Please email me to RSVP at wendy@wendypwilliams.net.

Here are the details from Griffin’s meetup post:

ReStory Your Life ! 

What personal story holds you back?
What belief falsely shapes who you are?
What is the real story, the one that tells of your inherent worth?
Rewrite your Life Story the way YOU want it to be!.

In this interactive lecture, Wendy will tell how she reshaped her own story of despair into one of empowerment and freedom. Then it’s your turn to ReStory Your Life as she guides you through a brief writing exercise. Materials provided.

It is my privilege to introduce you to Wendy Williams, a writer, speaker and blogger whose blog, https://myincision.wordpress.com/enlightens the world about finding freedom after trauma. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and has published numerous short stories and poems. For over 30 years she has been speaking and leading workshops about Writing as a Healing Art. This is an amazing opportunity to converse up close with a phenomenal and talented woman. It’s all free! (but donations are accepted to help pay meetup costs)

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Last Thursday, a dermatologist cut out a melanoma on the back of my leg just below my calf. It was a slow spreading kind and since I caught it early, I am told that it hasn’t metastasized. That’s the good news. I didn’t think the surgery and recovery were going to be a big deal. But I got twenty stitches instead of the projected seven, and I have to spend two weeks with my leg up on a pillow. And yes, it hurts when I walk. A much bigger deal than I thought it would be.

Here’s the part though that I want to discuss. As I lay down on the table while the doctor suited up, I had an experience that helped me understand how I coped with my infant surgery. The journal entry that I wrote shortly after the surgery explains it best.

What a gift that I was only given a local and so was conscious and aware of my body’s response to being cut. The old somatic pattern came raging back. When I lay down for the surgery, my jaw went through a series of unlockings–spasms of about twenty shakes until it settled down. In order for my jaw to relax, my bottom and top teeth could not be aligned; I had to let my bottom jaw slide out to the left.

My jaw spasmed once more–shudders of many shakes–and settled back down. The only way I was comfortable during the skin surgery was to let my bottom jaw slide left a half-inch, which made an awkward fit for my teeth.  Also when I lay down for the skin surgery, my right scapula (shoulder-blade) locked–a terrific force that gripped. I was eventually able to relax it.

All my life, my jaw has been misaligned due to gritting my teeth from the infant surgery. My teeth and jaw absorbed the pain. Gritting nightly stayed with me since that time. The pain must have been extraordinary to tense me up like that, to burn it into my brain, to create such an entrenched pattern. My gums weakened and made me susceptible to gum disease. As I got older, my molars became brittle and cracked. All my molars are crowned. And the scapula lock dates back to the early crisis as well. 

In my life, when I lay down for sleep, my body  goes into lockdown unconsciously. My jaw clenches and my right shoulder-blade locks, which has me breathing in a way that minimizes breath movement in the area of my infant incision. I became aware of this pattern years ago in my study of Middendorf Breath Work, which has helped me become aware of my outdated  somatic patterns and move beyond them.

I have come full circle: incision then, incision now. Let me move into a new future–no more cutting. Let my somatic pattern be released once and for all. Let me find a new way to hold my body in trust and in freedom. Let the old electricity and the old alarms be just that–old. Let me release the trauma buried so deeply in my body and brain. Let me be trauma free. Freedom calls.

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I was 25 years old, lying in sand by the Pacific Ocean. I had come to the sea to kill myself, depressed again after so many years of trying to make my life work since my suicide attempt at age 21. But I just couldn’t bring myself to harm; I had grown. So I drew words that bubbled up from nowhere. From somewhere. Pain from long ago. Ancient hurt buried until that moment where water meets shore and life called–a baby’s cry in early morning hours.

Pre-verbal trauma cannot be remembered in words. Perhaps that’s why this message came in a word picture, if you will.  There are many ways to release early pain if the brain does not get in the way. The brain that says, oh that happened so long ago, or you couldn’t possibly have felt that! That memory brain didn’t realize that it was shut off while the trauma was occurring. A different part of the brain recorded the experience, and talking and writing don’t access it. They can point the way to trauma, but they don’t release it.

Draw the story. Draw the message. Draw whatever it is that bubbles up. Begin the healing process.

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After re-reading key sections of Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger, I conclude that it doesn’t have practical material that I can use to help me find relief from PTS (post-traumatic stress) symptoms while I sleep (see previous posts Parts I and II).  To heal from trauma, Levine’s advice is to work with a practitioner of Somatic Re-experiencing, a form of counseling he developed. Right on. His treatment seems awesome. However right now, I’m looking for ways that I can heal myself.

In meditation, an image was presented to me that is promising. Sitting quietly, I asked my higher self this question: How can I heal my nervous system so that I am always in joy and beauty?  The answer came in the form of an image and a knowing. The top part of a tube appeared. From the end came a wire that was coiled.  Pull the coil. There is plenty.  

When I wake up feeling tension in my neck and gritting my teeth, I imagine the tube with the coil. I picture pulling the coil and releasing the wire.  This work with imagery is a way of righting something physical that’s out of balance or stuck. I don’t understand how it works, but when I tried it, I felt relief. The best results came when in my imagination, I pulled and pulled and got a momentum going to the point where the wire was moving quickly and without friction against the sides of the tube.

I am hoping that by working with my post-traumatic stress symptoms consciously, the patterns that create this condition will change. This process is very intimate and subtle; it requires trust and belief in self. I may seek help if the tension I feel during sleep doesn’t diminish but for now, I’m trying my own techniques and trusting I can make headway (pun intended). Will keep you posted.

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I have lived a life that is very different from what most people must experience. I have lived in the Land of Hypervigilance.

Each morning shortly after waking, I do stretches that an osteopath taught me. These movements manage a painful hip that cries out when under stress. Yesterday lying on my back, having finished the first set of stretches, I happened to tilt my head and notice a beautiful sight out the window behind me:  the tips of several tall branches golden in sunlight waving in the wind, framed by blue sky. I was mesmerized by this image. How many times had I lain on the floor to do these stretches and never looked up in this way. It was a gesture of freedom, of abandon, of a lack of hypervigilance. It was an act of simply looking without trying to control anything, without trying to protect myself from any circumstance. Relaxed is what most people call it.

But I have lived in the Land of Hypervigilance. Life in this place is very, very different. When I was eighteen and home from college for the Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to go to for a walk and check out the high school football game. I stood outside the fence and reflected back on my senior year; I had been a baton twirler and had often performed at half-time. The field looked small. I only recognized a few people. My life had moved on. I left the stadium to walk in the neighborhood and sat down on a rock at the side of the road, where I happened to tilt my head back and look up. I saw the most amazing sight: golden-leaved branches, each leaf shaking in the wind, causing the light to reflect in an amplified and excited way. The entire sky seemed filled with intense, shimmering gold. I sat entranced.

Suddenly the sound of a car approaching scared me out of my revery. I sat up straight, berating myself. How could I have let myself drift like that?  How long had I been daydreaming?  Time had lost its tick; I had been living in eternity, but this type of freedom was alien and threatening. What foolishness, I scolded myself!  That car could have run over my feet. Had anyone noticed my lapse?  Worried, I scanned the streets, driveways, and windows of the nearby homes. I must have looked so silly! Hypervigilant self-consciousness was my address, and I was scrambling back home at fast as I could.

What is the difference between my experience of beauty when I was eighteen and that of yesterday?  This recent lapse was a joyful one that filled me with gratitude and wonder and hinted that more beauty awaits when I stray from my visual patterns. I am becoming aware of a new way of being. When I was eighteen, I was on guard 24/7, my body on somatic sentry duty, each cell brandishing a sword ready to strike. I had no idea of the armor I wore. After all, the incision at three weeks old was something my breath and body remembered; I had no conscious memory of the assault.

Now I have these life-saving words to help me understand and manage my experience: post-traumatic stress (PTS). Recognizing a symptom of PTS is the first step in coping. When I become aware of my hypervigilance, I can calm my racing heart and release my held breath and body tension. I can feel compassion for myself and feel grateful for having access to the Land of Reality. Responding to a symptom rather than reacting unconsciously is the difference. I am no longer an unwitting prisoner of the Land of Hypervigilance. When there, I can leave. I no longer have to live there.

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