Have you ever seen an animal run around like crazy or shake its fur in a series of ripples? If you own a cat or dog, you have witness this and maybe did not know what your pet was doing? My cats used to charge around the house and it seemed to be nonsensical when they did it. Our dogs also do the running thing outside. They blast out the door and run as fast as they could until spent. This is called discharge, and it is what healthy animals do to get rid of stress. Animals also shake to rid themselves of pent up energy and often in dispensation of a serious threat. We can and should do the same thing. But we do not and then hold on to the stress which builds into PTSD. Sound simplistic, but I am a firm believer in this process. The book I am reading by Peter Levine goes deep into this and there are many others who follow this process as part of their therapy. But how do you do it and what if the trauma was many years ago. This is the basis of somatic therapies and body work.
For today, I am going to share one of the things I do. I am a work in progress. But I want to see if anyone else does similar things so please share. I got away from working on this and practicing my healing work. It made a difference in how I feel and for the better.
So this morning, and unfortunately it is a rare opportunity, I lay quiet in my bed. The first thing I do is become aware of my surroundings. The house was very quiet. My husband was asleep softly breathing (again, rare as he can snore). The little dogs had already got up to go out and had climbed back in for a few winks and snoozes. The cat was fed and asleep in her room. No one wanted anything from me. This is a crucial feeling. You have to be able to completely relax. If I think someone wants something from me, I do not relax. This is part of my bag that I carry. It is very, very hard for me to completely relax. But if do not, the next step cannot happen.
I then go inward. I feel what it feels like to be me. If you do not mediate or do not understand “go inward”, this can be confusing. I find many teachers of healing arts like yoga and meditation just automatically think everyone knows what this means. So to explain; for me, and that is my only point of reference, it is like a separation of body from mind. Think of having a shell and you are almost a complete separate entity housed within. Be in the darkness and sense the protection of your body housing you. Much like you can sense you outside bubble, your body space, it is a perception. There is no physical line of demarcation, it is all sensed. You are separate floating within this housing vessel called your body.
So once you get that feeling down, take a stroll around your body with your mind. Pain might pop up. Focus on the pain and in your mind, send it energy to feel better. Some say send it love, some say light. Whatever works is what is important. Think of your body as your child and you are a parent sending soothing comfort to your child’s boo-boo. This should dissipate the soreness. Really feel whatever comes up and then let it go. If it seems to get “brighter” with pain, breathe deeply and calm. You are relaxing. When I get a flare when I do this, I send light to it and I focus on the strength of the light, and not the pain.
This, by the way, was not a process I did over night, I have been working on this for years and sometimes it still does not work. When I first started doing this, I used to lay down when no one was around. I had an older dog that would not bother me so I had quiet more often. I would crawl into bed and slap on headphones with music to help calm me. There is a ton of meditation music out there and you can get it right off of YouTube. Whatever sound you use, it has to be something that does not get you charged up. This is preference you will have to discover for yourself.
Back to calming: Once you are totally calm, comforted and peaceful, print it. Print the sensation in your mind. Be aware and feel it deeply and completely. When you feel you are in a place of complete comfort, tell yourself you are safe. Breathe deep and repeat this in your head. “I am safe.” “This is what safe feels like.” If you feel tension somewhere, breathe deep and relax the muscles that are tight. Keep doing this. What you will probably start to feel are twitches. Sometimes it’s your feet. They may want to flex and almost feel like they want to walk or ever better run. Let them. My feet twitch, but they do not run. This is very indicative for me of the trapped sensation I often have. Your hands and fingers may flex. Let them. Whatever twitches involuntarily is great. This is what you want. Notice it, but do not stop it. You are not really meditating and need complete stillness. You are discharging. Your legs may flop, your arms may move. It is all good.
For me, once I really let go of my hypervigilance, I shudder. My shoulders go up in a spasm. First time it happened, it scared me. I felt it come up through my body from my gut and snap. It is very quick. I cannot make it happen or to force it. It is a completely uncontrolled body movement. Once I started doing this, it happened often and it did not take me having to lie down. Watching TV would be enough of a numbing to have it happen. Sitting in my garden chair would be enough. It happened in the dentist chair when I was having a cleaning. I allowed it because I knew it was ok and a good thing. I found that when I am in a state of anxiety it doesn’t happen. That is when I have to really pay attention to calming and centering myself.
The other thing I do and I had no idea what it was for a very long time; I have a low vibration that happens to me. When I say low, I mean it is not very apparent. One could not detect from the outside of me that I am shaking inside. But I feel it. It is a very rapid and quick vibration. I used to think it was the pre-cursor of something bad going to happen. The first time I was aware of it was when I was lying in bed, going through my divorce and a bunch of really life altering things. I thought the bed was shaking. I paid attention to it as it happened more. Now I know it was my systems discharging all on their own. Unless we are really aware of our body, which I was not twelve years ago, this might not even be something we are aware of. Again, it happens totally involuntary. I cannot bring it on. What used to scare me but now it makes me smile.
Think about this: The medical practice when someone has been in or witnessed a trauma is to strap them down, medicate them to calm and not allow them to move. It is the worst thing we can do. In surgical recovery, it is common for people to shake and struggle as they come out of anesthesia. When a child is upset and scared, they will shake when they cry and will continue afterwards to shudder as they calm. If you have ever witness something, or scare yourself, and you find yourself wanting to “shake it off?” Do so.
There are many ways to discharge energy if you are physically able. Running and repetitive exercise is great. Dancing is also good. This helps dissipate energy and flood your body with “happy hormones.” There are many ways to discharge like drumming or even laughing.
But for some of us, mobility is a big issue. This practice that I mentioned above is for someone who is healing from trauma. Body work has to become part of therapy for anyone who is dealing with trauma. There are many forms of somatic therapy and it is finally becoming acceptable. We are discovering that we do not heal well from cognitive based therapy. We need to engage all our senses. We as patients or clients need to be open to this. The more we are involved with this evolution; the world will have to take notice of evidenced based therapies that diverge from CBT. The body is not separate from the brain. We must heal the whole person.