It was an awful day. I was young, barely employed as a door-to-door salesperson for cable (and really, who can’t sell cable! me!!!), and had just gotten my umpteenth rejection. The world reeked of malaise and despair… then I looked up, at the most wonderful evening sky. The skies in New Mexico are special, of a blue not seen elsewhere, and as evenings will, that blue was multihued, deepening towards the horizon, backdrop to the faintest wisp of cloud, reflecting the setting sun. The despair melted, I could feel my heart warming, my chest expanding…and I reminded myself that this, too, is true, and for this moment, everything.
No, don’t worry. This is not a Pollyanna blog. Those of you who’ve read me know how I feel about a rush to the positive, an avoidance of pain. Yet, particularly when we not only acknowledge the effects of trauma in our lives but swim in those effects on a daily basis, it is crucial to find those moments of reprieve called “resourcing.” Those moments that remind us viscerally that pleasure also exists in our world.
Oddly enough, it is the ability not only to think about pleasurable or comforting things, but to feel them emotionally and physically, which allows us to delve more deeply into the pain that demands healing. For some of my clients, this is surprisingly difficult. Check it out yourself: look around the room you’re in, and find something that pleases you. Perhaps it’s a color, or a child’s smile, or an object that reminds you of past enjoyment. Whatever your eyes (or ears, if it’s a sound or musical phrase) is drawn to, now scan your body. What sensations tell you you like this? It might be an opening, relaxing sensation, a tingling, even a deep breath. Whatever the sensation, notice what happens when you simple stay attentive to it, “tracking” it for a minute or so? Does it disappear? Grow stronger or more expansive?
Our ability to feel pleasure, to feel comfort, and to sustain that sensation, say more to the degree in which we hold trauma that almost any other internal phenomena. To not be able to feel, or to feel only momentarily before it becomes eclipsed, perhaps by a voice that suggests you have better things to do, is a denial of life. And if we are to heal from trauma, it is to live more fully, moment by moment, as well as if not more so than to have a productive and satisfying future.
Remember your first swimming lesson? You were probably quite young, and perhaps a little frightened, intimidated by the task of moving in the water. I can recall the towering diving board at the public pool in our small town where I first learned (quite convinced I could never do it!). First, we floated, our little bodies supported by the teacher’s hand. In this way, we gently, mindfully became accustomed to the water. Then we grabbed the lip of the pool, kicking with our pudgy legs, feeling their strength. Next step, the foam board, not as stable as the lip, but still a comfort in our grasp. Had we been simply thrown into the deep end, I don’t know if I would have ever graduated to being the water baby my mother could not drag out of the water in subsequent summers!
In working with trauma, too, many of my clients have often put off treatment for years due to the terror of what will happen. Therapists haven’t helped, as many of us DO start by throwing our clients into the deep end, the midst of their pain. It is essential to first find the lip of the pool. It is only when we find that we CAN feel good, feel comforted, feel supported that we are then able to attempt to dive gradually but ever deeper into that which must be relieved, released. And we return, time and again, to that lip, to that board, to catch our breath, and recover our strength. Over time, we may even find that we return more quickly to those pleasurable sensations…we know then that we are becoming resilient. We are learning not to ignore and brush past our distress, but to move through and truly recover. We may never entirely lose the desire to avoid pain, but we become more willingly, because we can resource, to step into that pain, perceive it differently.
Here’s a wonderful video of how one Somatic Experiencing practitioner, Emily Van Horn, helps a client to resource.