Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Rosen Method

Well, what do you know?

The Rosen Method. Huh. There appears to be something to it, although I can't for the life of me tell you why or how it works.

As promised, I went to see Catherine MacGuinness at Body Therapy this week, and experienced the Rosen Method for the first time. Like most of you, I'm sure, I had never heard of it before, and didn't really know what to expect.

In a nutshell, the Rosen Method (developed by Marion Rosen, 1914-2012) uses touch to achieve the mind/body connection, based on the idea that the body is "a living metaphor for a person's inner state." 

(Didn't I just say that a couple of weeks ago, you guys? "After all I've learned, I should know by know that what's really happening is that the issues in my body are literally represented in my life."  Yup, that was me. Apparently, I was not the first. Marion Rosen was way ahead of all of us-- including Western medicine and modern psychology and neuroscience.

Anyway. I told Catherine the basic back story, and that I've been doing EMDR and talk therapy for the past year and a half, and focusing for the past year on long-term PTSR symptoms. My awkwardness with the intimacy of this retelling was obvious, I'm sure. But I fumbled my way through it.

She had me lie on a massage table without one of those face-rest thingies (to use the technical term), explaining that it was important for her to be able to see my face during the treatment, since she'd be reading my muscle tension and facial expressions for guidance.

That's an odd sort of vulnerability. It requires a connection between you and the practitioner that is different from a regular massage. It's also something particularly uncomfortable for me, the reigning Queen of Boundaries (henceforth known as TRQB). (Just kidding). But I complied. 

Because: mindfulness. That's what we're doing here. Mindfulness--being present in your body, in the moment-- is at the heart of so much of this recovery work. And, not-so-coincidentally, being present in this way is particularly, spectacularly difficult for someone who has spent 20 years building iron-clad structures between herself and the present moment. 

The absurdity of that difficulty doesn't escape me. How can it be difficult? How can you not simply be where you are and feel what you feel?

If I knew that, friends, I'd be off doing it instead of sitting here blogging about it. I have no idea.

Looking at those words on my screen, be where you are and feel what you feel, it strikes me that this seems like something fundamental to life, to humanity, to simple human biology. I mean, it does, doesn't it? It's as basic as breathing, as existence. Feel. Be.

And those words also conjure something more abstract, something as tenuous and transcendent as faith. Feeling and being aren't just about biology, or feet-on-floor, breath-in-body mechanics. They're also about groundedness and connection-- things some people attribute to the spiritual realm, a belief in god or goddess, and others to a sense of community with humanity, with nature, with the universe. 

Either way: feeling and being are at the essence of our sense of ourselves within our bodies, within our communities, within our world. They are, literally and figuratively, life as we know it. Life as we experience it. I am. I feel.

Imagine feeling disconnected from that. 


This is literally coming to me right now as I type. That's it. I've said The Thing.**

This has to be at the core of the fear and anger and despair and dissociation and disconnection of PTSR. Trauma doesn't just rob you of a sense of safety or innocence or invincibility. That's just the beginning. 

After that, if left to its own devices, trauma robs you of your sense of humanity. Of connection. Of being in your own fucking body. And then what? How can you take anything in when you're not there to receive it? How can you experience life like that? How can you truly feel?  And if you can't feel, how can you be?

Trauma puts you on an island, far out to sea, and then, stone by stone, it takes the island right out from under you.

God damn.


Okay. Coffee drunk, migraine pill swallowed. 

Give me a second. 

This is recovery in real time, folks. 

Watch this space.

All right. I'm back. My quota of universal truths having been uncovered for the afternoon (sweet jesus!), I'll go back to my Rosen session...

So. I was lying there on the table, face visible. She told me to stay mindful, not to follow my thoughts and get distracted from what was happening, but to "let them pass like people on the sidewalk in front of a cafe window," and beyond that, just do whatever I wanted. Say whatever came to me, or make a sound, or describe a color, or if I needed to move, move. Whatever. We were going to follow my body's orders.

It should be noted that my skeptic's heart was not encouraged by this direction. I don't typically respond well to "say whatever you want," since what I want to say, especially under circumstances like these, is nothing at all. Not a blurter, me. Not a spontaneous mover or color-describer. 

As has been, I hope, sufficiently explained above.

So I was feeling more than a little self conscious at this point (which is not, somehow, anything like mindfulness, what with the self-loathing element). This is where the hippies leave me behind. Don't tell me to do whatever I feel (again: no. QED). Give me structure! Give me homework assignments! Ask me a question that has a concrete answer, a beginning and an end, and involves no spontaneous interpretive dance!

But I digress.

Catherine put her hands on my back-- softly, gently, hardly any pressure; no typical massage, this-- and after a moment, said, "Your body loves to be touched, doesn't it?"


She smiled at my open-mouthed hesitation and said, "It does. It is crying out for this. It is responding instantly."

I decided to take her word for it.

As she continued to move her hands around my back, my arms, my neck-- pausing now and then to press lightly and hold, breathing deeply, making small affirmative noises-- she asked me mild questions: What did I do for work? I told her about coaching students, helping people achieve their dreams and receive education. I told her about teaching. I told her about writing. I told her about being a stay-at-home mom.

How did I feel about staying home to raise my children? I told her I loved it. I told her I felt so lucky to be able to do it. She stopped, hands firm on my mid-back. Exclaimed: "Wow, I can feel your joy in saying that. Your muscles here just released."

I felt more relaxed, closer to the table. I tried to stay present.

She slid her hand under my left shoulder and lifted it, then released it. It didn't fall back to the table, but stayed, rigid, suspended in the air. 

I am, ahem, tightly wound. 

She pressed it down, then lifted again. Down. Up. Down. Easier each time. Muscles beginning to understand what relaxing was, relative to their normal state. Muscles began to prefer relaxing.


She kept her hand under my shoulder and pressed lightly on my back, my shoulder blade. Not firm pressure like a massage, just soft, curious pressure. Inquiring fingers. Tension here? Here? Why? Where? What?

And suddenly, I just started talking.

I told her about my accident in more detail. I told her about the years since. I told her about my migraines, about my desire to lose weight, about my anxiety, about this blog.

At some point, she slid her hand out from under my shoulder, and it slumped to the table, softened, relaxed, as if I'd just undergone a deep Swedish massage. She had done nothing more than lay her hands on my skin.

She had me turn over on my back, and put her hands on my abdomen. I told her that I've gone to the doctor many times over the last 15 years to complain about my inability to draw a full breath. I go for long periods-- sometimes more than a year or two-- where I feel like I can't fill my lungs, like I'm slowly suffocating, unable to get enough air.

I'm in one of those periods now. My poor husband always asks if I'm upset about something, because I keep heaving enormous sighs. I'm just trying to catch my breath.

She told me this is a common condition for people with PTSD. The diaphragm contracts as part of the fight-or-flight response-- in which state PTSD sufferers permanently reside-- and prevents the lungs from expanding. As she said this, she laid her gentle hands over my midsection, right above my diaphragm.

And just like that, I kid you not: I took a deep breath-- the deepest breath-- a breath that completely filled my lungs without struggle-- for the first time in almost two years.

Throughout the session with Catherine, I kept waiting for the "real" massage to start, the one with firm pressure and muscle manipulation. With the Rosen Method, there is no such work. In that way, I admit, it's not the most satisfying experience while it's happening.


I stood up from the table, and felt... relaxed. Not a little relaxed. Relaxed like I'd just had deep body work done. My back, neck, and shoulders felt warm and soothed. And over the next hour, where, after past massages, the tension usually returns and the migraine kicks in, I felt progressively more relaxed.

In fact, three hours later, I felt even better than I did when I left Catherine's office. My back was more comfortable than it has been in months. My neck, which had been hurting all week, was pain-free. No migraine. No migraine!

And today, three days later, my neck and back feel as good as they've felt in recent memory. The discomfort, my constant companion, has not returned.

I don't know how it works. I don't know why it works. I don't know how it will impact my work with Dr. Oz (although if this post is any indication, the intellectual work is getting a boost from the physical work, which is exactly what I'd hoped for). I can't explain any of it, so I don't know what to expect.

What I do know is that my skeptical self is withholding judgment for the foreseeable future. The Rosen Method will get its chance with me. Let's see what happens next.

I've got another appointment this Wednesday, and will continue once a week for a while. My body is crying out for this, according to Catherine, and if current results are to be believed, she's right. Time to turn off the intellect, the skepticism, the self-consciousness, and let the body be my guide.

As weird as that sounds, I think it's the only way I'm going to get any further on this journey. My thinking brain has taken me about as far as it can. 

Time for my body-- which has been here all along, waiting for the rest of me to return from whatever shrinking island it's been stranded on all these years-- to show me the way.

**I once saw Charlie Rose interview Tom Stoppard, and he asked him what part of a play he most enjoys writing. Stoppard thought about it for a moment, and then said, charmingly, "I like writing the part where the guy says the thing." Meaning, the part where the meaning of the play, the whole point, is revealed in a single passage, like you can do in plays but not really anywhere else. The part where the guy says the thing. So rich. So perfect. In the words of a certain subset of friends: this has become a permanent part of my head!canon.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Updates: Bruce and Body Work

A bunch of you have asked for an update on Bruce.

I wish I had one for you.

As you may remember, I wrote him a big, heartfelt email the week that I posted about him, thanking him for everything, trying to put into words the influence he's had on me all these years, and telling him I hoped we'd renew our conversation and see where it might lead.

I don't really know what to say about it. It's been almost three months. I haven't heard back from him.

I'm surprised by it because of the way he responded immediately to my sister. Maybe I offended him with my posts. I don't know. 

I have no idea what to do about this. It's an odd position to be in. I wonder if he never got my email. I wonder if he didn't want to respond or couldn't respond. I wonder if it was too difficult for him to look back on that time-- he was going through something big then, too, if you recall.

What would you do if you were me (and had, in addition to your strong connection to Bruce, an innate shyness and overzealous adherence to very firm boundaries) (this is sort of a nightmare scenario for my particular brand of social ineptitude) (I just don't want you to forget how awkward I will be at this) (I mean you, if you were me)?

On to the next update: the body work.

After my last post, my good friend Sarah recommended that I try a kind of body work called the Rosen Method. It's a technique that is often very effective for PTSD sufferers, based in part on  the notion that trauma is physiological rather than psychological, and suppressed emotion and energy from an incomplete fight/flight response causes tension in the body.

Basically, it's the physical version of the therapy I'm doing.

This makes perfect sense to me, obviously, and it's coming at the perfect time. I feel like I'm at a point where my head has lead me about as far as it can, so I'm going to give my body and subconscious a chance to take the lead for a while. 

I need to go places where my intellect can't lead me, and since that's the only way I know how to operate, I've had no earthly idea how to proceed.

The Rosen Method appears to be the way.

My first appointment is in a few days, so I will let you know how it goes. 

I can't remember if I've told you this already, so I'll tell you again: since this whole thing began, so many little pieces have fallen perfectly into place at just the right time and with the greatest of ease that it's almost scary. 

Rather than having obstacles thrown in my path, I've had the path thrown in my path from the very beginning. It's a little unsettling, but in a very good way-- constant reminders that I am in the right place at the right time.

If I believed in magic, I'd say my life is pretty magical right now.

Since I don't, I'll stick with this: when you're ready for something and committed to doing it at any cost, and you approach it with as much honesty and openness as you can and surrender yourself to the process, the way becomes clear. 

Speaking of things I don't believe in but suddenly seem eminently, magically relevant, I got this horoscope the other day from Rob Brezsny, who writes such good horoscopes that I subscribe to his newsletter just for the inspiration it provides:

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): A starfish that loses an arm can grow back a 
new one. It's an expert regenerator. According to my understanding of 
the astrological omens, you are entering a starfish-like phase of your 
cycle. Far more than usual, you'll be able to recover parts of you that got 
lost and reanimate parts of you that fell dormant. For the foreseeable 
future, your words of power are "rejuvenate," "restore," "reawaken," and 
"revive." If you concentrate really hard and fill yourself with the light of 
the spiritual sun, you might even be able to perform a kind of 

Magic, I tell you. Magic! 

Everywhere I look!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Deserve, Allow, Accept

Yesterday, I had the most wonderful massage.

Massages trigger migraines, for me, so I haven't had one in a long time. The last time I had one, I was so miserable afterward that it just didn't seem worth the momentary relief from tension anymore. But I miss them, and there is something so offensive about not being able to have them-- like the migraines have stolen even simple relaxation from me, adding insult to injury. So when my sainted husband suggested the other day that I give it another try, I decided to try to take the power back.

Shurrone Wallace at Table 4 One Massage is amazing and intuitive and five minutes away from my house, and yesterday I lay on her table and within five minutes, she knew exactly what was going on with me.

My husband had seen her earlier in the week, and had told her about my car accident and my migraines, so she knew that much when she met me. I told her I was in therapy for PTSR from that accident, and was easily triggered for migraines. She told me she wanted to "listen to what my body was telling her," as far as what and where and how much pressure was needed. I liked that.

So she probed around on my back and neck and shoulders for a few minutes, and then said, "It feels like your body is putting up some sort of shield. It's asking me to go deeper, but then it prevents me from doing that. It really wants more, but it's also resisting at the same time."

I had to laugh at that. A more succinct summary of me, in this work, in this blog, in this life, I cannot imagine.

"That pretty much sums up where I am with my therapy," I said. 

She hesitated, then said, "Would you mind if I asked about the accident? What happened?"

I gave her the basics: drunk driver, high speeds, tow bar, skull fracture, whiplash, nerve damage, head tilt.

She was working on my right shoulder at the time. "Interesting," she said. "As you were talking about it, it started to open up and let me in a little."

Again with the metaphors! It was a little eerie, the way the issues in my life are represented so literally in my body. It should come as no surprise, I suppose. As Dr. Oz keeps reminding me, trauma is in the body.

After all I've learned, I should know by know that what's really happening is that the issues in my body are literally represented in my life.

On the way home, my only goal was to keep a migraine from coming on. Shurrone had worked on the physical aspect, so I decided to try prevention from the psychosomatic angle. 

Relax, I told myself. Let it in. 

It occurred to me then that despite all the work I've been doing: the therapy, the blog, connecting with others over this strange, sad story, I've kept my shields mostly intact and still haven't gotten as deep as I know I'll need to if I'm ever going to find resolution.

It's not that I don't want to get there. It's that I don't know how. I'm as locked out as anyone else.

Shurrone said my body wasn't letting her in. My mind does the same to me.

I realized a while ago that I feel like I'm on the outside of my emotional core with no clue how to get in and figure this whole thing out. I even made a little diagram of what it feels like:

Sorry it's a little blurry. I am apparently also locked out of the part of my brain that knows how to  fix that.
I don't know if that makes sense to anyone else, but this is what it feels like to be me. Outside of these concentric circles is the world. Mindful interaction, authentic engagement. The moment we're all always trying to be in.

Yeah, I'm not there. Not quite in my body, not quite in my head.

I'm inside these layers, remote, distant, an observer from afar, locked safely away from over-stimulation.

But I'm also locked away from my emotions, for the most part. For the same reason, I think-- emotional experience is... well, emotional. And much more than my hit-the-brakes-with-both-feet parasympathetic nervous system can handle in any effective and consistent way. 

I feel like I only ever get Emotions Lite, out here in the outer realm. It's too overwhelming to feel deeply. It's too overwhelming to be authentic. It's too overwhelming to be vulnerable.

I think this started as a way to protect me from "bad" feelings. Fear, anger, sorrow. All the emotions that would have come up in confronting the trauma directly and dealing with it. My body started building walls, instead, to keep all of that from happening and to protect me from further trauma.

Those walls get awfully high, though. And before long, it's not just the bad feelings that are too much to deal with. The good ones become so, too.

This is where that flatline feeling that so many PTSR sufferers report feeling comes from. We disconnect from our emotional centers because we are trying, relentlessly, to stop the stimuli that our reptilian brains mistake for threat.

I turned to the book I've recommended here before, Crash Course: A Self-Healing Guide To Auto Accident Trauma & Recovery by Diane Poole Heller, PhD, to see what she had to say about disconnection:

"Many auto accident survivors end up dissociated and disconnected from their bodies."

"These dissociated states are a signal of extreme activation and must be worked with slowly and carefully" to prevent re-traumatizing the victim.

And: "Food, alcohol and drugs can be used in a misguided attempt to get the nervous system back into balance and ultimately make things worse."

Well. Yes. Those dark, difficult posts I keep hinting are coming? Let's just say I've got that last point covered.

And yes, this is me avoiding it for one more week. It's hard. But I'm running out of excuses.

So, what does all of this have to do with a massage?

Like I said, it occurred to me that in spite of all the work I've been doing, I still stay within my little walls and don't push myself to be mindful, in the moment, actively trying to reconnect to the part of me that feels things just fine.

Mindfulness also short-circuits your reptilian brain's auto-response-- scan for threat! Run! Fight!  Retreat!-- by taking you out of your perpetual imaginary danger-state and planting you firmly back in reality.

So I tried it. 

Breathe deeply. In, out, in, out. 

Mindfulness begins with an awareness of the body in the moment. This is where you are right now. This is how you feel right now. 

This. Right now. Right here.

Let it in.

I tried to use words like the ones Dr. Oz always suggests; the ones I don't dare to believe, most of the time. I tried to believe them. I tried to let them work their magic.

I deserve to feel better.

I allow myself to relax and take this in.

I accept the healing that my body craves.

Little thrills washed over me in waves. My hair was standing on end. I felt my body relaxing, relaxing, taking it in. It felt impossibly good. Euphoric. Wonderful.

I tried to hang on to it, repeating those words when I caught my mind drifting and my shoulders tensing up again: Deserve. Allow. Accept.

I made it home, and maybe a full hour after that, before the all-too familiar, electric-mayhem- under-the-scalp feeling of an oncoming migraine began to break through my post-massage haze.

Wait, wait! I tried to yell at myself (silently) (mindfully). DESERVE! ALLOW! ACCEPT!

My muscles were beginning to feel sore, the tension returning. My eyes were struggling to hold focus as the light became sharper around me. 




And my over-stimulated, comfort-resisting body returned a request of its own: 


Well, it had worked for a while, and I suppose I shouldn't complain. I really understood for the first time the nature of the work I have yet to really begin: Mindfulness, openness to the world, acceptance of healing.

All this work, and it suddenly feels like I haven't even started the important stuff yet.

I am planning to keep going back to Shurrone, migraines or not. She connected with exactly what I am trying to connect with, and I am going to trust her to keep working from the outside while I work from within to bring my body back into balance.

And I think I have a mantra now. 

Deserve. Allow. Accept.

I have spent so much time and energy protecting myself from the bad-- real and imagined-- that I have insulated myself from the good as well, and it's just as hard to let myself feel the pleasure as it is let in the pain.

It is not, however, as difficult to choose which one to start with, if I'm going to attempt to open these floodgates of mine.

Pleasure, comfort, healing, love, life: let's do this. I'm going to give it a shot.

I deserve. I allow. I accept.