Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Release


I'll save the general business and notes and updates for the end. We have stuff to talk about. Let's jump right in, shall we?

Back in August, I posted this video, of a polar bear going through a real-time experience of Peter Levine's trauma theory. The bear becomes frightened and goes into fight-or-flight mode, collapses and shakes to release the trauma energy, and then all the tension leaves his body and he completely relaxes and restores himself in recovery.

I really must require you to go and watch it right now. Rewatch it, even if you already saw it back in August. 

Go now. I'll wait.


Okay. Back? Okay.

So, over the past many months, I've been attending neurofeedback sessions twice a week, adjusting levels and making steady progress. Things have been getting clearer, sleep has been better, anxiety has dropped to zero. 

Honestly: Dr. Q and the neurofeedback have been an unparalleled success. More on that in another post-- you won't believe the amazing things that have happened with that work, you guys. And even though today's post is about something else, I don't think there's any way it would have happened if it hadn't been for all the neurofeedback I've been doing. I really think it cleared the last bit of the way for The Big Breakthrough.

And it really was The Big Breakthrough.

In fact, the whole thing began with what felt like a neurofeedback mistake. Dr. Q and I had been experimenting with rewarding higher and higher levels across the sensory-motor band of my brain, which my brain normally seemed to like very much. One Friday morning, Dr. Q leapt ahead a few levels and tried the highest setting yet, to see how my brain would respond.

I went home that day feeling energized, but had trouble falling asleep that night because my body was literally wound so tightly that I couldn't relax my muscles enough to sleep. My shoulders were clenched nearly to me ears. My legs were so tense they were practically levitating off the bed. My mind felt calm, but my body was too tense and tight to sleep. I finally managed to drop off at around 3am.

The next day was horrible. I was anxious, short-tempered, overwhelmed. Something was definitely off. I'd made plans with the #GirlArmy for the afternoon that I ended up cancelling just to preserve my own sanity. I couldn't stand the idea of being around other people. I let my girls watch movies all afternoon so I wouldn't snap at them and just tried to keep myself calm. My body was still tense beyond belief.

Sunday, I woke up feeling fine. Normal. Neutral. No longer anxious and snappish, no longer overwhelmed. My body was still shockingly tense, but my anxious mood seemed to have passed and I felt like myself again, to my relief.

Monday, however, I woke up feeling like something had shifted in the opposite direction. I felt motivated, charged, inspired. I realized then that I was experiencing some sort of cascading effect from the neurofeedback-- that something was shifting, and it was big, and rather than happening immediately during the session, it was happening over several days-- making me think it was something more permanent.

It's hard to explain this. The neurofeedback is sort of like strength training for the brain. The brain, being a muscle and being elastic, has habits that it follows and which it can be trained to break and reform-- those habits involving the brain's basic rate and style of functioning. My neuro work has allowed my brain to speed up significantly, and connections are a lot more efficient than they were, making its operation a lot more healthy.

But this shift I'm trying to describe now is of a softer type-- a personal type. I think this was me, shifting the way I was using my newly-more-efficient brain, if that makes sense. It's like I was  deciding to start using some of the new shortcuts instead of persisting in taking the long way round. It felt like, over those few days, I was giving up just a bit of the overwhelm.

It was uncomfortable to do.

It was worth it.

So I felt better, that Monday. Noticeably so. And Tuesday, when I went back to neuro and had another treatment. There was still a profound tension in my body that was completely at odds with the lightness of my thoughts. I still wasn't able to sleep until 2am because I couldn't get my body to relax, but mentally, I felt good.

Physically, I was as taut as a bowstring.

This brings us to Wednesday. Five days into this odd new shift.

I went to see Dr. Oz that night feeling a bit scattered. I didn't really have anything specific to talk about. I told her about what was going on with neurofeedback, and then we sort of jumped all over the place for the rest of the session. I remember that it was a particularly scattered talk that night, jumping from topic to topic with no real direction. 

Finally, near the end of the session, I mentioned how tense I'd been since Friday, and how it had even been keeping me up at night.

Here's where it got interesting.

"I noticed," Dr. Oz said. "I can see it in the way you're sitting. Would you like to try a grounding exercise?"


"Sure," I said.

"Okay, just place your feet firmly on the floor," said Dr. Oz, her voice soft and soothing. "Sit back and relax. focus on feeling your feet inside your shoes, your feet on the floor. Feel the bottoms of your feet. What do they feel like? Are they warm or cool? Dry or sticky? How do the bottoms of your feet feel in your shoes on the floor?"

I should say now (again) that I hate this kind of stuff with a passion. I hate it because it is so very hard for me to be the kind of person who feels the bottoms of her feet in her shoes on the floor. At the very best, I can be the kind of person who observes herself trying to feel the bottoms of her feet in her shoes on the floor, which is extremely mortifying, because let's face it, that shit is embarrassing.

Well, it is to me. Because very little isn't.

So I'm sitting there, shoulders tensed to earlobes, feeling my damn feet in my damn shoes on the damn floor, and then I'm supposed to describe it in real time, another one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITE THINGS. So so far, this exercise is totally the worst and I'm already all tense and now I'm having to describe things out loud.

"What do your feet feel like?" said Dr. Oz, implacable.

Me: "Um. Warm. And. Um. I'm not wearing socks. So. Sticky." Because this should not just be uncomfortable and mortifying, but also gross, apparently.

"Okay. Warm and sticky." She said that. Dr. Oz repeated warm and sticky because I am sitting here watching myself do a grounding exercise so let's all repeat gross things about my feet to each other yay.

"Now concentrate on feeling the insides of your toes," said Dr. Oz. "What does it feel like inside of your skin? Some people say that it feels tingly, or like liquid..."

"It's... buzzing," I said. Okay, that was true. It was buzzing in there, and maybe I could recover from the whole sticky fiasco with this. 

"Okay, buzzing. Now move up to your ankles. What does it feel like inside of your ankles?"

With painstaking slowness, Dr. Oz moved up my body, part by part, piece by piece, having me focus my attention at each point and describe what it felt like from the inside out. My eyes were closed, and I was concentrating, and by the time we reached my thighs I noticed something else going on.

"My legs are clenching up," I said. It was true-- and not in the way they usually did. Usually, when we did these exercises, my ankles would tighten and my toes would come up off the floor as if my feet were on invisible car pedals. This time, my thighs were clenched and my heels were rising, toes pointed, as if my muscles were atrophying. 

"That's all right," said Dr. Oz. "Just notice it, and keep moving."

But I couldn't keep from trying to relax, so I opened my eyes and looked down at my thighs-- which were rising up off the couch by now, as if I were  slowly rolling into the fetal position-- and tried to relax them, but it was the strangest thing.  I couldn't tell if I was sending them a message to relax or to tighten further. I couldn't tell if I was sending them a message at all. It was very clear-- once again-- that there was no communication happening between my brain and my legs. 

I was looking at them, and knowing what I wanted them to do, but it was as if all the roads from my brain to my legs had been closed, and no messages were being carried through.

"I'm trying to relax them and I can't," I said. My hands had also balled into fists by now and my shoulders were as high as they could go, and it was getting weird, this tension.

"Don't worry about trying to do anything about it right now," Dr. Oz told me. "Just notice it, but don't let it bother you."

She kept me moving, now to my abdomen. I noticed at this point that my face was beginning to clench. Like, my lips were curling away from my teeth. My scalp was pulling my eyebrows upward. My nose was wrinkling and trembling, as if I were baring my teeth and growling like an animal.

Dr. Oz just kept calmly on, moving my focus slowly upward, having me describe what it felt like inside my skin: the tightness in my abdomen. The tingling in my arms. The tension in my back and shoulders and neck.

When we got to my head, we stopped. "Is there a movement that goes along with this?" Dr. Oz asked. "Do you want to kick or push out, or move in any way?"

"No," I said quickly, because I always say no, because I HATE THESE THINGS, have I mentioned? 

At this point, I had my eyes squeezed shut, my teeth bared, my nose scrunched up, my scalp pulled back, my shoulders pulled up to my ears, my hands in fists, my thighs pulled halfway to my abdomen and  my toes pointed to the floor-- a freaky, fetal, feral pose I couldn't reproduce if I tried. 

But then...

"Wait..." I said. "My arms want to come up... like... this." I raised my arms from the elbow, palms outward, hands in front of my shoulders.

"Okay." We waited. "Anything else?"

"Um." I thought for a minute. "My head wants to go back... like this." I tilted my head backward and turned it slightly to the right, until it was nearly resting against the back of the couch. Oh my god, I thought, I'm in the car, I've let go of the wheel and I'm turning away from the oncoming headlights and holding up my hands and pulling in my limbs to protect myself. My body is doing what it never got the chance to do.

And about 5 seconds later, starting from a point at the crown of my head, I felt a trickle of the most incredible, deep utter release of tension that cascaded down over my brow and through my face, melting every muscle it touched.

It ran down my arms to my hands, which dropped limply to my sides. My shoulders softened and slumped back into the sofa. The cascade flowed down my legs, turning them to quivering jelly. My knees fell sideways and my legs sprawled across the floor. My abdomen released and I drew the deepest, most uncomplicated breath I've drawn in...

I honestly don't know. 18 years? More?

I just lay there for a few seconds, shocked. My body had just gone rogue and done something absolutely unprecedented. And completely beyond my control. And TOTALLY AWESOME.

I blinked at the ceiling, and then opened my mouth to ask Dr. Oz what, in fact, had just occurred.

What came out was a yell.


Dr. Oz, bless her, was calm and earnest. "Your body just needed to complete that motion," she told me, "in order to complete the fight-or-flight cycle. It needed to finish the movement so you could have that release. Do you remember the video of the polar bear? That's what just happened to you."

"I know that. I mean, I know that. I know it happens. I know that's what we've been trying to make happen all this time. I just didn't know it could just... I mean I didn't know it would... feel like that, I guess, that it would just happen out of nowhere  like that." 

"You were ready," said Dr. Oz. "I could see it in your body. I could see it coming."

I couldn't believe it.

"Was that it, then?! Was that all of it?!"

Dr. Oz nodded, and then shrugged. "Maybe. It often is. There may be a little left, but that was a huge release. So yeah. That might have been it."

It was another 10 minutes before I could stand, the muscle tension was so absent from my legs. I bid Dr. Oz a shaky farewell and went home to holy shit to myself for a couple of hours before I went to bed.

That night, I slept like the dead.

It's been several weeks since this event happened, and while everything in my brain and life didn't magically snap into place afterward, as I secretly hoped, I can say that it has had an enormous impact and I am still only at the beginning of discovering how much has changed as a result.

First, I've had a lot more back and neck trouble, because-- ironically-- it appears that my body has been held upright by sheer tension for the past 20 years, and a marked lack of it has necessitated a new set of muscles to be toned up. No joke.

Second, I've noticed that everything is just a little bit sharper, a little bit clearer, a little bit easier. The neuro is working better. Everything is just... better.

Third, I'm noticing my old personality asserting itself a bit more. My old silliness, my old playfulness, my old assertiveness. My old Self. Just a little. There is still plenty of habit to overcome in this regard, I'm sure. But I've noticed, and so has my husband. There's a change. There's an awakening. 

There's a rebirth, of sorts.

So we'll see. I'll have more to report in the weeks to come. I already have more to report, in fact. My husband is officially back from his travels and we get to keep him from here on out, so I'll be rebuilding my writing practice again, and you'll be hearing from me more often from now on.

Which is good, because it just got amazing over here.

I've missed you. I've missed me. Welcome back!


  1. Wow! That is truly awesome. My body feels strangely relaxed. I think you grounded me a bit & I really needed it. Now, what to do about the tension in my head, shoulders, & neck? What an amazing healing experience. Keep on keepin' on sister.

  2. So excited for you! This is awesome! Can't wait to hear more.