Bette J. Freedson
Bev groaned on a warm sunny October day as she gently lowered herself onto the couch, supportively holding her hip. “It’s been a rough week! My arthritis is flared. I ache all over, my hips and back—my heart. We had a family tragedy this week; I’ve been pretty stirred up.”
You may remember Bev from my September blog: an attractive woman, a talented artist and photographer, and a courageous survivor of childhood abuse. Bev relieves the sadness of old memories and the pressures of new sobriety by sunning herself on the beaches of southern Maine where she composes elegant photographs, reveals scenes that soothe her often-troubled mind.
Recently Bev’s therapy has focused on ways comforting images can transform into healing imaginings when brought to her mind’s eye and absorbed into her psyche and her body. When she senses the need for warmth and healing peace, Bev is learning how to confidently summon these images. However, for survivors of abuse like Bev, darker, more troubling pictures arise in the mind, unbidden and unwelcomed these images disturb their tranquility, knock them off balance.
Far from relieving stress, vividly remembered images of harmful events, in Bev’s case flashbacks of a parent’s unpredictably random tantrums and assaults and teachers’ emotional abuse, can cause past misery to feel alive in real time. Painful biological derivatives, lodged in the mind/body wiring can trigger somatic ailments, depression, and panic, contaminating the enjoyment of life in the moment.
In therapy, I believe our work is to support our clients as they and we enliven the places in imagination where we consciously and unconsciously create and cultivate visualizations vital for healing—specific images and sensations that are less apt to trigger distressing images but rather become integrated as components of recovery and healing. As we work within the psyche’s realm of awareness to re-envision scenes that support mental health and wellbeing, healing light becomes available when the darkness of harsher images from a terrifying past invades the mind and the body.
Indeed, the recent tragic loss in Bev’s extended family had brought forth just such –a cascade of painful emotions, restless insomnia, anxious anhedonia, and a flare of her osteoarthritis.
“I feel so bad; the whole family is devastated. We don’t know how it happened; they found my cousin in her kitchen. Her grandmother is my favorite aunt, one of the relatives who treated me well. They all knew about my mother’s episodes, how cracked she was, how she would just go off on me and my brother. I can’t get rid of these memories. I can’t sleep; my back is terrible. Right now, I’m actually getting that creepy crawly feeling that goes up my arms and neck and gives me a headache. I feel a little crazy; am I cracking up?”
As I listened intently to Bev’s story, I was remembering the doctor’s appointment I’d had that morning. I was hearing in my mind’s ear what Tim Kingsbury, DO, a true healer had said.
Dr. Tim had been working on my achy shoulder when my stomach growled: “That’s a sign of health,” he explained. “When the body shifts to a neutral place, it is ready to heal; the sympathetic nervous system is relaxing and moving into a place where the body and the mind can move into health.”
I wanted to share this with Bev but not directly. Intuitively I sensed that a metaphor experienced during hypnosis might be better able to help Bev realize a shift into a more uplifting place. While it was important to validate the real sadness caused by her cousin’s death, my goal was to help tamp down her sympathetic arousal, reduce the painful trauma response to the event, and perhaps vibe up some hope. With this intention, I followed the soul wisdom guidance of my intuition.
“Bev,” I began, “this event is truly sad. There is no way to change what happened. However, if you are willing, I’d like to invite you to see if there might be another somatic experience that can help you manage this loss. Would you be willing to enter a gentle trance and allow your mind and emotions to rest a little? I can’t be sure where this will take you, but hopefully to a more peaceful place inside.”
Assured by the way Bev’s posture shifted as she reclined on the couch and exhaled a long, slow sigh, I was encouraged to continue.
“I invite you to imagine the sunny warmth of your favorite beach, to experience the way sunlight can feel as if it is both outside and inside of you. As you feel the warmth on your skin, and just behind your eyelids, you may notice a felt sense of comfort begin to enter your mind and embrace your body. As you absorb these sensual remembrances of what warms and soothes you, affirm that these pictures can be as available as a click on your phone. As you take in peace and comfort, you can make a conscious choice to call up these healing images at any time.”
I waited a few moments, watching Bev as her eyes closed and her breath settled deeper into her chest. I noticed the way the tension in her jaw relaxed allowing her lips to part just a touch, the way her shoulders dropped, her arms and hands sinking gently beside her on the couch.
When it felt right, I asked, “What’s happening now?”
“I am imagining and feeling the sunlight; it’s really good.” The sound of Bev’s voice, the pace of her words coming to light as she spoke mirrored her externalized statement of feeling “really good”.
“If you wish, now you can send this light to any place in your body, allow it to replace the creepy crawlies with comfort and healing whenever you feel the need. To help you remember that you can bring in this warm light, I’m going to offer some lines from a poem by Leonard Cohen that he used in his song, Anthem. You might find it useful to bring them inside, memorize them perhaps as a mantra, a reminder of your ability to heal yourself in times of distress and deep agitated trouble. You might notice the way in which you take in his message of hope and make it part of your sense of self:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
When I spoke the words aloud, I heard a distinct and gentle rumbling from Bev’s belly.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I must be hungry.”
“This is reason for celebration.” I smiled and made sure to look gently and attentively at Bev, attuning to her experience, being in sync with her in this present moment.
“Your body just sent a message; it’s telling you and me that your whole system is hungry for health. As you experienced a felt sense of the light coming into your being, your nervous system calmed down and your body experienced a shift into a physiological realization of your desire for recovery, your wish and hope for health. Your tummy communicated this message.”
“I am calmer now,” Bev said. Her eyes, having just opened from trance, were still a little out of focus as she stared at the wall processing the experience, bringing it inside. Gently reorienting from her inner experience to the outer dimension of the room, Bev’s eyes met my gaze.
“I feel like I can breathe. It’s such a relief. The crawlies are gone, and the day is so beautiful. I’m going to go out and take pictures of your garden and then I’m going to the beach.”
Bette J. Freedson, LCSW is a clinical social worker, certified group psychotherapist, and the author of Soul Mothers’ Wisdom: Seven Insights for the Single Mother. Bette’s specialties include stress management, parenting issues, recovery from trauma and the development of intuitive insight. She maintains a private practice in southern Maine with her husband, Ray Amidon, LMFT.
Picture of the Maine Coast is by David Appel. The picture is part of a private collection, information regarding David could not be found online. We wish to thank him for his artistic talent and will gladly link to his site if provided the proper documentation.
The pictures of the phone and cavern were retrieved from the Public Domain Archives.