The first week or two of the quarantine were difficult for me as I felt a profound grief over the loss of connection with others. As someone who touches people for a living and connects with others in a deep and loving way I felt a huge disturbance in the energy of my being. At the same time I was also feeling inundated by the news, social media and conspiracy theories and on and on. I had to set a boundary with all of that and come back to what I could change and that was me. I spent a lot of time resourcing myself with mindfulness meditation, online Somatic Experiencing sessions, Rosen Method Movement and talking with friends.
After a couple of weeks I found a new creative freedom and deeper connection to nature and my spirituality. This was and is still is awesome! I also gained a deep appreciation for my capacity to connect to others without being in close contact with them. Even on Zoom I could find a way to connect heart to heart. I learned that just because I was separate from others didn’t mean the connection was broken. I also learned how important the connection to my understanding of Source is and how much of a resource it is for me. All of the tools I have learned as a professional and in my healing journey have come in to use for myself on a daily basis and I am so grateful I have these tools. Without the busyness of everyday life, I have been given the time to cultivate my spirituality, express my creativity and live more consistently with a sense of connectedness to all living things.
Then the Government of Alberta announced its plan to for re-opening the economy and I had to start thinking and planning for what going back to work will be like for me. My first reaction was one of huge resistance. I did not want to go back to work. Not because I didn’t want to work but because it felt unsafe to be in close contact with people. I had a big reaction in my body around the feeling of not being safe. I also realized that this was partially a trauma response. For anyone like me who has experienced and been traumatized by a boundary violation in the past, our current reality of close contact with others being potentially dangerous to our health (as well as the health of our loved ones) can unconsciously activate an overly strong defensive response in our nervous system. After seeking out the support of a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, I was able to discern how much of my response was connected to the past. I was then able to resource myself and with the help of the practitioner, return to a self-regulated state. I felt more ease and flow within my body. At this point I was able to be openly curious about how I might be able to return to work. How could I, as a Rosen Method Bodywork Practitioner and massage therapist, return to a sense of safe emotional/physical connection with others while living with the new reality (during this pandemic) of the potential danger inherent with close contact? How will it feel for my clients to see me in all the required personal protective equipment? Will they feel safer or will they feel uncomfortable? How will they feel about having to wear a mask themselves? I gave myself permission to be with the unknown and not have any answers. Then I thought back to earlier in the year when I learned about how to come back into safe connection when there has been a rupture or interruption of that connection.
In early February this year, I began a Somatic Resilience and Regulation training program with Kathy Kain, a senior teacher of Somatic Experiencing (Peter Levine’s work) who has gone on to develop touch skills for somatic therapists. During that training I was fortunate to have a breakthrough session with one of the therapists who was assisting. Throughout the session I was able to access some early childhood trauma that involved a rupture in safe connection with my mother and father. I already had a few sessions of processing and integrating this one particular experience; the experience of being abandoned by my mother during my parents acrimonious separation. What was interesting about this session was that it focused around how to come back to a felt sense of safety in connection with another.
During the session the therapist held the place of safe caregiver and this allowed me to slowly begin to discern within my body what I needed in order to trust that the contact she was offering me was safe. At one point the therapist asked me to open my eyes and look towards her. She was looking at me and it felt overwhelming inside to have this much social engagement expected of me. Then she acknowledged that this was too much and she offered to look away and invited me to look towards her when I felt ready to, without the pressure of making eye contact. This was huge for me. To be able to just have her in my peripheral vision, then eventually glance at her without the pressure of her gaze or her need to connect to me was such a relief inside my body. Slowly I began to let go of my vigilant survival stance of cautiousness and gradually became more comfortable with her presence and eventually eye contact felt like it was okay and even enjoyable. However, it was absolutely precious for me to experience the therapists presence without any expectation, and for her to also be aware that that was what I needed to repair the rupture in connection I had experienced at three years of age. To be invited to check her out visually when it felt right inside my body and to move slowly toward an increase in social engagement was incredibly important for my nervous system to register what a return to safe connection feels like. It was a deep healing of developmental trauma, a reworking of how to come back into safe connection after there has been a rupture.
As often happens when trauma is healing within the body, I also remembered more aspects of the childhood experience; in particular what it had felt like to be reunited with my mother after two weeks of separation. She greeted me with an intense and fierce need to connect and to make sure I was okay. She also brought her own intense feelings of guilt and fear over the rupture or separation between us. Of course as an adult I can understand that, but at the time it felt completely overwhelming. Forced social engagement like eye contact and hugging were also present. What I needed and didn’t get was the space and time to trust again. Without a doubt I needed my mother, but my nervous system needed time to discern whether or not it was safe to trust her and our connection again. My mother didn’t know how to give this to me. As a result, I was never able to be really vulnerable with her (she passed 18 years ago), even though I loved her dearly. On some deeply unconscious level I had a visceral reaction of non-trust around her because our attachment wound remained unhealed.
After reflecting on this session and this particular developmental trauma, I realized that the thought of working again was triggering me with feelings of overwhelm. The same feelings I had as a child around having the expectation of social engagement and intimacy before I was ready to receive it were present. Once I made this connection, I was able to slow down and remember what it was like to return to a sense of safe connection; just like I had experienced in the session previous. After some moments of integration, I realized I could apply this same process with my clients. Because of the government order to self isolate, there has been a collective rupture in social contact and emotional regulation for us all. We are all going to have to navigate a return to social engagement while living with the reality and the societal messaging that close contact isn’t safe. I feel deeply within myself the need to take my time coming back to work. There is no need to rush in before I am fully prepared and ready to receive clients. Slowing down, like I did in my session, taking time to come back into connection slowly, mindfully and with compassion for whatever is needing to happen for me and my clients is the only way forward. It will take time to adjust to the new required safety protocols. I will need to adjust my practice schedule and routine considerably and I am slowly preparing myself for those changes. I do have absolute faith that I will find a way to come back to touch work during this pandemic in a way that I can remain self-regulated and present with my clients. I can also choose to be compassionate and mindful of what it is that needs to happen for my clients so that a return to a felt sense of safe connection, relaxation and wellbeing can be felt once more. This is what the practice of embodied self-awareness as a somatic therapist looks like for me. I am grateful I have the awareness and tools to honour this process.