Trauma: Tiger, Tiger! Trust the Body

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How the Body Releases Trauma

The weekend before last, I had been reading Peter Levine’s In an Unspoken Voice1 about how the body releases trauma. I wasn’t planning an experiment to test it out. My plans changed.

I take my mother to a therapeutic swim midday Mondays, so that’s the one evening I don’t visit her. Instead, Monday had become the late night at the office. My suite is on the third floor of a three-story office building, adjacent to the elevator. I was often there until the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

That week was about the same, except I kept hearing unusual noises. I told myself, “Oh, it’s just the cleaning crew… I’ve got to get one more email out. Hmm, better rewrite this article… Why is the cleaning crew opening the offices below? And another? Maybe they asked for extra cleaning? Rosi, stop being so paranoid.”

Paranoid?

I finished the last email, sent it at 1:41 am. I cleaned up, organized files, put my laptop into its case. Then, I bundled my laundry into its bag, zipped up the backpack. Next, I opened the door to the hall, and as usual, slung my laundry bag out into the chair outside the door.

Instantly, I knew something was terribly, dreadfully wrong.

I retreated back into the office. My heart was pounding. “Who can I call in the middle of the night? The police? I better at least text a friend.” (Honestly, I was thinking, “in case they find my body.”) I texted at 1:53 am, went out into the hall. That feeling of something wrong became a tsunami.

Barely able to function, I locked the office door, put my cell phone in my jacket pocket, and positioned my keys in between the fingers of my right fist, just like they teach women in safety training. At this point, all that training and a black belt in karate went out the window. I started to go numb and freeze up. So, I took a deep breath, let go of everything and concentrated my mind utterly on God. I ran like a herd of elephants down two flights of stairs and out the front door.

No tigers

The only car in the well-lit parking lot was mine. There were no tigers. I looked behind me through the glass front door, down the first floor hall. It was brightly lit and empty. “Oh, Rosi, you’re just being paranoid.” The street was almost empty. I got home and texted my friend that all was well. (Don’t you love how our electronic gadgets date stamp our every action?)

Yes, tigers and elephants!

The next morning the building manager emailed us that at least 7 offices had been broken into. The thieves were professionals. They wore gloves, left no fingerprints. They had used the back door, which someone had left unlocked.

Where were they?

On my floor, around the corner from the elevator and two doors down, they had taken all the pictures off the wall, unplugged computers and just left them. Perhaps when I first entered the hall, a thief gasped in fear of being caught, and I sensed that. A trauma response can be below the threshold of ordinary consciousness.

At least one of the thieves was in the suite adjacent to the stairwell on the second floor at the time I thundered down.  The thieves had unplugged all the computers, printers, office machines and wrapped the cords, and had them arranged to take.  The police believe someone startled them (or maybe a herd of elephants?), since in their haste to leave, they knocked a computer to the floor and left it—and everything else.

Our body knows

I kept seeing myself in the hall when dread and terror first assaulted my being. I ran that scene over and over, as if this message needed to imprint onto every cell: trust your body, this means danger!  How does our body know these things? Primitive, ancient self-defense mechanisms work beyond the rational mind, faster than thought. They even detect the unseen, the unheard, in protection.

Post Trauma

A week later, I wasn’t over it yet. We were out of tissues at work. So one night, I stopped by a store to get some more. That’s when the thought of dropping them off at the office caused me to flinch in fear and contraction. What if they came back to complete the job? I flew into a rage at the idea of being cut off from my work by fear. The rage built until I imagined I would blast those thieves out the door by my fury. The muscles in my arms, back and abdomen suddenly got strong. My fists twitched. Fortunately, the sweet, gentle smile of another shopper at the checkout line brought out a responsive gentle smile from me. The anger receded as I stopped chasing imagined tigers.

Levine said that anger is also a necessary part of the healing process. I understand that now. But you can’t push it. You can’t force your body to release and “get on with life,” until it is time. What a gift this is, to learn to trust my body to know danger–and find safety! I am grateful for this awareness.

If you should meet up with danger, tigers or elephants, I offer Ortho-Bionomy® to support your recognition of your body’s wisdom, release stuck guarding patterns, and affirm that you can heal from trauma and tigers, no matter how long ago they were.

UPDATE 2018

I also offer MABT, Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy. MABT empowers you to regulate emotions, release stress, and calm your nervous system. Your sense of embodied safety is always our first priority. I will teach mindfulness skills to connect emotions with physical sensations. However, your greatest tools will be your awareness, breath and hands, and your home practice.

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1 Peter Levine’s In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. North Atlantic Books, 2010. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8582180-in-an-unspoken-voice

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4 Replies to “Trauma: Tiger, Tiger! Trust the Body”

  1. Julie

    Glad that your instincts got you ready to fight and flight and didn’t put you into freeze mode. Well written (which is another way to get trauma and fear out of your system). Love you and keep safe (and don’t go to your office after 10 pm). Julie

    1. Integration Massage Post author

      Thank you, Julie. Yes I am glad that I am safe! They will be putting alarms on the building, and I have been revising my work schedule, and updating my home computer system, so I can do more at home. It has been an educational experience, and one that has increased my faith in both myself and He who watches over me.

    1. Integration Massage Post author

      Thank you, Lin. Yes, “listen to your gut”, and “gut feelings” are valuable metaphors. They call the gut the second brain because of how many neurons it has, and how sensitive it is. Isn’t it true that our bodies are wise beyond our knowing?