Last Entry: Experiences: April 15, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

Shadow Art Reveals More Clues

As we were studying shadows and personas, within my human development class during my first term at Southwestern College, we were asked to simply hold each of these concepts while creating separate pieces of artwork. My shadow piece, below, came to represent the next clue about the trauma I had experienced within my life.

Strength from Brokenness
Within this painting, I initially saw a strong backbone that was also broken and the strength of a body in cobra pose despite this brokenness. Thus, I came to see this as strength growing out of difficult conditions. 

But, we were also directed to dialog with this image using our non-dominant hand, asking questions like "Who are you?", "What age are you?", and "What are you calling my attention to?". My answers surprised me and I didn't want to believe them. But, I found that they directly related to the trauma I have been speaking about. It seemed it was time to begin healing this trauma within me.

To link up why this was being shown to me at this time, I will share some of the questions and responses:

Why is the back broken? 
It is what is broken in the family.

What about the arms? 

Forceful power imposed.

Why are you showing up for me now? 

This is part of your power when used wisely.

How do I use it wisely? 

Be in faith and awareness of your actions and how they feel to you.

Why is this shadow aspect important to my life? 

To be present, aware, and awake to the pain of other's broken backs.

Tell me about the positive power in this? 
Teaching. Pursuing helpful techniques with strength and confidence.

Is there an aspect of pushing oneself up despite the pain? And, if so, what is that about? 
Yes, it is your pain and your broken back that this comes out of. Believe in your power to serve and to be uplifting to those you encounter.

As the term progressed, the traumatic aspect of this image was acknowledged and dealt with on various levels. Safety was a theme. More images were created and discussed. A medicine walk yielded a piece of bark with the same exact curvature of the spine as was in my shadow image. And finally, a Despacho Ceremony was done in class that allowed me to begin letting it go. It was here that my six-year-old soul part again made an appearance. As we went to bury the despacho under a tree, I felt her presence on my hip. She wanted to be part of this ceremony, to water the despacho and to allow the transformation of the negative energy into our prayers for the future. And it was with great care that I helped her to be with me and to make this contribution.

Thus, through this one image, a lot started to happen within me in healing my trauma and in revealing information about my future. The image offered both positive and negative qualities, as well as reasons for attending to this situation at this point in time. It helped me to see how the conditions I have lived through were meant to be transformed and how particular situations are not purely positive or negative but contain both qualities. As I have worked with this trauma over the years, I now see it is as a seed that I have carefully planted and nurtured along the way, with the fruits of that seed just beginning to mature today.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Coming to Understand the Messages of Trauma

Well it appears that I have been quite neglectful about continuing my story, as many months have now passed since my last entry. Perhaps something about the timing will be significant in what I have to say or the way that I will now choose to say it...

So, anyway, as I was saying in my last post, the next piece relating to my six-year-old soul part, my shoulder, and my experience of trauma came about three years later, which was in the Summer of 2010. By this time I had completed two terms of the Art Therapy Counseling program at Marylhurst University and was about to continue my studies by transferring to Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM. Thus, my reading list for the summer included books like Coming Into Mind: The Mind-Brain Relationship: A Jungian Clinical Perspective by Margaret Wilkinson, Mindsight by Daniel Siegel, and Awakening Joy by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander.

Somewhere between Coming Into Mind and Mindsight, I began to understand how the brain processes trauma. I was first attracted to the idea that the right brain is the first to develop, with the left brain lagging behind a couple of years. This means, on the one hand, that only implicit, sensory memory storage happens during these first years of life. On the other hand, it also means that any events occurring before the left brain comes online will not be available for explicit, declarative recall. The only information stored in memory about the event will be the resulting sensory experience. Thus, a traumatic event can happen to a child and leave an impression within their body, but that event may never become a part of their memory.

The second attraction included the idea that traumatic events can sometimes evade explicit, left brain, memory storage. This evasion can occur in situations where the hippocampus, which organizes information for storage in the brain, shuts down. A number of factors can create this condition, which includes but is not limited to highly terrifying events, repeated traumatic events over time, stress, uncontrollable rage, and the abuse of alcohol.

And finally, I was interested in the commentary on disassociation, which can be a coping mechanism for dealing with repeated trauma. In this case, an attempt is made to leave the situation by removing oneself as much as possible. A child, in particular, cannot usually leave physically or emotionally, but may be able to leave mentally and spiritually. And in this way, a person is said to have left their body and disassociated from the situation. In doing so, this becomes another way that memories may evade storage in the explicit, left side of the brain.

So, what did these ideas mean for me?

I began to realize that I had a triggering event that would cause a panic attack in a situation where I knew I was not in danger. A particular sequence of events that my body had learned to be an indicator of danger and was therefore responding to accordingly. And a similar sequence of events that would make my left arm feel as if it were actually detached from my body. This sequence, in the briefest detail, involved being sound asleep while someone is drinking alcohol in the house and waking up in a panic as the lights are being turned off.

My body has remembered something that happened. But I remember very little of the situation. Only a short preceding film clip of a memory. And yet, my body remembers so well that fear permeates me as I write this, because the sequence of events is still triggering and because I still don't know for certain what happened or by whom. I do have some pretty solid guesses at this point, but I won't be sharing any of that here...

And so, I was slowly beginning to recognize connections between my shoulder problems and my six-year-old soul part. Shoulder pain that had seeming come on suddenly without cause, might in fact have an origin. At least this was where I'd gotten to, just before I began my journey through the Art Therapy Counseling program at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My Six-Year-Old Soul Part makes Herself Known

I have not posted anything for a few months now. This is partially due to my indecision about how to share further about my six-year-old soul part. It is not my intention to place blame or to identify those involved, especially since what I believe happened is only based on a single partial memory, associated triggering behaviors, and my response to them. Instead, my intention is to share my experiences of working with a traumatic event within my life. Thus, the details of what I am about to share have been somewhat altered and I will not be discussing the trauma directly.

With this in mind, I will tell you that the trauma I believe my six-year-old soul part endured began to emerge during a counseling session in the Fall of 2007. The counselor here worked with me to re-story the events that occurred and also employed techniques from a body of energy work called "The Way of the Heart", to retrieve information from my body and to allow me to move through the stress of the event(s).

Shortly after this session, I had a dream. For the first part of the dream, I swore I was awake as two waves of energy hit me in the chest, like being resuscitated in a hospital. The dream went on to include a scene of several gaunt, hooded children with stubbly gray hair. As they unhooded themselves, I greeted them by saying hello. They said nothing, but simply stared at me intently with dark eyes.

I did not initially understand the dream, but within another counseling session I came to see that I was welcoming dead parts of myself back into my life. Then, at some point amongst the dream and the interpretation, I began to have a visceral experience of my six-year-old soul part clinging to my body for dear life, along with cravings for foods such as black licorice, ice cream, and potato chips (some of my childhood favorites). I'm not sure how long this lasted, but for at least several days I was either feeling her arms and legs tight around my neck and body or I was carrying her on my hip. All of which I noted as the very beginning of our integration process.

Another three years would pass until the next significant piece would appear to me. Throughout that time, however, I of course worked on integrating with my six-year-old by trying to get to know her better. But, I was also heavily involved with finding my life purpose or mission, which had probably been locked away with my six-year-old all these years.

More on the events of this time and the connection of my shoulder issues to my six-year-old soul part in the next post...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Developing Interest in Shamanism Leads to Soul Retrieval

Towards the end of 2005, I was drawn to a book called Singing the Soul Back Home: Shamanic Wisdom for Every Day by Caitlin Matthews. In part, I picked this book because I resonated with the title and I felt the sensation of wanting to return home, but I also had a curiosity about shamanism that I had never given myself the opportunity to explore before. Additionally, I remember a general sense of feeling lost within myself.

As I discussed this book and my surrounding feelings with my naturopath, she suggested that a soul retrieval might be helpful, with regard to my current neurological difficulties, and referred me to a shamanic healer. Meeting with the shaman, I expressed a desire to learn about shamanic journeying, as well as to receive a soul retrieval. So, I ended up having a few sessions on shamanic journeying prior to the soul retrieval.

My first attempts at shamanic journeying were very difficult and frustrating. I didn't know where to focus my attention or my eyes. In fact, it wasn't until I was listening to a chakra healing CD that I found myself drifting off into imagery that that didn't feel directed from my thoughts. As this happened, however, I could feel a subtle shift in sensation that I can only describe as smooth, serene, and vast. But, even this experience, did not improve my skill at shamanic journeying very much. Additionally, as I started to get better at engaging the appropriate space and focus, the images I received were hard for me to decipher.

I've worked with shamanic journeying on and off since then, but often without consistency. My confusion with the images and the my lack of trust in what I was receiving caused me to be frustrated and impatient. And yet, although I was not immediately able to understand the meaning of my images, I did begin to notice events in my life that seemed to be connected with these images. But these details would often come to me weeks after the actual shamanic journey and after some part of it was already playing out in my life. So, this became my starting point for learning about the images I was receiving.

Coming back now to working with the shamanic healer and to receiving a soul retrieval, I will share some of the details that have come to impact my life on various levels. The soul retrieval brought me: 1) knowledge of the power animals I had been unable to meet myself, 2) a 6-year-old soul part whose only clue about her presence was that it was "germane" at this time, and 3) a 22-year-old soul part that had been subject to a soul theft and came back for my intuition.

I recognized my 22-year-old soul part first, suspecting that she had left during a drinking induced blackout. This was an event that directly preceded approximately nine years of abstinence, which I chose out of recognition of having a drinking problem. As I kept this in mind within my discussions with my 22-year-old soul part, it became clear that reconnecting and integrating with her would required me to monitor my current drinking habits, which were quite different from the years before, and to earnestly practice my intuitive skill.

My 6-year-old soul part, however, was more difficult to figure out. I thought of a few situations during that period of my life, but I would come to know that none of these were associated with her. In fact, I did not come to understand what she was associated with until nearly two years later. But this is another story in and of itself to begin explaining in another posting, which will start to make connections between this 6-year-old soul part and pain I was suffering in my left shoulder.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Left Shoulder Pain

At about the same time that I quit my job and was working toward starting vision therapy, I began to have pain deep within the middle of my left shoulder. The pain seemed to have no specific cause, but felt like a tensed muscle that didn't want to let go and no amount of stretching seemed to relieve it.

I think, because my memory is a bit foggy now, that the chiropractic neurologist first found nodules within the shoulder that needed to be broken down. He discussed treatment that would involve frequent sessions utilizing ultrasound, but also suggested that the more practical course, because of insurance coverage, would be to consult a conventional practitioner specializing in pain management. Going the pain management route, of course, would mostly involve the use of pharmaceuticals, which I was not even willing to entertain.

So, the first treatment I received on the shoulder was ultrasound, which occurred in weekly sessions. But, one day, after I had talked about how a connection seemed to be present between the pain in my shoulder, tension in my neck, and diminished capability within the left side of my brain, the chiropractic neurologist was checking me out by applying light pressure to a particular point on my shoulder, as I became nauseous and nearly passed out. Apparently, my parasympathetic nervous system had been invoked by touching this "trigger" point. So, I was immediately laid down and given oxygen.

This response, however, led to more tests from a conventional neurologist, including a EMG and another MRI, neither of which found anything. Again the use of pharmaceuticals, particularly by injection, was proposed as were anti-depressants. But, I still was not interested in going down this road. Thus, the ultrasound treatments continued for a bit longer.

To make a longish story a bit shorter, physical treatment of my shoulder also ultimately included acupuncture as suggested by my naturopath, graston technique that was provided by the chiropractic neurologist, and massage by a LMT. These methods were applied throughout a five year period, at intervals that were generally two to four weeks apart.

That's nice and all, but why am I bringing up this chronic physical condition at all? Well, it was at the end of this five year period that something else happened. I had just transferred from the Art Therapy Counseling program at Marylhurst University in Oregon to the program at Southwestern College in New Mexico. I also had been reading about trauma with specific interest in the physical manifestations of it. Then, after specific experiences during my first term at Southwestern College, my shoulder problem almost completely resolved with one exception. The details of these experiences and the unresolved aspect to follow in a future blog entry.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two Years of Vision Therapy Begin

After I was cleared by the conventional neurologist, I would spend the next two years doing eye exercises every morning. After the first year (2006) of vision therapy, I started to feel better. But, it took a second year (2007) before I started to feel normal again and an additional three years (2010) before I was back to a level of functioning that was present prior to the appearance of my neurological dysfunction.

Within this process, I went through a couple of stages from the beginning to the end of vision therapy and beyond. My initial eyeglass lenses were tinted a reddish brown, which was closest to the rose colored sunglasses that I had been wearing. In addition, they also contained prisms that were meant to encourage my eyes to move in the right direction and in unison. These lenses would be used during the entire two years of my vision therapy. Then, as my vision had corrected enough to stop doing the eye exercises, I was able to go to clear lenses, which still contained the prisms. This act, of going to clear lenses, was in and of itself another vision exercise. But, I was successfully able to make this transfer, although the prisms remain a necessary support for my functioning today.

Throughout the main portion of this therapy, I also continued to need the consistent support of my alternative care physicians. This was necessary because the nature of correcting my vision and my related neurology was often challenging and fatiguing. But healing of this type, I found, requires a cycle of getting a bit worse before getting a bit better. In other words, the system or neurology needs to be challenged enough to change without being overwhelmed, which would instigate further failure rather than healing. So, the process requires a rather delicate balancing act where some ongoing dysfunction is expected.

Although the problem with my binocular vision was found to be the major factor of my neurological functioning, other events and factors would also prove to be significant. These other aspects, however, are mostly only beginning to show themselves as I examine my chosen path of healing and personal growth. But, it is these other aspects that are of particular interest with regard to the use of art in the therapeutic realm. So, future entries will begin to makes the connections between neurological dysfunction, therapeutic relationships, and art making.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

You're Depressed...Take Some Prozac and Get the Hell Out of My Office

When I went to see the conventional neurologist, I mistakenly reviewed the work I was doing with the chiropractic neurologist not thinking about the antagonistic attitudes of conventional medicine toward alternative approaches. He examined me with suspicion and sought proof of validity in working with my naturopath and chiropractic neurologist.  I felt victimized, rather than cared for.

After examining me, he found nothing of significance. He suggested that I was depressed and offered me a prescription for Prozac.  Of course I was probably a bit depressed, since I hadn't been able to function normally for almost a year. But this wasn't causing my dysfunction. Also, none of my other alternative care physicians, who had been seeing me consistently for more than a year, saw me as depressed.

So, I didn't take the Prozac offered. For one, I didn't think I needed it. For another, if I was depressed, this wasn't going to help me get out of it. 

Although he didn't specifically say it, Mr. conventional neurologist made it clear to me that I should take the Prozac and get the hell out of his office and stop wasting his time. I didn't take the Prozac, but I gladly got out of his office and never returned.