Healing Trauma: Laura’s Retreat Story
Three men and ten women gathered for one of my spiritual retreats: “Awakening the Authentic Self.”
I had been helping Laura for two years, and we had built quite a bit of trust between us which is necessary to do deep level work. As a child, Laura witnessed and experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse. She had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and clinical depression. Anti-depressants and hospitalizations helped protect her from suicide attempts when she was in her early 20’s. While in the hospital, she was sometimes in a semi-catatonic state. Professionals wouldn’t let her die. They used injections, medications, and leather restraints. She hated all of it, so she was trying to die the only way she knew: by disassociating. That’s how great the pain was.
Laura was 37 years old. During the last two years, Laura had projected onto me and learned to take responsibility for her own thoughts and feelings. She had gone away from me, argued with me, and tested me enough times that she knew that she could trust me. She trusted my wisdom, my tenacity, my strength and my ability to connect deeply with her. I stayed with her in the middle of her pain. I was not going away and I was not going to tell her or her pain to go away. She knew it.
She was feeling safe enough to feel deeper levels of the pain now. She had good self-awareness and was pretty stable. A year and a half earlier, I was so concerned that she was becoming suicidal again that I refused to continue to work with her unless she enlisted the services of a psychiatrist. Although she intensely resisted my request, she complied because she wanted continue to work with me.
In the last few months, Laura had gained enough strength and skill that she was able to wean off the anti-depressants. Now, she thought she was prepared to cope with the whole range of her emotions.
Laura asked me to facilitate a piece of work to help her heal trauma. As we prepared, all these memories flashed through our minds. We were ready for the next step. I asked her if she wanted to work through it in the quickest time possible and she said, “Yes, as long as it is done in a loving way.”
I instructed: “OK, choose two people with whom you feel safest and ask them to sit on either side of you on the couch.”
Laura chose Tara and myself. We sat close to her, touching her body to help her feel safe. Laura’s body immediately started tensing up and her breathing grew very shallow. She’d been peeling away layers for the last two years, and she didn’t have much armoring to prevent her from feeling her emotions and sensations. She had already come a long way.
I put my hands on her arm and shoulder and instructed Tara to copy me on the other side. Her body needed to be braced so that she could feel like she was being held together because she was about to feel like she would fly apart with intense emotion. I received this information intuitively, from my prior experience of working with her, and from watching her body.
Laura began to shudder and twitch in her shoulders, neck and head. I encouraged her to let it happen, and to unwind the tension. The twitching started slowly and then increased with intensity. I knew that her body had been coping by freezing up with the stored trauma.
We are biological creatures and we have four choices when we are traumatized: freeze, fight, flee or faint. Laura’s body was frozen in fear. Although Laura has taught herself good communication skills over the years, when she felt threatened, her affect was either frozen or angry.
The rest of the group gathered around us to support us. I told them, “Pay attention. You are going to learn how to heal trauma.”
I played a CD which began in a low male resounding voice, “Commencement! Take One!” Then beautiful piano music followed. It was a song written for a graduation ceremony: “Take My Hand” on Gerald Stacy’s “In Remembrance of Love” CD. It is very moving music and I knew it would help Laura connect with her emotional, spiritual and physical heart.
Laura’s body started twisting into different positions, breaking out of the container that Tara and I were providing. She made loud deep raw guttural sounds of the pain and anguish. She ended up lying on her side, facing the back of the couch, her head tucked into the corner of the couch. It looked like she was hiding, with her arm draped over her head. Tara and I re-positioned our bodies so that I was at her head with one hand on her head and one hand on her side supporting her body. I wanted Laura’s body to feel that I was there for her. Tara was at her feet, touching her legs, again being fully present with her. Our intention was not to get the pain to go away. I invited Laura to be in absolute connection with herself even in the midst of the pain.
The sounds of anguish continued while Laura’s breathing became shorter. She started to gag because she felt like she couldn’t breathe. I kept my hands on her back, feeding energy into her lungs, connecting with the trauma in her body, and helping her stay present all the way through the fear. I intuitively tracked her body, supporting Laura to stay 100% present with whatever fear arose each moment.
About 45 minutes, the contracting, squeezing, and twitching stopped. Laura’s body opened a little and closed down again and then opened a little again. Finally, her breathing opened up, and her body began to relax. The sounds naturally subsided as her catharsis came to a close.
I sat on the couch and pulled Laura onto my lap, holding her like a mother would hold a small child. Non-verbally I reassured her of my love and my connection with her. I fed her healing energy, and reassured her that she was OK.
The CD was finishing as we sat quietly on the sofa. It was indeed a “commencement, a graduation.” Laura felt like she had gone through the eye of the needle and now felt at peace.
As Laura sat up to make connection with the group again, we saw a slight smile beginning to radiate across her face. The muscles in her face were soft and her skin was glowing. The smile grew as she sat there and radiated. She felt a deeper connection with her Self than ever before. She was amazed and proud of herself. So was the group, and so was I. It felt like diving into a black hole and coming out of a white hole. Transformation! A true celebration!
The group had paid close attention for the whole hour. Laura was their teacher, although she did not know it at the time. They each shared what they had learned from watching Laura and experiencing their own feelings. Every one of them, without exception, had a powerful moving experience. They were in touch with their own emotions in a much deeper way. They began to trust that they, too, could move into such deep levels of pain and come out the other side into peace and freedom
I told them, “You have witnessed a miracle. The courage to stay so profoundly present in the midst of anguish is a very uncommon phenomenon on the planet.
As I looked around the room, I saw faces of peace. People were solid and grounded and connected within themselves. The whole group had transformed while Laura was transforming.
I said, “The reason why you all feel so secure right now is that you felt the power of my presence and the presence of the Holy Spirit while I assisted Laura through her intense feelings. I was not scared to feel the feelings. I was confident. You felt that Laura was safe even though you were witnessing violent movements and volatile emotions.
“If Laura had been in a traditional setting with psychotherapists and psychiatrists, when they began to see her twitching, screaming and writhing with such dramatic intense emotions they would have given her an injection, or pills and put her away in a room.”
Laura started crying as she remembered the times that had happened to her. Professionals had put her in locked units in the hospital where she disassociated. But now, she was still connected to her core self and to me, and she was emotionally stable. The support of the group was immensely healing for her.
I continued: “I first learned how to do this deep healing work under the guidance of my teachers. I have done years of my own deep healing work. That’s why I am not afraid of it. The Holy Spirit directs my words and my hands. It is the Holy Spirit who is the healer, and teacher, and the Holy Spirit lives in each one of us.”
The wind blows away the clouds to uncover the sun. The sun has been there all along, shining brightly.
Dateline: October 2001, North Georgia Mountains
Copyright 2012, The Esposito Institute, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Retreat facilitator: Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor.
Bestselling book: The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert
The Esposito Institute, Inc. Counseling, Spiritual Therapy and Life Coaching
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Specialties: Marriage counseling, divorce, emotional roots of disease, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, grief, and success skills. Combining intuition and evidence-based practices, Benita gets to the bottom line to help clients create flourishing personal and professional lives. Psychotherapy is available in Blairsville and Atlanta. Life coaching for high achievers is available worldwide via telephone and video-conference. Spiritual counseling and hands-on-healing is conducted at retreats. Benita A. Esposito, MA is an ordained minister with AIWP.