This article was previously posted on Medium.com 9/6/2021*
Sunday, August 15th 2021. It has been two days since my first EMDR session. Two days since the flashback that caused immediate fear instead of anger (progress!). Two days of aftershocks and focusing on the victory of getting in touch with my emotions.
I’d spent the previous day writing about my EMDR experience, sending funny birthday messages to a friend, and practicing letting invisible light into my body to release the trauma stored tightly in my muscles. The therapist explained that over the years my body set up protections that may restrict the light’s movement. I’m supposed to pay attention to that. The light still only travels behind my head to my shoulders, but that’s progress for me. Goodbye neck knots. I’m not sure we’ve ever been apart, but I won’t miss you.
I start my morning with a body scan meditation, listening as Jon Kabat- Zinn instructs me to send energy from one hand to another (that BOGO Masterclass subscription is really paying off). There are still tight trauma muscles throughout my body, especially my ribs, so the deep breaths are a bit restricted. I just keep trying to listen to the messages my body is trying to tell me as instructed by my therapist. Remember, Jamie, you don’t have to be perfect at this. If you haven’t figured out how to send energy into your right toe, this takes practice. You’re doing fine. Ugh, my ribs! I can’t wait until my massage today!
1:50pm My daughter is lost in creative land, giggling to herself as she films and edits a video. I duck my head into her room. “Daddy’s at work until 6. Heading to my massage. I’ll be back around 3:30.”
This is my third massage attempt since I started intensive therapy for trauma and Complex PTSD last month (30 days in a partial hospitalization at a mental health facility after my emotions shut down). In the previous massage session, as he’d loosen a muscle it would tighten right back up. It’s crazy how physical trauma really is. The tightening, the involuntary muscle movement, I’ve had it my whole life. Tension headaches, nausea. I just didn’t know it was trauma.
I grew up athletic, swimming in the summer, soccer in the fall, and softball in the spring. I was running, stretching, and conditioning, but my injuries were never sports-related. I blamed my back troubles on being chesty but sprained ankles would appear overnight. When I got into my 20’s and 30’s, I started tearing tendons in my sleep. Doctors had no answers, they just told me to stretch and sent me to physical therapy.
Today, in the tiny room above a karate dojo, I place my masked face into the little hole on the massage table. My watch and phone are tucked in my purse to eliminate distraction. As I inhale the lavender oil and listen to the Yanni-like music, I’m proud of all of the work that I’ve done over the past month. Body! Guess what?! I can feel my emotions! You can relax and release! My massage guy knows I’d rather puke from temporary pain than be left with tight muscles so he digs in deep (yes, I have a massage guy. I found him 2 years ago and he is the best). Bruise me up! I’ll ice down later.)
This time when muscles are released, they stay that way. Phew! Despite yoga, stretching, and chiropractic adjustments, I have been a solid block for months. My ribs are still a little sore, but overall my investment is well spent.
I float to my car and make the 2-minute drive to my house ready to hydrate and flush out those toxins. As I pull into my driveway I slide my watch onto my wrist. Buzz! Missed call from my sister, she must have been driving. Buzz! Text from my childhood friend.
3:09pm “My Mom just let me know that your dad passed away.” Huh? My husband pulls up next to me in the driveway. What’s he doing home?
“I think my dad died,” I tell him. He nods. My sister called him when she couldn’t reach me. My Mom had been with my friends’ parents when she got the call.
Other than gratitude for my husband coming home early, I feel nothing. My cheekbones start to twitch. It’s not an actual smile, more of a Joker-like facial expression that I have no control over. It reminds me of the false smile I put on hundreds of times over the years to mask the pain. Cheekbones up so no one will know. Only this time it’s involuntary.
Should I sit, should I stand? I’m filled with adrenaline but have no real place to put it. My husband’s ready to catch whatever comes up, but there’s nothing. I guess I should tell people what happened? Yes! Assignment mode. Inform the public. Text friends, and family and put something on Facebook. But what will I say? Why is my face still twitching? Where are the tears?
My husband and I go into my daughter’s room. She’s had my dad blocked for over a year because he was harassing her. She’s usually quick to tears, but like me, when she hears the news she really doesn’t feel anything. She has her own trauma from his erratic behavior. In the coming days her grief will come out in strange ways, but for now, she’s numb.
My mind races, settling into familiar questions: What should I feel? Where’s the relief? The tears? Jamie, who are you kidding? You almost never feel emotion when it’s appropriate. Just give yourself space. Remember what your therapist said, “don’t try to figure out what it is, just feel it.”
Since starting intensive therapy last month for Complex PTSD, I’ve discovered so many horrifying things about my childhood and who my father was, that I suppose I’ve already been in a grieving process. Maybe I have grief fatigue.
Suddenly, my father’s angry voice breaks through the nothing in my mind:
“I was dying and you were getting a massage.”
Ah, even in death the familiar sentiment remains. Guilt. Whatever you’re doing is wrong if it isn’t completely focused on my needs. My muscles seize from tailbone to cranium. Thanks, trauma. I guess we’ll feel emotions another day.
Creative storyteller working through Complex PTSD one post at a time