with Bette J. Freedson, LICSW, LCSW, CGP
“Well, it’s done!” Bonnie said with a sideways glance, her eyes not quite meeting mine. A twist of her lips said, I survived, but barely.
Bonnie had come to see me shortly after A.H., her high school sweetheart and husband of more than a decade, told her he was moving out of their condo; he didn’t love her anymore. Within the throes of this shock and the stress of reordering her once familiar and stable life through a mediation process, Bonnie had been emotionally floundering.
“I didn’t lose it in the mediator’s office,” she said, recounting the ordeal. “But I’ve been crying ever since I left. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that now we are legally separated.” She settled into the soft couch across from me, and reached for the box of tissues. “This has made my back ache worse; my whole body feels like it’s in a vice. And on top of that he’s not responding to any of my texts!”
These ignored, texted-pleas for A.H.’s understanding, plus glimpses of Facebook Friends’ disclosures of his new life, challenged Bonnie’s already strained emotional shock absorbers, adding frustration to the slippery residuals of self-esteem she struggled to maintain.
A beautiful thirty-something woman, Bonnie worked in a family business, a job as a part time hairstylist broke up the routine. Despite her good looks, jet black hair, and perfectly applied make up, Bonnie worried about being overweight, suffered from chronic back pain, and struggled with lack of self-confidence.
“I can’t sleep well at my mother’s.” Her words muffled by the loud sounds of blowing her nose. “And I’m not able to get into my new apartment yet. I just don’t get this! I stood by him all the way, working so he could get his degree, and supporting him through his time in the army. I didn’t think I did anything wrong! But my father-in-law just posted a nasty comment on Facebook. He said that I did everything wrong. My mother-in-law said I should have gone on a diet and lost thirty pounds. I heard now that he’s with a skinny blonde. I did everything for him. Am I that bad?”
Sensitive and intelligent and often able to stay more centered despite the chaos of her separation, Bonnie seemed at this moment to be unavailable for the practical behavioral, cognitively sensible, and truth conveying intervention I was tempted to employ. It would have gone something like: “Despite what others say, you’re the same good person you always knew you were, Bonnie.” That act, I thought, might be as powerful as a caught trout flopping on a wooden pier. Bonnie was unlikely to spring to life with a sensible suggestion.
Rather, for this session, validating Bonnie’s grief and helping her contain the painful somatic sensations attendant with the trauma of a breaking heart seemed to be the better plan; I reflected on a first step in a recovery process as identified by Bessel van der Kolk, MD in an online review by David Clark entitled, Healing from Trauma: Owning Your Self:
“The challenge of recovery is to establish ownership of your body and your mind – of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. For most people this involves:
(1) finding a way to become calm and focused,
(2) learning to maintain that calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds, physical sensations that remind you of the past,
(3) finding a way of being fully alive in the present and engaged with the people around you,
(4) not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about the ways that you have managed to survive.”
Helping Bonnie to contain and experience, if even briefly, a felt sense of empowered authentic Self, might help shift her into a more realistic ego state where she could begin to learn skills for remaining calm in response to emotional triggers. A gentle trance might help Bonnie reconnect with strong and stable aspects of her authentic self.
Beginning with a short, clear explanation of the resources of the inner wise mind, I invited Bonnie into trance. As her eyes closed, allowing her attention to shift more deeply inside, I noticed Bonnie sink more quietly into the pillows on the back of the couch. I suggested that she might think about a time in her life when she felt fully alive, fully in touch with her strength, her beauty, and her health. I suggested to her that her cells hold these memories and that she would be able to understand, in her inner wise mind, how to keep a sense of herself in the midst of all that was happening
After a few quiet moments, Bonnie crossed her arms over her chest, her hands holding herself just below her shoulders.
“What’s happening, Bonnie.” I asked.
“I’m not remembering a certain time, just a feeling. There’s a feeling in my chest; something shifted in my body. I just realized that I lost myself when I allowed my entire life to revolve around him.”
“This awareness can be a relief that you can feel in your body.”
“Yes, my chest feels lighter and I feel some warmth coming from my hands into my heart.”
“Bonnie, If it’s okay, I’d like to ask you to absorb and anchor this warming, healing relief into your body, finding a place that can be a portal into this feeling when another trigger arises.”
“It’s in my heart.” Her hands patted gently on both sides of her chest. “In my heart I know that I can get through this.”
“Indeed you can get through this.” I affirmed. “It is in your wise intelligent mind and in the wisdom of your body that you can find your true Self again.”
With a sigh, Bonnie slowly opened her hands in her lap, as if holding the realization that has dawned in the midst of hurt. Looking at me quietly through a different set of tears, Bonnie affirmed what she now knew and smiled.“It’s okay. My body will remember how to be me.”
van der Kolk quote retrieved from http://www.recoverystories.info/healing-from-trauma-owning-your-self-by-bessel-van-der-kolk/
Bette J. Freedson, LCSW is a clinical social worker, certified group psychotherapist, and the author of Soul Mothers’ Wisdom: Seven Insights for the Single Mother. Bette’s specialties include stress management, parenting issues, recovery from trauma and the development of intuitive insight. She maintains a private practice in southern Maine with her husband, Ray Amidon, LMFT.