Beyond Language – Healing Practices that Don’t Require Telling Your Story
Beyond Language – Healing Practices that Don’t Require Telling Your Story
“The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke
The pervasive nature of sexual violence can require, for many survivors, an intentional, consistent and multi-layered practice of healing. A variety of entry points into how we address trauma allows for a more responsive and flexible approach to the changing way in which our history will continue to manifest itself in our lives, our bodies, our relationships, and even, our day to day energy and moods. Since our recovery is non-linear, full with cycles of healing and hurting, highs and lows, resilience and retreat, we need to take an expansive and holistic view of how we respond to trauma.
Regardless of the time that has passed, the visceral memories of trauma can resurface when we least expect it. Those of us who continue to grapple with its impact, whether it happened two years or two decades ago, are often encouraged to find a therapist and talk about the harm that was done to us. However, detailing the violence we survived does not necessarily address the full scope of the trauma, nor will that approach alone facilitate healing for everyone. Initially, the systems survivors might be steered towards require using words to describe the almost indescribable, before our brain and body has had a chance to even thaw from the shock. That might be in the form of having to provide the police with a chronological timeline, speaking to a counselor or minister, or telling the details to the RA that lives in your dorm whose job requirement includes making a mandatory report to campus authorities. Suddenly, our private disclosure has turned into a public statement.
These “steps” which are so common in our existing response systems can feel like an unfair burden to carry after such tremendous loss. They become another hurdle that the survivor must overcome with the hope that once they complete these very external processes, they may be afforded the space to attend to their own internal processes. Importantly, the institutional systems we often channel survivors towards are often ones where they will continue to be in a position where they do not experience a sense of control. The outcomes are simply not up to them. Even their human right to change their minds may go unmet in service of “the system” and the potential for re-traumatization is high. On the other hand, holistic healing resources after sexual violence are all about centering the survivor, and offering personalized healing techniques whose primary focus is to nurture and fortify the person from the inside out.
Repeatedly, I hear about the sense of disconnect survivors feel from their bodies, their spirits, and ultimately, from themselves on some core level after sexual violence. This separation, whether in the physiological event of freeze or the psychological state of dissociation, is an effective survival technique that can happen in an instant or may develop over a period of months or years, gradually growing like a fissure among these realms of the Self. The importance of re-establishing and emphasizing the mind, body and spirit connection after sexual violence remains undervalued in a society that funnels survivors to windowless rooms where they have to describe in detail the worst moments of their life – often to complete strangers – in the immediate aftermath of trauma. When we rely on survivors having to articulate that which transcends language in order to receive support – which can feel intimidating or unsafe to many for multiple reasons – we reduce the likelihood that they will be able to access the level of healing they deserve.
Do we truly believe that moving survivors swiftly through invasive, depersonalized processes will aid in their healing? We forget that in our own lives, sometimes lifting the details of our greatest losses to the surface can take years. It might require decades to accumulate the intellectual space and emotional distance to eventually disclose archived images, sensations and sorrows from our past. Many of us wait, consciously or unconsciously, until we sense the right connection with a trusted person. We may have even tested this person with lower stakes sharing or telling our story as if it happened to someone else. We carefully watch their responses, assessing whether or not they will be able to hold and honor this sacred reveal. Still, many people on the outside looking in oddly assume that after a life-altering, mind-body-spirit violation like sexual violence, these wounded souls would turn towards full disclosure with total strangers. The gap between our own lived experience navigating loss and our expectations for others is far too vast. Knowing the nuanced ways that trauma impacts the body, brain, memory and language, at best, our urge for their immediate testimony fails to ethically serve this population, and at worst, risks re-traumatizing them.
Sometimes telling our story can actually run counter to our healing and widen the divide between our bodies and minds, diminishing our capacity to be present with our real-time experience. This may be because it is simply too soon to recall that which our physiology is still actively digesting. It may be because the process of telling our story is not being facilitated in a way that is paced appropriately for our nervous system. For some though, they have already told the story countless times and still, the pain of sexual trauma lingers. It manifests in back pain, in immune system disorders, in the constant craving for a substance to numb a relentless spiritual ache, in decades of never sleeping through the night, in our inability to connect intimately with another person, and in repetitive, self-defeating thoughts. Perhaps, we have found a way to channel our story into public activism, advocacy and educational outreach – and yet, we still find that while it emboldens us on some level, it may simultaneously cause pervasive emotional and energetic depletion.
Where do we turn?
Increasing options for healing that do not require traveling down the dark path of narrative where words can most certainly hurt us, equips survivors with more tools to delve more safely and intentionally into their healing. Identifying ways to tolerate and transcend the sense of energetic cloudiness inside, the nightly reminders of being stalked like prey, the inability to move one’s frozen body having been overcome by our own fear coupled with the innate desire to live – creates an embodied revolution for survivors who have lost hope in their own capacity to outlive the cellular imprint of their past. The holistic healing arts usher us into the space beyond the story, past the pain and into a realm where we are so much more.
Since most survivors are not holistically supported in the nuanced process of recovery, they may seek coping mechanisms to distort their “reality” – physically, mentally or otherwise. Language alone cannot repair such injuries, it cannot accommodate enough space for the primal scream of grief that wells up inside and whose vibration could echo across miles of landscape. Isolated with the sound of our grief pulsing in our own brains, many survivors are driven to states of mind or patterns of treating their bodies that intentionally sever the body-mind-soul connection. This is how they survive. This is how we survive – temporarily. There is a complex and divine intelligence to the methods we choose to make our experience more tolerable, since coping reflects an unconscious desire to survive the kind of violence that splinters the spirit. Coping, however harmful our method of doing so may be, often feels like the only viable option to keep living. Whether its outcome is to stifle our bodies from feeling, or on the contrary, to overload our senses with feeling – it is an innate attempt to manage the seemingly unmanageable, to quell the physiological storm inside or to birth sensation when we can’t locate our own felt sense.
We might turn away from expressing all that wants to be known inside of us because we are not convinced that upon release, we will ever be able to harness or control our experience again. I have witnessed many survivors resist their own tears out of a very real worry that once they open the floodgates, they may never be able to stop. Clearly, we contain so much within, and we require many outlets and ways in which the residue of trauma can exit us on both micro and macro levels. For some survivors, the safest, most accessible way to approach healing sexual violence is by allowing it to gently and methodically trickle out of us over time, to carve out new landscapes of awareness inside us like a glacier flowing inch by inch along the valley floor. Organically slowed in its process, the glacier collects all that stands in its way. For the glacier, it is rock, sand, and other natural debris that is absorbed, adding texture and weight to its pace. For the survivor, it might be the unraveling of unresolved issues with family, the loss of a loved one, the unmet needs of our childhood, the ways we’ve harmed others, or the tremendous amounts of toxic shame we’ve carried all these years. We can apply new medicine to each old wound we discover along the way. One by one, we suture our past and we clear the path ahead with our own expanding sense of presence.
Other survivors might be drawn to a big impact release. They long to jump into the turbulent ocean of memory and attempt to navigate their own way back to shore in the darkness. In this sink or swim moment, the rush of adrenaline can jump-start a long stagnant nervous system into a full-throttle release. The collateral impact is immediate and far reaching. Everyone around us gets soaked and everything we’ve pushed beneath the surface, bubbles up before us. We are confronted by everything at once. Triage begins and at the end of the interventions, we may be exhausted, yet we may also be relieved. We survived our own story and we can now stabilize.
For all of us though, learning how we heal is an experiential process – one of constant discovery, occasional discouragement, and measured intention. There are seasons of healing and what works for us today may no longer serve us tomorrow. The mental cobwebs of trauma may have been cleared only to surface in the tissues of the body. We realize we have to change our approach, find a new point of entry, and we are back in our resilience practice again. It is indeed a practice. Whether it is opening the floodgates or a slow trickle release, and everything in between, we need more ways to let these waters move through and out of our systems.
Healing is simultaneously cyclical and unpredictable. Over time we learn to appreciate both the repetition of cycles and the potential for surprise that comes with its uncertainty. What we need, physically, mentally, energetically and spiritually, changes over time as we change. As we interact with life – our lovers and our employers, our children and our parents, our creativity and our shadows, our sexuality and our politics, our culture and our self-care practices – identifying that within us which remains constant, can be an invaluable touchstone in this lifelong process. Working with techniques and healers that assist us in uncovering this difficult to describe internal resource, this incredibly personal place of knowing that resides within, promotes sustainability on the long road of healing. It is here we witness and engage with the warmth of the constant, although subtle, embers of comfort that can only be stoked from the inside out.
Contemplating all of this – how trauma reaches into our bodies, our brains, and our spirits – I feel inspired to share some of the options for healing that reach beyond words. I have highlighted a few that I have been privileged to explore and integrate into my ongoing recovery – acupuncture, massage, yoga and art therapy. Some techniques necessitate active participation and co-creation, whereas others promote quiet receptivity and nourishment. They all require working with a trauma-informed healer that we are confident can hold this vulnerable space. All of them serve us in moving beneath language and into other expansive realms of expression, sensation and meaning-making that support holistic healing and ongoing resilience.
I am invested in articulating a wider truth about sexual violence recovery – that it is not overnight, and it might be something we negotiate for life. This is not because I want to overwhelm or intimidate survivors, but rather, I want to affirm and bring to the surface what so many of us already know to be true from our own experience. Importantly, I share because resourcing more survivors with tools, practices, rituals, healers and possibilities for resilience that are not fixed or dependent on external systems, but rather are ever-evolving and deeply personal, allows them to become their own best expert. Survivors should be treated as the authority on themselves and guide the direction of their healing and their lives. Through a simultaneously organic and intentional process they may be empowered to pave their own way, to recognize that they are unique, yet not alone, in this dynamic struggle, and be able to fully own through their post-traumatic embodiment, their powerful truth about trauma, grief, loss and recovery.
Survivors of all kinds of losses remind us that with great tenacity, timeless patience, community connection, and a fierce desire to fill with life, the void that has been left by loss, we can accommodate the impact of our tragedies alongside the treasures of our victories. Feeling into that which words alone cannot measure – we glimpse the self beyond the self, the immeasurable breadth of who we are, and the knowing in us that is at peace with the unknown, as it seeps right now – into our cells, into our dreams and into our laughter. If we can be bold and travel directly towards our own source, this kind of embodied wisdom will enliven the ongoing transformation available in the fabric of our everyday life.
Acupuncture – About 6 weeks after my rape I met with an acupuncturist for the first time. I was unsure of what this healing tradition involved and felt very nervous to disclose what had happened to me. Fortunately, she didn’t need to know the details of the event which I had already spent weeks having to describe time and time again to law enforcement. This came as a huge relief. The experience of acupuncture surprised me – the room was warm and soothing, the insertion of the needles was minimally felt, the ambient music helped to guide my thoughts towards relaxation and I was able to simply receive the treatment without effort. I was drawn into a deeply meditative state that felt nourishing after weeks without any true rest.
Acupuncture addressed a variety of post-traumatic stress symptoms, including my chronic nightmares, irregular and painful menstrual cycle, hormonal imbalance, appetite disruption, depression, anger, heightened startle response, immune system depletion, and on a more subtle level, began to ease the intensity of immeasurable grief. Years later, this technique continues to serve me.
Most significant for me was the treatment my practitioner did to specifically clear the residual energy of my perpetrator from my body. While I did not fully understand how this would occur, I was intrigued by the intention of this treatment and felt a whole-being “Yes!” when she suggested this option. I had felt for some time that I wasn’t able to be fully present within my own shape, that I couldn’t take up all the space, that there was a hanging on of energy that was heavy, dark, and did not feel like mine. She was the first person to validate a phenomena that I, despite feeling it, could barely describe. This specific treatment session created a huge sense of opening for me mentally and physically – without needing to intellectualize what happened. Also, this option was available to me without needing to tell her about anything about this person or the specific ways in which he had abused my body. I could believe, based on the feeling inside my own shape and a renewed sense of lightness, that his presence had been removed and that he would no longer interfere with my healing.
This established a firm belief that I had to center myself in my own healing. I couldn’t rely on external systems or processes related to evidence collection, sensing the apprehension of another police officer, or colliding intellectually with a clinician trained with a formula to diagnose me before even listening to me. These processes and many of the people that delivered them had failed me. They were all out of my control. As well, none of them, with their formulas, their “professionalism” and protocol could truly address the fact that the wound was still throbbing and would be for some time. Early on, my journey would shift to identifying the practices, spaces and people that could support the magnitude of trauma and its aftershocks, while assisting and trusting me in finding my own resilience.
There are a variety of options within the spectrum of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which includes acupuncture, acupressure, bodywork, herbs and nutritional support, moxibustion, cupping and more. For someone who is uncomfortable with needles, exploring the range of techniques within this practice can be useful as there are many ways to treat the body, mind and spirit without needles. A useful resource to learn about the variety of techniques that TCM offers can be found here at Jade Mountain Medicine’s website. Jade Mountain Medicine is a holistic TCM practice in Southern Oregon, and their co-founder, Kara Miller, is also one of our practitioners at The Breathe Network. In addition, working with an acupuncturist who is sensitive to the impacts of trauma will be able to explore with you, prior to treatment, a variety of techniques to make the session feel safer – that might be adjusting the lights, giving you a call button in your hand to alert them if something is uncomfortable, staying in the room during treatment, ensuring your choice and comfort regarding clothing vs. gown options during the session, checking in with you about the length of time you are resting with the needles, and more.
You can find other acupuncture practitioners who are affiliated with The Breathe Network here as well as read an interview with one of our practitioners, Melissa Farran, “Embodied Healing through Five-Element Acupuncture” to learn more about how this holistic technique can specifically serve survivors.
Massage – Many trauma survivors will tell you that there are parts of their body that are tense, uncomfortable and loaded with emotion when they either bring their attention to those areas or specifically stretch them. This was my experience as well. Since my rape, I have worked with 2 massage therapists, one who specifically worked on me to release areas of the body known to store emotional tension, and one who worked on me for what I perceive as the longer term, collateral impact of the specific nature of my assault. My experience of the saying “the issues are in the tissues” was perhaps never more visceral than it was during and after massage therapy.
During a recent massage, I experienced (again) the way my body has contained my trauma. My therapist had been working on me for about 45 minutes by the time she arrived at my hips. Her technique is very deep and for me, often required controlled breathing and ongoing intentionality around letting go of my grip – physical, mental and otherwise. I called upon breathing techniques I learned through my yoga practice, to ground, center and soothe myself during this hands-on inquiry into stored sensation. On this day, seemingly out of nowhere, my brain became flooded with the moment of my rape as she kneaded the flesh of my tender left hip. The image of the scene, the pressure of a weapon that was lodged against my hip to discourage an attempt to escape, and the tsunami of grief that I didn’t know one human alone could feel – all began to emerge on her table.
I was flooded with tears and the therapist checked in about how we might want to proceed. I don’t even recall how much of our check in was verbal and to what extent she communicated with me through her presence, but I felt many options were available to me. Did I need a break? Did I want her to move to another area? Might she change her approach and pressure? I asked her to continue and she modified the pressure and the technique, while I allowed the tears to keep flowing. I felt tenderness and support transmitted through her touch. Eventually, there was a sense of relief, of space, and an ability to breathe. She had begun to untangle the memory that was buried in the musculature of my hip.
I didn’t need to tell her my story. We had established trust, she affirmed that crying was a natural form of release, and she was responsive to what came up with all of that sensation. Therapeutic touch has allowed for the slow untethering of trauma knots that have gripped me for the last decade. I continue to make space and time for this practice of letting go from within while being assisted from the outside. Working with a massage therapist has allowed me to discover more freedom in my physical shape which directly contributes to decreasing the mental tension I have carried for years.
There are a variety of reasons why massage could be useful – improving circulation, enhancing immune system function, calming the nervous system, treating physical pain that may or may not have psychological roots, etc. For survivors, it could as subtle as the changed way we carry ourselves after violence which is more guarded, more collapsed, more contained and all of that may have created imbalance in our spine, pressure on internal organs, and generalized pain. For a survivor who may feel intimidated or unsure about receiving a full body massage treatment, they might explore reflexology which can work to treat a variety of systems and symptoms in the body, but focuses on the feet, hands and ears. CranioSacral Therapy is another gentle and powerful way of receiving body work and does not require a lot of physical contact nor removing any clothes. As well, chiropractic work can treat very similar issues and contrary to popular belief, chiropractors offer soft tissue work in addition to spinal manipulation. I have noticed that my responses to my chiropractic treatments have been quite similar to those on the massage table when I was working with a trauma-informed chiropractor.
Massage therapists (and bodyworkers in general) who bring a trauma-informed lens to their practice will be able to identify creative ways with the survivor to establish a sense of safety, options and consent on an ongoing basis, all within the context of the treatment. See more massage therapists, CranioSacral therapists and chiropractors that are connected with The Breathe Network here.
Yoga – What happens when we bring our breath and our minds fully into the experience of our own shape? What information exists beneath the brain’s constant chatter and shallow breathing? What will surface when we slow our thoughts and deepen our breath? For me, it was a combination of grief, anger and debilitating fear that I could not protect myself. I became sensitive to the seemingly bottomless depths of those emotions within myself through yoga. Over a few thousand years, the Indian practice of yoga has delivered physical, mental, spiritual and energetic healing and balance to millions of people now reaching around the globe. It is inherently holistic in its nature, as best described by BKS Iyengar, one of the most revered teachers in the yoga lineage described in his book, Light on Yoga, “Where does the body end and the mind begin? Where does the mind end and the spirit begin? They cannot be divided as they are inter-related and but different aspects of the same all-pervading divine consciousness.” Yoga is an excellent resource for trauma healing – since trauma can impact all the systems of the human organism and because there can be a very real sense of separation during and after sexual assault.
Many survivors describe a general sense of disconnection from their body or a fear of feeling embodied after assault. Some describe sensing that on some level, they exited their physical shape during the violence. This experience is often a component of the physiological state of freeze which is a highly altered nervous system state that will emerge when their is an insurmountable threat to our life. This intelligent, although difficult to describe survival technique enables us to live through and beyond terror. However, over time this distancing from our bodies, our breath, or our sense of our spirit, may be hard to overcome and can create barriers to healing. It may be that the impetus to turn away from our bodies is the exact reason why returning is so crucial. The body holds vast resources to help us unlock the stuck places from our past, to orient us into the present moment and to animate dormant life force required to continue forward. Re-connecting with our own shape is essential, as is having myriad ways to address all the different aspects of our healing be they psychological, somatic or more subtle.
The body has its own story to tell, so how do we learn to uncover, listen and translate its message?
Importantly, through yoga we can not only heal the relationship with the body, but we being to glimpse all that we are beyond the body. While for many people, the physical practice serves as the most accessible doorway into this internal inquiry, over time (which may be months, years or decades) we begin to recognize a vastness of the self that transcends the boundaries of our shape. The day I stood on my yoga mat and could truly hear my teacher say, “recognize that you are in a body, but not my body” impacted me as profoundly as that initial phase of realizing yoga could help me to safely inhabit my body again. Coming back to the body was my first frontier. Recognizing that I was more than a body was next.
For me, I felt a measurable evolution in my recovery when I no longer clung to the identity of my body. I began to feel less protective of it and I was not so overly identified with it like I had been in the first few years after being raped. Understandably, that fierce self-protection was my act of reclamation after the most egregious breach – but it was liberating to let some of that go with time. I found myself being drawn towards something in my experience that was increasingly less tangible, yet simultaneously more spacious. This of course was made possible by over a decade of daily practice to anchor myself inside my shape through yoga and other movement practices. It was important for me to take my time to build a secure and reliable touchstone to return to when trauma’s residue would rise, which for me, was through cultivating a strong connection with my body and breath. This foundation eventually made it possible for me to risk traveling outside the comfort zone of my body, and begin to explore the unseen realm of experiences beyond the physical practice and physical plane.
With many approaches to practicing yoga available to people such as yin yoga, ashtanga yoga, vinyasa, Iyengar, restorative yoga and trauma-informed yoga, survivors can explore multiple styles of the practice to identify the pace and teacher/s that meet their unique needs, abilities and desires. Take your time when exploring the various approaches, researching teachers, seeking referrals for those who will support you exactly where you are on your journey and support your intentions for where you’d like to go with the practice. Many teachers and most studios have contact information on their websites where you can inquire about classes or teachers that may be best suited to your unique needs. There are over a twenty yoga instructors connected with The Breathe Network and you might consider visiting this page to read more about them. In addition, we have a series of blogs exploring the ways in which yoga can facilitate the transformation of trauma including, Remembrance and Reclamation through Yoga, Transcending the Trauma of Sexual Violence with Yoga, A Yogic Perspective on the Natural Intelligence of Healing and this video on trauma-informed yoga techniques.
Art Therapy – Trauma has a particular impact on time – the way our brain perceives the experience of the trauma and the way we relate to time afterwards. I can only speak to my own experience, but when I consider the details of my rape, I could turn what was less than one hour into days and days of details. My brain amazes me with the sensory perception it attuned to in the midst of my worst crisis. I remember endless aspects of the event. Not all at once, not in order, and importantly, not all at same time. Yet, the pieces of the story continue to emerge, only to later dissolve. Random images, strange coincidences, flashes of insight.
My efforts to consolidate them into a linear story proved impossible, however poetry and art provided an important entry. I could jump in at any point within the story and start where I landed. What challenged me the most after my rape was to talk about the actual acts of sexual violence themselves. Not how I was captured, not how I escaped – the even more tender details in between. This grotesque content was what I felt desperate to tell to someone who cared for me and could provide a safe and empathic space for me. Someone who would respond with emotion and actually go there with me. Not merely a stranger in a uniform who would maintain a blank expression with their head towards the paper as they wrote the verbs, adjectives and nouns I never imagined would be part of the narrative of my life. The way my story happened was the kind you see on the screen, you read this in fictional novels. I didn’t believe it happened like this in real life, until it was me and the thin line between gratuitous fantasy and embodied reality was broken forever.
As someone who enjoyed drawing and writing as a hobby, my therapist encouraged me to consider these outlets as a resource during this impossible time of trying to make sense of the nonsensical. An incredible breakthrough in my relationship and understanding of what my body, my mind and my spirit had survived came when I began drawing with watercolor pencils. Not only did many intense images come through me, quite intuitively, I was able to use the art to guide me safely into the work of talking about some of the core emotions and beliefs that were catalyzed by the violence. I brought my art to therapy, I created art during therapy, and over time, I realized that the sequence of the art I was making paralleled the various stages and patterns within my healing. From the initial shock evidenced in a body falling through the sky, to extensive religious symbolism as questions of karma, sin, God and forgiveness began to surface, to bottomless grief represented through the constant features of rivers, oceans, lakes and tears, to the wrestling with my own internal demons in the image of a shadow of a body holding an injured starfish and a lightning rod in opposite hands, and eventually, to connection and empowerment through a forward facing body, nestled safely alongside an acoustic guitar and encircled in part by a technicolor heart.
I could track my journey through art, I could uncover the unconscious struggles my spirit faced that required new vocabulary and in many ways, the reshaping of an identity. All of this was processed, expressed and made both meaningful by putting my experience on paper. It required no artistic skill and there was no need to be linear or literal. The process of making art both supported my disorganized mind and nurtured the slow, organic repair of my psyche that was possible with the scaffold of an excellent trauma therapist. I still create art on my own, as a way to stay connected to my experience and to continue tracking the various phases of healing as they are revealed to me on paper. Using art for trauma healing resources a survivor with tools for sustainable and accessible self-care and provides a purposeful mirror to bear witness to that which cannot always be translated into words.
If you are interested in how art therapy can support healing, I invite you to listen to this recording facilitated by one of our practitioners, Art Therapist, Kristina Vogt. Kristina practices at Live Oak in Chicago and in this 30 minute presentation, she explains the history of art therapy, a variety of approaches for how it is introduced in the therapeutic context and the benefits it has for releasing and integrating trauma. Art therapists have a training that is similar to that of psychotherapists, yet their training focuses upon their passion and skill at integrating creative expression within the sessions to enhance healing. Art therapy is a growing field and more and more sexual assault response centers and spaces are offering art therapy support groups. Learn more about the myriad ways therapists are integrating art and recreational therapy into their work in this interview with Lara Veon, “Healing After Sexual Violence with Body-Inclusive and Trauma-Sensitive Therapies.” If you are interested in sharing art that you have created related to your healing journey, you might consider exploring one of our practitioners, Ryann Summers‘ community art project “Healing is an Art“. Ryann created this space where survivors can contribute poetry, drawings, paintings and more celebrating the creative healing process of trauma survivors.
This list is clearly not exhaustive, but rather a brief introduction into alternative forms of healing that invite the body, mind and spirit to participate in the process in new ways. While exploring non-verbal healing techniques have been pivotal for my healing, traditional psychotherapy has also been an essential component. It was within the safe environment of my brilliant therapist whose body-mind-spirit inclusive approach to psychotherapy allowed me to derive meaning from my story and that level of integration continues to strengthen me. It was necessary for me to have the space of a nurturing and non-judgmental container where I could identify and name the complexities of my experience and also, be free to tell my story without filters. There was nothing I needed to hold onto or hide from in that setting. Fully expressing myself, in a relational manner that the psycho-therapeutic space provides, has given me the courage and confidence to continue with my efforts to speak and write honestly, however raw at times, about sexual violence, and increasingly, about trauma resilience.
I believe that all the various ways in which we engage with the work of healing our traumas are complementary. They can each serve us in significant and subtle ways at different stages in our journey. If you have found that talk therapy feels more painful than cathartic, exploring less language-based approaches like yoga, massage or acupuncture may be for you. Alternately, perhaps you have intellectually integrated your story with a lot of therapy already, and yet, your body or spirit aches for more healing. In this case, these holistic interventions may bolster the cognitive work you have accomplished so far and usher you into a more complete experience of whole being healing. What matters most is you find a technique that speaks specifically to your experience, and that you work with a healer who can accommodate and respond to the uniqueness of you. Luckily, all of these entry points, will inherently serve all aspects of the self, as truly, the relationship of the body, mind and spirit is symbiotic and intrinsically connected. Ultimately, if you follow what feels true to you in your journey, giving yourself permission to take as much time and space as you need, your intuition will steer you in the direction of recovery – connecting you with the practitioners and the practices that magnify your own capacity to heal.
“Beyond Language – Healing Practices that Don’t Require Telling Your Story” was written by Molly Boeder Harris. Molly is the Founder and Executive Director of The Breathe Network, as well as a certified yoga instructor and a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP). You can read about Molly’s private practice in Portland, Oregon and online by visiting her practitioner page or learn about her consulting services and public speaking on her website.