On April 20th, I decided that I was going to try Thai Massage. The decision came about after talking to a friend about the anxiety that I feel rushing through my body for no apparent reason other than “I’m just anxious.” I told her that I understand where the anxiety comes from when I am actively doing trauma work, or when things at home are really stressful, or work is really stressful. However, in that moment, none of those things were going on. Yet I couldn’t get my body to quit being anxious. It had gotten to the point of feeling like I needed to cut in order to make the anxiety go away. She recommended I set up an appointment for a Thai Massage with one of my yoga instructors. I started looking into it and decided that yes, perhaps this could be beneficial.
Well, seven and a half weeks later, I finally went through with my very first Thai Massage!
The process leading up to it looked like a lot of conversations with my therapist and my yoga instructor. My therapist thought it would be good for me to tell my yoga instructor some basics about my trauma and my history. While as awkward as it was for me to share even the basics, I also felt it necessary. I think anytime there is potential for someone to play a huge role in my healing process, I think it’s important for them to know what I am healing from. While they may not necessarily have to know, I think it is courteous to let them know. If the roles were reversed, I would want to know.
My day started with anxiety as I was abruptly awaken by a dream that turned into a nightmare. Trauma stuff is on the surface again. The anxiety consumed me this morning as I tried to get my paperwork together for the bankruptcy attorney. And then it was time to go.
As I drove to the studio, my heart raced. I recounted several traumatic experiences. Nothing that happens today will be worse than that, I reminded myself. It’s going to be ok. I’m going to be ok. I am safe. She will not torment me. It’s ok.
I arrived a few minutes early, because I am early to everything. I got out one of my journals and opened it up to a random page. Deep breaths. It was the letter I had written to my younger self last Fall. The letter where I tell that little girl that what happened is not her fault; that she is so very brave; and even though she doesn’t feel it, she is loved. I am courageous; I am safe; I am loved. I repeated the words several times, closed the journal, and got out of the car. My yoga instructor was walking over to greet me.
When we got into the studio, I tried not to have that “wounded puppy look” that my shrink says I get when I’m anxious. The yoga instructor and I talked briefly about the process of Thai Massage, my intention for the process, and (ironically) how nothing that happens today will be worse than what I’ve already been through. Ok. I’m ready.
She started with my feet. She massaged them gently and I could tell that each touch had an intention, and each movement was made with so much care. And then it started….the PTSD symptoms. The feet that she’s touching… those feet are the same feet that run through the woods, trying not to be caught. Those feet that she is so graciously taking care of right now have been fueled by so much fear in the past. I could see the girl, running through the woods; breathing is heavy; fear overtakes; leaves beneath her hands. Make it stop. The tears came. The way that my body was treated on that day is so very different than the way that my body is being treated in this moment, I thought.
As she worked her way up to my calves, I felt more memories surfacing. We’re pretending to be Indians. This is what the Indians do. The leaves crunch. His hands on my thighs. Please make him stop.
And then it was gone. As her fingers danced along my legs, I felt the memories surface and drift away. It would be several minutes before another memory would surface, and just like the one before it, after a few moments, it would vanish. The tears came with the relief of not feeling stuck in the memories. There was a time when this wasn’t possible, I thought; When I would be stuck in the memory for minutes, hours, or days. I have grown so much since then.
In my preparation for this session, I realized that the instructor would be spending a decent amount of time massaging my arms at close range. Depending on the lighting, you can see a lot of my scars on my left arm from the 14 years that I spent cutting myself. I gave her a heads up about this earlier in the week and tried to remind myself that it was ok if she touched them. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember when my scars were touched during savasana in a yoga class. If not, here’s the post. The same teacher who touched them that day would be touching them again today.
When she moved to my left arm, I felt the tension radiating through my body. She held my hand… I’m pretty sure this is just some Thai Massage thing, but in that moment, all I could think was I’m ok. She’s supporting me. I’m safe. I’m not alone. With my arm exposed and her hands pressing gently into my scars, I saw the images of a razor blade pressing into my arm. I saw the 17-year-old me, laying on my bedroom floor with more than 50 crimson lines zigzagging across my pale skin. And the tears came. I am so sorry. The shame wins every time here. I am so, so sorry. I know I should have handled it differently. As she continued to work on my left arm, I felt the shame release. And with that release came so many more tears. My scars are a symbol of the pain that I have endured. Sharing that pain with someone else is scary; it is vulnerable, shameful, and scary. Today, I trusted someone else to take on that pain with me. That is huge. As she worked her way to my right arm, I felt the tension subside. I am ok; I am safe; I am loved.
One of my favorite parts about Thai Massage today was all of the work she did on my back and neck. I forget just how much day-to-day tension gets stored there. I forget that lugging around a 37lb three year old who “can’t walk because her knees hurt” does a number on your back (side note: her knees hurt because she rolls around on the carpet and gets rug burn). There is so much stress in my day-to-day life with my threenager, my marriage, my job, money issues….I feel all of that stress and tension trapped in my back, shoulders, and neck. Feeling that release today was truly a phenomenal sensation.
When everything was over, the instructor and I talked briefly. Of course I cried…because well that seems to be the theme in this. I had no idea I would cry this much. I know that unless you are in my body and feeling what I am feeling on a daily basis, there is no way to adequately comprehend how amazing Thai Massage was for me. As someone who has had so much anxiety and trauma trapped inside for so many years, I can tell you that even the smallest releases during Thai Massage were monumental for me. My goal was to find 5% more healing and growth in this process. Based on the physical and emotional releases that I had during this first session, I would say I vastly exceeded that number.
I know that the world does not stop being fucked up because I did one Thai Massage. I know that my trauma memories and sensations, my PTSD symptoms, won’t just magically go away and never return. And I am very much aware that my marriage is still rough and raising a threenager is still the hardest job ever. However, what I have gained is a sense of contentment, “santosha.” In those moments of release, there was a physical sense of peace that I don’t think I have ever felt before. I have learned that my body deserves to be treated the way that my yoga instructor treated it today: with compassion and kindness, and an intent for healing. I have learned that I can open up and share a little bit of my pain; I don’t have to keep it all stuck inside of me forever. And, I have learned that my body can tolerate, accept, and enjoy two hours of positive touch. All good things.
Yoga has played such a key role in my healing from severe childhood sexual abuse. Adding Thai Massage to that gives me another outlet. This afternoon, I am filled with so much gratitude for the people who have helped me through this process; gratitude for their compassion, kindness, and acceptance. I don’t want to be seen just as “the girl with PTSD.” There is so much more to who am than that. Today, I truly believed that my yoga instructor saw the PTSD, but knew that those symptoms do not fully encompass who I am. That is compassion.
I am courageous. And today, I am actively unstuck.