Tonight I had my 6th Thai Massage. I really should quit counting because I automatically calculate the amount of money I’ve invested and cringe. Self-care and healing is something I don’t like to feel guilty about, but often do. Thai Massage is a prime example of that (of course so is therapy, and yoga, and those new jeans I bought last year…).
Typically, I have utilitized Thai as a way to compliment my trauma work and find healing surrounding the severe sexual abuse I endured as a child. However, with everything going on in my marriage right now, I knew I would not be able to handle trauma work. I debated on canceling the session since I probably wouldn’t get productive trauma work out of it. However, I decided to keep it, and reached out to my instructor to let her know that I really just needed love, compassion, and self-care. I informed her of my ending marriage and chronically ill sister.
I went into the massage knowing that I wouldn’t be able to manage or prevent trauma memories due to my heightened emotional state. Instead of being anxious, I was hopeful that the massage would help me relax some. Our session started with discussion about where I am with things – particularly with my marriage. Over the past two weeks, I have learned to feel completely numb when I talk about what is happening in my life. If I allow myself to feel even the slightest bit, I break down into tears.
As my instructor started massaging my feet, memories of my wedding day took over. The hot tears ran down my cheeks as I grieved the loss of the love that I felt back then. At some point, I quit loving him like that.
When my instructor got to my legs, the song changed. The music is different today. For the past five sessions, she has played the same music. I noticed when I walked in today that it was different, but I tried not to attach a judgment or fear to that. But as I laid on the mat with my legs being massaged, the sound of the windchimes, which could be heard faintly in the background of the song, screamed in my head. I am six years old and it’s the very first time he hurt me like that. We’re little and he wants to play doctor. We’re on the porch and the windchimes clang together. It’s a defining moment in my life. I watch him hurt me and I don’t stop it. I don’t yell or cry. I don’t tell anyone. I allowed it to happen. And because of that, it continued to happen for 5 more years. Despite all of my work, when that memory comes up, the guilt defines me. I am bad.
Only one other trauma memory came up for me, and it didn’t linger long. As my instructor pressed into my thighs, I felt myself become little again. I could see my younger self in the woods. The first time he had sex with me. I’m 9 now. His hands on my legs and he’s so heavy. Everything is heavy. I quickly reminded myself that I am NOT nine years old. I knew I couldn’t go there today. I knew that if I got stuck in the woods, this Thai session would not be about self-care anymore; it would be about trauma work. I needed self-care.
To prevent the dissociations and trauma memories, I talked. Typically I don’t talk much during our sessions, but today I felt like I talked nonstop. I talked about my fears surrounding leaving my husband. I talked about how hard it has been to use healthy coping skills. I talked about my daughter and ice cream. And at one point I even talked about what I want out of life. Anything to prevent the trauma memories from coming up.
When it was time for arms, I felt the anxiety take back over. I had specifically asked for her to work on my arms. When I struggle to show myself compassion, it’s usually in the form of injuring my arms in one way or another. Her work on my arms is like the holy grail of compassion. It reminds me that I am ok and I am worthy of more than the self-inflicted pain that I sometimes cause. It also teaches me how to cope differently. Earlier this week, I sat in my bathroom contemplating getting out my razor blade and cutting, but I chose to get out my essential oils and massage them into my arm instead. While it didn’t exactly take away the desire to numb my feelings, it did allow me to sit with them without self-injuring. If it weren’t for my experiences in Thai Massage, I wouldn’t have had that skill.
When my instructor massages my left arm, there are always a lot of things that arise. Today it seemed like there was more than usual. Like previous sessions, I found myself in the past, images of cuts and crimson running across my arm. The extreme fear of being alone came next. Please don’t leave me; I am not safe; don’t leave. At some point, I lost my breath. Trapped under the weight of shame. She’s touching them, I thought… The red marks stretching the width of my wrist. I had hoped they’d be gone by now, but they weren’t. I didn’t want her to know. This week, as the world became more than I could handle, I found relief by snapping a rubberband against my wrist. Most of the marks had faded, but a few remained. Today it felt like her hand stayed in that spot, gently applying pressure to the areas I had so cruelly destroyed in a desperate attempt to feel numb. At one point, as I caught myself holding my breath and lost in fear, I realized that I was clinging to her hand. This has happened in another session. I apologized, embarrassed by my lack of awareness and invasion of her personal space.
When she finished, a flood of emotions came rushing in: fear, guilt, shame, pain, exhaustion, and gratitude. Accepting the compassion that my instructor was giving me on my arms was hard. I want it, but I don’t deserve it. That internal battle was overwhelming.
I rolled into a side lying position and sobbed.
As I was curled up in a ball, in a puddle of tears, I felt my instructor gently rub my back. I am not alone. I am safe. I deserve to feel loved.
When we had finished with arms, she asked if I was ok with trying a new stretch. She had me lay flat on my belly as she worked the back of my legs and into my back. I think she hesitated because of my trauma history. For me, I have no trauma memories where I am on my belly; I was on my back or sitting up for all of those events. Therefore, even though I can’t see what’s coming, I feel safer on my belly.
While I was on my belly, she did this awesome stretch where she bent my knees, with my feet towards the sky, and pushed my shins towards my back. I loved the way this felt. It felt as if my torso was elongating. I felt a stretching sensation down my spine and the center of my belly. Coolest feeling ever.
The session ended with much-needed work on my back and neck, and finally savasana. I didn’t want to get out of savasana. I didn’t want to return to the real world, to the emotional chaos in my life. However, I felt so much gratitude for the time I took for self-care. This week, it was a necessity.
As the session ended, I wanted to know if my instructor had noticed the marks on my wrist. She had spent so much time with her hand on that place that I felt like she had to have seen it. When I brought it up though, she indicated that she had not noticed the marks. She did say that she noticed the rubberband and wondered if I was using it to “punish” myself. It’s interesting: in the ~22 years that I have self-injured through wrist banging, snapping rubber bands, digging my fingernails into my wrist, cutting, and burning, I never once viewed it as “punishment.” I always saw it as a way to numb the feelings. Ahimsa, I thought. Nonviolence. I did not do a very good job of practicing ahimsa towards myself this week. When the emotions became too strong, instead of compassion, I acted violently towards myself…. in thoughts and actions. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to treat myself with the same compassion and care that I receive during Thai Massage.
When we walked out, my instructor said, “Take care.” As I walked to my car, the words were ringing in my head. I have never given much thought to those words. Today, it was as if the meaning behind them really sunk in. Take care. What does that look like? I’m not entirely sure. I know that “taking care” is not self-injuring. It is practicing ahimsa towards myself. It is treating myself with care and compassion. It is feeling safe.
Today’s Thai session was different than any of my others. I verbalized a lot more than I’ve ever done before. My regular readers may remember how difficult this is for me. Verbalizing my thoughts to others has been a goal I have spent the last year working on. While today it was used as a distraction from trauma memories, I am still proud of my ability to do it… to talk about the things that are coming up as they come up. That’s huge for me!
These next few weeks are going to be difficult. Thai Massage gave me confidence that I can get through this difficult time without hurting myself. I am capable of using my healthy coping skills when I want to. I also got a level of empathy from my instructor that I don’t get from most people who know my situation. Today, it felt like she was on the mat with me, not just standing there giving me sympathy from a distance. I have so much gratitude for her care during the session. I deserve to feel safe. And because of my work in Thai tonight, I do…. I am safe and I am capable of keeping myself safe 💜🙏🏼