What is in your healing toolkit?
From Dylan's memoir process: Brutiful Outsider Art: Creativity as a Vehicle for Metamorphosis, Catharsis, and Change.
Healing became a process of cultivating an awareness of the totality of my human experience. Following is an exhaustive list of the healing modalities that supported my recovery, as well as the books I read I found useful, and a brief overview of the key elements that provided the framework for the process.
Therapy – Jungian, Cognitive, Somatic, Talk
I’ve worked with eight different therapists and counselors. I am fortunate to have had resources for this. I feel deeply for those who do not. I feel really deeply. Presently, my care team is covered by insurance. Initially, my partner paid for everything, and invested around $6,000 in 1994-96 dollars for out of pocket therapy. He then drew a boundary and encouraged me to take responsibility for my own care, which was a loving thing to do, I see that now, and it was very good for me to take steps at not being totally dependent, but to take care of myself. The first therapist specialized in treatment of ritual abuse.
I didn’t stay with her very long. I did not want anyone who might “fish” for information in that I was keenly aware of this view of “false memory syndrome” and didn’t want anything to impact that. Things have shifted, and my sense is, researchers know a bit more, and that this notion of “false memory syndrome” is largely debunked.
Indeed, I loved working with this therapist, and her wonderful little dog Maggie, who often comforted me. Therapy became a way of trying to contain the flashbacks to sessions. I went twice a week. Initially, what would happen is as soon as I would enter her office, and sit on her couch, my different parts would tumble out and it was about me, as the host, being in complete and total shock about the stories, the sensations, the flashbacks. This worked well until she began to ask me leading questions, and given the buzz I had been hearing about false memory syndrome, I didn’t want to work with a therapist who asked leading questions. Also, in that my partner was not all that happy with her style, and he was footing the bill, he encouraged me to find someone else. I did accomplish this. This woman talked me into being interviewed for her educational pursuits, and used me as a case study for her doctoral dissertation. In hindsight, that felt really inappropriate given where I was in my recovery process – the first six months. For this project, I ordered and read her thesis. I remember receiving what she had written and being too overwhelmed to respond. At that time, it felt very far from what I had expressed in the interview. When I read her final product for this project I was shocked She made reference to my drawing and indicated that Christ figures made into women were repeated themes that were signs of the goddess. Complete B.S. I have the drawings, each and every one of them, and this is simply not true. I am grateful for the record of where I was in process, to express the positive, and see that although she changed the host’s first name, she retained the names of my alters at that time, but I was deeply saddened by how she warped my experience to serve her dissertation.
The second was a Jungian therapist, who worked very well initially, and we did some really deep work. I learned from her to trust that the universe supported my journey, and remember a
beautiful hawk showing up in her yard, and her expressing, that is the universe supporting your journey. We worked through some cover memories; memories that were really bizarre, that I did not know at that time were created by trickery and illusions. Her belief in this reality, and in my parts stories, was what I needed in the moment to process. It was at this time my spouse indicated he could no longer afford the $150 sessions, and I was intending to drop therapy, when the therapist offered to work with me on a sliding scaled. When I came back from a ritual abuse survivor conference, greatly triggered, she gave me no warning and told me she could no longer see me on a sliding scale. I was, of course, devastated, and in hindsight, a really inappropriate way to drop a client – from my perspective. With that said, I fully understand that the very best thing anyone can do is put on their own oxygen mask first and choose activity that best suits the soul – regardless of previous commitments.
There was a short stint with another therapist, that helped me individually, but when my spouse was brought in for couples counseling, the dynamic shifted, and I felt as if she was consistently siding with my spouse’s perspective. I am ashamed to admit some aspect became so angry with her that we chucked a cup of water into her face. Our relationship abruptly ended. In hindsight, I trust my parts; there was probably something about this relationship that was “unsafe” and not in the best interest of our healing trajectory. At a dance concert season this past spring I had an episode of peace making and approached her to thank her for contributing to my process. The one lingering memory is the appreciation for the aesthetic of her office – beyond that, nothing significant - simply a container to process safely. I understand now that I never bonded with either my mother or my father in the type of way babies bond with loving parents. It was a bond through pain, betrayal, with all trust broken. I had not yet learned to connect with people at this point in my life.
The third therapist I worked with was pursuing her Psyd and offered a blend of talk therapy and cognitive therapy. We managed a very large chunk of work together, although I have no recollection of what the work was, I just know it was a start at the ability to connect, and I felt affection and connection perhaps for the first time with a therapist. I have vivid memories of her riding with me in an ambulance during my one and only psychotic break and feel, as a part of this process, that it would be good to reconnect with her and gain her sense of my journey. I had a period of “forced integration” after working with her. My spouse took me to see a psychiatrist recommended by his father, and in his office full of triggering images, he boldly told me that Dissociative Identity Disorders did not exist and therefore I could not have this condition. At this phase in my process my present partner and I were separating. He made it clear that he was no longer interested in a monogamous relationship. He was also not sure he wanted to be with me the rest of his life. Both were deal breakers for me. In moving out on my own I desperately needed stability and forced myself to “integrate”, or more aptly, I put a cap on processing in order to be able to function to work full time. I continued to work with my psychiatrist and who had advised I STOP therapy, feeling as if I did not need to look at my past any more. Additionally there were three couples counselors (which I did not find very effective), two short stints with other talk therapists, and my present therapist who specializes in somatic therapy that I have worked with for 2 1⁄2 years. Each form of therapy I engaged in served what I needed in the moment. If one form of therapy isn’t working for you, switch it up! Not all matches are the best matches and it may take more than one go to find a good fit for your recovery process.
I’ve worked with three different psychiatrists. I went to see a psychiatrist early in my
recovery process, and told him that at that time, I wanted to attempt to work through my issues without medication. Eight or so years into the journey I had a stress induced psychotic break and I wound up back in his office by way of a psychiatrist who had no idea what was going on with me. Medication support became a part of my journey. Initially I accepted the Dr.’s support unquestionably and he did an excellent job of working with me and being a positive presence in my life. At one point my journey had reached an impasse, and I felt as if his view of me wasn’t accurate, and that I needed an accurate diagnosis to achieve my wholeness goals. I followed the advice of my present therapist and switched psychiatrists and received a diagnosis that felt relevant to my experience. All parts of me REALLY like this individual. Presently I no longer use pharmaceuticals. When he suggested an anti-depressant during the period where I was coming to terms with my sister’s corroboration, and the cyclical blues that came with the fall and winter, my intuition prompted me to research the use of cannabis to treat PTSD. After educating myself I decided to give it a go and it WORKED! When I discussed this with my psychiatrist he was very supportive of a more natural route and gave me a referral to a Dr. for medical marijuana. I wish I had known many years ago about the benefits of cannabis and use this in periods when I feel a drop in mood that lasts for a durations longer than a few days. It is also excellent for sleep during the times of the year when my system is a bit more agitated due to anniversaries of particular bad happenings.
Finding My Own Way
In addition to professional support from therapists and psychiatrists a huge chunk of work occurred outside the office. Generally I went to therapy once a week, and upped it to twice a week during periods of high stress. In the other times, the process of cultivating awareness continued. Here is an exhaustive list of the elements that supported the journey well.
• Enrolling in an MFA program rather than admitting myself to a psych ward, setting the intention to let art heal
• Pursuing my dreams/passions/interests
• Dance training: ballet, contemporary dance, floor barre, improvisation, composition
• Poetry and creative writing
• Deprogramming writing process – I discovered this posted somewhere on the Internet, and cannot locate the source, unfortunately. The individual suggested to keep a journal and every day, for a number of months, write the date, your name, and a positive memory. I wrote both my birth name and my current legal name. POWERFUL!
• Morning pages
• Burning old journals, sending letters to perpetrators and burning those
• Yoga - I felt as if Ashtanga yoga played a very important role in opening my body up. There was so much tension I needed a rigorous practice at that time to work through the tension, and with this, much emotional release.
• Tai Chi
• Physical therapy
• Massage therapy
• Cranial sacral therapy
• Light therapy - When I suspected that my diagnosis of bi-polar was incorrect I began to do research about how to cope with the depressive component of my condition, and observed, that my mood tended to drop in the fall. I suspected Seasonal Affective Disorder might be contributing to my condition. With my psychiatrists oversight I weaned off of anti-depressants substituting light therapy for this. I presently use cannabis for drops in mood and also for help with sleep.
• Meditation/Mindfulness - There is an ABUNDANCE of free mindfulness exercises and guided meditation out there on the Internet. I’ve benefited greatly from these resources. Bon Buddhism was particularly helpful when it came to processing the deep shame and fathomless emotional pain. It was the only thing actually that brought release. I love that this methodology encourages a nature practice!
• Ho'oponopono forgiveness meditation
• Tapping, also known as EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique – This process was particularly helpful when processing panic, terror, fear, anger, and depression. I would create playlists by topic of what I was dealing with to have them handy when I needed something in an emergency. I particularly benefited from Brad Yates free YouTube videos as well as one directed toward overcoming depression produced by tapping.com.
• Reboot Your Brain series – this was particularly helpful when attempting to re-program my mind and continues to be a favorite morning meditation. I don’t know why it worked so well for me. I found it on YouTube and also posted to the creator’s website. http://www.rebootyourbrain.com.au/
• Positive Affirmations – particularly Louis Haye’s love meditation at bedtime, as well as making my own pertinent to what I was processing in the moment, using my own voice and overlaying soundscapes that I intuitively felt would be of support. A recent series I made I simply took a video camera and pointed it out towards the ocean and read the affirmations I wanted to work on. Its wonderful to have images of kids playing with parents, dogs walking by, the sound of the waves, couples strolling hand in hand.
• Sound healing – in particular, shamanic drumming, listening to different tones to clear chakras, different tones for clearing what I sought to clear, binaural beats were VERY helpful with depressed days.
• TAT® - Tapas Accupressure Technique
• EMDR – self-administered free videos on YouTube. This was very good for the moments at work when I was triggered and ungrounded. I particularly benefited from the video with smiley faces posted by Jerry Bacik. https://youtu.be/rcxVud2XZw0
• Grounding items – very good for moments at work when I was triggered. Special rocks, bits of art, flowers, and things that smelled nice.
• Scents and sprays – lavender, various scented sprays, very well for the moments when I was triggered at work.
• Online-guided sleep hypnosis
• Online guided healing meditations
• Stress Proof Your Brain Series by Rick Hanson – excellent!
• Online support group for survivors – Ivory Garden Attending a conference for Ritual Abuse Survivors – pivotal!
• Exercise and spending time in nature.
• Art Adventures with the creative community I engage with
• Building ego strength with each small success as an artist and producer, in the work field.
• Support from the critters in my life. They are incredible healers and supporters when dealing with the effects of trauma.
Books That Were Of Support The first chunk of healing
• Shadow Dance by David Richo – got me pondering what I might have in the shadow of my psyche.
• The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – concrete creativity tools
• The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis
• Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman, MD
• Safe Passage to Healing by Chrystine Oksana – very helpful when Ritual Abuse trauma was being processed
• Feel the Fear and Do it Anyways by Susan Jeffers
• The Soul’s Code by James Hillman
The second chunk of healing
• An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison – helped me see clearly that the diagnosis of bi-polar was NOT a good match
• Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele, Onno van der Hart (Author) – still working with this book
• Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine
• Becoming Yourself, Overcoming Mind Control and Ritual Abuse by Alison Miller – I would not have been able to effectively manage processing the mind control layer without this information, in particular, tips from survivors on how they coped, what they learned.
• Ritual Abuse and Mind Control: The Manipulation of Attachment Needs Kindle Edition by Orit Badouk Epstein, Joseph Schwartz, Rachel Wingfield Schwartz
• Journal of Trauma & Dissociation: Guidelines for Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder in Adults, Third Revision, International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation
• The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker