I spent so much of my early life without much touch and craving it badly, that I usually enjoy even the touch that happens in haircuts, eyebrow waxing, physical therapy, etc. And massage, of course, is wonderful.
I’ve started seeing a massage therapist. I can’t really afford it, but my body needs something, so I’m giving it a shot. Today was my second session.
I lie down on the table, unders only and a sheet over me, and she starts touching me. Massaging my arm, loosening my pec muscles, moving my shoulder and neck to get more mobility through the joints.
And I panic. This lay back, relax, surrender, let someone else drive for a while that I usually find to be such a relief–whether it’s a haircut, a massage, or kinky sex–is, today, incredibly frightening. I lie still. I try to relax into it the same way I relax into the more painful parts of the massage. But I am fear, fear, fear.
Eventually she moves to the other side. She’s said many interesting things during the session, about how to use the body – trying to find movement and flexibility rather than one correct position, trying to relax the body without collapsing it, trying to support it without being rigid. Important, difficult concepts applied to the physical or the emotional.
I’m telling her about anxiety. Not the fear in that moment, but anxiety in general. Asking about what she thinks about anxiety and muscle tension–whether the anxiety obviates this kind of work, or whether there is a feedback loop of loosening the muscles that helps relax the nervous system, too. She says no to the former and yes to the later, though that would, naturally, be her bent.
And we’re talking about meditation. About when I have or haven’t found it helpful, how difficult it is in the worst moments, and she says she’s seen that moving meditation–walking meditation, yoga or tai chi done meditatively–can be helpful for people in anxiety when stillness doesn’t work. She suggests even just pressing my feet into the floor, my knees against the underside of a table, my body against a wall.
I don’t know if any of this will work, but I’m open. As I’ve written before, my anxiety is so somatic that it’s not cognitive tricks or fixes that I need. I’ve done much of that work. It’s something else–maybe experiences of being safe, experiences of connection, experiences of relief. Those things that teach the nervous system, experientially, something new. And, ways to relax the mind and body, and release tension. And, I’m an experimentalist. It’s my job. It’s the approach that’s gotten me this far in recovery. I’ll try it.
She begins talking about feeling the body as a container. As a boundary. I didn’t know what she meant–I still don’t–but at this point I can’t keep it together anymore. Something about that touches me somewhere tender. I start crying on the table.
She asks what’s happening. I tell her.
She takes her hands off me. Says she’s going to back up from the table a bit. Asks how that feels. It helps. She backs up more. It helps. Should I go even farther she asks? I say no. I am breathing a little easier now. I reassure her, twice, that it has nothing to do with her. She gets that.
This is outside the scope of what you came for, she says, but not outside of the scope of what I do.
She talks me through it a bit. Asks me how it feels in my body. What the response feels like, and the fear. I’m not sure they’re separate. She asks me what I want to do. Curl up in a ball and hide, I tell her.
You can if you want to, she says.
I say, no. It might be too vulnerable, she says. I say, no. Explain that if I did that every time I had the urge to–my image here is of a clamshell slamming shut–I would do it all the time. I would close into that death that Jack talks about.
I don’t explain that this is a superpower of mine. And, of course, a liability, too. That I stay with it. That I stay open.
She starts to explain something to me–about having the reaction, and bracing in response to it. About trying to let the reaction happen a little, in pieces. To curl up just a bit. To see that it won’t last forever. This makes sense–I used to run from my emotions, fearing they would last forever if I let myself really go into them, and the opposite seems to be true–though I don’t believe her yet.
I’m tired and raw. A bit dazed, still. And I’m scared for myself–where am I right now that such safe touch is triggering?