I used to be the fastest person on the planet, as a kid I ran fast, as a dancer I danced fast-quick-electric. I talked so fast my words would run into each other tumbling over one another to make a pyramid rather than a sentence. I was hard to understand and quicker at avoiding feeling hurt by the lack of understanding.
My thoughts and comprehension were like lightning so the lack of being understood was especially grievous. I buried it in silence.
I learned through voice classes to slow down and to take hold. I studied with a world-renowned opera singer who had suffered a stroke that left him in a wheel chair with a weak rasp. He taught me with my fingers dancing on the palm of his hand to breathe and expand into my lower register and into the rhythm of mutual communication.
I was someone who had missed the parlance of infancy, the slow going back-and-forth of eyes and ears and heart that occurs between mother and child. I had learned from my mother the breath patterns of anxiety and the early orphan trauma that left her preoccupied with her own thoughts and personal expression. The early trauma breath and speaking patterns are like a somersault of words and air where no inhale nor exhale completes itself. It’s a run-on sentence of the mind and body and is hard to comprehend if you don’t understand that you’re listening to the speakers nervous system get caught in a diaphragmatic wind howl. The diaphragm never quite rests, and so squeezes in and out without completion. And completion is everything! Completion lets both us and our listeners rest. Completion is the genesis of satisfaction. It provides perspective and the ability to regenerate. So if you want to balance your nervous system -and you do or else you’re a nervous wreck- one significant way is to look at the cycles of breath, interaction, completion and satisfaction.
I play a game with clients I learned from Myrna Martin called ‘The Protection Game’, where the family builds a fort and huddles safely with their child. A slightly scary puppet or stuffed animal comes to the door masquerading as friendly, and a parent lets them in. The animal who at first acts curious, turns threatening, offering to nip toes or worse, depending on the age of the child, and the protective parent pushes the offending beast out the door and shuts it firmly. The most important moment of the game comes now: the protective parent comes back to the other parent and child in the fort and hugs and kisses them saying “we are safe, we are safe” , and then they have a family dance of celebration! This is the completion cycle and resets the nervous system to be able to receive love and care after danger/excitement/threat but in a playful way. Remember my hand dancing on my voice teacher’s palm? That was a safe way for me to re-pattern my breath and voice. This parent-child-scary animal dance is another. Only this time, we add in the loving heart of the family.
My mother is now 96 years old and at the end. She was orphaned at 13 months. Do I wish we could’ve played the animal/parent/child protection game to reset our nervous systems and tease out a lion heart for our raucous relationship? You bet I do! It would have been very healing for both of us. My mother loved games and was always up for something new. She’s on her way out – heading for different kind of completion. In fact, since I first wrote this she is gone.
Both my parents lost their parents as children. From them, I learned that a life of great difficulty, need not be an impediment to healing. I believe healing is always available and quite often the first step is embodying your nervous system in a new way and discovering that it is safe to be close to others now.