What are Body Memories? And How to Heal Them… #PTSD #sexualassault

What are body memories?

Your body, believe it or not, remembers everything. Sounds, smells, touches, tastes. But the memory is not held in your mind, locked somewhere in the recesses of your brain. Instead, it’s held in your body, all the way down at the cellular level. Ever notice how, on a stage full of professional dancers, everyone still moves in their own way? That’s because our cells store memories – information – about our experiences, habits, sensations, everything. We are all unique and it’s in our bodies – our skin, muscles, tendons, nerves – which we actively participate through our day to day experiences; good ones and bad.

Sometimes, the memories that our body stores are not always memories that we consciously, as the survivor, remember. You may have been too young to remember. You may have blacked out. For whatever reason, you don’t know what your body knows. As Renee Fredrickson, Ph.D. says in A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse, “The traumatic and the trivial are the two kinds of information your mind represses.”

Yet, your body remembers.

Your body may tense up, protecting you. “I don’t like that,” it says. “I remember that touch, sound, smell…and I don’t want it.” However, for a survivor of sexual abuse that has overcome and healed from the abuse, you may think you’ve done all the work to be done. You’ve healed. You’ve moved on.

Yet, your body remembers.

Respect that. Respect that memory, no matter what form it comes in. The trauma wasn’t just emotional. It was experienced on a cellular level. Respect that. There’s stored memories there. Don’t turn your back on it thinking it’s crazy. Nuts. Healing comes from accepting and being, open, honest. Transparent. There’s a hurt and you need to acknowledge it. Only then, can the healing begin.

Body memories are involuntary.

Body memories can take a long time to heal, most likely because they are the last memories to be addressed. To be respected. To be listened to. I mean, really. My body remembers, at a cellular level? What is this, the Science Fiction channel? “When the body remembers the traumatic incident at a different time from when the mind remembers the incident, it can feel very crazy making,” says Discussing Dissociation’s Kathy Broady, LCSW.

Remember, memories, flashbacks, in all their forms, are our body’s way of getting our attention. If we don’t accept, honor, and deal with them, no matter how crazy they may seem or feel, they will return again and again. Why? Because you need to heal. Your body lived through the same experience. If you are dealing with body memories, your body is telling you, “It’s time we heal this. Together.”

Healing Body Memories.

Think about it this way. Your body and you, although one in the same, are two separate beings with two separate set of memories. Some intertwine, some are exactly the same. After all, you’re you! Yet, there are some areas of grey. Some aspects of your life’s experiences that your body remembers and your mind was too young to understand it, strong emotions deny it or your mind didn’t consciously experience it at all.

Therefore, you’ll have to approach this from an ‘outsider’ perspective – speak to yourself as someone somewhat separate from yourself. Like you, as a counselor or a friend, speaking to you, your body. “Okay, body,” you might say. “We need to talk.”

And you can do this anywhere, of course. You don’t have to be all zenned out, seated on a mountain top with upturned palms. Although, if that works for you, go for it. Wherever you find peace, peace that you can feel within you, that’s where you can open this conversation. You might be out hiking, inside reading a book on the couch, laying out on a beach under the sun. Wherever you find your cool, peaceful, quietness, this is where you can speak to yourself – your body.

Start by reminding yourself – your body – about the most important fact: “We survived. It’s over. It won’t happen again.” You can do this all in your head or you can say it out loud. Either way, the message will be sent. Just visualize who/what you are speaking to. Your body.

After you feel the message of, “we’ve already survived,” being accepted, tell your body, “We want to thrive now. We are in control. We want to live now, free of this trauma.” Keep sending this message to your body, all the while reaffirm that you – all of you – is okay. Only in safety, can we feel free to move on.

Now, what about when you’re actually having a body memory moment? Well, ask yourself this, are you ready to accept it? Honor it? Deal with it? If so, do this visualization-conversation with your body while you are having a body memory.

Note: You’ll have to be more forceful, yet still compassionate, to get your message through. Your body is having a flashback, living through a memory, whatever that may be. It doesn’t consciously know it’s over. That’s where you come in.

You need to talk it through the flashback – the body memory. Tell your body it’s okay. “You’re okay.” Say it out loud. “You’ve already survived this. It’s over. We are in control now. We survived.” Be stern, yet understanding. “We are going to make it. We are going to thrive!”

Be confident. Be positive. Be understanding. This is you you’re talking to, remember 🙂

So, go for it. Heal yourself. All of you. Open the conversation, the willingness to accept that, yes, your body knows something. And it needs to heal.

This article was originally published for The Survivor Manual in November 5, 2011, and has been reprinted with permission in Advances in Bereavement Magazine

Lia-Mack-400-400Lia Mack is the author of Waiting for Paint to Dry (Pen L, May 2015), one woman’s quest to reclaim inner peace, take back her life, and stumble into love… Mack has also seen her creative non-fiction writing in various publications such as The Washington Post, Nickelodeon Jr. Magazine, Advances in Bereavement Magazine and Nesting Magazine.

You can visit her online at www.LiaMack.com.

Treating Trauma from a MIND/BODY perspective

Treating trauma from a mind/body perspective is the key to unfolding the process of the traumatic effects of sexual and emotional abuse. Current research in neurobiology point to the physiological connection between how emotional affects increase arousal in the body which then in turn create physical issues like chronic tension and other ailments like autoimmune disorders.

Since there is evidence that both mind (what we think) and body (what we feel) are in fact scientifically connected, we know that to treat trauma both mind and body must be addressed. However, even though this is true, only some are able to get this kind of treatment either because of lack of knowledge about its availability or simply because it just doesn’t exist.

That is where I come in. My mission in this lifetime is to bring this treatment to each of you in a way that you can use it to empower and heal yourself. Because there are multiple ways of peeling this onion, we need to put take each layer and go slowly. Every post I will go through some technique or application that I feel would be useful for you to do at home. To begin, I will  give you a mind/body writing exercise to to help you focus on your physical, emotional and cognitive history.  A body map in a sense that you can use to detail your bodily experience through specific times in your life. This exercise might also help you get adjusted to the present tense at the same time as giving some credit to the past even though it might be painful. Before you begin, you should know that this process will or could unleash some emotions, but please try and welcome them  as they are releasing from your system and can be addressed more easily in the present moment. One last word before we begin. In giving you any kind of therapeutic help/tips, I in no way intend to cure, treat or heal  any one person. I am not acting as your therapist nor am I advising or prescribing any treatment to anyone but merely suggesting these exercises have been helpful for numerous clientele. I am sharing these with you first hand because of Angela and her network of fierce women. I hope you understand, however if you should have or want an emotional release bodywork session or wish to contact me, I am available for appointments by phone, skype and in person in my San Francisco office during the weekdays Monday through Friday 9-5. http://www.alisonleigh.net/resume.html


NOW- to get you started on the road to recovery, we are going to begin with a body map, both physical and emotional.

“Seeing is believing but feeling, now that is exceptional. ” als

1)PHYSICAL BODY MAPPING JOURNEY™ exercise by Alison Leigh, MFT

Take out a sheet of paper and write down your “physical body journey”. This is  a chronology of your body from the very beginning of time. It includes *facts* not feelings. It also includes *objectivity* , meaning your describing a narrative of what you saw from a perspective *about* your body. Similar to your seeing your body from another perspective. In other words, you didn’t feel it, but you saw it, you observed it. “I saw my body growing, I saw my body moving faster than the boys, “i noticed my  physical appearance as (insert here). It might sound something like,  “my body came out of my mom at 7.4 lbs”. “When i was 8, i remember jumping, climbing trees and running around with my brother”. Write down your active moments, your non-active times, and everytime in between. Write down times you or another used or abused your body. “she did this to me, or he did that to me”.  Or, perhaps you were inactive but used your body to do simple things, like play board games.  It may sound like this, “I remember playing chess with my grandfather but I was not into sports much”. Remember to include physical injuries and how they made you feel plus physical victories, (do you remember getting taller?  Stronger? Sexier?). If you find this exercise too overwhelming, then just choose one year of your life or maybe even one day.  You could choose a decade or from a particular age like 13-20, or your entire 35th year. So, again, you are writing from *just* a physical bodily perspective. It would be as if your body was talking and writing the story herself.

2) After you are done, email it to me or a friend and discuss. You would be surprised how much you get out of this exercise.(askalisonleigh@gmail.com)

3) EMOTIONAL BODY MAPPING JOURNEY exercise™ by Alison Leigh, MFT

Now, I would like you to do the same here, but this time, either choose the same time period as you did earlier, or you can choose a new one. Describe in detail the emotional body feelings you had during that time. You might say something like, “I felt hopeless, I had feelings of despair”. Or you might say, “It was the first time in my life I felt love and I felt it all over my body”. Remember to note *where* in your body you felt it. People feel their feelings everywhere or sometimes in a specific place. Even, sometimes they don’t or can’t locate them. That is okay. Try anyway. If that doesn’t work, you can just say, “I felt it but didn’t know where”. In contrast, there are feelings that aren’t felt, called, “numbness”. That is where you might tend to disappear, dissociate and forget. If that happened, that is okay too. Just stay with that. Don’t try and change the past just note it. Saying what was in the past won’t hurt you now, it just names the fact as it *was* without a label. (unless you put one there) Remember while writing that often times there will be two voices speaking at once. One will be the cognitive (brain) talking. That is the one who tells the story, no matter how you feel, that is the author. Then, there is the emotional body story teller who tells the story of how it feels, instead of *what* happened. Sometimes, the two get mixed up and it’s all confusing. That is why I’m separating them here. This way, you get a fresh perspective on both ends. You will hear from your physical body as well as your cognitive mind. The cognitive mind often times does not get along with the physical body voice so often times people have challenges in that area. Your body’s words might say, “I liked what he was doing to me”, and your cognitive words  might say, “I hated what he was doing”. In anycase, just write down your feelings, and just note your thoughts about that. Should you have any questions, please let me know. Until then, enjoy your process and be open to what you might find. I believe it might help heal you.



Acupuncture for Emotional Balance

I am a survivor, and also a student of Oriental Medicine on the Big Island of Hawai’i. I used acupuncture as one of the tools in my healing, and it helped me to such a degree that I am now one year away of getting my degree in Oriental Medicine! Here is why I think that acupuncture is a great tool for helping survivors.

Sexual assault affects survivors primarily on the emotional and spiritual levels and for this reason, acupuncture, which works on these levels is a truly perfect tool for healing. Acupuncture uses the meridian system of the body. Meridians are pathways that energy travels throughout the body, connecting various organ systems and acupoints are the points we use for accessing the energy traveling along these meridians. According to Eastern thought, the organs of the body are associated with various emotions. If you’ve ever lost a pet or loved one, you can relate to feeling grief in the body as a heaviness in the chest because grief is held in the lungs. Joy is housed in the heart, anger in the liver, fear in the kidneys and worry in the spleen. When our emotions are negatively affected through rape, treating the associated organs with acupuncture or herbs can help the emotions transform to the next stage of healing.

It is not unusual for rape survivors to experience all of these emotions at some point in their healing (Joy of the heart at the end!). I for example, was stuck in fear for a long time. This exhausted my kidneys because I was in fight/flight mode for an extended time. My adrenals became depleted because I was using up too much adrenaline as a result of PTSD. An herbal formula which contained cordyceps (a Chinese herb), helped rebuild my kidney energy and my state of perpetual exhaustion lifted.

Also, I struggled with bottled up rage for many years. The Eastern explanation of this is that bottled up rage is “stagnated liver qi”. (Qi is energy) So the energy of rage was stuck in my liver, and when my acupuncturist treated me for “stuck liver qi”, my rage became much more manageable. I was able to move through this emotion to the next stage of healing. So too with grief. No rape survivor escapes this emotion. By treating lung points, healing energy moved through my lungs which were storing the grief, and my mood was lifted.

Many people are afraid of needles, but acupuncture needles are not at all like the needles that are used to give shots or take blood. Those needles have a much greater diameter because they must be able to transport fluids in and out of the body. Acupuncture needles are much thinner, almost like a human hair. They are inserted into muscle and not a vein, and are relatively painless upon insertion.

The experience of having an acupuncture treatment is that of deep relaxation. The acupuncturist will do a thorough intake interview before inserting the needles. Some of the questions may even be surprising to hear because Oriental Medicine looks at the patient holistically. Everything in your life, your diet, your dreams, even the colors you prefer may be asked in order to make up the whole picture of who you are and where the imbalances lie. The needles are inserted gently and you lay on the treatment table for 20-30 minutes in a state of deep relaxation, usually with some meditation music playing. At the end of the treatment, patients report feeling “high” but in a natural way and experience a degree of restoration of their pure self.

While acupuncture was not the only method I used in my own healing journey, it was definitely one of the tools that I am most excited about. For this reason, I am now studying Oriental Medicine and I plan to use it to help in the area of sexual abuse. My mission is to make a big loud noise about acupuncture in the healing community so that others too may experience the benefits of this wonderful healing art. I am not alone in my mission, as a student in Florida, Amy Galvan, found me online and she is using acupuncture with the same focus, treating patients referred to the school clinic from the local rape crisis center.

I have a friend who used acupuncture while going through a difficult divorce, and it helped her “walk thought hell” with more balance and dignity.

It is a good idea to have various resources in place before embarking on a period of acupuncture therapy. A relationship with a therapist or a confidante who can really be there for you while emotions are being “energetically” moved is important. As the emotional energy is moved, things get stirred up, and people often have greater insight into their lives, and it’s good to have a safe place to take this information.

The most memorable treatment for me is a point protocol (a specific selection of points), called “Clearing the Internal Dragons”. While every treatment helped, this one left me with a truly memorable experience. For years, I felt that my soul still carried a part of the rapist’s energy, and I hated that. It was a feeling of never being pure. My feeling after the treatment was that it gave me my soul back. It’s also known as “clearing possession”. That may sound hocus pocus-y to some, but the Chinese always recognized soul possession, which can easily happen in the case of sexual assault, as a cause of illness.

Here’s a link with more information about this protocol.

Remember, that your intuition is the best guide to what you need at the stage of healing that you are at. Every person is unique and everyone’s needs are different. What may be right for one person, may not be the right method for another. Acupuncture was wonderful for me and other survivors that I know, but trust your instincts and let your higher self (the inner voice that wants the best for you) be your guide. My best wishes are with all survivors (including you, dear reader) and my intention is to be a small candle flame in the dark tunnel helping those still suffering find the joy and laughter that they so very much deserve.

Krisztina Samu
Student of Oriental Medicine
On the Big Island of Hawai’i