Nearing the end of trauma recovery: confidence and agency

One aspect of recovering from PTSD is not knowing when or if your trauma response will be activated again.

(Some people don’t like the word “triggered” and prefer to say “activated”. I’m using that term now to be more neutral. If a gun was involved in someone’s trauma, to say “triggered” in itself could be activating.)

I recently had an experience that really showed me how much progress I have made in trauma recovery, and I want to share it here in case you or someone you care about is struggling with PTSD recovery. It may give you/them confidence in the healing process.

But first, some background.

I’ve had an extreme stress response activated several times years after doing a lot of work on trauma recovery, which was many years after my childhood trauma.

These stress responses always seemed to happen out of the blue…as once again, the rug was pulled out from under my feet, and I lost my ground and was sent spinning, not knowing which way was up or down.

It’s pretty miserable to be flooded with stress hormones just because something happened in the present that in some way reminded me of the original trauma. The threat seems very real at the time.

However, I’d like to make it clear that each time I went into a stress response, I learned something. I wasn’t entirely helpless.

The most important learning was to check the situation out: just because my body and mind were all jacked up in response to an apparent immediate threat to my safety doesn’t mean there was an actual immediate threat to my safety.

I did some simple critical thinking. Am I safe in this very moment?

I was safe. No one was directly threatening me or my loved ones.

My perceptions played a trick on me because the original trauma was wired into my nervous system. That’s what PTSD is.

Even though I was grateful to be safe, I still had to deal with the cascade of stress chemicals.

When that happened, I tended to hole up by myself because I felt toxic and didn’t want to spread the toxicity. I did more self-nurturing than usual, taking soothing baths, skin brushing, giving myself manicures and pedicures and facials, listening to soothing music or recordings (Pema Chodron is great, also anything funny), taking naps and getting plenty of sleep, wearing soft fabrics, eating healthy, drinking endless cups of camomile tea.

I listened to guided meditations because it was so difficult to calm my monkey mind down when I tried doing my usual silent meditations.

My acupuncturist at the time said I had adrenal fatigue and recommended taking rhodiola and ginseng. After the first few times of being activated, I sought a Somatic Experiencing practitioner who helped me a lot.

My usual behavior was more go-go-go, hmmm, must be nice to have time for that stuff.

Was I addicted to stress? Did that make my stress response worse? I don’t know.

I made time to slow down and nurture myself and came to appreciate these activities when not activated.

I noticed that each time my trauma response was activated, it took less time to return to normal than before. The first time I was activated, it took three full months. The second time, about six weeks. The most recent, about a week.

And then just a few days ago, this happened:

I woke as I often do about 4 am. I laid in bed, in the dark, and my mind made its way back to a memory associated with the original trauma.

I started to feel activated. My back felt prickly and I felt agitated and a little panicky, like I need to do something! Now!

I realized I was at the beginning of a stress response. For the first time, it happened mildly and slowly enough that I was conscious of it beginning.

I did not want to go into a full-blown stress response.

I stopped thinking about the original trauma and brought my attention to my body, curled up safe in my bed, under the covers with my favorite pillow in the dark, in the present moment.

And the agitation and panic and chemical cascade just stopped. It seems like it took less than a minute to feel fully back to my safe and healthy self.

It seemed marvelous to me that I stopped being retraumatized simply by using my mind constructively.

I later told this to my colleague who’s helped me with trauma recovery bodywork, and he said I had agency.

Yes. I was not helpless, which seems to be a hallmark of traumatic experience. I could do something about it because I was conscious of the onset, able to distinguish present from past, able to direct my attention, and I knew what I wanted — safety and peace, not activation.

Also, there may have been some energetic guidance helping, but I don’t know for sure.

I do recall recently voicing what so many trauma survivors experience: How does one ever know that one has fully recovered from a trauma? How can one know there are no more flashbacks, no more activations?

I can’t know for sure, but this feels like a huge step forward in the direction of being free from reactivation.

Craniosacral therapy helps with insomnia

I’ve been giving a lot of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy sessions since returning from some advanced training at the beginning of October.

I’ve also done some trades with other Biodynamics practitioners.

I love this modality of bodywork/energywork. It seems to me to be a natural extension of both bodywork and meditation: it involves light touch, perception, stillness.

I’ve found it is especially helpful for insomnia. I’ve experienced better sleep after I receive a session, and my clients report the same, even those who have difficulty falling asleep as well as difficulty staying asleep.

It helps with both.

One thing we do know about how it works is that it has a calming effect on the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — deep in the body.

CST is thought to improve efficiency of biological processes through boosting inherent self-regulation, self-correction and self-healing.

The Cleveland Clinic

By stimulating the rest and recovery systems of the body, the subtle work of CST allows the body to re-source its powers of rehabilitation and revival.

Craniosacral Therapy Association, UK

Craniosacral therapy

Post-COVID changes: distance healing, TMJ Relief via phone and Zoom

Dearest readers, how are you doing? I hope you are well and that you are experiencing some renewal related to the decline in COVID and the onset of summer. I sure am.

Here in Austin, TX, I’m noticing more people (including myself) dining out, more stores making masks optional (but still urging the unvaccinated to wear them), and an increase in traffic as (I suppose) people who had to work from home are returning to the office or just getting out more.

COVID put an end to my plans for a trip to London and Scotland, another trip to Taos, New Mexico, and a trip to Costa Rica in 2020. I spent more time at home than I ever have as an adult — I made my Spartan trailer home more comfortable and started gardening again, using the Square Foot Gardening method.

I didn’t work from March to September 2020, when I started working one day a week, wearing masks and using an air purifier and new screening procedures.

In April 2021, once I was fully vaccinated (Pfizer), I began working two days a week and added a third day in May. The stress of the pandemic created high demand for craniosacral therapy and TMJ Relief once more people were vaccinated and felt safe coming in for sessions.

(I now require people receiving intraoral work to rinse their mouths with a 1% hydrogen peroxide solution before I work in their mouths, since both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can still unknowingly have and spread COVID, and I let my clients decide whether they or I need to be masked.)

And so here we are in June 2021, and nationally it seems we are coming out of the pandemic. I feel sorrow for those who lost someone or who suffered/are suffering from long COVID. I’m extremely grateful for the decline in cases. Seeing full faces again is sweet.

And…I need a break, and a beautiful opportunity has arisen. I am taking time away from my practice in Austin to partake of the refreshing air, the high-altitude light, the mountain-desert-river views, the small town life, and the much cooler summer of Taos, New Mexico, and environs.


I’ve applied for a New Mexico massage license but haven’t heard back yet if I meet their qualifications, which are different than Texas requirements.

I do love working, so I plan to offer distance healing sessions by phone. These sessions are hands-off energy work and don’t fall under the definition of massage therapy, so no license is needed.

I studied this modality with a master teacher, Suzanne Scurlock, last summer. It is not craniosacral therapy, but it does have some similarities, in that it helps your system release stress and strain patterns to optimize your functioning.

The way I do distance healing is dialogue-oriented — between you and me and between you and your body-mind system. Interestingly, I can feel energy in my hands like when I do hands-on work.

Several clients have had amazing results, exploring an area of their system that seems to be holding on to a previous strain and feeling it release in real time.

This type of session is especially helpful for those who could use some guidance in how to have a compassionate dialogue with your parts.

I’m also offering TMJ Relief sessions via Zoom. This has been a clinical bodywork specialty of mine for years. These sessions focus on whole body alignment, the neck, the external jaw muscles, and the internal jaw muscles.

The latter takes special training. I’ve been studying and practicing this since 2013 and taught a Zoom class last fall.

These one-on-one sessions are private, we work at your pace, and I can meet you where you are comfortable in terms of language (anatomical or layman’s language).

Sessions are 75 minutes, and it’s really fantastic if you schedule a free 30-minute TMJ Consultation via Zoom beforehand so we can go over your symptoms, history, co-factors, and primary goal.

The biggest bonus is that having someone guide you through this self-treatment teaches you skills you can use the rest of your life. Zoom also allows recording sessions so you can refer to that if needed, or schedule another session.

I will available for these sessions starting Tuesday, July 13.

If interested, please email me at wellbodymindheartspirit at gmail dot com with your phone number and a good time to call.

After the Texas freezepocalypse…

I’m working in my office one day per week (Tuesdays) and have since September. I took 6 months off because of COVID, and it’s almost 6 months since I’ve been back.

Working one day a week means that my workday is full with no gaps between appointments. This is time-efficient for me since I have a 30-minute commute each way (barring rush hour, which can take 20 minutes longer).

Although I optimize my road time by listening to relaxing music or audiobooks or podcasts, honestly, I’d rather not be in the car that much.

I’ve had one dose of the Pfizer vaccine with the second scheduled for later this month. My system should reach maximum COVID immunity on April 7, and at that time I will add another day in my office, Wednesdays. I’ll continue to add days as my time in the office fills up.

I’m seeing a lot of people coming in for craniosacral therapy. It’s so good for stress, and the pandemic and recession and political insanity have taken their tolls. You may have heard something about the polar vortex reaching Texas in mid-February, creating what’s being called “snowmageddon” and “freezepocalypse” because of the electrical grid nearly going down.

There was a lot of uncertainty with that. Even for those who came through it with little discomfort (including me), no one knew if they would lose power or how long it would be out, or if their pipes would freeze or burst, or if they would have food and water.

Temps got down to 4-8 degrees F in this area and stayed below freezing for 4-5 days. Usually if our winter temps go below freezing, it gets down to maybe 28 for a few hours. So homes aren’t built for cold. We have no snow plows. We sand icy bridges, and businesses and schools and offices close, and that’s it. “Snow day”.

So…lots of stress means lots of clients for me. I’m offering a discount now, which helps make craniosacral therapy affordable for more people. And we’re still taking full COVID precautions. And because of the downtime, I’ve been able to study in more depth both Upledger and biodynamics styles of CST.

I spent 8 days with my family during the freeze, and it was wonderful, 5 of us under the same roof, cooking, watching WandaVision (which I liked although Avengers fans had to explain the backstory to me), Servant (which I didn’t enjoy), enjoying each other’s company. One member has 4WD but not much was open. Cats, dogs, guinea pigs. Laughter.

I did miss the silence of my solitary abode, where birdsong is the soundtrack, but I was out of propane to cook with, and it was cold. My pipes froze but didn’t burst, and my electric bill will probably be enormous.

And now it’s spring, just like that, with highs ranging from 60 to 80.

We’re taking stock of the freeze damage to the plants. My Meyer lemon tree is probably a goner but I’m going to wait before doing any cutting. My spinach, collards, parsley, cilantro, carrots, onions, lettuce, and fennel made it through with frost damage, but chard and beets, snap peas, fenugreek didn’t.

The live oaks look bad but will probably recover. Palm trees, agaves, cacti, nope.

I’m doing a lot of MELT method sessions to help my body recover from a low back injury last fall when I tried to lift too much. Because some yoga poses were prohibited, I decided to give up yoga classes and to do MELT at home this year. It’s so good at helping the body to release compensatory tension patterns from injury and lack of use (being sedentary or workouts that don’t work the whole body).

I have a way to go but the pain is much less and my range of motion in all my joints has improved a lot.

Although the governor of Texas has declared Texas 100% open for business and ended the mask requirement, all the major grocery and superstores are requiring them, although how good enforcement (which usually falls to low-paid but somehow essential workers) will be remains to be seen.

Texas is something like 47th among states in getting its population vaccinated, and Houston is the only city in the nation with all 5 variants of COVID.

What? What was he thinking? Diversion from the near-crash of the electric grid and dozens of deaths and billions in damages resulting from that? Because of policies recommended during past less-serious strains on the grid but never enacted, to keep Texas attractive (cheap) to businesses? Because he appointed the members of the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT (whose board is mainly people he appointed)? Because most of the cities in Texas are Democratic — although GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression are what keeps them in power? To slap President Biden in the face after he quickly released FEMA funds to the state (in the minimal amount Abbott requested) with no questions asked?

I’m pretty sure only Republicans will be attending mask-burning parties, before they are even vaccinated. I’m pretty sure that businesses who thought Texas was a good place to do business are having second thoughts.

Time will tell, but this extreme partisanship and lack of sensible governing could sure tilt Texas blue again. I’m ready for it.

MELTing and staying hydrated to reduce pain

I posted this on my business website’s blog and then thought my wider readership on this blog (more about wellness in general) might be interested too.

Some of you have been following my posts about the work I did to recover from a sacroiliac joint injury and may find this of value.

Shall we all become as pain-free as we can?

New Self-Care for Jaw Pain course starts in February

I am a bodyworker, and one of my specialties is TMJ Relief. I help relieve jaw pain due to muscle tension. I’ve been doing this since 2013.

It has not been safe to work in people’s open mouths since March. I’m a one-woman practice without the resources of a dental office to acquire state-of-the-art air cleaners and make a large investment in PPE.

Meanwhile, the need for relief is even greater due to the stresses of COVID and the economy, working unergonomically from home, and poor sleep. People are clenching and grinding and damaging their teeth more than they did before COVID.

So…not wanting my skills to go to waste, knowing I could relieve some of the suffering, I spent the summer developing a Zoom course for people who would like to learn how to relieve their own jaw pain, offering it for the first time in the fall.

I’m offering it again in February 2020. There are 4 classes a week apart in the course. You will learn to replace the clenching habit with Relaxed Resting Mouth Position — you can accomplish this during the 4 weeks of the course with some helpful hints and daily mindfulness.

You will learn the quickest stress reduction technique available, documented by a neurobiology lab.

You will get helpful information and direction about stopping a night-time grinding habit. It’s more involved than daytime clenching and usually takes longer to eliminate, yet people have done it so we’ll model them.

You’ll learn how to work on yourself, releasing tension in both your external and internal jaw muscles.

You can learn more and sign up on my website. You can also join my email list for future announcements, join my Facebook group Word of Mouth for people seeking solutions for jaw issues, take a jaw pain quiz, schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation or a 30-minute Zoom consultation.

The class starts February 4, and the size is limited, so if this interests you, please sign up early to ensure you get in.

Not everyone has jaw pain, but nearly everyone knows someone who does suffer from it. I would be much obliged if you would share this post if you know someone who’s suffering who would at least want to know about this offering.

Antioxidants may lessen severity of COVID in older people

My email this morning contained news from Science Daily that researchers have discovered the mechanics of why COVID tends to be more severe in the elderly and people with underlying conditions.

I’m no scientist, but this was something I wondered about. I’m 67 and although I don’t consider myself elderly, I am an elder. (Humor me.)

I wondered what exactly is it about being older that makes one more vulnerable. I know lots of people my age and older who are healthy and living active lives. They don’t have underlying conditions, and apart from wrinklier skin, graying hair, and joints that are a little bit stiffer, are pretty healthy and fit.

According to this research as I understand it, it’s cellular oxidation that gives the COVID virus something to latch onto.

“Our analysis suggests that greater cellular oxidation in the elderly or those with underlying health conditions could predispose them to more vigorous infection, replication and disease,” says co-author Rajinder Dhindsa, an emeritus professor of biology at McGill University.

…According to the researchers, preventing the anchor from forming could be the key to unlocking new treatments for COVID-19. One strategy, they suggest, could be to disrupt the oxidizing environment that keeps the disulfide bonds intact. “Antioxidants could decrease the severity of COVID-19 by interfering with entry of the virus into host cells and its survival afterwards in establishing further infection,” says Professor Singh.

Source: Science Daily article

Cells produce free radicals as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result. Antioxidants can help prevent this.

It appears that over time, an excess of free radicals can do the kind of cellular damage that results in not only more severe cases of COVID, but also heart disease, cancer, stroke, arthritis, Parkinson’s, respiratory illness, and more.

How do you prevent oxidative stress? Avoiding inflammation, pollution, smoking, and too much UV exposure help.

You can also consume antioxidants from food. They are free-radical scavengers.

Antioxidant is a broad label for hundreds of substances that do the same thing: prevent or slow oxidative stress.

You’ve probably heard of some of them, like beta-carotene and lycopene. Each one does a specific thing, but all of them are plant-based, so it’s important to eat lots of fruits and veggies, especially the most colorful ones like berries, citrus, greens, beets, tomatoes, mangoes, etc.

Without knowing this, I learned that I was already doing a lot of things right.

  • I drink matcha every morning (green tea is a major antioxidant).
  • I eat lots of leafy greens.
  • I eat a small apple for a snack nearly every day.
  • I keep frozen berries on hand for smoothies.
  • I make and drink beet kvass (a fermented drink).
  • I cook with a lot of herbs and spices. I grow herbs and pick them right before cooking.

With supplements, more is not necessarily better, and some can interact with meds. You probably want to talk to a nutritionist first.

I hope that this is helpful. I hope you stay well, and if you get sick, that you recover well. If you want to know more, I found this article credible and helpful.

A delicious and simple green soup

I did a craniosacral therapy session last week on a friend whom I hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic. I went to his home since he has a massage table. We wore masks during the session with the window open.

The session was successful. He’d taken a spill on his bike, hit his head, didn’t seem too badly injured, went home…and noticed that he just didn’t feel right for a couple of weeks and called me. He felt shifts and releases throughout the session.

I sent him my Post-Concussion Self Care guidelines. If it was a concussion, it was minor, but any time the brain gets sloshed via head injury, craniosacral therapy can help.

Anyway, he’s a great cook, and he invited me to share a mid-afternoon meal of his homemade green soup outdoors on his patio. Of course I accepted!

It was so delicious, I want to make it myself.

Here’s how he described making it:
1. In a stockpot, sauté an onion in olive oil.
2. Chop 2-3 different bunches of greens and stir into onions and olive oil. Choose from chard, spinach, kale, beet greens, collards, dandelion greens, arugula, or whatever leafy greens you like or have on hand.
3. Add 1 teaspoon salt.
4. Add about 6 cups water, cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.
5. When cool enough to handle, pour into a Vitamix and blend.
6. If purée is too thick, add water to thin to desired consistency.
7. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

After heating it, he added chunks of avocado, a handful of pumpkin seeds, fresh garlic chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Oh, and bird peppers! I tried one. Too hot for me.

Yum. The amazing thing is how simple this recipe is. Of course, you could fancy it up by adding garlic, herbs, lemon juice or vinegar, and veggie or chicken stock instead of water. You could add a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream or some croutons, or grate Parmesan on top.

I’ve since made it in an Instant Pot. Even quicker! Use the pressure cooker setting for 5 minutes, then let it naturally release.

Sacroiliac joint pain returned after 3 years. Now what?

Nearly 3 years ago, I posted that my SI joint was healed. This injury was from a 1996 car wreck. I finally got the right help years later from a physical therapist who evaluated my pelvic alignment and said it was out of symmetry every way possible — tilted sideways, tilted forward, rotated more on one side than the other.

She put a Core Wrap (stretchy fabric with Velcro on the end) around my pelvis, pulling the bones together, and voila, instant stability.

None of the 3 chiropractors I’d seen, for more than a year each, had even suggested that. I’m sure not every chiropractor is like this, but it seemed to me that they wanted to keep treating me forever without fixing the problem, just providing a little relief.

If they understood that stretched out ligaments need bracing to shorten, they never let on. I had to go to massage school and take advanced classes to learn that. Rah for PTs!

I stopped wearing the Core Wrap in Dec. 2016 after 18 months of wearing it pretty much 24/7 because my pelvis finally felt stable without it. I could go for long walks, even hiking in the mountains, without pain.

The alignment still wasn’t perfect but the ligaments had tightened up from wearing the Core Wrap and I wasn’t in pain. I was able to resume doing a full yoga practice, complete with lunges and twists, backbends and splits, joyfully meeting many challenges, developing symmetry and strength, and improving my balance. My alignment improved.

Well………

In October 2020, I was house- and pet-sitting for my daughter and her wife, and I needed to move a 30-pound bag of dog food from the garage to the pantry.

It was too much weight for little old me. (I’m 5’0”.) Even though my arms and upper body are strong, I’m guessing that my pelvis may always be a weaker spot, particularly where L5 and S1 meet. The disc felt compressed. Not herniated, but compressed.

I felt a strain immediately in my low back.

Over the next few weeks, it got worse. I began to wake up with a familiar old discomfort, especially at the left SI joint, and also down the outside of my left leg. My fibula felt out of place, and my knee felt slightly unstable.

It was as if the old asymmetrical tension patterns had returned. The body has memories of the dysfunction as well as the function. My choices move me toward function. I had made a poor choice. (Next time: move the dog food bin to the garage and fill it there.)

Le sigh.

I’d discarded my well-used, stretched-out Core Wraps.

I’m going to try something new. I had some KT Tape stashed away. I went to their website to see how to tape for SI joint stability. It pulls the pelvis together in the back with extra support on the side that is problematic.

So today I’m trying that. The cotton version is supposed to last for 1-3 days. The best thing is that KT Tape doesn’t show under your clothing.

The velcro on the Core Wrap could be irritating to my skin, so I ordered a genuine sacroiliac belt.

I chose the Vriksasana Sacroiliac Belt. It has 4.3 stars from over 4,000 people, the most for any SI belt on Amazon. Their instructions say to wear it for two weeks, including while sleeping. It’s $26.

Vriksasana is tree pose in Sanskrit — one I’ve been working on to develop better balance standing on my left leg. The name is a good omen.

It looks like it would be bulky under clothing, so I will simply wear it outside my yoga pants, which have become my daily uniform. People who are curious enough to ask about it will learn something new that may help them or someone else.

Meanwhile, I am not lifting heavy things and being super careful of sleep posture and in yoga. I danced and did some gardening today, with a lot of attention to not straining anything.

Several people have found my previous posts about my SI joint healing journey because they are searching the web looking for help for their own SI joint issues. They’ve reached out.

This is why I write about it. I am a bodyworker myself, and I am fascinated by the healing journey, especially when it’s not a quick fix. I’ve had several long and meandering ones, and I know that when you find the right information or practitioner or aid, progress can be rapid. I like to help people make progress.

I’ll be back with a report before too long.

Small print: I have an affiliate account with Amazon and may receive a small percentage of sales made through clicking these links.

Take the jaw pain quiz

I created a 3-minute quiz that you can take to get a quick sort on how serious your jaw pain is, along with some possible next steps.

Click here to take the quiz.

It’s not a full-length evaluation like you would get if you came to see me in my office. But it seems that a lot of people with jaw pain don’t know how common it is — and how much jaw symptoms can vary from person to person.

Understanding the factors that contribute to jaw pain is not well-researched, but stress, posture, and habits are commonly involved.

We address these factors in my Self-Help for Jaw Pain online course, which is one option after taking the quiz.