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.

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.

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.

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.

New offering: Self-Help for Jaw Pain, an online course, starts soon!

Besides blogging here, I have had a private bodywork practice in Austin, Texas, USA, for years.

One area that I specialized in was relieving jaw pain. I developed a 5-session protocol (done over 4-6 weeks) that helped hundreds of people over the years. That work included working in people’s open mouths to release tension in the small, hard-to-access internal jaw muscles.

Well, COVID put an end to working in people’s open mouths in a small room, in a office suite that treats medically vulnerable people.

I thought about giving it up.

But when I thought about all I’d learned over the years about treating jaw pain, and how much pleasure I got when people felt the difference between tense jaw muscles and spacious ones, I looked for a way to continue to offer the revelation of a spacious jaw that so many patients experienced.

Plus, at this unusual time in history, stress levels are high, which translates to more clenching, grinding, tooth damage, and pain.

So I put together a 5-class course, Self-Help for Jaw Pain, that I will teach over Zoom.

The first class starts Thursday, Sept. 24, and will be a small class. A few spaces are left.

If you’re interested, please check out my business website. There are multiple options available for your participation:

  • A jaw pain quiz
  • A Facebook group for people with jaw pain (and those who treat it), Word of Mouth
  • A free phone consultation
  • Sign up for the class

Self-Help for Jaw Pain class on Zoom

Dentists are seeing more people coming in with cracked teeth during this pandemic. People are clenching and grinding because of stress.

Doing manual therapy in people’s mouths is risky at this time.

Here’s an alternative.

I’m offering an online course on Zoom, teaching people what it takes to create lasting relief from jaw pain. (Sadly, it’s rarely a quick fix — it’s more like changing habits and tension patterns.)

Anyway, if you have jaw pain and would rather not, check it out here: maryannreynolds.com.

You have better things to do than suffer.

Self-Help for Jaw Pain course coming soon

Update: The website is up for this online course: maryannreynolds.com.

~~~

It’s been a while since I posted here.

I am well. Adjusting to these strange times.

I hope you are well and adjusting too.

Current Austin stats: over 22,000 cases, 287 deaths. The number of daily positive cases has declined from over 700 in June to less than half that since late July.

Austin appears to be doing better than other large Texas cities.

I am still not doing bodywork.

That just doesn’t feel safe any more, especially given that more than half the sessions I gave included working inside the mouth.

That’s very risky in these times.

So…I’ve been working on creating an online course, Self-Help for Jaw Pain. It will be a 5-class series offered on Zoom. I hope to get going in September. ]

Courtesy webmd.com.

The coolest thing about the class is that I don’t know that it’s ever been done before: a course that teaches people with pain and tension in their jaws to work on themselves, working inside their own mouths to release tension in the never-touched but overworked internal jaw muscles.

That is often a revelation, based on my experience of having given over 500 TMJ Relief sessions and consultations since 2018. (I started doing intra-oral sessions in 2013 but switched from paper to electronic records in 2018 and haven’t sorted my records from 2013 through 2017.)

The course will also address factors that predispose people to experience jaw pain: strain patterns, stress, and habits such as clenching and grinding.

Changing these habits will keep jaw pain from progressing.

I’ve worked on so many people (who’ve paid way more than this class costs) who have lived with jaw pain for a decade or longer.

This kind of suffering is optional.

Please help spread the word.

The first class will be limited to 8 students and will be offered at a low price, so I can learn and tweak It as needed.

I will post more here when I’m a bit further along in course development.

Anyone with jaw pain who’s interested can also check out my Facebook group, Word of Mouth: Resources for Relieving Jaw Pain/Dysfunction.

The healing process: a primer

People ask me about this because I’ve worked on it and continue to work it, in my personal life and as a professional in healing arts. I’ve documented bits of my own healing processes in this blog: from a severe childhood trauma, 20-year-old injury to my sacroiliac joint, a hiatal hernia, leaky gut, and more. I guess I have a little bit of street cred.

P.S. I’m still learning.

We live in a world with broken people and broken behaviors in it, including us and the things we ourselves do. Sometimes you know you’ve healed. You’re done. Sometimes it’s more like a spiral that you revisit as you get on with your life, mature, and find the resources to heal even more deeply.

You need breaks — because healing can be intense and you need to rebalance and integrate, which happens mostly in the non-conscious and is part of the process.

Even on your deathbed, the possibility for healing exists. We are all works in progress. It is a hero’s/heroine’s journey complete with allies, mentors, obstacles, blind alleys, discoveries, expansion, adversaries, stages/gates, divine aid, a transformative learning experience every step of the way.

Healing is multifaceted. It can be physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, seemingly by itself or in any combination, or all of the above, as well as outside of these realms beyond our capacity to understand. Everything is hitched to everything else, and we don’t know what “everything” is. Two-thirds of the universe is dark energy and no one knows what it is. We live inside a huge mystery.

It’s not necessarily linear. We can use linear strategies — I want to get from Point A to Point B — and it’s always a good idea to leave room for quantum changes, because they happen. People get visited by angels, get messages in dreams, recognize signs that provide direction in mundane life, health issues spontaneously disappear. And more. Always, and more.

Healing takes skill, and you can learn to do it, from your own experiences, from experts in it (healers, therapists), from non-professional others who’ve healed themselves, from getting informed about it (please be discerning, don’t believe everything you read, and maximize what’s helpful to you — if it’s hurtful, minimize it, but denial is generally not a good strategy).

Sometimes healing doesn’t work, or it is partial. It’s not exactly something we control. We are all mortal. The body wears out eventually, no matter how well you take care of it. Accidents, epidemics, natural disasters, unhealthy people with agendas or weapons or leadership roles exist. Accepting that anything can happen, that everything living has a lifespan, gives us a deadline, so to speak, and can prompt us to do some of our finest healing work. Who do you want to be next year?

There are issues that we simply don’t yet have the knowledge to heal. We are creatures of habit, conditioned by the past, and often those habits detract from healing. Examining and releasing your dysfunctional conditioning — beliefs, habits, patterns that don’t serve — is important.

Waking up is a synonym for healing. What is your place in the universe? Who are you? Why are you here? What’s your purpose? What do you bring to the table? What do you want to bring to the table? How can you make the world a better place, one day at a time, one conversation at a time? What is real? What is delusion? How do you know?

Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life.

~ Dogen Zenji

You may think you’re alone with your suffering, but you’re actually not alone. Someone, somewhere, has gone through something very similar and come through to the other side. Seek them out, learn from them, learn from each other, share resources. Shame keeps you separate. I like Brene Brown’s work on shame.

Everyone gets wounded. Everyone is vulnerable — although, word to the wise, find people to share with who are compassionate, who can empathize. Not everyone is. Develop your compassion, including self-compassion.

There are some prerequisites: first, you need to believe that healing is possible. Beliefs are powerful. They run deep. They often run the show without your conscious awareness until you make it your business to become aware of them and question them. Is it true? Check out Byron Katie’s The Work to dive in.

Next, in order to heal, you have to allow yourself to heal. This is important, even when you are going to a healer. Yes, healers can “do stuff” to you, but you are the one who lets it work. This is a skill. Surrendering is a skill, and it has to do with allowing yourself to be open to change that’s beyond your control. , and it

This can be quite scary for some. Please recognize that needing to be in control may be exactly the thing that keeps you from healing. Healing is bigger than the you that you know, and it’s mysterious. Healing means taking risks to allow the unknown to happen, and it also means expanding into a bigger version of you that you’re not familiar with yet.

If you could heal using only what you can control, how’s that working for you? Wouldn’t you already be healed?

Finally, you already are a healer. When you get a scratch, it bleeds, scabs over, the scab falls off, and the skin has knit itself back together. Hurts and disappointments diminish over time and possibly, with perspective, may even come to be seen as blessings in disguise that called on you to grow and heal.

As long as you are alive, life wants you to heal and provides some resources. You can get familiar with and cultivate those resources.