Nancy Takes a Risk
by Nancy McCrumb
I’m not one for feeling feelings in general, let alone with a room full of strangers as an audience, so to say that I was trepidatious walking into the Radical Aliveness group session would be akin to saying MMA is a bit of a contact sport. I try my best to be receptive when approaching anything that will potentially help keep my PTSD on an even and manageable keel, however a childhood where crying was weakness and you got swatted with a newspaper til you quit flinching makes it easier to just write off all alternative therapies as “hippy dippy flower child bullshit” (thanks for that colorful turn of phrase, Dad). So, it was with a somewhat open mind that I went to the community night at Radical Aliveness in Santa Monica last Saturday night.
When I walked in, the room was comfortable and open and all the others looked friendly enough that I managed to not bolt right back out the door. The group leader, Patty, was welcoming without being too in my grill and aside from being required to stick a name tag right over Supergirl’s face on my new t-shirt, it was a painless entry. I snagged a pillow and sat in the circle and managed to relax a bit. There’s just something about a room full of adults sitting on the floor like preschoolers that makes me smile and lessens the anxiety that naturally comes with blindly signing up for a group activity called Take a Risk. Patty put on some funky music and told us all to get up and move around, which broke my story time reverie. It took me a few seconds of realizing that everyone else was too busy worrying about what they were doing to notice my insecurities about not knowing the steps and then I started to dance. It only took a few seconds of motion to foster that recess feeling in me and then I moved with abandon like a six year old with cabin fever. Then there were cartwheels, oh yes, there were cartwheels. When the music died down I looked around and saw my shit eating grin mirrored back at me and it was as if the group of strangers had become co-conspirators in a great escapade. Self judgement had beed dispelled, ridiculousness embraced. The ice was broken.
Next up on the healing agenda was the hitting portion of the evening. Patty and a few returning participants pulled out these big foam blocks and old school wooden tennis rackets. She explained that in order to get grounded in our bodies and connected with our energy flow we should bend our knees, raise both hands over our head and go to town on the block with the racket. Without forgetting to breath, of course. Immediately back in my comfort zone, I gave it a try and found myself stuck in my head. The group leader saw my consternation and came to assist. I had been locking my knees, clenching my jaw and using my over analytical brain function as a coping mechanism. I knew back in high school calculous that some day all that fancy thinking would trip me up. Patty, the group leader, explained to me that often times people with emotional pain hold their bodies in a restrictive and defensive manner because we have too much energy to access and we don’t want to be “overwhelmed with ourselves”. I figured that made a decent amount of sense, as I’ve been overwhelming the hell out of others for years. Once I bent my knees and let my body line itself up more naturally I felt instantly less worried about everything. It was like a calm, happy “Twilight Zone.”
Next we sat down and Patty went around the circle, checking in with everyone. Listening to these people, who, up until this point seemed to have very little in common with little old me, talk about their fears and worries and insecurities, it dawned on me: there really is a collective consciousness in this world. We as individual people are vastly different, but we all fear fundamentally similar things. In my PTSD, I have a tendency to forget that there is anyone out there in the whole wide world besides me who knows how I feel. It was an amazingly comforting wake up call to know that just because they didn’t experience the same trauma as me, doesn’t mean they don’t understand trauma and pain and fear.
None of us really know what all the answers are and we’re all messed up somehow, but we’re absolutely not alone, and there’s comfort and power and hope in that. Something sorta clicked after that and I found myself listening to everyone’s emotions and watching them work through it and I caught myself crying. Actually shedding tears, in public, with strangers, and no one jumped up to exploit my “weakness.” This was a safe place, and the only thing it cost me to be there was time and a little letting go of some self judgement.
I realized that, through analyzation of course, that analyzing every minute detail of everything I do or say or think ever keeps me in a false state of order at the expense of my natural flow. Ah, there it is, the “hippy dippy flower child bullshit” buzzword my father had always warned me about: energy flow. Yup, I said it. I realigned my energy flow and you know what, damn if it didn’t make me feel better. Calm and centered and at peace with my lack of control. It took the panic out of the unknown situation. I realized that the control I futilely attempt to execute had actually turned the corner from coping mechanism to prison, and maybe, just maybe, by really feeling my feelings (gasp!) and working a little everyday on relinquishing my need for the iron fist of control was my get out of jail free card. It is certainly a radical notion and I feel very much alive. I’d say this is one risk definitely worth taking.
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