I used to think my jaw became dislocated. Because my bite would go so far off and I’d be in so much pain that it seemed like the only logical explanation. So I tried going to several chiropractors* — to get it put back into place. They’d manipulate it. Maneuver it. Slam down on it using their special beds. But nothing worked. Then, through one of their offices, there was a massage therapist who could not only help my jaw, but who began to assist in my body’s healing journey. One I didn’t even know I needed to take.
I’d been suffering from PTSD and chronic pain for decades, but I dissociated so often that I didn’t even realize it. I would be triggered. I'd self-harm. I'd recover. And then the cycle would repeat itself. At no point did I realize my body was screaming for help.
Then I started getting craniosacral therapy, which regulated my nervous system, stopping my cycle of constant dissociation. Ending the fight-or-flight response I'd been living in. Allowing me to live in my body long enough to connect to it. Which allowed me to feel how much pain my body has been living in. For when you are not connected to your body, you don’t feel it.
My jaw muscles clamp together so tightly that there are times I can’t move it. If I try, it snaps shut. Like the Tin Man. It moves so out of place that I develop a lisp — words slipping out of my mouth sideways as they form irregularly with my new jaw placement. My neck and shoulders get so tight that my arms fall asleep. Like they’re holding on for their lives. Probably because my body was scared for its life. And still struggles to know it’s safe.
My body's default is to be tense. Without even realizing it. And when I’m triggered, my shoulders hunch and my body clenches shut. Like a turtle, my shell comes up to protect me. My fascia stays locked into place in an attempt to keep me safe. But it has stayed there for so long that it makes me stiff. Unable to move. Frozen.
And my massage therapist helps my body release all of it.
All of the pain that sits in my body. Preventing it from moving forward. From healing. From thriving.
She releases the knots in my jaw. By putting her hand in my mouth and gripping the muscles in my cheeks until they let go. Something I have to really trust her in order to let her do. Because if you’ve suffered somatic trauma, your instinct is not to let anyone touch you.
She runs her hands up and down my arms — I still haven’t been able to let her touch my legs — and she pushes out the knots in my neck. Underneath my shoulder blades. In my fingers and my palms.
She often jokes with me that she applies harder pressure to my body than to most people she works on. Including large men. That she tells them she has an average-size, female client who can take it. So if I can, they can too.
She goes deep into my body's tissues. And she has to. For she's helping me release decades of pain.
She’s intuitive about my needs. And tells me to say the number seven if my pain is getting too high up on the pain scale. Unfortunately, but in this case, fortunately, my body can handle a lot of pain. For pain is where it has lived for decades. Those comfortable grooves I’m trying hard to climb out of. For while they may feel familiar, they are treacherous.
I’ve even been triggered while getting a massage. And have had to come back to myself. Into myself. And to let my therapist touch me again. Trust that is formed with few. That it took years to build. And that I wouldn’t trade for anything. For she helps me have body awareness. Reminds me not to live in pain. And helps me release everything my body is holding onto. No matter how deep my scars may be.
Releasing pain is oddly something I naturally resist. For some reason, it feels like my body wants to hold on to the pain. It took me a while to understand that about myself. For when you live in pain, it’s all your body knows. So it can be frightening to let go of it. As strange as that may seem.
But I'm learning to let it go. And I'm learning I have to let people help me let it go.
I’m realizing I have to focus on healing my body. To move my fascia. To unlock memories that stay frozen in my tissue — fossils to be analyzed — and to release my pain. That it has to be a priority. That, in my healing process, my body has somehow come last. But I need to put it first. For without our bodies, we cannot survive.
If you live with chronic pain, I hope you have someone you trust. To help your body release your pain. To help you heal completely. So you can truly thrive.
*I support chiropractic care in addition to all natural-healing practices.
This story originally ran on Psych Central on February 27, 2020. Since Psych Central has been sold, the link to the original is no longer available:
Cover image by tremaestro from Pixabay