One of the most powerful experience I’ve had as a therapist was written up in a post called Intense Pain Exposed. It’s definitely worth a read or a re-read. In a nutshell, it’s the fascinating and powerful story of a client who bought a gun to kill himself over pain he had carried for over 25 years. He had been molested as a young boy by his beloved grandfather and could no longer take the pain. An inner voice told him to try therapy… one more time. He returned the gun, came to see me, and we had great success as he learned how to go there and feel and release the pain. From my vantage point, it was quite a wild ride. His body was shaking, sweating, and crying, and then it just settled down after a few minutes. Sadness remained. He knew that this was probably not the end of it, but he knew the technique and he knew that I was always there to help. And he knew that a major amount of this pain was no longer in his body.
Due to life circumstances, he was no longer coming in regularly. We’d check in over the phone from time to time, but a decent gap had passed. When I talked to him next, I learned that he had been having major vomiting fits that would land him in the emergency room. This is called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. I wish he had told me when this first started! That’s fine, though – we can’t question timing. I suspected that the cause was pain that was still there, so we had some more work to do. I had also synchronistically met an emergency room nurse around this time, and our conversation had stumbled upon… cyclic vomiting syndrome and sexual abuse! The things nurses and therapists talk about… She had once worked in a setting in which she wasn’t always in a rush, so she actually talked to many of her patients (sounds like the story of a young Elisabeth Kübler-Ross). Some folks were “frequent flyers” as they call them, so she got to know their stories. She noticed a common thread of sexual abuse among the folks with cyclic vomiting syndrome. This fit my client’s story like a glove…
I told my client this theory over the phone, and we agreed that it was time for another session. When he came in, we went right back into the fire. In the safety of my office and that super comfortable chair, he closed his eyes and he remembered. He went there. And he felt. And he released. His body was rocked every bit as intensely as the first time, if not a bit more. It took slightly longer for his body to calm down this time, but not much longer. It definitely didn’t last even ten minutes. I just kept encouraging him by saying, “Breath and feel. You’re doing great. Just breathe and feel. Let it go. It’s been held in long enough. Let it go. Just breathe.”
After his body had calmed down and the bulk of that pain had been released, our work was done for the day. I really wanted him to lick this and stay out of the hospital, though, so I made sure he would stay in touch and would continue to do this at home as needed or else come see me. I preferred that he come in, by the way, but he didn’t have a car and had difficulty getting to the office. There was nothing I could do about that… Anyway, he stuck to the plan and we were in touch as needed, and I can report that the vomiting seems to be totally gone. No more hospital visits. A good bit of time has passed, too, so things are looking pretty good. But he knows how it works – if there’s more pain there, then we know what to do. It looks like most of it has been released, though.
A quick note about staying out of the hospital, and I’ll try not to be too “ranty”… There are obvious reasons for this, like not getting into massive debt. I’m not a huge fan of our healthcare system, which really isn’t all that great. Just look at the world rankings. And don’t get me started on insurance companies… Here’s another angle, though. When a person goes to the emergency room a bunch and they run a bunch of tests and don’t find anything wrong, that person could end up in the psychiatric unit for an evaluation. If it’s determined that the person has “somatic issues,” which basically means that it’s all in their head, then the next stop might be a psychiatric hospital. I’ve worked in one of these places, so I’ve seen it firsthand. Get ready to be drugged until you’re a zombie, while a treatment team determines what’s wrong with you and how long it will be until you can leave. Yes, the doors are locked. Your life is on hold. And it’s not a pretty place. It’s actually just what some people need, but certainly not this particular client I’m talking about.
I didn’t want this to happen to him, even if there were only a slim chance of it happening. Don’t get me wrong – the people at the emergency room are definitely not looking to do this to everyone who walks in! They’re just doing their job as best they can, as well as according to their training. I know several people who work in the ER, and they’re awesome, special, amazing people. Amazing. It’s happened before, though, so I didn’t want to play games. The problem was simple – he was holding a huge amount of emotion from an awful experience of sexual abuse as a child. And the solution was simple – he had to release this emotion. This solution doesn’t involve a lockdown psych unit or heavy duty meds. It doesn’t involve temporarily postponing his life because the system doesn’t understand. I’m really, really glad that what we’ve done has worked and he can move on. I still check in with him from time to time to make sure he’s cool. And overall he is. He can use a tuneup every now and then, but you know what? So can I! But the bulk of the work related to the sexual abuse from his childhood seems to be done. And for that I am VERY thankful.