Sleep, Insomnia, and Empathy – November 2012

Sleep, Insomnia, and Empathy – November 2012

Having a birthday this last week knocked me sideways through the sound barrier of shame.  For 5 days before and after November 6 the air around me turned intermittently into green slime, entering my pores, becoming a mist that I was breathing.  To add to the picture, it happened to be my fiftieth birthday this year, and I had blithely decided (a month before remembering that I am mortified by both birthdays and self-celebration) to have a fabulous party with delicious food and music to transport us all.  So, as time continued, I added new layers of horror, dismay, some shock and a funny delight to my shame.  And it became more and more difficult to stay in the present moment, as I was caught in a cycle of ancient, implicit, unknown and unlived experience of mortification from the past, and dread of my future party plans.

The complex layers of experience remain within us as unprocessed memory, experiences that have been incompletely lived, capable of transporting us from the present into the past at a moment’s notice (or on particular dates of the year), until our memory is met with resonant understanding, our amygdala calms in the presence of the memory, and our hippocampus gets to claim and file the past as fully lived and timestamped.  This process is a little easier when we know exactly what we are remembering, and a little more complicated when we have little to no conscious idea what the implicit field that we are reliving originally was.

The effects of living with unprocessed memory are the symptoms of PTSD: traumatic, intrusive re-experiencing; insomnia; distressing dreams; dissociation and inability to recall; emotional numbing and distance; loss of hope; extreme irritability or anger; and/or hypervigilance.

Just like practices of mindfulness, the commitment to an on-going, body-based practice of Nonviolent Communication moves us into the healing and resolution of the unknown implicit.  The naming of feelings and needs in NVC takes us closer and closer to the present moment, spiralling in towards the expansive truth of self.  Other modalities can contribute as well. One of the most important is integrating an understanding of Interpersonal Neurobiology. Other possibilities include family constellations, focusing, EMDR, and traditional psychotherapies.

As I went through my days of green slime this year, I reached out.  I received family constellations support in Canada, the women I work with in prison offered me beautiful resonance, and my empathy buddies made me laugh as my body relaxed.  My birthday party was rich with friends, delicious tastes, and the gorgeous sound of Art Resnick playing the jazz piano for us.  And even though I do not yet fully understand all of the layers of my experience of shame about my birthday, there is much that has moved and shifted, and I was able to fully enjoy the celebration.

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