It’s only fair you get to hear about me before we sit together to help smooth out your tangles. So here goes.
My Safety was in Hiding Away
I was that debilitatingly shy child who clung to my mothers’ skirt so hard that I had to be peeled off her finger by finger to go out and play. Relationships felt emotionally dangerous to me as there were so many unpredictable ways they could go. Being bullied throughout my school life, I grew to know a hollow emptiness so well. Anxiety and overwhelm left me with little confidence in myself. I developed an eating disorder in adolescence. My attempt to cope, I think by controlling those things around me that I could, like food. It came at a big cost of me abandoning my body. What I now know as Dis-embodiment. I only felt safe when alone in my bedroom, or outside swimming in the ocean with the sun warming my skin, or in the Aussie bush discovering secret trees. This was no way to live, in fact I was hardly living at all. I had to find a way to get better.
Years later, as part of my training to be a counsellor, I was hiking in tall, forested bushland with a group of wild adolescents. The group leader invited us all to share some of our stories together. He listened to me with fascination like there was no one else on earth. He observed my body carefully, noticing every twitch and tear without judgement. It guided his curiosity and lead him to the next question. He offered a level of kindness and generosity I’d never known before. This was the relationship I was yearning for. Through my vulnerability we built a deep genuine connection where I felt truly seen. He was a Gestalt Therapist.
That trek propelled me in the direction of completing my Masters in Gestalt Therapy and following up with a graduate Diploma in Sensorimotor Art Therapy. This creative form of body focused art therapy is more like martial arts with colours and shapes. It is a means of sensory self-expression through art media. A way to arrive home into your body. Importantly, you lead the way. Paying attention to your felt sense as we explore archetypal symbols and cycle through the hero’s journey together is a key to healing as it was for me.
My Body Said ‘Stop’
My focus, for the next twenty years or so was on others, as many of us do. I raised two sensational sons, worked full time, and gave to others what I didn’t allow for myself. The time to truly rest and reflect on bigger life questions and to work out what mattered to me. My body spoke. I had a stroke. Not a big one but big enough to involve a recovery process whereby I had to rely on others to drive me around to appointments and support me in my tearful bouts. It made me stop which I had never done in my fifty years! As I rested and recovered it became clear my twenty-eight year marriage was finished. I now call it my “stroke of luck,” a gift.
Finding My Truth
Dancing too, became a way of healing for me. I signed up for a Five Rhythms workshop with the incredible Kate Shela from LA. It was called “DEEP – a 5Five Rhythms Heartbeat.”
We danced for three days through the emotions of fear, anger, sadness, joy and compassion. The workshop offered “releasing emotions and dancing towards embodied peace” and it delivered. I walked out of there on Sunday and said to my friend “I’m leaving my job too!” Damn inconvenient because I had no plan. My body was guiding me to my truth, showing me the way.
A Door Opening
Everything fell into place after that, and it was nothing short of astounding. The same week I was offered a Drug & Alcohol counselling job in a hospital on the other side of Australia in the remote town of Kununurra, Western Australia. I said “yes” without thinking. Two years in that wild country with the First Nations people teaching me how to slow down and see what’s important, was a fundamental lesson. This was a land filled with extremes. Skies so clear and vast it was like sleeping in a bowl of stars as I camped out by myself. Crocodiles, snakes, wildflowers, waterfalls and new friends. Searing heat, drenching rains and beauty that soaked into my bones.
Growing into Who I am
Armed with the tools and strategies I have learnt from my adventures, combined with years of “sitting in the therapy seat, doing my work,” (as required by Gestalt therapy training and my ongoing professional development), I have become more confident knowing my voice matters and what I do has an impact. Through my own use and experience of art therapy, I can feel and know how effective the exercises are for me and I take them with confidence to my clients. It’s so simple yet profound. Trauma happens in the body. In bypassing our ‘thinking brain’ (the part that more often than not confuses us with too many stories) we arrive into our body and it’s innate knowing. We attend with care to our body and in so doing, bring about healing. As I accompany distressed souls in therapy, I am privileged to consistently witness this recovery. My vocation is indeed a way of life for me now.
And I still get scared, my heart thumps and my energy surges. I pay attention and it tells me where I need to go next. My body still sometimes fumbles & shakes when I begin to speak to a new group. I live a life full of friendships with depth and honesty and “FULL BODY YES” moments. I grab this knowing, trust it and pull it in close.
I feel full now. Full of life, fully here and full of promise of what is to come.
Talk to me now – I’m here.
fun – curiosity – choice – safety – wellbeing
Image of Nicola by Nik Buttigieg