How two women - perfect strangers - helped me fall apart
Upon discovering two aggressively growing and incredibly painful tumors on the left side of my body, the surest knowing I had was that I needed to rest. To just stop doing things. As part of fulfilling that intention, I traveled halfway around the world to Tel Aviv, Israel. People ask me, “Are you here for work or for vacation?” and the answer doesn’t fit in either category.
“I am here to heal,” I say. I am here to move. I am here to unravel the places within myself that are binding me and creating dis-ease. I am here to fall apart.
Each day I wake up in the morning and walk to a dance studio offering classes in Gaga movement language. Not a dance class in the way most people would imagine, it is more of a moving meditation driven by deeply experiencing an allowing of one’s own body to simply exist - through movement.
After class one day, I snapped a photo of the studio with beautiful light pouring in, and in that moment one of the other students did a cartwheel perfectly framed in that light. I introduced myself to her and shared this image of captured joy. We chatted a bit, and she recommended I also try another nearby studio while here.
This small series of events led me into a lyrical jazz class on day 3 of my month-long hiatus in Israel. I hadn’t danced in this way for months, although I used to do it nearly daily years back (before my favorite teacher, my heart, the woman who helped me to feel safe moving in my body again after a devastating car accident...moved away and there were no longer daily classes available).
In this class full of dancers, taught by a fiery Israeli woman - mostly in Hebrew (which I do not speak) - my body moved through familiar ways. Not quite the same, having come from a different lineage than my previous teacher...but similar enough that I followed along. Barely. But I dove in, I was fiercely present. I gave in to the exhaustion and grief in my body, and allowed the movement to open dusty windows that I’ve held tightly shut for what feels like forever.
An hour into class, I was in tears. Not because I pushed too hard, or because I was in pain, but because the tears were falling out of those long-held places of tension within me. Because in this far-away place in a class taught in language foreign to me, with no commitments of time or attention, with no urgency to do anything, I had found a safe place to fall apart. And so I did. I stepped to the side of the room, laid down on the floor, and cried.
I didn’t try to understand any story attached to the tears. I didn’t try to hold it in. The teacher was incredibly kind: she offered me water, and encouraged me, “Have your tears, don’t hold it in, your body is releasing.” I nodded, knowing this is the right thing, and grateful for a teacher who knew this truth as deeply as I felt it.
I spent the next twenty minutes on the floor, crying. Surrounded by beautiful dancers baring their spirits open through unfiltered movement. I sobbed and sobbed, sometimes resting a bit as the tears subsided, and then riding the wave as they welled up again and spilled out from deep within me. Once or twice I thought, “maybe I should get up again and keep dancing,” and quickly recognized, “no, there is no need to push, I’ve already done the work of opening the places and now is time to simply be, to simply allow these feelings to wash over me.”
After class, me still in a pile of tears on the floor, another student came over and sat with me. As the others chattered about and filtered out of the room, she sat quietly and held space for me to continue falling apart. When I started towards pulling it together to leave, she assured me I can stay, that there is no rush. She held my hand when I reached for it. She didn’t ask questions. She was fully present with me in that time, making sure that I felt safe and unhurried. We had never spoken or even seen each other in class (having been on opposite sides of the room). We didn’t know each other’s stories. But she held me while I absolutely fell apart, and her presence allowed me to soften more profoundly. It allowed me to feel all the things and keep breathing. After that, I went home and slept 30 of the next 36 hours.
This powerful experience reminded me of the incredible connection we share as humans, and especially as women. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and soft, it can be a powerful container for healing from within. This is the power of community and of unabashed connection - regardless of language, culture, or stories.
This was only the beginning of my falling apart.
I have struggled for years with what I call anger attacks. Like an anxiety attack, I feel completely out of control of my experience. It usually happens when I am just about to fall asleep, in those moments of softening the armor holding me together all day so I can ‘be a person’. They are infrequent, maybe a few times a year, and they come in waves (several in a month and then none for a long time).
It feels like this overwhelming rage boiling up from inside. And it’s free-floating. That is, I cannot attach it to any specific event. I mean, if something crosses my path when feeling this way, then sure I will feel angry about it, but really it’s more like this unstoppable tsunami of rage that makes my heart race and makes it almost impossible to breathe. All I can do is lie there, wishing it would stop, and wait for it to subside. I am conscious at the time. I can think and see it happening, almost like a third person watching the rage well up but unable to stop it from overtaking my body and brain.
It’s been months since the last anger attack. But I know that I am often quick to anger. I feel things incredibly deeply, especially perceived injustice. Injustice to me, to others, to the environment. I have for years lived in a body and brain that is quick to react. I have spent over a decade of my career on finding ways to calm my nervous system. I know that a huge part of the reactivity is due to multiple major traumas in my life. But on day 5 in Israel, another woman I barely knew helped me move through this seeping rage in a powerful way.
While waiting for class, the receptionist approached me with some kind of error in billing. I’m still unclear on what happened, but in that conversation she was incredibly rude. The woman who I had photographed cartwheeling earlier that week was standing next to me during the exchange, and she told me "[the receptionist] is always this rude" (including to her, and other students). Despite knowing that it wasn’t about me, I couldn’t shake the feeling of anger. The feeling that it’s just not right to treat people so unkindly.
In class, I continued to feel anger and resentment. But it wasn’t really about that situation...that was merely the trigger. In fact, I had been feeling what I’ll call “sub-angry” during most of these classes over the last week. I would get angry at the fluorescent lighting (“how can they use such harmful lighting that counteracts the beneficial impact of this movement work?!”) and at the teachers who would speak only Hebrew (despite the website stating that all classes are taught in English to be inclusive to travelers). I would get angry at how long we might spend on one exercise (the idea of allowing another person agency over what I do with my body often stops me from attending movement classes). But most of the time, it was just free-floating anger. Less intense but more pervasive than those anger attacks. It wouldn’t last the entire class, but always showed up for at least part of the time.
So after class, that cartwheeling-with-joy full-of-empathy woman asked me, “How are you feeling?” And I answered honestly, “Angry. I’m furious.” At first, she responded by again urging me not to take it personally, but then I elaborated: “I’m not angry at that annoying interaction earlier; rather, I am just overwhelmed with anger.” I had allowed the movement of class to open my felt experience of anger stored deep inside my body. "Ahh, yes. I understand." And again I found myself collapsing into tears. Again I found a stranger holding me as I turned into a complete puddle. We sat together and she listened to me deconstruct the anger I’ve carried for so long. I shared with her that it feels as if I carry this weight: all the fury and rage of 100,000 burning suns in my pelvis. That it feels like it’s not even my own rage. I feel as if I am carrying generations and generations of abuse held silent. Carrying it physically, in my body. Dragging it around, a heavy burden of "not me" mixed up with "me".
We walked out into the sunshine, preparing to say goodbye, and seeing my barely held tears she invited me to sit together and continue to fall apart. So we found a quiet place in the courtyard, and I poured out everything unsurfaced by allowing myself to open during the movement class. I feel so furious at the children being forcibly injected with known neurotoxins in the name of pharmaceutical interests. I get furious at all the rape and the neglect and murder in the world. I feel rage at the older man who attends every one of these Gaga movement classes who stares at women with hungry piercing eyes, causing me peripheral discomfort at all times. Rage at all the men who make it impossible for others to feel safe.
I remember once my aunt told me when I was crying tears that didn’t feel my own: “Sometimes some people cry extra for the people who cannot cry.” And now I was feeling this parallel, like I am raging for the people who have not been able to rage. For whom it was too dangerous to rage, too dangerous to express anger or resentment. For whom freezing was the only option for survival. And as I poured all of this out to this woman I barely knew, she held my hand and listened and witnessed and acknowledged without judgement or hurry.
My new friend (she is Israeli) commented a perception that Americans have this cultural habit of holding anger inside and not expressing it. I was quick to argue, “No, I say things when they upset me - that habit actually really annoys me.” She remained gentle and soft, not arguing with me (instead, acknowledging that we really don’t know each other, so maybe that’s not what is happening for me). But in the next minutes, the awareness unfolded for me that I hold this anger so tightly inside that when I let even a tiny bit out, the people around me perceive that massive rage just under the surface. They feel a force in my tone, in the unspoken words, that I am trying with all my might to contain. But it comes through in so many interactions when I wish it wouldn’t. I try to freeze it inside because I don’t want it to leak out on anyone else.
I feel so deeply the suffering of others that I clench tightly to the rage. I try to keep it tightly furled lest it spill out onto anyone else. And despite my best efforts, at times others experience me as unkind.
Despite my urgent insistence that it pains me deeply to cause others pain, it doesn't matter because they feel the echo of my internal rage.
This only fuels my anger, now adding anger at myself for being unable to contain it, for failing to protect those I love most from the blackness of this fury.
I feel so heavily burdened by this rage, this floating fury at all the injustice in the world, and I can’t stand the idea of it burdening anyone else so I try to keep it inside. In our conversation, awareness emerges that I have used layers upon layers of tension to brace and freeze and splint. And because that is incredibly uncomfortable, I have abandoned my body. Parts of it, at least. Especially my belly and pelvis. I live in my head, using my brain to solve massive problems and set goals and share the fruits of my intellect to make the world a better place.
It has taken me years to recognize that abandoning my body in moments of trauma from my childhood is an intelligent response. An acceptable response. This revelation (which, to be honest, is still unfolding within my psyche) is due in no small part to the bigger cultural conversation we are having around trauma today. That is is becoming safer to admit we have all had trauma, that it is all valid, and that it is safe(r) to discuss - and meme about!
As part of this unfurling, I am bringing conscious light to the places where I have taken on the responsibility of fury at injustice. It's a delicate balance: caring for the world around us, fueled by recognition of what is wrong and how I can help...balanced with trying not to internalize that responsibility to the detriment of my own psyche and body. I see how taking on incredible responsibility for my siblings at a young age flowed directly into becoming a doctor and continuing my identity as caregiver. I only very recently wrestled with the concept of releasing responsibility to help others simply because I am able to (something I was required to acknowledge as I took a hiatus from clinical practice). I'm certain that I have a long way to go on this path, but it is a powerful awakening to open these windows and begin to move in a new direction.
This is why movement is so important. Movement - gentle, kind, compassionate, fiercely present movement - is how I can return home my body, bit by bit. This type of movement allows me to continually engage conscious presence in these bound places, where I listen and feel the things buried inside until I absolutely can’t anymore...and then rest until I can, and rinse and repeat. This is the place where I don’t need to search for answers or stories, but rather allow myself to simply exist. To feel all the things without trying to stop them or even understand them. Because the only way through is through. And it can't be done with thinking alone: we are born to feel. We have human bodies that we may feel. And in this feeling, we are more connected with the insight within.
Like a lightning rod that transmits electricity, our human bodies (especially, perhaps, the nervous system and fascia) conduct the raw protoconsciousness of the universe (aka universal intelligence, aka God, aka Great Mystery or whatever you want to call it - via science or mysticism or both). And one of the deepest knowings that I have is that when we find the ability to move fluidly within ourselves, we experience a greater capacity to conduct that love and light that is the fabric of our universe. A greater capacity to tap into the inner and universal intelligence that shines a light on the way of healing: the way forward.
So this is what I am doing in Israel. This is how I am healing. By allowing myself the time and space to fall apart, over and over again. By continuing to show up and allow my body to move in ways that loosens the tightly wound armor deep inside. By resting as much as I need, without worry about obligations to show up and be anything for anyone.
Since these two instances of falling apart in the hands of a stranger holding space for me, I feel lighter. I feel more at ease in my body and in my spirit. I know that there is more work to do. I know that I will fall apart again. And again. And again.
And through this falling apart, I am clearing the debris piled over the light of who I truly am. I am certain that this is the way of healing from the inside-out. I am certain that this is how I will continually emerge.
As I reflect on and sit with this newly exposed rage, I see a tiny glimpse of how I might experience it in a more positive light. It occurs to me that this rage is my 'fight' response. It is my fortitude of will to survive. It is powerful and intelligent and valuable. It is a sign of my desire to survive, to stay, to exist. I see how this energy has fueled me, has given me the fortitude to press onward through unimaginable circumstances. And for that I am grateful.
And like an ocean raging in the stormy night, perhaps I can also find that force of nature within me on the quiet and sunny days as well. In connecting with my sense of fluidity, as if I am a cup of water from the ocean, one and the same, perhaps I can allow the rage to dissipate into the universal ocean, and the deep magnitude of life force can come forth more gently. I know that the rage isn't mine to carry alone. The sufferings of this world are not mine to carry alone (a statement, though seemingly ridiculous, I place in bold to reinforce it in my own mind). And like the ebb and flow of waves and storms, now is the time for me to soften.
Warmly (from my messy heart to yours), Dr Satya
Satya Sardonicus, DC, CACCP Champion of Human Potential Creator | Fascial Flow Method™