Hello! Welcome to Friday. I am extra excited about today’s guest post. If you have ever visited my guest post info page, you may have seen mention of a series called “Healing Words.” For the past several months I have been gathering stories about healing and recovery from trauma survivors and professionals; today, I begin sharing them with you!
“Healing Words” opens with Stephanie, who lost her brother suddenly to a mysterious illness while he was overseas. In her story she talks about the intense, life-changing grief she experienced, and then walks us through her process of recovery. Now, she is a healer, who uses a combination of massage and talk therapy to help others struggling with trauma and grief.
At some point, grief touches all of us. It comes in many forms. We grieve the loss of those we love, or our pets who have served as our companions for years; we grieve losing an ability due to injury or trauma; we grieve relationships that fail, and potential which does not come to fruition. Grief comes in many forms, and coping with grief is a normal human function. Sometimes, however, loss is sudden and traumatic, and grief overwhelms us. When that happens, we need help moving on. Moving on does not mean forgetting those whom we lost, and it does not mean “getting over” the loss; it means finding a place of peaceful acceptance within ourselves so that we may continue to live. Read Stephanie’s story to learn one approach to healing and moving forward from traumatic grief.
Stephanie Harris is a New Zealand-based writer and coach, specializing in grief. Raised in South Africa, she graduated with honors from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town with a diploma in somatology. She is a professional bodywork therapist who incorporates her knowledge of the physiological impact of grief into work with clients and ongoing research. Stephanie’s career has taken her around the globe, from the Maldives to Iceland, and Cambodia to the British Isles. She has swum with dolphins in the Caribbean and held baby crocodiles in the Amazon. Now, she lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her golden Labrador retriever, Knox. In addition to coaching individuals and groups, Stephanie is a frequent public speaker and contributor to numerous online outlets. Learn more about her writing and research at www.StephanieHarrisCoaching.
The Power Of Touch
Sunday evening, 5th April 2009: Like most Sundays, it was my night to call and catch up with my parents back in South Africa, where I grew up. I had been living in New Zealand for about 18 months at the time.
That night, on my call with my mother, she mentioned that she had spoken to my sister who’d told her that my brother was unwell on his business trip in Buenos Aires and that he was in hospital with gastro. Of course, we were concerned that he was unwell in a foreign country, however, I don’t recall either of us expressing a feeling that he wouldn’t be okay this time.
Having traveled a lot myself after leaving university, I was familiar with how easy it can be to catch a tummy bug or gastro while abroad. At the time I didn’t even contemplate it could be anything more than just a tummy bug and dehydration.
As soon as I got off the call with my mother, I sent my brother a text, asking when I could call him as I was aware of the time difference and the rules hospitals often have around mobile phones. I still have that text message, and published it in my book, Death Expands Us.
I went to bed that night as normal. Around 3 am, the landline in my home rang. As soon as I heard it ring, a voice in my head said, “Brendon is dead.”
When I heard my sister’s voice, I knew for certain. Even though I knew what was coming, getting words out felt impossible, almost as though I had instantly become mute.
My body reacted violently; I spent hours in the bathroom, the shock releasing at phenomenal rates.
This was my crucible event. The turning point in my life, at 27 years old, when my world got turned upside down and would never be the same again. Life was different, I was different.
For a few years after my 33-year-old brother’s, sudden, unexpected, and still unexplained death, life threw me more and more really big knocks, ones that were totally out of my control.
It felt impossible for so many things to keep happening to me. So many times I would look up at the sky, screaming, crying, saying “why me, I can’t take this anymore!” So many days I would wake up and cry because I was still alive. Even the slightest thing felt overwhelming; I was just waiting for that last thing to be the weight that tipped the tower. So much time spent wondering, constantly, what I did wrong to deserve this; why this was all happening to me.
And as with most things in life, it all came to a head, where it felt like I had to decide: do I commit suicide or do I do something about this, because living in this in-between zombie land, I may as well have been dead.
And this is where my journey really began; years and years of self-discovery. Who am I? What is life really about? What do I REALLY want from life?
During those years of inquiry, trial and error, and experimenting, I tried many many things. Some helped and supported me, others I felt okay moving on from. As time and my journey progressed, one thing I did notice was how, during my discovery, my mental and emotional well-being was progressing, yet my physical body still felt 100 years old.
Along with my own experience, my studies in Somatology, and my volunteer work, I began to see how easy it is for us to miss or bypass the effects and weight that our physical bodies carry during our time of grief, loss and dis-ease.
Which is why I incorporate massage into my sessions with my clients.
Discussing how we feel, especially while as low or suicidal as I was, can leave us feeling very vulnerable and afraid to open up and get the support we need and want. As it is such a delicate subject, finding someone we trust for support and help is really vital to our well-being and progress.
That is why I was mindful to create a safe space in my house where I can see my clients.
When my clients arrive at my place, I greet them with warmth, love and openness. I take them into my treatment room where I have my massage bed and two chairs, etc. Soft music plays. The lights are dim, the candles glowing. A gentle space that begins to infuse calm and relaxation.
Before we begin, I ask my client to complete a consultation form, for their safety, regarding medications they are on, any contra-indications to massage, etc, and also so I can find out if there are any areas they would like to focus on or avoid; some clients don’t enjoy having their feet massaged, for example. More often than not, my clients express that their back is their main concern; very tight, sore, painful…almost that sensation of “the weight of the world on their backs.”
Once my client is comfortable on the massage bed, with the electric blanket bringing warmth and bolster pillows supporting the spine and body in place, I begin with a massage balm, utilizing my experience and knowledge to truly feel their body and what it needs before completing their full body massage with a heated towel.
After their massage, as they get comfortable in the seated chair, I offer them a range of herbal teas or water. I have come to find that, by massaging my client first, they are now more relaxed and comfortable to open up and discuss where they are at in their life. The touch and physical connection during the massage establishes our unspoken trust for the rest of our session together. They are now in a safe place to be vulnerable and courageous about their thoughts, feelings and emotions with completely no judgement. Just support and love.
During the talking part of the session, we dive deeply into the past, access the present, and create their future. A future filled with empowerment, fulfillment, commitment, and joy. With each session, we are able to reveal or pull back a layer of the onion, shining a light on an area that may have been hidden beneath the other layers.
By incorporating my unique approach, which combines full body massage with a life coaching session, my clients leave their sessions empowered, free, and experiencing life in a brand-new way.
For those clients of mine, who do not live in New Zealand, our sessions are engaged across Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc
As I am not able to incorporate my massage into these sessions, I am very mindful to foster a personal connection the way I would with my massage or by seeing a client face to face. One way in which I aim to create the personal connection that is lacking on a media device is by sharing my own personal experiences when my client expresses challenges or struggles they may be facing. This is my way of translating that even as a grief coach, I am human and have had my share of trial and error; learning experiences similar to theirs. If possible, I like to show my client photos I have in my office, or show my dog Knox who is here at the house with me in order to encourage our personal connection.
I specialize in grief / loss coaching, but my practice is not limited to conventional conceptions of grief/loss. Grief or loss can present itself in many shapes and forms, not just the death of a loved one. The loss of a job, relationship, house, pet, etc each have their own unique sets of challenges. Each one of my clients and their situations are unique, which is why, during a session I assess which method of practice would best serve my client. One size does not fit all.
Bearing in mind my clients’ confidentiality, one aspect of my session I will divulge is that I listen for a word or phrase that opens up the door to what is really behind what they are expressing. Especially in their initial sessions, speaking their truth may be new or unfamiliar for them. Over time, once they know they are in a safe, non-judgmental space with me, it becomes easier for them to say what is really on their mind or what they really mean. My main focus during a session is then to support my client in speaking the truth to themselves. This act can bring about so much clarity and empowerment; something which they may not have experienced before. Knowing they are in a safe, non-judgmental space with me, they can experience not having to hide their true selves. The mask they show to the world can be removed with me
My hope for you, after reading my article, is that you know you are not alone. That there are people like myself and Elizabeth who are here to help and support you. You don’t have to hide and you don’t have to do it alone. During my darkest days I did not want to be here anymore,and now I am on TV, radio interviews, etc talking about my book
As the quote from the movie Shawshank Redemption says, either we can get busy living or we can get busy dying. I hope like me, you choose to live.
Thank you Stephanie, for sharing your experiences healing from traumatic grief, and the ways in which you now help others do the same. The idea that our minds and bodies are both deeply involved in the expression and recovery from trauma is not new; It is also the driving point behind the revolutionary trauma text, The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, which is my favorite trauma textbook. I am so glad that practitioners like Stephanie exist; people who incorporate both mind and body in the treatment of trauma. If you’d like to read more about Stephanie’s personal experiences healing from traumatic grief, check out her book, Death Expands Us.
Thank you for reading. I’ll be sharing more guest posts in the “Healing Words” series in the near future, so if you enjoyed this one, be sure to subscribe to my blog so you never miss another! Here, I’ll make it easy on you; just enter your info here-I promise I won’t sell it or share it with pirates:
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Til next time!