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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

I had not seen Mary for several weeks and, as I greet her, I notice that her usual vibrant, extroverted personality is withdrawn and tired. Barely able to make eye contact, she shuffles from the waiting room to my office as if weights are tied to her ankles. She collapses on the couch, grabbing a small pillow and clutching it to her abdomen as if it were a lifeline. Mary's head collapses as she lets out a loud sigh.

"I had a bad dream," Mary begins without even waiting for me to take my chair. "It was about my brother."
"Tell me what happened in the dream."
"He's been beaten so badly his guts and brains are spilling out. He is making a mess on the carpet. I am in a panic because I know my mother will be home and will be really angry if she sees the mess, but he keeps bleeding and I can't clean it up. The I wake up in a cold sweat."
"When did you have this dream?" I ask.
"Two nights ago."
"You sound troubled by it still."
"I am. It has been a bad two days. I have had this severe nausea and headache, and I am afraid to fall asleep because I might have the dream again."

Mary was experiencing a somatic memory. The energy she had locked away and stored when she watched her brother being beaten was released when she had the dream. Mary's body had tensed up and become so tight that she virtually felt the pain in the same places the blows had struck her brother. It was as if she were carrying his pain.

This triggering of painful energy from the past is very typical in trauma survivors. The spontaneity of the emotions attached to these scenes can be disorienting. People like Mary don't know what is happening to them or why. As I said, people have told me they believe they are going crazy.

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