Once upon a time there was a girl named Michelle. Michelle was creative and smart and kind. She had amazing friends and family. But she had a problem. She struggled to put all of her blessings and strengths to good use, she struggled to truly express herself and feel joy. Instead she felt like she wasted her time and energy. She wasted it worrying. She was actually scared sh*tless throughout most of her day. It was like her mama protective instincts were on high alert all the time. There was certainly some sabertooth or mammoth she should be running from at all times. And protecting her loved ones from, should it come sniffing around her door.
Okay, so I’m Michelle. This is my true story. And the struggle is real.
In fact, while my mind kept telling me that this way of operation was protecting me and my loved ones, it was actually driving a wedge in my relationships, not least of all in my relationship with myself.
I didn’t even realize how much this was all affecting my life until 2020 triggered my protective urges into high gear. I’ve been in therapy for 20 years, and I’ve had great therapists and made great strides, but I have always been looking for a new avenue to get deeper into myself.
And this new avenue presented itself last month in a conversation with my dear friend. Recently, I realized that it’s a sign of a great friendship when you can share therapy stories with each other. I’d say it shows a pretty deep level of trust and authenticity. This friend and I were recently chatting and she told me about a new method she had tried with her therapist called Brainspotting. I was excited to try something I had never heard of before.
A Little Background
So I got into contact with Barbi Pecenco, a highly-recommended therapist and made an appointment for my own session. She kindly sent me some information and background on Brainspotting. I watched a video about a baseball player from the 80s and 90s called Mackey Sasser. He had something called the yips. I had no idea what the yips were, but after watching the video, I discovered that “the yips” is a term that refers to difficulties athletes have when performing a simple task related to their sport. Shaq throwing free throws came to mind. Apparently anxiety plays a big role and they can even be tied to past traumas. A world renowned trauma specialist, David Grand, who worked with Mackey Sasser discovered the technique of Brainspotting and it helped the ball player, along with other professional athletes, get over the yips.
I guess you could say I have life yips. And recent circumstances have caused my performance in life to leave something to be desired.
The First Session
Before we began, Ms. Pecenco had me find a track of bilateral music on YouTube without ads and listen to it to start out the session. She added that it is important to wear headphones while listening. Once I started listening I realized why the bilateral music was so important. The sound stimulus actually moves from one ear to the other. Apparently this activates different parts of your brain to help you dig deep and uncover the traumas that we have so adeptly buried.
After getting the music going I logged on for our Zoom session. She made me feel very at ease and explained a bit of the process. She asked if there was anything in particular I wanted to focus on. I brought up my anxiety and the fact that my daughter’s dad was having a birthday the next day. Since she has been staying with me exclusively since March, I thought it was important that she go. And I wanted to go and celebrate with him. But it was really scary for me. I knew his sister and brother would be there and although I know that they take precautions, it still felt scary to be around a number of people. After explaining my situation, she showed me her pointer with a white tip about as big as a fingertip. She told me to follow the end of the pointer with my eyes and let her know if I felt any physical sensations or emotions come up.
As she moved the pointer around I didn’t really feel anything noticeable. She stopped at the first place she saw my eyes start to blink and move. She held the pointer there and asked that I just observe how I was feeling. Pretty soon I started feeling some tension in my jaw and I started to feel things I couldn’t yet process verbally. A lot seemed to have to do with my parents and memories of being young and feeling grief and not knowing how to process it as a child. I could see how my anxiety was somehow under the impression that it could protect me from grief. She moved it to another spot and I started to see bright light emanating from the tip of the pointer. It felt overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
The session flew by and when it was over it felt like 15 minutes but it had been well over an hour. I thanked Ms. Pecenco and felt like a huge load had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt lighter and more free but I couldn’t really put my finger on what had happened. I did go to the birthday the next day (oh and the dentist!) and felt far more relaxed than I would have anticipated.
The Second Session
In the days after the birthday, I continued to feel less anxious and I had just a greater feeling of freedom. So I decided I’d like to try BrainSpotting again. And let me tell you, the second session was when I really saw what BrainSpotting could do. We started in a similar way. When I thought about what I wanted to focus on, anxiety itself wasn’t on my mind as much as my personal relationships were. I know that my anxiety causes friction in these relationships and I wanted to explore this.
I started the music and Ms. Pecenco started with the pointer. I locked into a trigger spot pretty quickly this time. It felt a bit uncomfortable but again, I couldn’t really put words to it in my mind. I suddenly saw my grandfather in my mind’s eye. I felt a heaviness in my chest and a very deep sadness and the tears began to flow. Still, I had no words, as much as I tried to grasp for them. Sadness is a feeling I rarely allow myself.
“What brings us to tears will lead us to grace. Our pain is never wasted.” – Bob Goff
My grandfather suffered from bipolar disorder. As a young girl, I was mostly “protected’ from seeing him when he was truly depressed and spared the stories of his multiple suicide attempts. The grandfather I knew was kind, happy and so loving. He taught me to swim and dive and took me to the movies. He read me stories and I napped on his chest. He was a tough guy. A WWII vet, 22 year Naval officer with scars from where he had been cut right down the middle by a mugger for the Christmas presents he had just bought his young sons. He told me, “You should see the other guy.” And he also got down and played Barbies with me. He was a real man and a true gentleman. But he had real demons too.
Sometimes when I would visit in later years, he would never get out of bed. Never leave his room. He would be in pajamas and I remember seeing him unshaven. This was very out of character. He started drinking more than socially and he wrote me some odd letters. I remember hearing about shock treatments and how they could never seem to get his medication right. He hated taking the medication. He died in 2007 when his final attempt went unthwarted.
Healing the Inner Child
This one eye position instantly brought all this back to me. I was a little girl again. And I felt powerless. All I wanted to do was help him. And I couldn’t. Something must be wrong with me. WHY COULDN’T I PROTECT HIM? Why didn’t I? I was flooded with sadness. Because I don’t do sadness well, I first interpreted it as his sadness. But then either I realized it was mine or it morphed into mine. And I couldn’t stop it. I HAD to feel it. So I sat there. Really feeling it. And letting it flow through me.
I have no idea how much time passed, but the feeling began to ebb and I could begin to form words and meaning around the experience. I realized that I have spent the rest of my adult life trying to protect my loved ones at all costs and “fix” male partners because I couldn’t fix him. I chose partners who reminded me of him somehow. I don’t know if this was some kind of shot at redemption. But I saw how this was affecting my relationships with partners and with myself. Of course I wasn’t responsible or capable of fixing or protecting him. I was just a little girl. I was meant to love him, and that I did really really well. That was enough. That is enough.
Since this second session I have found it much easier to just love in my relationships. I always knew I couldn’t fix or change anyone and that it wasn’t my job. I can’t protect my loved ones from the ups and downs of life. But clearly these thoughts and feelings were hiding deep inside my subconscious, buried decades and decades ago. BrainSpotting helped me to access and release this trauma. I think my history with great therapists helped me to understand and move forward and process.
Who can Benefit from BrainSpotting?
Dr. Grand explains, “Brainspotting is a powerful, focused treatment method that works by identifying, processing and releasing core neurophysiological sources of emotional/body pain, trauma, dissociation and a variety of other challenging symptoms. Brainspotting is a simultaneous form of diagnosis and treatment, enhanced with Biolateral sound, which is deep, direct, and powerful yet focused and containing.”
BrainSpotting can effectively treat:
All forms of trauma
Chronic pain and fatigue
To find out more about Brainspotting, Brainspotting.com has a wealth of information. If you think Brainspotting might be right for you, I highly recommend Barbi Pecenco at nbcouplestherapy.com. She provides Brainspotting counseling via Zoom and the results have been life changing for me!