The Troubles, Terrorism and Trauma

by Amber Kelly

The Fulcrum, Issue 77 May 2019

I was born into trauma. Not solely through my birth process, but through the community and place where I chose to make my entrance into the world. I was born in the mid-1960s in Northern Ireland so, by the time I was starting school, the Troubles had formally started too. At that time of my life, I was unaware of how growing up under the cloud of sectarian violence would impact on me mentally and emotionally. I left the Province to attend university aged 18 and, while I have never resided there again, I now return often to visit friends and family.

When I started my craniosacral therapy training in 2013, I became more aware of my early life with respect to my early environment of conflict. My father had a retail business so he was more exposed than most, experiencing 14 bombs in his outlets over a 30-year period. As a consequence, I was sent to a boarding school in a smaller nearby town. While it was more relatively peaceful there, the stress and strain of our troubled environment was always around my family, instilling in me an underlying sense of a lack of safety and security. I thought most of these feelings were behind me – until I began my craniosacral training in 2013.

All parties have given their permission for their names and details to be used in this article.

I was listening to the radio one day in 2013 when a man called Colin Parry spoke about an aspect of the peace process. I remember listening to Colin’s voice and wanting to know more about him and his charity, The Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace. I subsequently discovered that Colin Parry had lost his 12-year-old son Tim in 1983 to an IRA bomb in Warrington. As a result of this terrible tragedy, he and his wife Wendy were inspired to set up a charity to help others who had been victims of conflict. Rather than seek revenge, their non-profit and non-political foundation works both nationally and internationally for peace and non-violent conflict resolution. In 2013, my youngest son was also 12 years old and this man’s forgiving attitude to life and what had happened to him was astounding. You might be familiar with their story through the 2018 BBC2 drama Mother’s Day.

I was inspired to get in touch with Colin and Wendy Parry’s charity, and was invited to a series of weekends in Warrington for people, like me, who had experienced conflict in their lives. Ironically I had always thought that my early life was “normal” but of course it was far from what could be considered normal. At the Peace Centre, I met many people from all walks of life – including ex-IRA members, ex-paramilitaries and ex-soldiers. I also met people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is how I met David. And so our journey began.

Intersecting Journeys through Trauma

Many of us may be familiar with the London bombings of 2005, but these attacks were to change David’s life in an instant after he witnessed the Tavistock Square bus bombing. Although he suffered no outward wounds, he went on to carry that trauma for a long time. Before meeting me, he found some respite through practising Tai Chi and meeting others with similar experiences. It was several years before he even knew he had PTSD. However in 2014, nine years after the London attacks, we met at the Peace Centre in Warrington, where I gave a short talk on craniosacral therapy. It wasn’t until two years later, in 2016, that David came to me for his first treatment.

On the day of the explosion he had been standing on the road opposite the bus.

What follows is a description of the first three treatments that David received over a period of around two months. We both decided to write about them as they were probably the most profound in his therapeutic journey and for myself, I believe they provided a depth of learning I had never before experienced in my practice. David told me that through the cranial work he “found a resonance with it that he hadn’t with any other treatment” and was able to release the trauma that his body had accumulated. He also said it gave him a “peace of mind he never thought possible”.

This is Our Story

During our initial consultation, David described the difficulties he’d had since the time of the bomb blast both on a physical and emotional level. On top of the trauma he suffered in 2005, he was affected by a difficult relationship breakdown, as well as an injury to his skull in another incident. His main complaint when we met was of pain and numbness on the left side. His jaw, face and fingers were all affected, he suffered from headaches, sciatic pain in his left leg and problems with fitful sleep (only around five or six hours each night). He had been seeing a physiotherapist for many years and practised Tai Chi regularly, so he was very aware of his body – yet he was living with constant daily pain.

First Contact – Session One

In David’s first treatment it was apparent there was still a huge amount of shock in his body. I felt that his lumbar spine, face and occipital areas were restricted and tense. Although his exposure to the blast had taken place ten years previously, it seemed to me that his body still carried that memory and the physical distortion in his membrane system had remained.

David quickly dropped into a deeply relaxed state. His body started to release nervous tension with apparent jerks and spasms as his system moved into a place of stillness. When the treatment was over, David reported increased sensation in the left side of his body – especially on his face – which he had not felt for many years. He said he particularly enjoyed the feelings of peace and softness in his body during the treatment. The shock waves I had felt initially had greatly dissipated by the end of the treatment and, perhaps more importantly, David said afterwards that he felt that something had shifted in him, which left him more balanced and more able to focus clearly.

Support Between Sessions

I suggested to David that he read Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger¹, which he took up and found very informative and helpful. Between treatments David continued to work on himself using Tai Chi and would complete some of the exercises in Levine’s book to a level that felt comfortable to him.

As we had an interval of around three weeks between each treatment, I asked him to update me between sessions. I knew David needed to go slowly and gently and, at one point between his second and third treatment, the exercises were bringing up too much for David to deal with on his own. He stopped doing them, and I suggested he wait until after our next session together.

He also found that his morning Tai Chi exercises were improving. There was no doubt that his engagement with his body through his Tai Chi practice between sessions really helped his progress. He said he also felt his level of communication with other people in his life started to improve, particularly at his workplace. So the positive effects of the treatment were not just happening in his body – but in his daily life too.

The Second Treatment

In the second session David arrived with a chest infection. He had been on holiday and it felt like he had been experiencing a lot of emotion since we last met. I asked him how the return of sensation in his face had been since our first treatment. He informed me that he still had more feeling in that area and was pleased the positive effects from the first treatment had remained, although he said his eye still felt numb/warm.

I asked him what he would like from the session we were about to undertake and he said he would like to focus on an area between his shoulder blades which felt as if someone was poking a finger in it. He said this sensation had been there for some time and felt intense at times. It was difficult for him to pin point the area exactly. Tuning into David’s body I could still feel tension in his system, which felt as if he was still carrying a lot of shock energy. My focus turned to his left shoulder. Using an unwinding technique, I worked to release the fascia in his shoulder. During this process, I noticed a strong intensity of emotion, which appeared to be grief and sadness, being released from David. It seemed like the left shoulder unwinding had facilitated an emotional release around the heart.

Although David didn’t say anything specifically about it at the time, his breathing changed – with deep staccato breaths becoming more soft and peaceful as the release took place. He told me afterwards that as well as feeling changes in his body and a greater sense of peace, he was surprised at the intensity of the emotion that had come up. So we both took some time at the end of the session to ensure we were grounded. It was helpful that David had a strong sense of grounding from Tai Chi, but the strong releases during this session brought his grounding into even sharper focus. He noted a change in this aspect of him, and a sense of feeling lighter. He seemed very pleased with these new sensations.

Session Three

The third session with David was our most powerful. He came to this session with a very specific intention which was to work on the small point of energy which he said had remained between his shoulder blades. He was still able to have a sense of it from the last session, when it had been reduced to a much smaller point of pain.

He had been continuing with the exercises in the Peter Levine book and had an interesting experience during one exercise in which he revisited the scene of the bomb. On the day of the explosion he had been standing on the road opposite the bus. However, in the exercise he instead felt himself on the bus. We talked about this for some time and while I was not sure exactly why this had happened, I noted the details of the experience as David described it.

As the treatment started, I made contact with David’s sacrum and occiput to get a sense of his whole spine. With my intention, I began to scan David’s spine from the sacrum moving upwards, but when I arrived at T4 the intensity of energy was overwhelming. I could see and sense that my focus in this area had affected David with him deep in his own process, so I simply stayed at that point for some time. Then from a falx cerebri contact, I projected down the spine towards T4 again. Once again, the intensity of energy was exceptionally powerful and as energy released from T4, both David’s body and mine began to shake. As I closed my eyes I too was able to witness the power of the bomb. I could feel how energy expanded outwards through the bus and the people in it and then beyond the bus itself.

Then everything suddenly stopped

My body stopped shaking as did David’s. Both of us became still and quiet. That intense and powerful energy had finally been released.

Then from a contact on David’s heart, I could sense soft replenishing energy returning. It was as if the blast from all those years ago had left a vacuum in his chest and now that the energy of the bomb had been released from his system, the energy of his heart was able to start filling up.

So what happened?

It’s hard to describe in words exactly what happened and why, but I believe that the destructive energy of the blast had somehow got lodged in David’s spine. In the first two sessions, that energy had been reduced to a small concentrated point in his fourth thoracic vertebrae; while in this third session that point had finally been released.

David said that he immediately felt different and was accepting of what had happened in the session. He was not scared by the experience and I was in awe of how he stayed with the process which was, at times, so powerful it had left him physically shaking on the couch. In the days and weeks that followed he reported back to me a feeling of greater peace in his body and mind, an expansive sensation and a greater connection to living and being.

David has since made a good recovery and continues to have regular treatments. As a consequence of working with David I became much more aware of the emotional and physical challenges living with PTSD can create, and I had a conversation with my 88-year-old father. He revealed that he also had PTSD but had never spoken about it before that day. It was as if in treating David I had also learnt some valuable insights into my own family dynamics and the trauma that my father has suffered through the time of the Troubles. It helped me to understand what living with the consequences of PTSD can look like and also how it can be so difficult for family and loved ones to support a person who struggles.

As a result I am in awe of all those people who are affected by this debilitating condition and how many of them are able to work with their body and mind to find peace and hope for their future. I hope through my CST work I can continue to support people with PTSD and, in particular, those who have experienced life in a conflict zone, just like me.

I particularly thank David for his amazing courage and for giving me a deeper insight into trauma in the human body. I also want to thank my father for all he taught me through his own difficult experiences, which I can only now be grateful for as an understanding adult, and survivor, too.

REFERENCES:

1. Levine, Peter (1997) Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

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