For those of you who've been following this blog for a while, you know I'm a dancer and how much dance had to do with my PTSD recovery. When all therapies failed me I decided to pursue joy as a way to overthrow trauma's vicelike grip and to habituate myself to something outside of my trauma addiction, and to reconnect to my pure and innocent and untraumatised self, which I believed still existed despite the daily evidence that might have suggested otherwise.
I was a freestyle dancer with no background in partner dancing when I walked into The Ritz Ballroom and said, "Teach me." It was a rocky road at first. My mind and body were so used to being separate they did not speak the same language, nor did they want to. And I, so used to processing in the PTSD fog and dissociative state, found the present, in-the-moment, connected-to-your-partner aspects of dance incredibly difficult to sustain.
But I knew when I danced I felt joy, and when I felt joy I was transcendant, and when I was transcendant trauma and the past ceased to exist and for a little while I was free. I've already written about dance and how it impacted the evolution of my healing. I haven't written much about the man who taught me to dance, my instructor, Bill Hering.
As we're talking about seeking help this month, his portrait (above with dance partner/wife, Sylvie) becomes very relevant in its suggestion of how we can seek help in new, out of the box ways and find more help than we ever expected. I went to the dance studio Bill owned just wanting to dance, and what happened was that I discovered a whole new self, not just from the hours I spent in private lessons with Bill, but from the community he had built at the studio, the other teachers he employed, the dance parties he hosted and the classes he designed.
A few months after taking the dancing plunge (and dancing 7 nights a week because I wanted to develop a joy habit and once I began to feel joy it became addictive -- I wanted to feel that way every day!) an unexpected thing happened: the nightmares ceased. I began to sleep. The anxiety lessened. I became more open. My body and mind slowly renegotiated their connection. I became comfortable in the moment. I became comfortable in my body. I was flooded with good feelings instead of bad. I dissociated less. I began to laugh more. Good things came from my dance odyssey and Bill, for one hour twice a week and as a presence every other moment in the studio, was a big part of that.
Last Thursday while I was in Boston for the trauma conference Bill lost his year long fight with cancer. Our dance community has suffered a great loss. The funeral on Monday was difficult for all of the usual reasons but also because Bill is so entwined with my recovery. He was only 50, way too young for us to lose him.
In recovery we have to have a spirit of adventure. We have to imagine the impossible. We have to not get stuck in the rut of our own thoughts but seek help in new and unsual places. We have to think about who we are and who we want to be and how we can make the transition. We have to think about who can help us make that dream come true.
We think things through. We commit to the desire to heal. We educate ourselves. We educate those around us. And then we're left with the task of finding a way to make the fantasy reality. Help doesn't always come from the most predictable places -- sometimes, you simply pursue joy and a guide emerges to help you do so.
To heal, sometimes you just have to put on a pair of suede soled shoes, step onto the floor, give in to the music, and dance. And if you've searched hard enough you'll find someone with the patience to lead you through.