When I was in my late-twenties, my friend Noo took me to see an energy healer.
We were both quite recently single and trying hard to work through all our ‘stuff’ around romantic relationships to ensure we didn’t keep fucking them up in the future, like we had up till now.
Whilst I’d done a ton of therapy and spiritual coaching by this point (which had proved highly transformative), besides my regular yoga practice, I hadn’t done all that much ‘body work’ before.
Which is why I jumped at the chance when Noo kindly offered to buy me a session as a thank you for all my support over the last few months.
The building was situated in Neals Yard, Covent Garden, and offered a vast array of different treatments ranging from acupuncture to clairvoyant readings to body stress release – and everything in between.
A posh hippie’s heaven, this place reeked of comfort and chamomile (I swear, just sitting there in the foyer seemed to bring my chakras in to alignment).
Our practitioner came out to greet us - a kindly older gentleman who was the dad of one of Noo’s friends.
I’m not too sure why, but he invited us both to stay in the room for the other’s appointment if we wanted to; perhaps he could sense how inseparable we’d become following our respective break-ups.
Whatever the reason, I’m glad he did because - had Noo not been there to witness the bonkers, exorcist-like phenomenon that befell me, I’d have sworn I’d either fallen asleep and dreamed it, or else a tab of acid had somehow been slipped in to my drink during lunch.
Noo went first, whilst I sat in a chair adjacent to the bed and watched the practitioner work his magic.
She lay flat on her back in all her clothes, whilst he slowly and delicately pressed his hands upon different areas of her body, seemingly at random.
His process looked very similar to Reiki – an ancient Japanese method of energy healing that my mum had trained in and performed on me several times in the past.
As he worked around her stomach area, Noo became quite emotional and I could see tears cascading down the side of her left cheek; I assumed this meant she was releasing some sort of trauma or pain from her past.
When her time was up, she quietly rose from the bed and switched places with me, her demeanor now emanating a palpable sense of calmness and presence in replace of the heavy anxiety she’d felt consumed by only an hour earlier.
Naturally, I expected that my experience would be very similar to hers – especially as I didn’t think I was all that responsive to energy work.
However, from the moment the practitioner’s hands made contact with my solar plexus, it began pulsating with what felt like a charge of electrical current so powerful that I literally could not stop myself from laughing.
It started as small tremors in the pit of my belly and quickly crescendoed in to an almighty bellow – the kind that used to manifest when I was but a sprightly schoolgirl trying to make it to the end of a double maths class without dying of boredom, when out of nowhere my friend Penny would mutter the most inappropriate joke ever under her breath and I’d have to try my damndest to stifle the laugh. But, the harder I’d try, the more impossible it became to contain it, and soon enough it’d explode out of me like a greyhound bursting through the starting gate on race day (which inevitably meant we were both lumbered with a big fat detention).
It was just like that.
I could feel Noo squirming in her seat, hyper-aware that we were surrounded by other treatment rooms containing prostrate people who’d paid a premium to be relaxed and rejuvenated, not traumatized by my guttural cackles.
Alas, I could not stop.
Then, without warning, that cackle cruelly morphed itself in to the most harrowing howl of pain I’d ever witnessed exit my body.
Tears and snot gushed out of me, and my whole frame seemed to shudder with anguish.
But, within a minute or so, the massive moan had somehow transformed back in to a grating shriek of laughter.
And then a cry.
And then a laugh.
And then a cry (you get the idea).
My response to the treatment continued to oscillate in this way for the rest of the session, like some god-awful amateur production of a Greek tragedy.
It wasn’t that I’d gone in to a trance or anything – I knew exactly what was going on.
And it wasn’t that I’d suddenly encountered a thought that made me feel sad, and then one that made me feel happy.
I really wasn’t thinking anything, to be honest.
It just felt like my body needed to release these emotions in the same way one feels compelled to evacuate the bowels after a dodgy curry.
In other words, I had pretty much no say in the matter.
The last time I recall having had such a violent physical reaction to body work was when I was fourteen, after an intensive session with a chiropractor.
As soon as I’d returned home from seeing him, I had an overwhelming urge to run to the bathroom and rid my mouth of the putrid phlegm that had suddenly flooded it (sorry for that visual, but it’s about to get even worse…)
The phlegm was so thick that it had formed a kind of ropey-cord that felt as though it was still attached to my lungs, meaning that when I tried to cough it up and spit it out, I promptly started choking.
It was absolutely terrifying – especially as I was alone in the house at the time.
Thankfully, I somehow managed to evacuate the phlegm without croaking, and as I lay shivering on the cold bathroom tiles I made the decision to keep the whole revolting ordeal to myself, assuming that it had simply been an adverse reaction to the manipulations that the chiropractor had made on my back.
I didn’t think about that whole episode again until the mad laugh-y/ cry-y body session with Noo in Covent Garden nearly a decade and a half later.
As soon as we got back to Noo’s place afterwards, I felt compelled to find out what lay behind my bizarre physical reactions to the energy healing treatment.
It was then - just as I was about to hit up Google - that I experienced a sudden flashback to the chiropractor saga when I was fourteen – and, more importantly, what had happened to me just a few weeks before it.
In the second chapter of ‘The Inner Fix’, I share about the time I ended up in hospital after taking 25 caffeine pills at school in a ludicrous attempt to impress my ex-boyfriend after he’d found out I’d been cheating on him.
The weekend before that, me and the guy I’d been cheating with had wound up in a drunken tryst that had ended in violence and me totally blacking out.
When I came to, he was nowhere to be seen, and several hours later I found myself smashing shit up at a house party – for which I was very nearly arrested.
Suffice to say, it was a turbulent time – especially considering my dad had recently gone in to rehab for alcoholism and drug addiction.
I hadn’t seen the links between all these events before, but sitting on Noo’s couch, images I guessed to have occurred during the blackout with my forbidden lover slowly started to emerge in the forefront of my mind.
During a violent or sexually traumatic experience, the prefrontal cortex of the brain can become impaired (sometimes even shutting down) by a surge of stress chemicals.
In some instances, it can feel near-impossible to make sense of what what’s happening to us, meaning that later on we’re less able to recall the ordeal in a clear way.
(FYI, this is why it’s no big surprise that in the recent trial that caused huge waves throughout the ‘Me Too’ movement, Dr Christine Blasey Ford had inconsistent memories of her alleged sexual assault at the hands of supreme court judge Brett Kavanaugh. When dark shit happens to you, of course you aren’t going to recall every single detail - you’re in shock, people).
Because our bodies can’t tell the difference between physical and emotional danger, they automatically go in to ‘fight or flight’ mode which causes symptoms like sweaty palms, shortness of breath and a rapidly beating heart.
So, no matter how much ‘talking therapy’ we may do to try and deal with past trauma (and bear in mind I’d done a lot of that over the years), full healing can only be achieved when the body is brought in to the process too, because that’s where the pain and fear is stuck.
Before addressing the physical effects these past traumatic events had had on me, I’d never fully understood why I could be having sex with my boyfriend quite happily one minute, and then all of a sudden feel my body tense up and go in to total panic, which would result in me screaming for him to stop whilst beating his chest to try and push him off.
When he’d ask what was wrong, I wouldn’t really know what to say other than, “I’m sorry, I got scared.”
I didn’t talk about this frustrating pattern for years, but after the session with Noo, I started recalling the many instances from my past where I had hazy memories (because I was usually drunk) of sexual encounters that didn’t feel entirely complicit – and in some cases, even legal.
Because I now worked in the wellness industry, had a great support structure and a pretty good grounding in self-awareness for the most part, I felt brave and safe enough to open up about these encounters to therapists and certain friends or colleagues.
The response shocked me:
Most of the women I’d spoken to had experienced something very similar, but, like me, hadn’t felt there was any point in telling anyone because they were drunk at the time, and so couldn’t remember all the details clearly.
Except for this one crucial fact:
They are absolutely certain they’d said ‘no’ (or, been asleep when it started – which is the same thing).
The truth is, since I started taking responsibility for my behaviour in my love and sex life (which includes not getting in to such a messy state that I don’t know what’s going on), I haven’t had anymore of these ambiguous sexual encounters.
Maybe it’s because I’m no longer an easy target.
Maybe it’s because those sort of men aren’t drawn to me anymore (or know I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut this time around).
Maybe I’m just lucky.
Either way, whilst I do think it’s crucial that both women and men take responsibility for how we’re showing up in the romantic and sexual arena (not least because it makes our lives a hundred times easier and more enjoyable), this is the bottom line:
If I want to sass my way in to a party in the shortest skirt I own, get blind drunk on shots of Patron and pass out atop the pile of coats on the bed in the spare room, the next morning – whilst I may want to question my reasons for getting so slammed – I should never, ever have to question whether or not something sexually sinister happened to me during my black out.
That fucking ends here.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU:
This is a really challenging topic, and I’d really love to hear your own experiences or thoughts around it, if you’d feel comfortable sharing with me in the comments below.
With so much love and gratitude,