trauma resources for the ann arbor neighborhood
On Saturday Michaelene and I attended a symposium on trauma healing in Ann Arbor. We were asked to present on Constellations.
This was the second symposium on trauma healing by this new group, Trauma Resources for the Ann Arbor Neighborhood. Topics covered included EFT (emotional freedom technique), EMDR (eye movement desensitization & reprocessing), sound healing, constellations, and mindfulness.
The sound healing was generated using crystal bowls. It was a beautiful, gorgeous experience. The sound filled the room and reverberated in our bodies and chakras. It was the perfect set up for a constellation.
We led a brief constellation demonstration which allowed everyone present to experience a direct constellation in pairs if they chose. About twenty people chose to connect with someone through the constellation process. Another beautiful experience.
The rain came just before we started. It was a perfect summery spring rain. By the end, the sky had cleared up. Neither of us had brought umbrellas but by the time we left it was dry and wonderful. A perfect day.
To learn more about Trauma Resources for the Ann Arbor Neighborhood visit their website Traan.org.
Also, here’s a free Healing Trauma Summit online starting June 4th offered by Sounds True.
MY FIRST CONSTELLATION EXPERIENCE
It was 2011 when it hit. I had been avoiding it my whole life, fearful that it would find me. I had practically been running from it for decades, especially knowing that my mother had it bad. Other family members had also experienced it, and I knew I was marked. I had been determined from a young age not to experience it.
But it was 2011 when depression not only found me, it knocked me out flat.
It felt like nothing I’d ever experienced or could even imagine. At times I felt like my heart would burst and I would be broken open from the inside. I went through the motions at work and felt disappointed in myself that I couldn’t put more effort and care into my work. Having a strong work ethic runs deep in my family, as does helping others, but I could hardly even bring myself to get to work, much less put in any effort.
Every day was a pretty desperate struggle.
I was raised by academic-types who always emphasized education and learning. I took a strengths-finder inventory once and was disappointed to learn that my #1 strength was identified as “input” in that I like to collect information. Great, I thought, my strength is being a nerd. So when I found myself in the strange and terrifying and unfamiliar world of depression, my inclination was to go to the library and literally look up every book I could find on ‘healing.’
I still have the receipt for my library checkout from February 2012:
The Four Levels of Healing had a huge impact on me. I think of it frequently, as it was pretty transformational for me, and I reference it often in my work with others.
In addition to reading about healing, I also went to therapy. I had never done that before.
I looked up names of therapists offered by my insurance provider. I read their bios and specialties and picked one I liked. The first person I found ended up also being my mom’s therapist. My mom had been seeing this woman before I independently chose her on my own. Seriously. You can imagine my surprise!
After I went to her a few times, I tried another therapist. This second one was horrible. I still think about writing a letter to the insurance provider about it. She spent the first 20 minutes of our first session together reading the notes that my first therapist had written. So rather than asking me about me, she read what her colleague had to say about me instead. While I was sitting right there.
Each session was worse than the last.
Even waiting in the waiting room made me uncomfortable.
There were people in the waiting room who clearly had serious behavioral issues, and I felt uncomfortable and on edge just being in the room. Although I tend to be late to most things generally, I always arrived on time, but she never called me until 15 minutes or more past our appointment time. And the longer I waited, the more I felt the wait negatively impacting my mental health, the exact opposite of my reason for being there. When I finally gathered the courage to say something to her about this, she defensively shot back: “Don’t worry, you’ll get your money’s worth!”
Her tone was aggressive, short, and utterly dismissive.
She made assumptions about what my concerns were.
They were not about money at all. My issue was that I didn’t feel respected by her.
But I couldn’t say that to her then.
I did not see her again.
My third therapist was male. He came recommended by a friend. Thankfully, he was pretty good.
He helped me realize that I needed to be more in touch with my feelings, to check in with myself about them often.
I saw him regularly for quite a while. Eventually, though, I felt I had gone as far as I could with him.
I felt my healing journey had plateaued, and I was still looking for ascension.
It was then, in 2013, that a dear friend of mine told me about a professional they had just started seeing.
My friend was excited and bursting with energy, satisfaction, and awe at their experience with this different type of practitioner.
This isn’t a typical therapist, my friend explained. She does this thing called constellations. In a one-on-one private session they had placed little wooden figurines down on a board to represent key people and issues in my friend’s life. My friend found it therapeutic, transformative, and healing at a completely new level. My friend had been in continued reverberation from the harmful effects of a former romantic relationship. Although the two were no longer together, there still seemed to be an energetic entanglement that needed severing. Through the constellation method, my friend was able to “encounter” their former partner and effectively close that chapter in their life, moving forward without any ties or entanglements for once and for all. It was so powerful and visceral, my friend explained, and so completely nourishing and healing. It was unlike anything they’d ever experienced, and my friend felt newly whole and at peace.
The transformation in my friend was palpable.
I was captivated and eager to try it. So with permission from my friend, I took the steps to reach out to this intriguing practitioner who facilitates healing using an unfamiliar and enthralling method. It sounded like just the thing to propel me to the next level of my healing journey. It was moving beyond the limits of simple talk therapy, which only accesses healing at a mental or cognitive level. This new approach accessed all four levels of healing, which I’d realized was profoundly important from reading the first book on my library list (The Four Levels of Healing: A Guide to Balancing the Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, and Physical Aspects of Life).
I couldn't wait to experience it.
On the day of our scheduled appointment, it took me longer to drive the distance than I’d anticipated, and I got a little lost. I called this new practitioner to explain that I was running late, and I wondered if I should just turn around and reschedule.
I was anxious, nervous, and even a little panicky.
The voice on the phone, though, was compassionate, understanding, and soothing.
She was calm and patient and completely chill.
Her voice, demeanor, and words instantly grounded and calmed me.
She even told me to take my time, not to worry. Whew, I thought. She didn’t seem bothered at all that I was late, and her energy was so loving and calming.
She was reassuring, inviting, understanding, and grounding, all at once.
That was how I first encountered Michaelene.
When we met, I told her a little about myself, and she invited me to do a constellation. She began by asking me to close my eyes and get comfortable, and then she led a brief meditation. She asked me to imagine my father and his parents and their parents, and so on and so forth, all the way back, behind my right shoulder. Then she asked me to imagine my mother and her parents and their parents, and so on and so forth, all the way back, behind my left shoulder.
It was the first time in my life that I’d felt connected to all of my ancestors, and it felt wonderful.
I started crying, just feeling the love and support of all of my ancestors behind me.
It was powerful. I felt so held. I felt loved and embraced and encouraged.
And we hadn’t even started the constellation!
It was through a Family Constellation with Michaelene that I finally “met” the grandfather I had never known. My mother’s father died when my mother was 11. The elders around her, meaning well, told her to stop crying and “be a big girl now” the same day she heard the news. They thought she was too young to go to his funeral, so she was prohibited from attending it. Consequently, she was unable to fully grieve this devastating loss, which profoundly altered the rest of her life. And indeed this loss, and her grief, affected my own life, too. It’s these unprocessed emotions which I believe are at the source of her depression, which several of my grandfather’s descendents also share.
Family Constellations allowed me to connect with the grandfather I had never met, never felt.
It was incredibly valuable. It is truly “Healing through Connecting,” as Michaelene says.
My mother and I had both been disconnected from this important ancestor whom I’d never met, but who’d influenced my life tremendously. The constellation process allowed me to feel our connection.
I had known he was my grandfather at a cognitive level, but I’d never felt “connected” to him before.
Michaelene changed that.
Until I met Michaelene I never understood or appreciated how deeply tied we are to our family histories and family connections and disconnections.
Even when we don’t know the stories tied to our family members, we still feel the effects of their loss and disconnection, we just don’t realize how much our lives are connected to those who came before us. In our culture we are socialized to focus so much on the individual, in “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps,” that we fail to appreciate how deeply connected we are to our ancestors in ways that we can’t even imagine.
We fail to understand how to effectively heal our wounds, and to appreciate that the ultimate way to do this is through connecting with others.
Constellations facilitate Healing Through Connecting, healing at a profoundly deep level, much deeper than just a cognitive level. I no longer have depression, and I have never needed to see another therapist or healer. I barely see a doctor.
I encourage anyone who is interested in exploring the source of their woes, or exploring connections (or disconnections) with family members or others, to try out constellations. While I was comfortable jumping right into it in a one-on-one session, for the last few years I’ve exclusively been experiencing constellations through group workshop sessions.
Experiencing constellations with actual human beings standing in as representatives,
surrounded by compassionate people who are witnesses to the healing,
facilitates healing at a deeper level.
For those who are curious but more hesitant, the beauty of group workshop sessions is that one can simply observe without ever participating. Yet even when observing and not participating, another cool thing about constellations is that sometimes, without even knowing it, observers experience their own healing in subtle, yet profound, ways.
If you are at all intrigued, I encourage you to check it out! It is truly transformational work.