“Honor your timing, honor your feet”: Atara Vogelstein, Drama Therapist, LCAT
“I am honoring my feet,” Khary Green reflects to the group. We are practicing “moving from
stuckness into your own embodied resource” with the guidance of Brian Harris. Brian is
inviting us to consider “sound as touch to the body,” and in this moment, it moves gently.
Amber Gray has reminded us that “in trauma work, there’s no demand for change” and to
“honor your timing.” We are pacing ourselves with attention to breath, rhythm, and sound.
Craig Haen tells us that “secrecy is at the heart of trauma,” and quotes Dori Laub who said
that trauma is “an event without a witness.” I don’t want to tell you the dates Khary, Brian,
Amber, Craig or Dori spoke these wise words because trauma obliviates time and
disillusions chronology, confuses ecosystems and ruins meaning. Instead, I want to invite
you to take this in. To sit with. To allow room for pause. To honor your timing.
How often do you sit barefoot on the floor during a professional training? As a drama
therapist, this is something I got used to in grad school, but how good it feels to come back
into a barefooted space with a room full of therapists and explore our mass disconnection.
We are coming from different disciplines–drama therapy, dance/movement therapy, music
therapy, art therapy, poetry therapy, somatic experiencing, clinical social work–and we all
share a hunger to delve deeper. To establish a communal space for resourcefulness in a
profession that carries the heartbreak, the brokenness, the collapse, the grief, the anxieties,
the abuses, and the hopes/dreams/expressions of the world.
The more resourced we are as clinicians, the more of a resource we can be for our clients,
becoming our “own embodied resource” (Harris). To be resourced, to have a well to draw
from, when hydration is needed, when our nervous systems are thirsty and crave osmosis,
when destabilization threatens our cores. This well gets deeper and the water clearer each
weekend that we gather. As we explore the complexities of trauma and the intricacies of
central and peripheral harm, we are reminded by Amber to “shift your bodies to comfort,”
embracing “microshifts” in the ventral and dorsal vagal systems in our bodies. We sing
through grief with Brian and play through anxiety with Craig, Heidi Landis, and Magdalena
Karlick. We sit with the systems of harm against Black and Brown and non-white bodies,
and “reimagine routes toward collective liberation in mental health treatment” (Williams)
with Britton Williams and Kat Lee. We fragment poetry and embody words and roles, and
discuss the duality or multiplicity of realities of dissociation and imagination. We play as an
anxiety antidote with Craig, Heidi and Nancy Scherlong. We make art, and sound, and
movement, over and over and over again. We roll and pound clay, our unconsciousness
alive, (trans)forming somatic experience conscious. In the room, there is life, there is
vitality, there is the essence of connection that many of us as creative arts therapists intimately know can happen with a client or a group of clients when space is offered to take
risks and, as Amber offered us, “micromobilizations” are explored.
How do we navigate in a world cracking, re-abandoning unhoused individuals on streets,
targeting and privileging certain bodies, trashing the lands we walk on that were stolen to
begin with? How do we show up in a room of clients and say “this is a safe space” when
there is no safe space; while we can say “safe enough,” “brave enough,” “safer,” yet nothing
is guaranteed? Can we show up and say “this is not a safe space, how can we make it safer?”
And how do we?
In the world of theatre, an actor can take risks, and those risks may impact the audience
and fellow actors or collaborators in a multitude of ways. As psychotherapists, therapists,
clinicians, we are contracted to take care of our clients or provide the support we can
within our scope of care. To care for, as to love, is to take a risk. I witness members of my
cohort risk-taking, stepping into bigger shoes and taking up more space. Vocalizing softly
and loudly, echoing and mirroring one another in moving attunement. I find parallels
between my risk-taking with the group and my own healing journey from interpersonal
trauma. I sit with gratitude from the expressed and the unexpressed, and the capacity of
this group to witness, reflect, and hold. I consider the importance of humor and of the
therapist as playful and unfixed, an agile, welcoming witness. How fluidity can relieve
stuckness. How movement shifts, shifts, shifts. How grieving requires a degree of
movement that trauma stifles; how grief is stale, how grieving is restorative. How trauma
doesn’t have verbs other than traumatize(d) and traumatizing. How immersion in natural
resources can become natural resources. On our last day of training, we are comfortable in
silence. We know this is not our last day, as becoming who we are as individuals and as
therapists is an ongoing practice.
I am walking up the east side of lower Manhattan as I write this, passing hospital row, and
am reminded of the magnitude of stories and bodies and aggressions that these walls hold,
these sidewalks shadow. I am in New York but cohort members have traveled from near
and far, and I think of the metaphorical suitcase of strength we packed together with Craig
this morning. I shoveled in dirt, noting its weight, the mess it creates, voicing permission or
acknowledgement to the group that we can return to the earth, our roots, and be messy, be
dirty; that it’s messy and dirty and that’s okay; and then I threw in some dirt with my
hands. It is our hands, our feet, our ability to be grounded or re-ground as the earth shakes,
and create a cocoon of care where butterflies are going extinct, that harbors us as
embodied practitioners, soulful healers, wholesome guides. How we anchor or armor
ourselves is in the release of constriction, and the breathing in of expansion. We are fire
and rain to a torched earth, so we come together to harness the water amongst ourselves.