Breakingdown, Breakingthrough

- by Margaret Coyne -

"The most important thing is to realize that traditional psychology and psychiatry do not make a distinction between a mystical experience and a psychotic experience. From a traditional point of view, all forms of non-ordinary states of consciousness - with the exception of dreams where there is a certain tolerance - would be interpreted as pathological phenomena ...."

Stanislav Grof, M.D.

Insights Update-2004:

I would like, if I may, to take a few more moments of the reader's time just to briefly explain how things have been going for me since my last breathwork session a little over seven years ago.

Following my discharge from the psychiatric hospital in July '97 where I was treated for depression for nine days, I was both shocked and saddened to discover that I was no longer seen, by some, as a normal member of society. People I love and trust suddenly started treating me as though I were completely crazy. I was told I could no longer be trusted, but the saddest and most painful comment of all was the suggestion that I should not be working with children. That statement, in effect, put me in the same category as a paedophile.

Just while I'm on the subject of mental health, I would like to question why psychiatrists feel the need to drug patients up to their eyeballs on admittance to hospital - especially someone suffering from depression. I spent the first three days in bed stoned out of my mind and feeling absolutely wonderful!. The only time I did show any kind of emotion was just before the drugs kicked in when I yelled at the doctor for not listening to me. He said he would be back when I calmed down. I left that hospital high as a kite without ever once having dealt with the underlying cause of my depression.

"Many people who have transpersonal experiences are automatically treated as psychotics, people suffering from a mental disease, because psychiatrists do not make a distinction between a mystical experience and a psychotic experience. The concept of spiritual emergency suggests that many episodes of non-ordinary states of consciousness that are currently diagnosed as psychoses and treated by suppressive medication are actually crises of transformation and spiritual opening. Instead of routine suppression through drugs, we should give these people support and guidance to help them through these experiences. When properly understood and properly guided, these states can result in emotional and psychosomatic healing and positive personality transformation...." --Stanislav Grof, M.D.

The medication, Seroxat 20mg (Paxil) certainly did help with the depression and seems to have cured, if that's the word, my eating disorder. However, what was not explained to me, of course, was the awful withdrawal symptoms I would have to endure when trying to come off the tablet. That perhaps, was not their concern. I'm glad to report that five years ago, after many unsuccessful attempts, I finally managed to come off my medication and I'm now functioning very well without it. There's no doubt that these medicines have their good uses, but in my case I don't think that's what was needed.

The support that could have really helped me through those rough times would have been in the form of a loving environment where I could (for as long as it would take) deal with the overwhelming painful shit that surfaced from my breathwork. My ideal sanctuary would be in tranquil surroundings with trained staff who would be available twenty four hours a day to take care of the person going through what Dr. Stanislav Grof refers to as a "spiritual emergency". There is a definite need for such safe places for those who need their shelter.

"In general, if we have transpersonal experiences, have the right context for understanding them, and are able to integrate them well, we are learning about important dimensions of reality and that has to be beneficial and enhancing. Fortunately, as the sophistication in regard to non-ordinary states is gradually increasing in the general population and among professionals, more and more people will be able to experience the transpersonal realm with adequate support and under favourable conditions...." --Stanislav Grof, M.D.

However, having come through not my breakdown but my breakthrough, I now realise how privileged I've been to experience my suffering. Out of all that pain came an understanding of what can sometimes drive people to hurt others (their own suffering) and through that understanding came forgiveness. Here I refer to my adoptive parents.

Without sounding like I'm trying to justify their, at times, unforgivable behaviour, I would like to give the reader some insight into my parents' background which I feel is responsible for the reasons behind the emotional and physical torment they inflicted on me.

To begin with neither of them would have had the opportunity or even contemplated dealing with their own suffering because in those days people would have just struggled on, confiding in no one.

Although it may seem they showed nothing but hate and cruelty towards me, for the most part I did have a very happy time with them. Of course, there were the bad times but also there were many many wonderful moments. I loved them dearly but sadly was incapable of expressing it. My problem, not theirs. Bearing in mind that my adoptive mother was going through a very difficult menopause during the time I was adopted, plus then having to care for an emotionally damaged and sickly child, it's no wonder that at times she almost lost her mind.

A short while after her death in 1996, my father told me of times when she would become very agitated during the night, screaming insults at him. He would have to call the doctor, sometimes at 3.00am, who would then want to admit her to the psychiatric hospital but he would never agree to that. He loved her so much.

I now realise that the times when she would start screaming and deliberately terrifying me, must have been the moments when she just completely snapped. I don't think she had any control over it or during the occasions when she would beat me in the street with a rope in front of everyone. It hurt like hell but I now realise that it was she who was hurting so much more. Nevertheless, to this day, I still suffer from a kind of social phobia when I sometimes dread actually leaving the house because people might start looking at me though the fear is not nearly as bad as it used to be. I've learned to somehow control this anxiety though I always need to take a deep breath before walking out the door, almost like going on stage, I suppose.

Another bad moment was when I brought home some kittens which I thought I was saving from inevitible death and she made me drown them while she watched. I carried that guilt around for many years afterwards. All I can hope for is that I sent the kittys to a better place and that they have forgiven me. But during the times when my adoptive mother was happy we would have wonderful moments together. Like the days, when on our way home from school, we'd walk along the beach close to our house, or every Sunday afternoon when Dad would be asleep, and she'd take the dog and me for a walk lasting sometimes a couple of hours. During that time we would often have very intimate conversations where I would suddenly feel very close to her and wished that I could express my love for her. The words somehow always got stuck in my throat.

My adoptive father also had more than his fair share of sadness to contend with. As a baby he lost his parents and sister to illness and a tragic accident and as a result he and his siblings were raised by his grandmother. Not a great start to life.

I gather times weren't too bad during his adolescence and early adulthood although he did leave school at ten years of age. His marriage, which should have brought him the long-awaited happiness he deserved, ended in tragedy. His wife died, thirty six weeks into her pregnancy, from a "retroperitoneal haemorrhage" according to the death certificate. Of course, the baby died along with her.

Two years later he married my mother who sadly was not able to give him any children either. So, given all the sad and traumatic events in his life, it sure doesn't take a degree in psychology to figure out where his hurt was coming from. Still, for the most part, he was a good father to me and a loving husband to my mother.

I now realise that his unbearable and understandable anger must have been so easily triggered any time I did something wrong. I know deep down he loved me very much and would not have willfully hurt me. I hated him while he was beating me but then I'd immediately forget about it. Two minutes later I would hug him.

Those beatings, while they left no physical scars, definitely instilled in me a strange defensive response to any sudden movement. If I was speaking to someone, for instance, and they happened to raise their arm while gesturing for emphasis, I would instantly duck to defend myself. We would usually laugh with them saying something like, "did you think I was going to hit you?"

However, one of my happiest memories as a child was when my father, on our way home from Mass on Sunday, would buy me the Beano and Dandy comics and read them to me before dinner. It's those kind of moments that I hold dear and despite everything they were the best parents I could ever have hoped for. In some ways, they were as innocent as children themselves.

My breathwork sessions certainly brought out all my anger and frustrations at my parents' behaviour towards me, but it also helped me to understand where they were coming from; why they were often sad and sometimes angry, all of which drove them to do these terrible things.

Despite their shortcomings my adoptive parents were good people.

In recent times there's been something else which I've become aware of and that is that I'm no longer looking for a mother figure in the mother's of my friends, or from other older women with whom I become friendly.

I spent almost my entire life searching for the physical contact and emotional security I'd lost the day I was given up for adoption by my natural mother. Then meant that whenever I would meet a motherly type of woman I'd dearly wish that she was my mum and indeed in later years, when I was drunk, I'd tell her that.

Even as a child, another way I'd try to retrieve these long lost feelings was, by entering relationships with men who were much older than me. I suspect that when a grown up person was hugging and kissing me it was enough to make me feel I was being loved. I didn't really care about the source of the affection as long as I could have it.

Becoming a wife and mother certainly went a long way towards fulfilling that desire although the old feelings of anger and resentment towards my natural mother and adoptive parents still stood in the way of allowing me to fully experience the wonderful gift of love I was receiving from my husband and children.

It wasn't until quite a while after completing my breathwork and therapy sessions with Alan that I noticed I was no longer searching for that lost love of infancy and childhood. The need just wasn't there any more. Returning to and re-experiencing the pain of being separated from my mother shortly after my birth has given me the freedom to let go and finally move on away from the traumatic event. That early terrible hurt had at last been healed.

Like so many others who had re-experienced that pain which they had felt as a baby when separated from their mother, I was later consumed by an overwhelming desire to comfort and care for babies going through exactly that same trauma.

So, in 1998, several months after a hysterectomy which also involved having my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, l began part-time volunteer work in my local children's hospital with babies who, for whatever reason, could not have the love and attention they so desperately need from their parents. I try, during those few hours, to provide even a tiny piece of that love which I hope will help them grow into happy, loving adults.

Unfortunately, owing to more recent ill health which this time is a semi-blocked heart artery, I had to take a few months out from working with my beloved little ones, but I'm glad to report that I'm now well enough to return to the work I truly love.

Looking back over the past seven years I now know I've come a very long way from the person I was back then. Besides dealing with the issue of my adoptive parents, I can honestly say that I'm more at peace with myself now than I've ever been. One area in which that is probably more noticeable is in my attitude towards my own body. No longer do I feel I have to inflict injury on myself in order to make myself feel better.

At the moment I'm nearly three stone overweight mainly due to the weight I put on while taking the anti-depressent, Seroxat, and my hysterectomy six years ago but that doesn't bother me too much. I feel completely at home in my body now and that's a really good feeling.

During the writing of this book my adoptive father died suddenly in hospital. Sadly I wasn't with him that night. A few years earlier when he'd asked my forgiveness I gladly granted it to him and for some unknown reason immediately upon hearing of his death that awful night I once more repeated those words of pardon to him so as he would not leave this world with any sense of guilt on his mind. I knew then how much I really loved him.

Almost a year after his death I was once again driven to find out more about my birth mother. The first time I'd done this was shortly after the death of my adoptive mother. This time I was given the location of her grave and travelled alone to her home town on a beautiful May morning.

By a strange coincidence the graveyard was totally deserted as though I'd been specially allowed to have those precious few moments alone with my mother. As soon as I stood by her grave I was overcome by a tremendous sense of loss which was as strong then as if I'd only just buried her. I was grieving for her all over again. Through my tears I told her I loved her and hoped she was with God in Heaven. I then picked a bunch of wild flowers, put them in an old glass jar which lay close by and placed them near the headstone.

By another strange coincidence that day I came very close to finding out who my real father was. Nothing has since come of that but the good thing is that I no longer feel the intense desire I always had to find him. Perhaps having come so physically close to my mother, even if it was in death, was enough to prove to me the actual existence of at least one of my parents. Even though I always longed to know them I sometimes thought that maybe they didn't really exist. Now that I can visit my mother's grave from time to time, it somehow makes me feel more ordinary - just like everyone else.

One last positive outcome of my own therapy experience as a baby without much physical contact has been my deep understanding of the importance of touching and being lovingly touched. When the opportunity to train as a Baby Massage Instructor presented itself I knew it felt so right for me. My training course will commence within the next few months and afterwards I will then be able to use this skill to show the parents at my childrens' hospital how to use the power of massage to help heal their babies. I am so looking forward to providing this wonderful and needed service.

While life for me at the moment is good and I've a very positive outlook on things, I'm still very much working through my process which I know in time will bring about the final healing I need to completely let go of my painful past. It's been a long journey and one that I hope will inspire others who may just be starting out on their own personal journeys. I wish them well.

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