Part One of this (long) post reprints with permission my guest column from “Soul Songs” (March 2016), the free monthly newsletter on Anne Marie Bennett’s rich SoulCollage(R) website Kaleidosoul.com. Check it out. Part One tells how my “Inner Athlete” self part got found when I used the process of SoulCollage(R) to make personal cards for my own psychological and spiritual growth. I share the card and the images on it in that spirit.
Welcome “Soul Songs” readers. Scroll down to continue with Part Two.
“Athlete? You’ve got to be kidding…”
Oh, why did I volunteer to write this column about my Inner Athlete? Me, who often gives thanks that she was born before Title IX. That law gave American women a place in athletics in 1972. Until then, only 1 in 27 American girls competed in high school sports. I was not that one.
But I trust the impulse that made me say “I’ll write that column.” So the quest for my Inner Athlete begins.
She’s not among the cards already in my SoulCollage® deck. It’s time to make an intentional card for her.
Head to the used book store. Invest in two books of sports photos. Behold the images, and imagine becoming those athletes with their rippling muscles and their strained grimaces, their dejected losses and their elated wins.
Try to imagine organizing my life around winning. Championship boxer Muhammed Ali said, “I hated every minute of training.” I try to imagine training; to imagine hating it and doing it every day because I want to win.
Rummage in my memory banks: take out memories of swimming, bike riding, caving, skating, dodge ball, somersaults, monkey bars. So much is forgotten, so much just packed away in boxes marked “unimportant” or “entertainment” or “playing.” Not “athletics.”
Stick with it, make some cards: Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile; teammates in uniforms straining for the ball; a gymnast accepting an Olympic gold; a competitive woman body builder, muscles greased and bulging; determined.
As I hang out in that alien world, it becomes a little more familiar, though never home
And then, from all the memories and images, something emerges.
It’s her! My Inner Athlete!
She is 10 years old, maybe 11, jumping rope on the blacktop driveway of Spring Garden elementary school.
Here’s her card:
Title of Card: “Champeen Jumper”
And here is My Dialogue with Her, the girl in Saddle Shoes
Me: Who are you:
I am the One Who is focused and determined to win.
I am the One Who found something I am physically good at, and practiced and practiced with the Little Girls, and now I’m in the Big Girls Champeen Jumper competition, and I’m winning!
I am the One Who you have forgotten about but still lives in your memory and your body cells
Me: Do you have something for me today?
Yes, I give you the kinetic memory I carry of leaping over that rope,
flying across the playground, around the tree and the parked car,
and running fast, much faster than the girl behind me,
and getting back to the turning rope just in time to make my jump
I give you the memory I carry of the rhythmic snap of the rope on the blacktop,
the pause as I work out the exact timing so I can get in,
jump over the rope,
and get out without getting a rope burn on my neck.
Me: Do you have a message for me?
Yes, Don’t ever forget me again! I run so fast and jump so skillfully and plan so strategically. I can help you in your present life: Call on me when you need drive, adrenaline, force of will. I’ll help you keep your eye on the prize.
Tears well up when I read this. I minimized her. “What’s a jump rope championship compared to the Super Bowl? the World Cup?” I was wrong. She is precious.
“Welcome back into my consciousness, my dear contender for champeen jumper of New Jersey, Spring Garden School Playground Division.”
My Little Inner Athlete joins others in my Inner and Outer Worlds.
She’s in my deck with the basketball players and Olympic champions. She joins the spiritual athletes who do yoga. She joins the artistic athletes who dance, especially those in my beloved “Debbie Davis and the Senior Moments Tap Dance Troupe.” We may not be on TV “Dancing with the Stars,” but we are a powerful team showing physical skill, determination, and grace in our dance performances.
My Inner Athlete has been in my life about a month, and together we’re learning how she got squashed and forgotten, and what will help her grow, prosper, and help me to find and follow my bliss.
Did naCCT Squash My Inner Athlete?
When I began my exploration of my Inner Athlete, I wrote “But I can’t say any traumas played a part in my not becoming an athlete.” Such a telling remark, and so typical of an naCCT survivor.
Someone could, of course, simply step back from athletics because other activities were more appealing
9 ways to stunt, squash or banish an Athletic Self Part
But as I continued on this quest for my lost Inner Athlete and poked around in her storyline, I realized so many factors can squash athletic expression: Blatant physical trauma such as beating, incest, medical traumas, natural disasters, war. And more covert, often non-physical factors, such as:
- competition itself, fear of losing AND fear of winning
- body image: especially at puberty: feeling ambivalent, or even terrified, of putting their bodies out in public, fear of exposure and being found lacking, being laughed at
- bullying experiences, on the field, in the locker room, with peers, teachers, coaches
- challenging parents, for example, over-involved “helicopter mom” or “stage mom”
- too many responsibilities at home to have the freedom to take part in athletics.
- poverty made it impossible to afford expensive uniforms, lessons, fees
- attachment issues made belonging to a group such as a team feel dangerous
- unsupportive environment: uninterested non-athletic family, cultural indifference as in USA before Title IX, or social restrictions “It just isn’t done”
- Shame-filled experiences of failures, for example, of letting teammates down by a poor performance
And my Inner Investigator tracked down one more that I am focusing on here; one that was truly “covert” because it wasn’t identified as a factor until decades later. That factor is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
SPD, formerly called Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) is a neurological problem. In SPD the parts of the nervous system that process information from our eyes, ears, and other senses don’t work together to help us move and act effectively; instead the information stays disorganized and confuses us.
Like naCCT, SPD kind of “didn’t exist” because it wasn’t identified and given a name. But, also like naCCT, SPD was still there nameless, covert, causing damage.
When I look back on being introduced to American softball in third grade, it’s clear that I had SPD. Organizing my vision and my movements for hitting a softball was totally beyond me.
At the end of the season, my kindly gym teacher said, “Don’t worry, you’ll probably get a hit next year”
My catching problem was even worse. It was handled by sending me way out to the edge of the playing field when the other team was at bat. There I could safely scuff the dirt and daydream. Nobody in third grade, except maybe Babs Franklin, ever hit the softball out that far.
But sometimes Babs got a turn at bat.
I felt terror as I looked up from my daydream and saw doom flying through the sky toward me in the form of a white softball, a softball I would invariably fail to catch.
The terror seemed to be short-lived, only lasting as long as the ball was bouncing away from my fumble. My teacher was kind and the other kids still eventually chose me to be on their team. In my typical fashion, I’ve downplayed it, thought it was funny. Softball was just something not important that I couldn’t do.
But looking back, it must have been pretty traumatic.
As I investigated my Inner Athlete story, I remembered how the trouble turned up in a recurring dream.
A really bad dream, a cold War, Atom bomb, air raid drill driven dream. We knew what the bomb would do. Our homes all had maps with bull’s eyes around New York City, each ring defining the nature of our annihilation. People in my town, 12 miles from the prime target of midtown Manhattan, would either “vaporize” or “liquefy.”
In school we had air raid drills. We kids all filed into the basement and lay down sort of on top of each other with one hand cushioning our faces pressed against the smelly floor, the other supposedly, unrealistically, “protecting” the backs of our necks.
My undiagnosed SPD, my hyper-responsibility, and the very real societal dread of nuclear Armageddon merged into a recurring nightmare for my budding (non)athlete.
I dreamed I was in my backyard, looking up through the birch tree branches.
The atom bomb was falling out of the sky and my job was to catch it and save the entire New York area from nuclear annihilation.
Just as I did in gym class, I ran hopelessly towards the falling bomb, extended my arms, turned my cupped palms upward to make the catch, knowing it would either land a foot away from my miscalculation, or else land in my hands, bounce out onto the ground, and explode.
Then I woke up, terrified and guilty.
That was a trauma dream, an intrusive trauma symptom. The core of trauma is fearing for your life. This was a multifaceted, many-layered Chronic Covert Trauma, with elements of neurological challenges in the SPD, of interpersonal challenges in the excessive responsibility and guilt for letting down my teammates (forgiving as they may have been) and all woven into a fear of literal death and total annihilation.
We would all die, and their dying thoughts would be of me, fumbling the catch, causing the end of our world.
Thankfully, many years later, I’m here, not annihilated.
No bomb fell. The cold war receded into history.
I no longer have to take gym class.
I found jump roping, and then moved on to other activities.
Several decades later, after recurring dizzy spells and vision problems, I was diagnosed and treated for SPD by an occupational therapist. I’m much more comfortable in my body, with no dizzy spells. I haven’t yet tried to catch a baseball…Maybe that’s next on my agenda!
Thank you for coming along with me on my quest and for listening to my story.
Telling the story, or “creating a coherent narrative” in the buzzwords of the trauma treatment world, is a crucial activity in trauma recovery.
Sometimes the story’s told with words, sometimes with movement or sound, sometimes with the images used in visual journaling or SoulCollage® cards.
Calmly, compassionately narrating the story helps
organize memories and feelings,
make sense of what happened, and
give a little witnessing distance from painful events that puts what happened into a bigger framework.
After meeting these aspects of my Inner Athlete and teasing out and telling their stories, I have a much more realistic, complete, and nuanced sense of this aspect of myself.
And now it’s your turn…
Telling our stories is also a way of communicating and connecting with other people, as we connect here on this modern miracle of the internet.
What about you?
SPD is fairly recent diagnosis, could it apply to you?
What other experiences could have constricted or enhanced your use of your body in sports, dance, yoga?
Can my story here in this post serve as an inspiration or model for you?
Is this a good time for you to delve deep, encounter lost or hidden parts of your precious self, and get to know them and help them narrate their story?
How can you take some actions today to welcome lost aspects of your inner athlete back into your sense of your self, your inner family? How can you celebrate those aspects that have been joyously present with you all along?
SoulCollage® is a trademarked process created by Seena B. Frost.
For more information about Seena and the origins of SoulCollage®, please visit her website
SoulCollage® cards are made either from one’s own art or from images found in materials which have been bought by or given to the SoulCollage® card maker. These collaged cards are used only for the cardmaker’s own inner exploration. SoulCollage® cards are not sold, traded, bartered, or copied (except as a back-up for the cardmakers own use) as is stated in the “Principles of SoulCollage®.” Where SoulCollage® cards are available to be seen by others, it is for the purposes either of demonstrating the SoulCollage® process or of sharing the cardmakers’ inner process in the context of community. SoulCollage® is grateful to the artists and photographers who make this deep awakening process possible and in all ways SoulCollage® seeks to be respectful of their rights.
© 2016 Ricia Fleming