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Traveling at home.

As a massage therapist for 13 years, I have enjoyed the flexibility and freedom to travel. I expanded my comfort zone, seeking truth as interpreted by the great and lesser-known religions. I fell in love with poor yet achingly generous villagers. But in retrospect I realize that I was always the observer, dabbling around the edges of my own faith, kept safe by the distance of foreign countries. Then our economy imploded. Travel was put on the back burner, and I decided to try traveling at home.

I set out to learn about the diverse immigrant community here in Baltimore and the variety of non-profit groups devoted to serving them. One group I happened upon was Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (ASTT), a heroic group of mental health professionals and case managers dedicated to the healing of those who have suffered unimaginable violence. I had no idea what I was getting into.

Working with ASTT psychotherapist Amy Rakusin, I learned to treat individuals who have survived severe trauma in a way that helps them feel in control of the session and safely grounded in the present. I learned to create and to observe both verbal and non-verbal cues to engender trust in the relationship and to create safety in the environment. But the real learning came from the stories.

One example is Ayana, a young woman from East Africa, who arrived in Baltimore as I was beginning this work. She was sweet, lovely, and utterly traumatized. Through a series of massage and then gentler, deeper Reiki sessions, she shared her story of her father who was jailed after a public demonstration and never seen again. When Ayana investigated, she, too, was imprisoned. She told of being raped, beaten, and threatened with execution. She also described her jail cell, where she found God, visiting her in a vision in her despair. She told me her story in whispers, sharing a secret, shining as she recounted the feelings of protection she felt while crossing a continent on foot.

After five months of this work, I hit the wall. For weeks, I felt the need to take a break, but how could I stop when the pain of my clients was so real and so raw? Did I even deserve to feel stressed?

One night, before my appointed day at ASTT, I had a whopper of an anxiety attack. My heart was racing. I could barely breathe. A yoga class and night out wouldn't cut it. I needed to draw from a deeper well.

At ASTT, I heard about the outreach work being done with refugees at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation. In college I had left behind my Protestant roots. I had spent several years in Santa Fe, chanting with gurus, burning sage, and learning to rely on my intuition. But I hadn't made space for God in years, and I was hurting. I have now found a spiritual home, where I can unpack old baggage without judgment. I have brought my love of God back to the traditions that are familiar. The liturgy and community sustain me. I bring my own healing back to the massage table and hope to pass it on.

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Title Annotation:WAYS WE HEAL / Relationships
Author:Landon, Margo
Publication:Spirituality & Health Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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