The notion of “embodiment” first appeared on my radar screen in 1996 when I met Dr. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, the co-founder of Lomi School and Strozzi Institute. Having studied with Dr. Randolph Stone (the originator of Polarity Therapy) for many years, he teaches from a somatic perspective, focused on how we develop presence and being.
Training at Strozzi Institute was a deeply revealing process with no place to hide. I may have had a decade of sobriety by then, but the “me” on the inside still felt young, insecure and ashamed. So I was shocked and gratified when Richard described me as an exemplar of recovery. Really? Someone who embodied recovery? And anyway, what does that mean?
I had a sense, a glimmer of understanding through the haze of self-criticism. It’s something beyond not drinking alcohol (for that was my drug of choice). Abstinence is just the beginning. Real recovery comes when both the underlying issues are addressed, and innate drinking practices are well and truly replaced with new ones. While this may seem clichéd, it’s like the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly - the same original DNA, yet a new identity, a different way of being in the world.
Let me give you an example. Let’s consider two clients I’ll refer to as Maria and Joan.
Maria has been sober for twelve years. She goes to one or two 12-step meetings a week, has a sponsor and sponsors others. She struggles with co-dependency issues with her partner and co-workers, and has been unable to give up smoking. She also resists working on her family of origin issues. On the few occasions when we have delved into somatic work – experimenting with shifting awareness to her breathing patterns, noticing sensations, tracking repetitive movements she makes with her hands – Maria becomes agitated, tends to dissociate,
and is resistant to continuing in this manner. I interpret these as signs we’re on to something significant, and acknowledge we will need to go slowly to accommodate these responses, ones I’d call well established safety strategies. I assess Maria as managing significant time in sobriety but not embodying recovery.
Joan is a client with seven years sobriety. She used to go 12-step meetings, had a sponsor and worked the steps. She has been close to death more than once due to serious accidents and other events, creating a profound spiritual connection as a result. We are working on healing this traumatic past. She has a meditation practice and accessing sensation in the body has been relatively easy given the foundation already in place. She is still scared at times, still challenged by intimacy and confrontation and yet she is able to be present for the work. Joan walks the talk of the program (even though she doesn’t attend meetings much any more): she is honest, congruent, and committed to exploring the tough terrain that is personal development and healing. This is someone I would assess as embodying recovery.
Today I have twenty-seven years’ sobriety, for which I’m enormously grateful. I’ve worked with others therapeutically for most of that time, so have been exposed to hundreds of clients from different walks of life. As a result I have deep personal and professional experience of what I call embodied recovery. I believe the basis for the embodiment of recovery is connected to tolerating sensation and presence. The difference between recovery and embodied recovery is someone having the ability to be present in the body – for themselves and others, to be authentic and congruent, to feel sensation and be intimate, and to have a spiritual connection.
Some believe addiction is a disease, others believe it is the multi-faceted result of childhood difficulty (lack of attachment to care-givers, trauma). It is also about disconnection from the body and dependence on outside sources for pleasure. The addicted person disconnects from the present and from the body. They may be lost in the “present” moment of the sensation of the high of the experience, but that’s different than being in the present – in the here and now, aware of the environment, and the moment-to-moment sensations of the body (heart beating, temperature fluctuations, thirst, hunger, etc.).
Alcoholics and addicts are acutely aware of the sensations their drug of choice soothes – responses like these are commonplace: “heart pounding, butterflies in my stomach, panic rising, aches in my body, terror rising in my chest, stomach in knots, heart in my throat.” How then to tune in to the sensations of sobriety, shifting from caterpillar to butterfly?
Developing a somatic sensibility creates an opportunity to be re-introduced to the natural pleasures of the body – the smell of freshly washed hair, the texture of the inside of the arm, or the beauty of the handprint. People I’ve worked with are surprised and appreciative to rediscover their pulse, at wrist or neck – one client reporting the rhythm of her pulse providing a deep soothing.
If your curiousity is piqued and you’re interested in talking to me about this approach, or would like me to provide a workshop or speak at an event, please contact me.
"Master Somatic Coach Clare Myatt brings a depth and breadth to her work that is wise, pragmatic, and highly skillful. Her sensitive touch and caring heart opens doors into new actions and new ways of being. I unconditionally recommend Clare for her Somatic Coaching and Bodywork."