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Diving into the Darkness
This is a blog by our New York facilitator, Jennifer Patterson. Here’s a little bit more about her and then into the blog:
Jennifer Patterson is a breathwork practitioner, healer, and grief worker based in New York City with a special focus on trauma-informed, gender-inclusive healing and grief support. Following years working in the anti-violence field, as a rape crisis counselor, community organizer and editor of an anthology about queerness and sexual violence, Jennifer discovered breathwork in the wake of a great personal loss. She left her first-ever session feeling a new connection with her inner wisdom and reminded that there is joy and aliveness always living alongside grief and pain – even the most overwhelming forms. Jennifer knew that she wanted to offer breathwork in her anti-violence and LGBTQ communities in an accessible, trauma-aware aware way, and she began a regular practice working with individuals and groups of all sizes.
Jennifer believes that recovery can look many different ways; she offers person-centered care and believes that her clients are the experts of their own experience.
Diving into the Darkness
Because of my personal background & professional study of trauma, substance misuse, & sexual violence many people see a mirror and come to me in crisis. Clients come to address experiences like reeling from a recent assault to excavating the trauma from childhood sexual abuse to overdosing days before to feeling overwhelmed by suicidal ideation to trying to address and ease chronic pain— people come to me at a breaking point, at a place where it has all become to big to survive alone. It can feel so tenuous, this being alive thing. In these moments, it is so wise to reach out for additional support.
I’m often told I’m the first point of contact, the first attempt at finally addressing deep wounding. This in itself is a stunning & complex place to work from & something I take extreme care in. I know how easily we can be triggered when we are trying to access healing and so it’s my deep desire to create spaces that can hold whatever comes up in session.
Every time I get a chance to work with someone with breathwork, I am reminded of the power of diving into the bottom of the well with another. A practice of conscious breath takes us into our most difficult emotions and experiences, often quite fast. Frequently what clients find there can feel scary or overwhelming but I’m quick to remind them that the power of breathwork is that we can brush up against our edges, look whatever is scaring us in the face and then learn to breathe our way back out of that place, all with the support of another was witness and guide.
But I’m often asked about how I “protect” myself from this “darkness”, the energy that can feel so terrifying & all consuming. There is fear of the darkness they are carrying— it’s too much, too heavy, too bad, too wrong, too scary. In a session recently someone looked me in the eye & asked me, point blank, how I protect myself from what my clients are carrying, how I keep myself safe. I looked right back and said “I don’t think I have to protect myself from it or you. I’m not afraid of anything you’re carrying. I also know that place. I’ve spent so much of my life living there and I am not afraid of the darkness.”
Those of us that know this darkness, those of us that learn of its existence young are forever changed— it literally transforms and shapes how we understand the world and our place in it. We learn, often in an instant, just how truly terrifying living can be. In the wake of something so horrifying, it makes sense that we try to push down or turn away from it. It’s self-preservation and an attempt at control. But what we are scared of, what is still living deeply in our bodies never actually goes away until we acknowledge the size and depth of the pain, grief, loss, anger, desperation, sadness, fear and more. Sometimes we just need to let it get as big as it wants and needs to be, knowing that in a short time, we will get to the other side of it and then later, find some ease as the session ends.
With traumatic experiences, which sometimes happen once but often continue, especially in this world of such institutional violence and oppression, we learn to internalize the violence—we take it in because if it’s inside us, it can be somewhat controlled. But if it’s out there, than we can feel fearful of everything. Because we learn to internalize it, we make ourselves bad and so often the question people ask me is also “what do you do to protect yourself from me?” which makes me cry even as I write this because I know the isolation there. I know how deeply we believe that we don’t deserve support or that it will be too much for someone to do so.
One of my very favorite parts of this work is to tell people that we can hold it all, together, in session. Many people are shocked to hear that yes, even the worst of it can be held, looked at, breathed with & each time, we still make it to the end of the session. And seeing someone and feeling how much their energy has shifted by the end of the session keeps me coming back to this space. It’s incredible to witness.
For me, that is alignment. Breathwork has helped me address so much of the grief, pain, anger and violence I’m carrying. My personal experience connects me to one of the greatest gifts of this work: that I can use my deepest wounds, that they can allow me to walk into the underworld with someone and watch them leave changed, more at ease, witnessed, reconnected to themselves. More connected to self, spirit and all that is and all that will be.