In This Place of Safety and Sanctuary, Competence and Care

A POCA Volunteer's picture

Trauma is as real for those of us as practitioners as for everyone who carries these events with us and knows the ways they have shaped us and our lives. That bullshit idea about somehow “working through it all” before being in a “healing” role? For myself what I can say is that I’m just not sure how that could ever happen. Obviously being careful to not be projecting onto patients is crucial, but what has happened to us, to me, at this point is as much a part of me as the color of my eyes or the scar on my eyebrow from a pillow fight where my eye landed on a bedpost. It’s part of how I walk in the world. Sometimes it purely sucks and other times it gives me x-ray vision. Sometimes it makes me feel apart like living on another planet and others it makes for instant closeness. With every day and exposure to new and old things and experiences, new and old people, it is there and is reciprocally, continually shaped by these things.

There are certain experiences and I believe acupuncture is one of the very subtle, powerful yet gentle ones, that slide in and lift up the hatch of these core places from the inside. I feel like it offers a glimpse, a reconnection to the feeling of who we really are, both back before the trauma or without it and presently as a survivor of it.

Many of us have put time and distance between ourselves and our trauma.

Practicing again in my home state after many years, at the “scene of the crime,” so to speak, of childhood sexual abuse, and being in clinic, I can be a witness to patients having the experience through acupuncture of moving through to another level, whatever that may be: they discover/reveal parts of themselves, uncovered by the acupuncture and by the safety of the container, and by the normalizing and connecting clinic ethos rather than feeling apart, defective, or isolated. I can also occasionally still be surprised at being in that position myself. The clinic wipes away distance of all kinds.

In this place of safety and sanctuary and competence and care (and to some extent, control: the routines of the work, the repetition, the clear boundaries) I was suddenly confronted by someone from my past: innocently she brought up our common history, to her a bright innocent childhood place; for me, a secret being called up. Yet I was in the role of acupuncturist, of community member and that’s all I had to be. She didn’t know about my past trauma and we didn’t need to go there. At the same time in an adjacent tx room, a client that we had been already aware that some clinic boundaries may have needed to be put up, started pulling for more attention and began to recount her suspicion and disdain that there were pedophiles in her elder housing apartment complex. She spoke at full volume, shouting the word “pedophiles” over and over. I felt acutely aware of the other patients, a few of which jostled awake. I wanted to find the way to acknowledge her concern but also, frankly, to make her stop shouting the word at least. It was like the universe putting me right in the middle of my trauma but with a weird gallows humor, and most importantly, all of this right in the middle of the clinic, with responsibilities to attend to others, and to the clinic space and to how it could be a vehicle for all of us. I honestly can’t say how it would have happened if it was in another setting, except that I suspect I would have just removed myself from it. And here, I couldn’t. Here the space held us, the setting allowed us to be who and what we are right now, in spite of and because of our trauma. I can’t speak to what might have been triggering for others in the space, I checked in but no one mentioned anything. I know for myself, it was as significant step forward in knowing that I am still standing after one of what might be many such experiences along the spectrum of healing. It is deepening my understanding of the ways this trauma-informed setting constantly has healing in store for all of us.


Photo courtesy of
Vanessa Tignanelli