Thursday, July 7, 2011

Healing Touch

Too many of my friends and loved ones know what it is to grow up in homes where violence is ever present. Too many of the people I care deeply about were physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused by care givers who took too much and left deep scars in their lives and spirits.

I am a survivor.

I grew up, raised by my step-father, my Mom's second husband, who was, because of pain from his own childhood, an addict that used his hands and feet to beat out his rage into the body of my Mother and me. My earliest memories are of the day his mother died, a woman to whom I was very close, and the day when he beat my Mom unconscious in front of me outside of our home while my Mom was eight months pregnant with my little brother. Those memories are 30 years old, and they are still fresh in my mind. I can see the twilight, the concrete stairs leading down from our house to the street, I can see the screen door that I am looking through, and I can see my child hands gripping the mesh and crying as I watch my Mom lying, unconscious, below. I remember thinking that a car was going to park on her because she was laid out exactly in a parking space against the curb. I can not see my step-father in my memory, but he is present as a disturbance in the air as he rushed up into the house. I remember him yelling at me to go to my room, and I can even see the wood paneled walls of my bedroom.

Some children's minds bend around the memories and bury them. My mind has always done the opposite. I can reply each instance of fear and pain and trauma and rage like an old familiar VHS tape.

I have done much work to heal from that past, and while my spirit has come such a long way in its healing process, as has my mind, those memories also exist as very real trauma in the body. From ancient philosophy to modern medecine we have ample proof, science, reasoning and faith that tells us that the mind, body and spirit are interconnected in subtle ways. Any doctor will tell you that to heal from trauma, one has to rehabilitate all three.

Five weeks or so ago, I worked up the courage to ask a beautiful man from my gym out for coffee. It took me about a month and a whole lot of gumption to finally, haltingly, almost dropping my cell phone, if he would like to get coffee sometime. I almost fell off of the pec machine when he said yes and flashed me his diamond smile.

It wasn't long before he shared with me that he was a massage therapist with both a private practice as well as the staff massage therapist with Cirque du Soleil's new show Zarkana (GO AND SEE THE SHOW...IT IS AMAZING!). And it was during one of our very first conversations that Keith, that's his name...Keith Stiles, shared with me that he is a survivor of childhood emotional, physical, and sexual assault and violence. He also expressed to me, and later wrote a blog about, how his own experiences with childhood familial assault and violence informed his work as a massage therapist. For him, massage is a sacred practice and his practice a place of healing. In that place there is no room for the crossing of sexual boundaries neither on the part of the client nor that of the massage therapist. You can read his blog posting where he articulates clearly his point of view, and it is a point of view that should be shared widely. Massage is a healing art, it is a sacred art, and it should be held as such just as any Western medical practice is respected.

As Keith would label it, he and I have been "hanging out." I decided when I met him and found out what he did for a living that I would never ask him for a massage. In fact, only once, when I pulled a muscle in my back, did I even bring up the subject of him perhaps rubbing it for me, and by the time I saw him, it was done hurting, and I did not bring up the conversation again. My friend Dawn is a doctor, and I don't ask her to check me for hernias (plus, I grew up with her, so the thought of her telling me to turn my head and cough makes me giggle). So, I surely wasn't going to ask Keith to provide healing services to me.

Instead, a couple of weeks ago, I posted a note on my FB group guiding folks to Keith's blog about his practice, his experiences a child, and how he defines his healing space and the expectations of massage therapists and patients. I had recently been trusted enough and given the privilege of experiencing the stories of several friends of mine, some new and some old, that are all survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA). These six individuals, organized by the brilliant and stunning Amita Swadhin, working in partnership with Ping Chong and Company, put together a theater piece called Secret Survivors, and they graciously provided an interview for my blog some months ago before the show went up at the theater at El Museo del Barrio. For anyone that has survived any kind of physical abuse, sexual or otherwise, to trust someone else with your body, especially something as initimate as a massage, takes tremendous trust...a trust that some survivors are never able to give to a stranger. But because I know that trauma lives in our tissue, I decided that it was important to provide my community access to massage from someone that has also been to some of the places that they have been in their lives.

Then, a week ago, Keith asked me if I would be willing to write about the connection between his practice and being a survivor and publish it on my blog if he gave me a massage. I was extremely nervous, but I agreed. This afternoon, at 1pm, I was blessed by his hands.

Not to disclose any personal details, but he and I have seen each other in all of our "glory." But walking into his apartment today, I was a client and he was a service provider. From the beginning of the massage to the end, he took no liberties, he violated no boundaries, he assumed no privileges. When it came time for me to undress and get under the sheet, he left the room. Just as he would with any client, he arrange the sheet so that potentially vulnerable places were covered while he worked. His hands, his energy, and his spirit were about providing me with healing.

I have had several massages in my life. Every therapist has had to tell me to relax, to allow them to move my body, and to not tense up.

Today I fell asleep.

I was aware of his presence and his healing work, but I was betweeen wakefullness and sleeping, and I was able to allow him to move and arrange and do the work that he has been highly trained to do. When it was done, he thanked me as he would anyone else, and he left the room again, so I could get dressed.

He blessed me with healing and with respect, and he honored himself and the healing space he has created to do the work that he does.

Shortly thereafter I had to leave for a meeting with Bebe Zahara Benet, Will McNair, and DJ Baker. When I sat down, the first thing out of Will and DJ's mouth was that I looked young and relaxed and that I was glowing. One of them said that I looked like a child. I think, maybe, it's because that child that has lived with hurt for so long was touched with joy and love, gentleness and healing. I am so very grateful for the healing experience of StilesMassage, and I recommend his practice to anyone but especially to those that knew violence way too young.


  1. Brandon, I am so proud of you

  2. Damn Bradnon! your turning my ass into Blog Addict....I've read so much of this my ass physically hurts I've been on it to long.

    Keith's a pretty special guy isn't he? Hey your pretty special to if I do say so myself. I think on some level what helped with that was you already knew Keith, you build up a level of trust. He wasn't just some other trained massage therapist sifting, rolling and kneading your back like pre-mature bread.

    Your blogs been putting a lot into perspective for me and it's a good read. I appreciate that a lot actually.

    I still got a chuckle out of this. I've been both blessed and cursed with a vivid imagination and ability to put anything written or spoken into visual movies complete with alternate endings and bloopers.

    In my alternate ending you were mid rep, keith said yes, your arms went slack in your excitement and your popped out like a cartoon character when the pec machine snapped back to it's original place, Keith's mouth drops open his jaw hits the floor and his tongue rolls out like a little red carpet. After Keith finds his focus he rolls his tongue back in and grabs his jaw and clamps it shut and then goes and pops your arms back in. Then Keith goes " next time, Let go" with this cheeky grin and then you stuck your tongue out at him like a five year old.

    All kidding aside I'm glad you guys have found something in each other because it sounds like you both need each other as must as the next guy. As much as I poke fun at the both of you, I got more respect for yous. I don't hold high respect for that many people.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!