trusting our bodies to trust

graffiti of a silhouette of a child walking a doggood morning this morning — awake and at the computer a bit late today since I went to sleep late, and something has shifted inside this body that will no longer allow me to force myself up and out of bed after only five or so hours of sleep. This is a privilege, I know. Today I snuggled in the covers, cuddled all the pillows to me, and in between alarm snoozes I watched the bedroom window begin to pearl with slow grey light. Is there slow waking in you this morning, maybe something that’s been gently bringing itself up from a long slumber way inside you?

This morning I am thinking about trust and longing. Last night, at Chris DeLorenzo’s writing workshop, which I’ve been attending sporadically, we had a prompt about oxytocin, the so-called “trust hormone.” Earlier that day, during the puppy’s afternoon ball-play time, I had some time with a young boy who really wanted to throw the ball for Sophie, who got me wondering about how we learn to trust.This boy was maybe four or five, happy and filled with energy –he’d throw the ball for Sophie and then throw himself to the ground in a tumble. Hey! he’d shout, look at this! Then he’d offer me a somersault, a low scream and run and bodyfling into the grass; he did a low cartwheel and a young man passing by tossed his dreadlocks and called to us and said, smiling, Capoeira! We all three grinned at each other while Sophie waited for someone to please throw the ball again please. The boy was easy with his approach to me — his mother, or maybe much older sister, sat on a bench nearby, watching us, watching their small dog run around and around — he watched how I wiped off Sophie’s ball and my hands after she returned it to me, and copied my actions right away; he put his hand on my knee, my shoulder, he very nearly sat on my lap at one point. I was a complete stranger to this child — we didn’t even know each other’s names. I wondered, Is this a boy who has been raised with such trust that he would be so easy with a strange adult — or is this a boy who has been raised with little physical affection, such that he reaches out for that touch from whomever it seems will offer it? I wondered what it was like to be so physically easy with strangers, to be that comfortable in one’s body, to still be able to inhabit that place of joy and celebration: Look at what my body can do!

In the article that was our prompt last night, the author states, “New research is suggesting that oxytocin plays a crucial part in enabling us to not just forge and strengthen our social relations, but in helping us to stave off a number of psychological and physiological problems as well.” He then goes on, “One of the neat things about oxytocin is that you can get your fix anywhere and at any time. All you need to do is simply hug someone or shake their hand. The simple act of bodily contact will cause your brain to release low levels of oxytocin — both in yourself and in the person you’re touching. It’s a near-instantaneous way to establish trust. ”

As Chris was reading the prompt, I began immediately to think about how the oxytocin levels in survivors of violence and trauma are impacted by our experiences of violence — and then I wondered whether I would ever be able to listen to information like this without thinking about trauma survivors. It’s all well and good (and it really is very good) if oxytocin can help those dealing with depression, stress, anxiety and PTSD (check out the article for more about these) — but if we are still in the place in our healing where we cannot make eye contact or are too scared or triggered to make physical contact with others, especially those who say they love us, what does that mean for our trust hormone levels? Are our levels of oxytocin diminished as a result of trauma, or because we are more fearful about reaching out for contact? (I can’t even write about the oxytocin levels of perpetrators, although the question rises in me.) What does it mean for our capacity to avail ourselves of this healing system built into our bodies?

I’ll type up later today what I wrote in response to this prompt — for now what I’m thinking about is how great I still feel when a child trusts me enough to want to touch me: I get affirmed, again, that I am not a threat to them. We teach one another that we can trust ourselves to trust others — this little boy and I offered each other some healing yesterday in the park while Sophie was so patient with the short throws and the yelps of admiration.

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What rises in your writing self when you think of the phrase “trust hormone” — or when you consider healing that could be available to you or your character just by reaching out and asking for or accepting a hug? What arises in your body when you think of that boy and his trust? What physical sensations or emotions? Give yourself ten or fifteeen minutes (set a timer so you don’t have to look at your clock all the time) and let yourself into this writing — follow the words wherever they seem to want you to go.

Thank you for the ways you trust yourself, and for the ways you have held trust back — thank you for that brilliant psyche that worked so hard to protect you and those around you. Thank you for the risks you take when you allow the physical contact that feels good to you, and when you offer that contact to others. Thank  you for your generosity, your body’s wisdom, and always for your words.

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