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9/11 Trauma Intervention Team

By Elizabeth Pasquale, LMT, CST

Its December 20, 2001 and I’m on the train heading to NYC to join the Upledger Institute’s 9/11 trauma intervention team. The Swedish Institute for Massage Therapy on 26th street has donated space. I notice a headline in the Post that the man seated next to me is reading: "TWIN TOWER INFERNO FINALLY OUT."

I think about that black cloud I lived under the week I was there doing volunteer work. I’d often wondered since then if it was still burning. Anytime I’d meet anyone who said they’d been down to Ground Zero, I’d ask, "Is it still burning?"

They always said yes. I’m so relieved to see, 3 months later, the fire is finally out.

It was a big classroom we worked in with about twelve tables set up and 24 therapists, 2 to a table. The idea it that everyone is treated in one room, so everyone’s energy helps everyone heal. Joanie is my first appointment.

Joanie lives in Battery Park City, 4 blocks from Ground Zero. She was at home with her 2 year old son that morning. Her windows face the river, so she didn’t see what happened. She heard a loud crash and as a new building was going up across the street, she thought the huge crane at the site had fallen over. So she went to the window and looked out and saw the crane was still there.

She then looked down and saw every person on the street below standing completely still, all looking in the same direction, all with the same look of horror on their faces. So she knew she had to get going. She got the baby into the stroller quickly and went out and began to run with everyone else up the West Side Highway.

Joanie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 7 years ago and she shakes. Especially her hand shakes. She was shaking as she ran up the highway. But she looked around and for a change she noticed she was not the only one. Everyone was running and shaking. It’s not that she wasn’t scared, but just at that moment, she suddenly felt unreasonably happy.

That afternoon, my 1pm appointment still hadn’t shown up by 1:30, so I was assisting Penny. Her table was across from the door and I noticed a woman’s face in the window, then a man’s. I went to the door.

"She has a 1 o’clock appointment," he said. "She’s late."

"Marcia gave me her appointment," the woman said. "My name is Faith."

She kept looking down at the floor, fixing her gaze at her feet. I led her in to my table, but it was at the opposite end of the room and we had to go by everyone else. She never looked up once. Judith joined me and we began to work.

We found out later, she suffered that morning from agoraphobia-fear of going out. She managed to call her boyfriend and asked him to walk her over here.

"I’m having panic attacks," Faith said. "It started about a month ago. It’s just too much. I’m moving out of the city with my son, Steven. He’s 3. We got a big loft in Brooklyn. And my 2 friends who were supposed to take it with me, they backed out because they lost their jobs. And other friends don’t want to move to New York now. They’re moving to New Jersey. I can’t handle it alone. I can’t sleep or I collapse and want to give up. The last time this happened was 10 years ago. It was too much then, too."

"Tell me about what was going on 10 years ago..."

So we go back 10 years and find we have to go back a lot more years to when she was 3 and felt like she’d done something bad and become like a dirty little animal that her grandmother hated. It was a long trip back from there to the present with lots of detours until finally she was back. It was such a long and exhausting lifetime, that we decided she would take a 2 week vacation during the last 10 minutes of her session. She went on a relaxing train ride while Judith and I finished up some structural work.

She decided all she needed was a couple good people to move in with her, so she made her request to "World". And World replied that he’s thinking about it and what’s required is Trust."Trust takes more work," she says. "Sometimes its easier to go with fear. It’s more familiar and I get to fall apart, let everything collapse and there’s nothing more I have to do. With Trust, I have to take the next step. OK. I can do that."

"Oh, so that’s what this room looks like," she says when we finish. "I didn’t dare look before." She leaves looking out at the world with interest, upbeat, light in her face.

After 3 days Tad tells us we’ve treated 64 people. They fill out forms when they leave, answer a couple of questions about whether or not they feel the therapy has helped them. Tad says the response is overwhelmingly positive.

"Keep up the good work," he says. "You guys are doing great." He’s much too modest and we have to remind him that its because of him that we’re there and he’s all the time arcing the room, landing at one treatment table or another and often taking over, much to the relief of myself and the other therapists.

Everyone mentions how much it means to them, the 9/11 trauma victims, that therapists have come all the way from Ireland to help out. We decide that in any future program, this would be something we would like to continue-having therapists from abroad. It gave us all the feeling that our trauma is shared, it’s not just our trauma.

Judith came from Ireland and she talked about how easy it was for her to raise money for the trip. She just went into a room full of people and told them what she wanted to do, and they gave her the money. They said, "You go and we’ll feel as if we went, too. We want to do something to help."

Tad tells us the only criticism he’s received on the evals is this one: People are arriving for trauma treatment, maybe its not such a good idea to have a skeleton in the waiting room. Up until then, we really hadn’t noticed that there were skeletons hanging all over the place. Tad tried to put them behind screens. But the next morning when I arrive, there’s a skeleton standing in the hall, facing us as we come out of the elevator.

Penny tells me about Jessica. Jessica worked on the 72nd floor of 2 WTC. When the first plane hit the other tower, she curled up under her desk in the fetal position in terror, thinking she was going to die. Then she ran down 72 flights of stairs in 3 inch heels. Over the loudspeaker she heard, "Return to your office. You are perfectly safe."

Then on the street, Jessica ran with everyone else. She ran to her boss’ house. They heard planes overhead and thought the attack was continuing. She hid in the closet curled up in the fetal position again.

Penny said, "We just kept releasing layer after layer of fear. So much fear kept coming out of her."

Dave asks us one afternoon at our after session get together, "Does anyone else feel the energy cysts in the air? I mean, you release an energy cyst, and then there’s another one and another. And it seems as if they linger outside the body, in the air, and as you inhale they re-enter. And then you release it again."

Tad leads us in a meditation. He asks us to breathe in the trauma, the energy cysts, the traumatized cloud that NYC is experiencing, to breathe it into ourselves. And then to release it, breathe it out, and breathe out our healing intentions for New York, and for us all. We breathed in and out. Breathed in the trauma. Breathed out the antidote.

Fran lived downtown. She had some stomach problems, bloody stools since September 11. She’d been to the doctor. We identified fear living in her stomach. We asked how long it had been there in her stomach, when had it entered. She said she didn’t know.So I aged it the way Jean Pierre Barral teaches you to age a scar and I got a fuzzy period between 7 and 14 years old and picked age 10. So I asked her, "What was going on when you were 10?"She was quiet and then said, "Nothing really. I can’t think of anything."

We went on and were doing structural work: liver, stomach, kidney. Then she tells me she grew up in Jerusalem and maybe there was something around when she was 10.

"Was that the Suez Canal War?" she asked. "Let me think. The Cuban Missile Crisis happened around that time. And when I was 10, we began sleeping in a bomb shelter at night. But none of that was unusual. I’m surprised to find fear around from that time. I thought it didn’t affect me anymore."

"I just don’t get it. Fear is like an old friend to me. He’s been around so long. So why did it affect me so, when I saw the towers go down. We watched from Canal Street. Why did I feel so much, so much shock? I thought I’d be used to it by now. I thought I’d be numb."

So she pictured herself sitting down with Fear in our waiting room and talking with it. Fear shrugged and said to her, "What did you expect?" And she laughed.

It got to be Friday, the end of the day. Tad gives us the number of people we’ve treated each day and it was something like 100.Gene told us he loved treating Laurie. Laurie was 8 weeks pregnant. Gene said, "Here she is, bringing a new baby into the world. The new generation. And I couldn’t find any fear in her body at all. None. I was so happy, filled with hope. She was delivering a baby to the world, completely fearless. I told her she was the start of a new breed of New Yorkers. Completely fearless."

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