Gina: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series, and it’s my pleasure today to be joined with Gretchen Stecher, Heart of the Matter private practice clinician in Boulder, Colorado. Nice to meet you.
Gretchen: Thank you, great to be here.
Gina: I’m so glad you took some time to visit us here at Harmony Foundation. We’re really excited to learn a little bit more about your services, but before we do that, we want to learn a little bit about you. I got a chance to check out your website, and looked a little bit at some of the things that you are focused on, and you talk a little bit about how you attribute much of your journey to the work of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, the Women who Run with Wolves. What was it about this book that helped you on your path to working in addiction treatment?
Gretchen: That’s actually a really good question. Through that book, Women who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Estes gave me a whole different lens through which to view my life, and really to understand my suffering. I felt like I finally had permission to have a relationship with myself, something I never even thought about before. I love the metaphors in her stories, because they reach into the depths of my soul, and speak in a way that words alone cannot.
Gina: Can you tell me a little bit, for those that are listening, because they may not be familiar with her work, what the book was about?
Gretchen: Dr. Estes is a, among other things, is a storyteller, and so a lot of the book is a bunch of different stories that she then interprets through Jungian psychology. They’re stories that she’s collected all over the world throughout her lifetime.
Gina: Stories that were done by different cultures, and different tribes, and-
Gina: I see, so it’s not stories she’s created per se, but those that resonate.
Gretchen: No. They’re cultural stories.
Gina: Cultural stories, okay.
Gretchen: Yeah. Primarily for women, but also the divine feminine, I would say, so it can be appropriate for both men and women.
Gina: What was it that prompted you to get into the field of addiction treatment?
Gretchen: Well, I think that when we’re caught up in the throes of addictive behaviors, we don’t even know that we keep telling ourselves that we don’t matter. I think that’s a common theme, and we’re so used to listening to the lies that emanate from the voice of our addiction that even after we stop using, we still believe those lies, and we don’t treat ourselves well. Women who Run with the Wolves helped me remember to listen to that wise voice deep inside that I could trust. We get so used to dismissing or overriding what we know is best for us, and I found that to be particularly true for those of us in recovery from addictions. I love helping people in recovery learn to hear and trust those parts that help them be true to themselves, and feel really good about who they are.
Gina: Your focus is really not to work with the person in early recovery. I mean, you would rather work with someone who might be having a little bit more recovery under their belt, if you will.
Gina: Couple years, maybe?
Gina: Why is that?
Gretchen: Well, I like to go to the places that … where people … to help people actually understand what caused the addiction in the first place. Go to the underlying symptoms, of the stinking thinking, the traumas that might be present, which actually are often present, including developmental trauma, which a lot of times people don’t even recognize or understand that they have.
Gina: Can you just explain what that means when you say developmental trauma?
Gretchen: Yeah, for sure. Although developmental trauma is sort of a broad term, but a lot of times, when our needs aren’t met as young ones, we’re not aware that they’re not met. If we have the need to be loved, and our parents aren’t quite capable of giving us everything that we need in that area, we think that are parents are being loving, because we don’t have another frame of reference. We don’t know that there’s something different that could be happening for us, and we don’t get what we need from them. We don’t get the attention, or we don’t get the validation, or we don’t get the encouragement, or the type of attention that we do need, our parents might not know how to give that to us. It’s not a matter of blaming our parents for anything, it’s just that that’s how it happened for us. We can wind up then self-soothing in ways that eventually become harmful to us.
To sort of unpack that, and understand what that’s about, we also can start blaming ourselves for things that actually really are not our fault. Again, it’s not about going back and blaming our parents, it’s about understanding where these things started from, so that we stop blaming ourselves, and again, learn to treat ourselves like we do matter, because that’s how we start to recover. Because treating ourselves with compassion, and as though we do matter, actually begins to reverse the stinking thinking and the negative thought patterns that we develop when we treat ourselves, have addictive behaviors, and treat ourselves poorly.
Gina: Your approach is to use somatic experiencing. How do you blend the two with the work that you do?
Gretchen: It’s not specifically somatic experiencing.
Gretchen: It’s using the body as part of the treatment process.
Gina: What would that look like?
Gretchen: There’s a lot of different ways that I use body-based techniques when I help clients heal, and specifically when I help them heal from trauma, so I want to kind of focus on the trauma piece itself. I want to begin by just saying that it’s my understanding that trauma is stored in the body. That’s why it’s so uncomfortable for us, why we try to do all these things to keep us from feeling it, because we feel it in our bodies, and it’s really uncomfortable. When we have these uncomfortable sensations in our bodies, we also have these thoughts that connect with the uncomfortable feelings in our bodies, and so we have this kind of cycle that makes us feel pretty awful. How safe a person feels in their body greatly influences the choice of techniques that I use. I might begin by having a client tell me about a place in their body that feels good or neutral, because we want to establish, first of all, a resource that feels good to them.
Gina: Like a baseline.
Gretchen: A baseline, right, a positive baseline. Yeah, because sometimes baselines feel pretty uncomfortable, and dysregulating, and distressing. I would want to keep the focus there, whether it could be the soles of their feet, it could be the baby fingernail, it doesn’t really matter where it is. Then I have the person describe the sensations that they’re feeling. It’s important when using describing in this context to stick with words that are specific to the sensation. First, I would go over with them what I mean by sensation words, and even give them a list. I have a handout of sensation words. Then, describe other features about that location in the body, things like texture, color, temperature, things like that, so we really get to know what that area feels like. Once we do that, then I’d have them identify where in their body they would feel some tension or a painful sensation, and have them describe that to me in the same way that they just did the place that feels good, or the place of tension or pain.
Then we go back again, once they’ve described the place of the tension or pain, we’d go then back to the place that feels good or neutral. Again, we would go through these processes slowly, mindfully, so that they really get to spend time there, and be with both of those places, letting the whole nervous system get the sense of each of those places, and we would go back and forth, touching back into each one of those. This is a process that we call, in the trauma world a lot of times it is called pendulation. It’s a pendulation technique, and it’s actually a natural way that the body and the nervous system use to regulate.
What happens is, when there’s trauma present, the system goes into overwhelm or overload. It’s outside the window of tolerance, so we forget, the system forgets that it actually knows how to really regulate itself. By doing this, by specifically guiding a person to how to actually do this pendulation technique, it helps the nervous system remember that it actually does know how to regulate itself. We do this in places that are not really trigger places, or places of activation, to begin with, so they have practiced it and know that they can do it to start with.
Gina: That’s great. Go ahead.
Gretchen: That’s one way that the body can be used in working with trauma.
Gina: Wonderful, wonderful. Sounds like you have a really strong basis for working with clients who have, whether it’s really significant trauma, or even if it’s … I guess people don’t like using big T and little t trauma very much, because people would argue that trauma is trauma, and so do you work across a spectrum?
Gretchen: I do.
Gina: You do.
Gretchen: I do. Trauma really is, there’s a continuum. Really, you can tell the degree of trauma for each individual is different, and each situation will be different, and you can just tell by how much the system is activated. We tell that by just putting a number to it. Just like a pain level, when you go into a hospital, they ask you if it’s a zero or a 10, we can do the same thing using it that way.
Gina: Good. That’s good to know. Well, we always like to learn a little bit about the individual behind the services that you’re offering, and so I’m going to ask you a couple of questions that are a little bit more personal. What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Gretchen: Well, I think you can probably tell that just by looking at me.
Gina: I think you like color.
Gretchen: As you can see today, yes. I love bright color clothing. I love interesting clothing. Yeah. Because to me, part of the whole piece, especially around recovery, is, if I’m going to be abstinent and I can’t have fun, or can’t express myself authentically, what’s the point? I like to be able to express my joy and excitement about being in recovery, and one of the ways that I like to do that is by wearing interesting clothes.
Gina: Well, it suits you. It definitely suits you, which is great. If I were to play off the idea of the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
Gretchen: Well, it’s interesting. I mean, it’s actually one of the things that drew me to this place, because I actually prefer the word harmony to balance, because balance sort of draws me back to my old … I’m sort of a person in recovery from perfectionism, so with balance, I’m always concerned that I’m not doing it perfectly. When there’s harmony, it feels like, “Oh, you know, this part of my life can be a little bit messy, and another part can be in order, and it’s okay, because that way there’s harmony.” It feels much more like it’s in the flow, and things can move gently and well together. It doesn’t have to have some sort of perfect exact way that everything has to be. I really prefer harmony, and I love harmonious things. I love the sound of harmonious music. I just like the sound of that word a lot better than I do balance.
Gina: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that, I like that. If someone wanted to access services at Soul Shine ( previously) Heart of the Matter how could they connect with you?
Gretchen: Well, they could email me from my website, which is www.boulderwomenstherapy.com, or they could call me at 720-500-5474.
Gina: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Gretchen, for taking the time to visit us here. It was great to meet you.
Gretchen: Totally my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.