And He Never Looked Back
Illustration Credit: Mama Fox by Diana Sudyka
As a baby, Matthew fell headfirst from our second story, crashed his skull through his brain and suffered a devastating traumatic brain injury. And while he became a “miracle child” and defied every limiting prognosis, he was left with a crippling anxiety disorder that forced his life into a tiny circle of fear.
At 10, Matthew could only sleep in a double bed, surrounded by his sisters as sentries. A trip to the bathroom required Mary to get up with him and guard the way. Shopping was fraught with landmines, as my boy would cling to my shirt, asking, “Mommy, Mommy, you won’t forget you have me? You won’t leave the store without me? You’ll remember you have a boy?”
We tried “everything,” but pills made him groggy and talk therapy made him that much more anxious. So, when my sister-in-law suggested cranial-sacral therapy, I was game.
Or, so I thought.
Each week for 10 months, I drove my son two hours off the mountain of our tiny hamlet to see Deborah at her home office. Each week for 10 months, Matthew willingly and joyfully played games with his new friend. And, each week for 10 months my heart broke as I watched their interaction and wondered if I’d lost my mind.
For, no matter what touching and energy work they would do at the beginning of the session, the ending was always the same. Deborah would help Matthew lie across the top of her big, blue ball, hands out in front of him as she slowly rolled his head toward the ground. She would ease his head toward the floor a dozen times at the end of the session, and each time my son would move his hands behind his back, close his eyes, turn his head and, in excruciatingly slow motion, reenact his accident as he “crashed” his injured spot into the floor.
No one told him to do this, no one coached him. Deborah explained it was patterned into his brain from the accident. But, it tore my heart out every time I saw it. And, while I saw it hundreds of times, nothing changed.
Oh, that’s not true. Little things changed: sometimes he slept on the side of the bed instead of the middle, and he occasionally joked with Mary in the night instead of running in fear. But, each day, after we left Deborah and went to the store for a treat, he still grabbed my shirt and begged me to remember him.
As the months progressed and the time and money for this therapy added up, we had to consider whether this treatment was worth the small benefits we were reaping. We decided to let it go one year, so two more months, and then we were done. The decision felt right.
The next week we returned to Deborah and repeated the same ritual. Matthew got on the ball, pulled back his arms, closed his eyes, and gently tapped his injured skull to the floor. “Again,” instructed Deborah in her calm, patient way.
She pulled Matthew back and began to roll him forward. Suddenly, his eyes popped open, he got a big grin on his face, he threw his hands forward, pushed off the floor, and yelled, “Aha! You’re not going to do that again!” Then he jumped off the ball and announced it was time to go home.
Deborah and I stood slack-jawed as this happy, confident boy commanded the room.
Outside, I promised Matthew a special treat and we headed to the store. For the first time ever, he said nothing to me on the way in. I was surprised, but let it go. Then as we checked out the books on one aisle, Matthew asked, “Mommy, may I go check out the watches?”
I stopped in my tracks. The watches were two aisles over—and he wanted to go alone. “Yes, of course,” I said.
For the next three minutes, I stood bawling like a baby in the book aisle while my son checked out the watches—alone and unafraid—two aisles over. And he never looked back.