Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
By Judith S. Freilich, MD
I am a psychiatrist thinking about knitting - about dropped stitches, in particular. Knitters know that a dropped stitch weakens the whole cloth, disrupts the garment's integrity and leaves a hole that may not even show until there is a stretch or stress on it. Then, the fabric is likely to begin unraveling from the hole, no matter how carefully the rest is knitted.
I wonder about this in my life. In the fabric of my life, there were many dropped stitches - emotions suppressed, voices blocked, roads not taken, losses not grieved before moving on, trauma endured. Life.
My way was to keep moving forward with determination, compassion and courage. I loved, worked hard, accomplished, learned and helped others along my way. On the surface, my efforts seemed of strong cloth. As time went on, those invisible holes - the dropped stitches - began to show and unravel.
"The body is the mind's subconscious," says respected neuroscientist Candace Pert, PhD. That which our minds can't absorb is held for us in our bodies. Dropped stitches remain in our garment, a part of us. They do not just disappear.
What to do about my dropped stitches? Do I leave the past untouched and continue pressing forward? What would that mean for the whole cloth? Does it end up in the trash that way? Do I choose the difficult task of repairing my garment, so it has more integrity for the future?
When a knitter discovers a dropped stitch, she repairs it. She unknits back to it, picks up the dropped stitch and then knits forward again. Knitters call this "tinking" - &"tink" being "knit" spelled backwards.
I think I will "tink." Many of my dropped stitches are losses not fully grieved. There are trauma-made holes, too. The largest is from when my daughters died in a tragic car accident in 1985. Then, I had no ability to grieve. I might have died or gone crazy had I not become frozen and dissociated.
I did not consciously make a decision to freeze. Perhaps my soul did, in order to preserve my life. And by doing so, the memories and grief were frozen and stored in my body - until the time came to unfreeze and release them. And, yes, it left dropped stitches. I think this was preferable to having no garment at all.
There are many ways to "tink." Each begins with recognizing a hole. We can complete a grief left undone. We may reconnect with an attenuated relationship. There is repair that is spiritual in nature, such as gratitude and forgiveness in their many forms.
There is trauma work. Effective trauma release is "tinking" at its best. Sometimes it involves finding memory pictures, then developing them to bring buried treasure to light or frozen emotions to life. Sometimes, tracking body sensations is the way to find and release them. Or we might return to an old physical environment, restoring an emotional state that was left behind before it was time.
The purpose is to transform trauma. It helps to think about chemistry and alchemy. Like knitting, these are transformational processes. They turn one thing into another. If a single step in the process is missed, the whole thing won't go to completion. It just doesn't work.
Tinking is precise, too. It begins with intention - and some resistance, as undoing is unpleasant. The knitted strand is carefully pulled apart, all the way back to the hole. The yarn is neither lost nor cut. It remains an integral part of the garment. When reknitted forward, it becomes part of a stronger garment.
Knitting creates links. A bridge is a link. To pick up a dropped stitch is to build a new bridge, make a strong link where one was weak or not even there. Building a strong bridge requires first building good foundations at each end of the span.
Not long after my girls died, a friend talked to me of bridges. She said that when your child dies, the foundation of your life collapses. For a while, you must go forward, building a new foundation. At some point, you then can build a bridge back to the past. Healing happens then. Connecting past and future makes a stronger whole.
With thanks to Descartes: "I 'tink,' therefore I am."
- Judith S. Freilich, MD, is a psychiatrist at The Meadows who is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology.