During a TAT seminar, I closed my eyes and was back in Vietnam in the back seat of a helicopter on a training flight. Several B-52’s had dropped hundreds of 500 pound bombs in the distance. I took a deep breath as I remembered the helicopter slowly tilting back as it began to skid into a simulated emergency landing with an engine failure, but this time we were very tilted back. My knees were above my head, and the “stinger” – the tube that sticks out the back of the helicopter to keep the tail rotor from hitting the ground and that has never even touched the ground in my entire two years of flying – was bumping along as if over plowed rows in a cornfield. Then the tail rotor blades hit the ground and next the tail boom hit. When the helicopter finally skidded to a stop, it was upside down, and I was face down with my arms flung out in front of me. The frame of my seat pressing on the back of my helmet forcing my face into the dirt and solidly pinning both my arms and my face into the ground. I was trapped! Everyone else was dead or unconscious. With the engine still running we were sure to burn or explode. I was going to die. Eventually, another helicopter that had seen the crash came to the rescue.
Whenever I remember this, my chest gets tight, my arms feel tingly and heavy, my palms sweat, and if I am telling the story to someone, I hear my voice change as my throat tightens, but as I did TAT, all of a sudden I was aware that I had survived that crash! In the years following the crash I had shared, cried, rebirthed, workshopped and catharted this into exhaustion, but this level of awareness of the fact that I SURVIVED was much stronger than any sense of survival I ever had before. It was the truth and I was suddenly aware of something new: there was NO HELICOPTER on top of me. Even as I had that thought, it seemed silly. Of course there wasn’t a helicopter on top of me, but I sat there amazed by my new awareness of that reality. For a brief moment I saw the crash scene from above. Although it was just a flash, I noticed that it looked different. It was lighter. I closed my eyes. It WAS lighter. It had always been kind of dark in my memory, as if there were a giant shaded plexiglass dome covering the site.
I then became aware that as I was thinking about the crash, my chest, arms, throat and hands were relaxed. All I was having was a memory of an event that had taken place over twenty-eight years ago. Nothing more. The next thought I had was that I wanted the tension back. I had lived with it for so long that it had seemed a part of me. I closed my eyes again, but it wasn’t there and I couldn’t get it to come back, no matter how hard I focused on the memory.