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The Magic of Getting to Know the Traumatic Memories You've Buried

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My curiosity with hypnotherapy began when I was a nanny during my first year of college in the United States. When the kids were asleep, I would watch TV to try to improve my English. One day, I saw a talk show about a woman who could heal people through hypnosis. “That’s magic!” I said out loud. “I want to do that.”

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About 10 years later, I found myself lying on a mattress, soft music was playing in the background and 15 other members of my hypnotherapy program were gathered around me in a circle. This was part of our certification training, and I was their guinea pig that day. The instructor asked me to close my eyes and breathe. After a series of mental exercises, combined with his gentle voice, I fell into a deep trance state.

I found myself flying, like a bird, through the rooms of my grandmother’s house in Iran. I went through the house, section by section, until I came to a bedroom. There, I saw a little girl in a white dress, about 4 years old, tied to a bed. As I got closer, I realized she was me. I felt a heavy pain in my chest. My feet started to go numb, my hands lost feeling and I couldn’t breathe. I started to cry. I started to remember.

For so many years, I used to wake up in the morning with pins and needles in my feet, unable to stand. In high school, I would miss many classes because I couldn’t manage to get out of bed. The numbness would last for hours. My feet would feel foreign, as though they didn’t belong to me. I would stare at them intensely and try to wiggle my toes, but they wouldn’t obey me. I was even misdiagnosed once with early-onset multiple sclerosis, but the truth was that none of the doctors I went to knew what was wrong with me.

But that day in the conference room, I remembered: When I was 4, my grandmother, Maman Bozorg, used to tie me and my brother to our beds when she went out to get groceries. She couldn’t handle taking two boisterous kids with her and so she told us this was her way of keeping us safe while she went out. She would bind us with soft, woven ropes. First she’d tie our little feet together; then she’d attach us to the bedposts.

Maman Bozorg always sang nice songs to us while she knotted the ropes. I remember one in particular that had the word azadi, which means “freedom” in Persian. She sang to us, calling us little birds that wanted to be free. When she finished, she kissed us and promised she’d return quickly, but it would take her hours to return. Cemented to my bed, and no longer able to feel my feet, I crooked my neck and looked up and out of a small window. A bird flew by and I envied its wings. I imagined myself as a parrot and followed that bird out of the window and far, far away from our house.

I would fly over, Vali Aser, my favorite street in Tehran, which was famous for its tall Tabrizi trees. The trees arched over the street from both sides, their branches intertwining in the middle and creating a tall crown of leaves that hung above the parked cars. The sun-rays saturated the leaves and created a vivid array of oranges, yellows and reds, which in turn kept the intensity of the light from blinding the workers passing below. On either side of this street, a long qanat carried fresh water down from the nearby mountains to all the trees. On those sunny days, lovers would rest in the shade of those trees, cooling their feet in the fresh flowing water. I would pass the day there as a bird, until the sound of Maman Bozorg coming home brought me back to my human body and its chains.

After I was drawn out of that hypnotherapy session and held safely by all those kind therapists in that room, I realized how the recovery of the past can make us freer people in the present. Since that day, I never woke up with pins and needles again. It really was magic, though not the kind I was used to on TV. It was the magic of getting to know parts of me that I’d buried, and, in turn, letting them release pains and traumas I’d forgotten ever existed. From that day on, I was determined to meet all the memories I’d pushed aside. Each day, I send love to that 4-year-old girl who could fly and thank her for being a part of me.

Follow this journey on My Name Means Fire.

Image provided by Atash Yaghmaian

Originally published: April 19, 2019
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