Origins: When Your Worst Fear Comes True
Folks, it’s been an unexpected shitstorm for me for the last few weeks, and I’ve been drowning. It used to be a very rare day indeed when I can’t write, can’t talk, can’t communicate in some way with anyone about anything…but that’s where I’ve been.
Nevertheless, I have found a little bit of my voice today (tomorrow is still a crapshoot) so I’m going to write fast and furious in case there’s anything helpful you can take away from knowing my struggle. This post won’t be polished, I’m just going to get out what I can and it will have to do.
The thing is that I mistakenly thought that healing from SRA would gradually (eventually) get easier. I thought I’d reach an equilibrium in the journey at some point; a place where I would start facing similar things on the inside and I could hit the cruise-control button because I’ve been there, done that, know how to handle it.
That is not how it works – at least not for me. I certainly can’t speak for anyone else.
I posted in The Dissociative Initiative awhile ago that healing has been like the time I hiked the Grand Canyon while on a mission trip as a teen. The only hike available for our schedule was the last week of July and classified as “most strenuous” out of all the paths and packages we could choose. It was a grueling 1-day-down, 1-day-back-up tour – maybe called Bright Angel Trail? I don’t remember. It’s been more than 20 years ago.
Anyway, for the first maybe 3 hours things are majestic and breathtaking and awe-inspiring and photo-worthy. You start at 6am because July, and because Arizona. After that, the sun is on its way up in the sky, sweat is running across every surface, and the weight of your pack starts to make your shoulders ache. Your feet start cramping in your boots. Your leg muscles start sending little warnings that they’re not used to this and would like to rest now. But it’s not over…it’s not even half over. Going downhill the entire first day sounds easy and I suppose it has its benefits, but it works a specific muscle group and after another 3 hours in, every part of your body is crying for mercy. Rest stops are scant because your guide wants to get you to the campground before dark (it’s safest to be set up before the sun goes down), so eventually you move robotically…like a machine.
When you get to the river you know you’re close, and you nearly cry with relief, pain, and exhaustion. The jarring stomp of your boots over rocks for hours upon hours is finally softened when you get to the last few miles of the trail: sand. White sand. For a solid minute you’re thrilled. It’s sand! It’s soft! It’s lovely!
But then, when you have to keep going, you realize: sand is not a good thing. The sand starts to work a completely new set of muscles and ensure that even your reserves are completely wrung out, overtaxed, and spent to the point of collapse.
Relatively speaking: in recovery, I just hit the sand.
I’m not really even sure when it started, but it wasn’t intense at first. It took a little while for the momentum to build up. Maybe a couple months ago. We began working with what we believe is one of the last groups of unreconciled system members – but they seem to hold the most trauma. And for someone like me to say that – after all the things I’ve experienced and written vaguely about in various places on the blog – it’s extreme.
All that would be all well and good except that the way it has affected me is completely different than the way any of the rest of my recovery and inside work has affected me. I have been totally blindsided by feeling like I was transported to a new planet in my brain, feeling stuck in a foreign place where nothing is familiar and I don’t know how to get home. I don’t even know myself anymore.
I’ve always been the one to handle the mechanics of daily life no matter what anyone else in my system is going through. I have never directly felt much of the others’ pain. Even when some of it has been passed to me, it’s been more of a runoff that I happened to catch rather than the full brunt of any memories or experiences that I wasn’t directly involved with. Even then, I’ve always been the one who can set my feelings aside, pick myself up, put issues on a shelf, and function. I’ve had to. There’s no one else to keep things running, really, and I’m talking about life stuff like paying bills and buying groceries and going to work. They aren’t exactly optional.
There’s a biological component to it, too, and I wanted to separate the two things at first; I thought it was either/or. Either what I was going through was purely emotional, OR it was purely physical. I thought the surgery I had this summer just put my biology and hormones out of balance. I’ve realized recently that it’s probably some of both. I have this perfect storm of physical and emotional collisions happening and they have created a torpedo that I’ve basically surrendered to, at this point. I fought it as long and hard as I could, and I don’t have any fight left.
There’s a time to fight for the ability to function and carry on, and there’s a time to surrender and let your soul take you wherever it needs to go. Both are appropriate at times; what’s tricky is knowing when to do what.
After a lifetime of fighting, I believe this is my time to surrender.
Specifically what happened is that one of my recent sessions dove deep and set off a flashback of one of (I believe) the original situations wherein I was broken apart. I won’t share details. They don’t matter. But to experience the original situation is to be forced to face your worst nightmare – and trust me, I wasn’t looking for it. To experience, briefly, what you were before you were broken…and then watch it disintegrate…has to be one of the most painful things I’ve ever witnessed.
Things spiraled down from that point. There’s a phrase: “dorsal vagal dominance binding parasympathetic shift,” which is just a fancy way of saying that a person’s body is simultaneously in high alert AND freeze mode. At the same time. It would be like having a high-powered car with one foot flooring the gas but the other foot jammed on the brakes. My body was in this state for years, but the thing is, our bodies can’t really sustain this over a long period of time without serious consequences of some sort.
What I believe happened is: seeing that original memory broke the “freeze” response. Physiologically. Don’t ask me how. But I believe that’s what happened. I started having panic attacks for the first time in over a decade. I’d have an isolated one here or there over the years, if I was in an extreme situation and could not escape, but for the most part I wasn’t prone to them. I started having them after the flashback happened in session. They increased rapidly from once or twice a day, to several, to all day on some days. I began crying for no reason at all. I did not understand what was happening to me.
My emotions – the ONE THING I’ve ALWAYS been in control of – became beyond my control. I cried in the shower, at the mall, in the car, at the grocery store. And they intermingle with the panic attacks so it can be hard for an onlooker to understand what the problem is.
Compounding these things, is the fact that I can rarely articulate what’s happening when it’s happening. The right brain is usually associated with nonverbal, raw memory; sensations, sounds, feelings, colors, etc. The left brain is where logic and communication and narrative explanation forms. I’m paraphrasing really badly here, so please excuse my lack of proper verbiage. You get the gist of what I’m saying. I have to try to get this out before I lose my writer voice again, which happens periodically these days. So it’s almost like for the first time in my life, I’m getting stuck in right-brain experience, with a bunch of nonverbal data being fed to my mind and emotions – but I can’t engage my left brain to communicate or process any of it. I’m in a vortex of sensory and emotional input…but locked in silence with no words to express any of it.
Somewhere in there – about 2 weeks ago actually – I unexpectedly lost my job. So on top of dealing with the emotional crap, I’m now also dealing with intense fear about being in financial danger. I’ve been applying, interviewing, and sending my resume everywhere I can think of. I have a good resume. I’ve gotten responses, but then no follow through. I’m registered with 4-5 employment agencies. They all told me they have opportunities that I’ll probably be a good match for. But yet it just takes longer than one wishes it would take, and bills are still coming, and this created a whole new level of anxiety to layer on top of the other anxiety I’ve been dealing with. On the one hand, since I’m home anyway, I have been using the time to do some intense work in my internal system. But on the other hand, no amount of system work is going to help me if I can’t make rent in 10 days. So there’s that. That alone, is enough to keep me in freak-out mode all day, every day.
More recently, by working with the same group of inside people, I got the most complete picture of the origins of my abuse as I’ve ever had. It’s as if pieces finally came together. Pieces I’ve had all along, but didn’t know what to do with.
There have been quite a few days where I’ve cried literally all day. I woke up with tears running down my face and went to bed the same way. When I have panic attacks all day, I am exhausted. Even on days when I don’t cry, I am exhausted. It’s like my nervous system is stuck in a loop: freak out, fire on all cylinders for a lot of hours, collapse in exhaustion, repeat repeat repeat. I don’t know how to interrupt the cycle. It’s like I’m suddenly feeling every fear I faced as a child, but all unleashed on me at once without end.
I know this blog post is probably disjointed and disorganized, but that’s how my mind is at the moment. There’s so much going on, so much feels out of control, and it’s all so overwhelming to me that I can’t put it in an orderly narrative.
So what can you learn from me? In my opinion, several things, or else I wouldn’t bother to try to write about it.
One thing that I’ve never wanted to do, but had to make the decision to do recently, is just let my emotions take me wherever they take me. I HATE THIS. This has been one of my biggest fears, my entire life: to lose control, to break down, to not know when or where or why a wave of uncontrollable trauma-fueled emotion is going to hit me and pull me under. I’ve never done this before. It’s terrifying. I’m afraid to go out. I’m afraid this is my new “normal.” I’m afraid I’ll stay this way forever. I don’t have answers for those fears. But right now, it has to be okay for me to just be where I am. I have to lay down the self-judgment and self-hatred and self-doubt and dismay and disappointment that I have about where I’m at right now. Those meta-emotions just distract me and pull me further under. Those, I can choose to lay down. If I cry in the middle of a grocery store (because we’re out of food and I can’t avoid going anymore), it just has to be okay. If strangers stare, oh well. I can’t help it right now. So if you need to hear this directly, here you go: It’s okay to be where you are. Let yourself just be.
I can choose – though my brain is sluggish at the moment – to practice ways of taking care of myself. Those babies on the inside…they need me. The little ones who experienced those situations of being broken… they need me to hear them. It’s time to listen. It’s time to see. It’s time to validate and weep and grieve for them, with them. A clear message I’ve gotten through all of this is: It’s time to cry for her. You never have. I wouldn’t have chosen to be forced into it like this, but if that is the next task of recovery, I will do it. In fact, I think I had already begun to, but I needed to consciously give myself permission. And the tears have been torrential. I’ve wondered where they all come from, and if they’ll ever stop. But they are appropriate. It’s appropriate to grieve and weep over what happened. What happened, should happen to no one, ever, nowhere, at all. It’s wrong. It’s evil. It’s so very evil and horrible and no one should have to go through it. And it’s okay to say that and feel that and be heartbroken. And it’s okay to try in whatever small, insignificant way, to imagine what a child would need, does need, and provide it now. Taking care of ourselves sounds so basic, but it can be much harder for trauma survivors than it sounds.
It’s a little ironic to me that I know a bunch of self-care tasks – I help list them in the FB group when other people are struggling – but yet when it’s me, I hear only crickets on the inside. I can’t think of a single thing to do for myself when I am pulled into the undertow. I feel helpless and brainless. With a little jarring, a little shaking of myself – when I can – I can force the jammed gears to turn a little bit and think of a few things that help me. Putting on soft music, curling up with a blanket, talking with my inside people as much as possible, processing, listening, validating everything I hear and see…these are all things that help. I wish with the ache of an orphan that there was someone I could talk to about the actual memories even when my T is busy, but life just doesn’t work that way with SRA survivors. My life is so outside the box of any of my friends’ as to be rather unbelievable. Secondary trauma is very real. So for the most part, other than my T – who has been extremely gracious to talk with me on the phone several times and even arrange a session a week sooner – I keep all of this to myself.
I need a lot more sleep and rest right now, as I can feel how physically taxed my nervous system is.
I think the final thing that can be learned from where I’m at is that recovery is not a free gift you get for signing up for therapy. It’s hard. For SRA survivors, it can be brutal. You have to want it to the point where you’re willing to do just about anything to get it. At one point before I was able to move to the right city, I was driving 7 hours from out of state, for once a month therapy sessions. I talk to a lot of people via email and PM who are looking for resources in their area. Of course it would be a dream come true if we all had legitimate resources in the right proximity to us. But if you really want to recover, you can’t let something like distance stop you. And pain has to be looked at as an unfortunate necessity. In my experience, if you’re trying to recover, but at the same time trying to avoid pain or inconvenience, eventually you’ll have to choose one over the other. You can’t choose both.
I don’t have an elegant resolution for the post. I wish I did. I’ve worked my way through almost every layer of trauma that I can work through, and now I’m at the roots. I wish it didn’t hurt so much, but it does. I wish it had gotten easier, but it didn’t. I wish I knew for sure that it’s all going to be worth it, but I don’t. I can’t stop now, but I do have to pause here because the weight of everything is too much. I’m waiting for the strength to stand back up. In the meantime, I’m hoping my tears will, on some brighter day, water the seeds I cannot see right now through all this dirt and rain and maybe one day they’ll bloom into new life.
There are a few things I’m proud of, in all this. Firstly, that I even made it this far. Many people do not. Many people give up. They quit, because it’s too hard. They don’t have the ability or the tenacity or the whatever to keep going. Some of this is not anything remarkable about me, but about the person God has paired me up with, to heal. Without her, I would not, could not have made it this far. But some of it is the way I was made. I’m not a quitter. My life has meaning and purpose. Even when I don’t see it or feel it or believe it, it does. And so far, I haven’t walked out on it despite the fact that I can’t even count the number of times I’ve wanted to.
Secondly, it hit me as remarkable the other day, that I can sit on my couch in my home and go through wave after wave after wave of panic, grief, terror, raw emotion (unspecified), intense weeping, and exhausted overwhelm and just let it come without cutting myself, overdosing, or trying to do something self-destructive in order to deal with myself. I no longer turn to self-destruction as a coping skill. This is HUGE. H.U.G.E. I actually never thought I’d see this day. But now it’s here. As much as all of this sucks and I hate it and I wish it wasn’t happening, I’m making it through.
Those are the only two things, but I feel like they’re enough. They’re pretty big.
And in some innate way, as much as all of this sucks, I think being where I am is probably a good thing. It feels necessary. But even just writing about it makes me feel kind of vulnerable and small and scared. I think I just feel that way the majority of the day, at the moment. So please be kind (not that people usually aren’t).
Practically speaking, please pray or send good thoughts, that I’ll get a job immediately and be able to financially recover from being out of work. That is my immediate need. The rest, is going to take more time. I wanted to write it solely in case anyone can glean anything useful from it. If I’m a little slow responding to comments or messages at the moment, this is why. I’m having a harder time reaching out than usual.