There is a noticeable unrest unraveling from deep within my body.
I feel agitated, lethargic, stiff, achy, exhausted, overstimulated…. all the things.
What the hell is happening? My body is outgassing fear.
Outgassing implies a certain unpleasantness, and even toxicity; both words being apt descriptors for a body that has been drenched in fear. Fear has a smell to it, maybe not consciously detectable, but there nonetheless. And it seems to have been storing itself in my cells, my tissues, my muscles, and perhaps even my organs for years.
I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, I often do, but what’s been different is that lately I have been jolted awake sometimes so violently I actually rattle my bed. Whatever images were dancing across my dreamscaped brain instantly dissolve, and I am left with a sense of unrest. I’ve been ruminating about recent events that I would like to have played out differently, but those seem to be distractions from the deeper internalized reality, a reality that is also no longer playing out, but which my body cannot seem to fully relinquish the memories of yet.
When I wake unsettled and searching I lean into the Dark. I feel for Her presence. I ask for Her support.
“Mamma, are you there?”
I tuck my pillows around me, reach for my cat, maybe call to my dog who either sleeps at the foot of my bed or tucked neatly under my nightstand. The one thing I don’t do is turn on the bedside light. I check the phone only long enough to take a quick peek at the time. I used to write or sometimes read, but now I mostly just lie here.
Lately, while lying in the dark, I engage in compassionate inquiry.
I ask myself questions and allow the replies to surface. The question that I typically begin with is: “What do I feel in my body?” The answer lately has been fear. Upon waking in the middle of the night alone in my bed, alone in my house, comfortably swaddled amongst my thick winter blankets and piles of pillows…
I feel afraid.
I am a 42 year-old woman. I am a mother, a grandmother, I was once the wife to an unfortunately chosen husband (now ex who is the father of my daughter). We don’t get every decision right when we are young. And when we are younger we have even less agency in the decisions that involve us.
My family was by no means awful, but they were not exactly safe, either.
My body reverberates with long-held hyper-vigilance even now. For too long it was held “on alert”; for too long it was “waiting for the other shoe to drop”, not knowing when a slightly dissociated gaze might morph into darkened eyes and narcissistic rage. For too long I was not sure what I might come home to: happy jigging in the living room or dishes being hurled at my head. I developed “tentacles”—energetic sensors that aided me in perceiving the energetic climate that I was walking into before it struck me full in the face.
Am I saying I was abused? I’m not saying I wasn’t. I’m also not accusing anyone or pointing fingers. I am simply sharing the reality that my body lived through and that reality was that it wasn’t safe. I wasn’t safe.
A warrioress grew in me. She was strong, rebellious, reckless, and deeply protective of myself and my brothers. Maybe even more so of my brothers than myself. You may not know this, but our nervous systems can’t tell the difference between us being abused and witnessing the abuse of another. So even when being a witness and not a victim, my system was primed and ready to run, to fight, to do something or sometimes nothing at all because these people were bigger than me, and they were supposed to be taking care of me, and it was all so deeply confusing… So deeply confusing, in fact, that we (my brothers and I) never told anyone what was happening. Not to our own parents about each other, not to neighbors or teachers or friends, though some friends witnessed it. I suppose it was “normal” for us. We became silent witnesses of instability, volatility and collapse. And now that is what my system tends to do, too. It goes along for a time okay, maybe even happy, then it gets activated, goes into overdrive, and then collapses.
I’m not violent, not outwardly, anyway. I used to have a really nasty inner critic, but she is more tame now. Aside from the ruminating; that I believe is the territory that she has overtaken, and it can be a bit much, maybe a bit abusive. I can be impatient. I growl on occasion. I used to be a fighter, but not anymore. Maybe I could use a little more fight, but I’m just so bloody tired. I’m tired until I wake around 3am feeling afraid. It is in this time that I let my body remember the ways that it has been touched with less than kindness, the ways that it cringed, froze, and shut down in fear as it reverberated with others' intimidations.
There is a specific posture that I have been engaging in when I wake at night to help me release my fear. I lie on my back, butterfly my knees outward, press the soles of my feet together, and breathe. We tend to store a lot of trauma in our hips. This posture helps to release them (the hips and the trauma).
As I breathe I ask myself questions:
How do you feel? What do you notice in your body? Who are you thinking of? What do you need? Mamma, are you there? Help me.
I let the answers come. I see faces float before me, sometimes people from my past, sometimes my own face at different ages and different phases of development. I speak to them; I tell them that I love them, see them, value them, and respect them—the younger versions of me, that is. I tell them I believe them and that they matter. This communication with my own “faces” is a form of IFS or Internal Family Systems work. I learned a bit of this when I certified as a hypnotherapist years ago. It suits me and I tend to bring it into my practice with clients, too. I also use somatic focusing, that means body-based. I start there so as to ground my process in my body and then I invite any parts that want to surface to arise and communicate.
Lately I’ve run into some interesting characters. A 17 year-old part that was actually a projection from a 3-5 year-old part that was deeply identified with performance and seduction. This becomes tricky as this part developed to survive a certain set of overpowering experiences that I endured at a very young age. She believed that “seduction saved us.” I informed her gently that children don’t seduce adults; it’s the other way around, and it’s abuse. This part has presented itself as a core identity piece for me in the past, but it is not. It is just a frightened little girl.
Tears come as I gently confront this in myself. It’s not fair, but it must be tended. Such is the plight of many of us. “It’s not fair!” Some fragile yet primal part of me howls, and I agree. It’s not fucking fair. And it’s not right, but I will not let the residuals of others' wrongdoings and distortions occupy my body any longer…so I face the fear.
I speak of it and name it in the light with my counselor, with trusted friends. I say the names of the people who hurt me to take away their power. I acknowledge time’s passage, my own growth, development and fucking courage. And in the dark I lie with the tenderness, the ache, the sweet release that is not unlike orgasms, for I have woken in the morning after engaging in this practice feeling like I have had a night of marathon sex.
I will have her back—my body. I will reclaim her from the shadows and closets where she has hidden.
In truth, physically, I was not much of a “hider”. I was a “fighter”. I threw her—my body—into many a fray in defense of myself, in defense of others. There are other places with both real and psychic wounds that still hold the imprints of being hurt. And there are parts of me—psychically, psychologically, and emotionally—that are still hiding. Those I call back to me—gently, sweetly persistently like a mother calling her children home from the woods to eat a hearty dinner. Some parts come willingly, some must be coaxed with treats and promises. Some must be tracked down and sat patiently like one would with a feral dog, for they are wild, not entirely healthy, but they will be given time and care.
And occasionally there is a part that can’t go on, that is too damaged, too destructive or maybe really was never me…and those I help die.
I have laid by the side of a lake in my inner landscape and sang a mourning song to the some shade that would and could not come forward and grow. It was too old, too tired, too worn down, too thin, too used to walking in the in between; it did not want to come home. And for some parts that is fine, not everything is meant to be integrated. Then there are those parts that need to be put in the ground or even on the pyre. You may know them, too. It is not for some sense of failure that they fade, but maybe they were never meant to belong to this world, and that is okay.
Death is its own beauty, even when it is internal.
As for the fear—I hold it’s hand or more accurately, I give it mine. I lie my hand on my belly. I place my hand on my heart, maybe sometimes between my legs. I lie in the dark and coo to myself, “You’re ok… you’re okay.”
And slowly I start to believe it… slowly the fear fades.
Image: Gaston Roulstone
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Yes, brought back memories of a childhood when my cells were always on "alert"....can see how this carried over into adulthood and I then created cardiac adventures due to this....hugs! PS...have ya seen Daisy Jones and the 6?
Excellent read Justice and so important. I just started watching a 4 part workshop with Gabor Mate this afternoon on trauma, A.C.E. and then opened this. Thank you.