I watch a light dusting of snow come down on this idyllic winter afternoon. Even though we’ve been on a stretch of gloomy, sun deprived days, the opportunity to curl up and tend to some writing projects allure me. I feel a tug of inspiration. There are no appointments or projects outside the house today for which I’m grateful. The dogs are snuggled up near me, one at my side, one at my feet and are content, full and warm. My husband is happily creating in his studio and my grown daughter is busily occupied with her life on the other side of the city.
I can’t locate any apparent danger. Safety of myself and loved ones…check.
I scan the room and everything seems in order. The doors are locked and my home appears secure and safe. The curtains are drawn enough to keep anyone from looking in and startling me. I’m snug in my couch, my back to the wall, facing the entry to my home. I know what I’m doing even as I’m doing it.
Hypervigilence calmed by assessing my surroundings….check.
I sit with myself for a moment to insure that I am centered and safe enough to begin the journey inward to visit the inner world of the child that holds the stories. I’ve eaten today and have had a decent night’s sleep. No triggering memories or events have surfaced, I feel grounded and connected to reality, present in the moment. I think I’m good to go.
Assessment of self …. check.
Feeling somewhat reassured by my physical and emotional safety checklist, I pop open the laptop and see if she’s willing to talk.
The reality is that I have an article to complete. In fact, I have several submissions to compose and a book to finish that is 70,000 words in and 9/10ths done. I’m looking forward to knocking some of this work off of my to-do list.
As I begin to review my material, I feel the familiar stir. At first, I’m just unsettled, then it seizes me. My heart picks up it’s pace and I feel my anxiety mounting, not with what I’ve discovered to be a traditional writer’s block but with a terrorized struggle between my little one and the adult “me”. The adult wants to meet the deadlines, actively participate in various writing projects and continue the advocacy for my cause yet the little one who holds the details of my stories begins pulling back the reins something fierce right now. She’s telling me something but I don’t exactly know what it is. The capitulation is activated.
I’ve encountered this conundrum before as I’ve attempted to balance between the intoxicating freedom of allowing my voice versus the terror of actually parting with information that I’ve held captive for decades. Information that has brilliantly saved my life simultaneously keeping me safe…..yet stuck in so many ways. A paradox for sure.
I’ve discovered a powerful and innate desire to connect to the smallest parts of myself silenced by trauma and shame. I want to know her, I want to hear her dark secrets, I want to desperately reunite with her. And over the years since recovering my repressed memories I’ve done exactly that. But right now, I can’t get her to talk, let alone whisper to me.
As a survivor, I long to tell my story for reasons that go beyond the simple recollection of my history. I have a fundamental need to create a coherent narrative of my past. Trauma has fragmented, repressed and distorted my core memories and history. It has lied to me viciously, telling me I’m worthless with no right to even utter a word of what has happened to me. It tells me to shut up in the most violent voice and remain quiet to preserve the pathology of its existence. It has stolen my past and I want it back.
It’s hardwired in my recovery process to be able to give voice to the muted child and reclaim my narrative. In a sense, survivors desire to purge what little we do know AS we attempt to discover what we don’t know. Each and every time, we must return to the scene of the crime, hoping for the best. The conflict of wanting to purge the story while revisiting it creates great anxiety because in the unearthing comes the intense jarring of being “there” again. Exhuming our stories challenge us intensely and take us to places that we vowed to escape. We must straddle two planes of existence, the “now” versus the “then” and be grounded enough in ourselves to know the difference.
It’s an incredibly tricky process. In an effort to excavate the missing elements of our memories and snap together the pieces of the past, we must think about the very things that are unthinkable IF we can remember them at all.
So how do we accomplish the unearthing process when often our trauma occurred at a young age or perhaps even a preverbal time in our lives? How do we form the elusive coherent narrative from flashbulb moments, create a linear timeline from disordered and fragmented emotions or moments encoded and imprinted with so much fear that it feels impossible? Is this even possible as we attempt to access a time when we most probably lacked words to match our feelings and experiences or when often attachments were distorted or non-existent?
My solution is broad as it is incomplete.
Over time, I’ve shaped an emotional safety plan to hold me steady as I venture into the very place that flipped my world upside down, a place that imprinted upon my vulnerable nervous system a trauma that compromised my neuro-physiological wiring for a lifetime.
It’s a work-in-progress, delicate dance comprised of her beckoning “listen to me” as I step toward her while she simultaneously pushes away. It ebbs and flows, shifts and changes…sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes I lean in harder with some solid reassurance that we are strong now, that I know what it takes to protect her and keep her safe. I tell her how much we’ve grown and have mostly mastered our day to day functioning, that this is a journey that we are capable of making together. I console her with the fact that she will never be alone in this odyssey again and that our discovery will be more a “recalling” process instead of a “reliving”.
She relaxes and says she’ll think about this. The anxiety lets up for a moment and I feel the shift of my nervous system to a more decelerated rate. I feel some satisfaction in the knowing that we made progress but a twinge of disappointment from unfinished work. But I know we are done for the day. I read her body signals well and am getting well versed at the dance.
The snow has let up and there’s still time for a short walk before the grey skies go dark. Jack the dog is excited as he sees me put on my boots and coat, grabbing the leash. We crunch through the snow feeling the cold air on my face and I promise the little girl that if she has any words for me, I am listening.