I’ve been feeling a lot lately.
Between the unexpected passing of my father-in-law, other losses that friends are going through, the Kavanaugh – Ford hearing, the results, Trump’s response, the reactions from my social media family, the stories of women in my life who are speaking out about the abuse they have experienced, the stories of the women in my life, friends of mine, who are not – can not yet – speak out about the abuse they have experienced because they don’t have what they need yet, the tears and heartbreak of children as they realize that life doesn’t always look like a fairytale.
It’s been a lot.
A cocktail of grief, sorrow, guilt, helplessness, shame to name a few.
I was on my bike earlier, enjoying a sunset ride in possibly the last scent of summer before winter arrives. All of these thoughts and feelings were floating within me and yet at the same time, there was a part of me not feeling. There was a part of me observing it all from afar, knowing I should be feeling more, I should be experiencing some form of pain in all of this, and yet I’m not.
It’s like I haven’t been fully participating. I’m going through the motions, cognitively aware I’m feeling something, but at the same time I’m removed.
It’s because a part of me still freezes when I bump up against pain and my shame.
I know this in my hands and my feet the best. They are ice cold with prickles on top if the temperature drops below 70F.
I’m starting to know another version of freeze that lies within me. A systemic response when life becomes so overwhelming, that neither pushing harder nor running away seem like a good option. Control nor comfort will do, so I numb. I stop feeling. I stop asking questions and forming opinions.
Only my eyes and ears are active. Watching, listening, taking it all in.
I see others’ hurt, anger, grief, pain, and I think, “Shit. I should be expressing this too.”
I hear others formulate well thought out compositions, sharing their views, telling their stories, rallying the troops. I think, “C’mon, you should contribute here too.”
But I don’t. Because all I feel is a fog. A messy jumble of words spinning and swirling around in my brain that aren’t taking the shape of anything I can put my finger on. Yet.
Call it shock. Call it trauma. Call it overwhelm.
Fact is, a part of me shuts down.
In the past I would’ve excused this, saying ‘politics isn’t my thing’, or ‘I don’t do grief well’, trying to create an identity where non-participation is acceptable; trying to avoid the shame of the shut-down.
Today I know different. I can recognize the freeze for what it is.
A fear response.
A fear response that means neither using my voice, nor hiding my story and opinions, feels safe. Freeze gives me permission to not access my truth, not form an opinion, not feel my own hurts.
See, once I know what those things are, I then have to make a choice. Do I share them? Does my truth become my weapon of choice? Or do I run away from it and keep it hidden?
In freeze mode, my identity and my integrity aren’t jeopardized.
In freeze mode, I’m not at risk of criticism, judgement, and shaming of others, and I’m not at risk of criticizing, judging, or shaming myself.
It feels like a safe place to hang out. For now.
There’s a part of me that wants the make myself wrong for this. The warrior in me wants to champion every cause that’s wounded her; wants her courage and strength to outshine the darkness she’s faced.
There’s another part of me that is showing a different way. The wise-one that recognizes and accepts where I’m at on my journey, doesn’t need me to be further along, and trusts that at the right time, I will have what I need to enter the race.
The #1 mantra in trauma recovery is ‘Too much. Too fast. Too soon.’
I’ve been ace at biting off more than I can chew, sooner than I am ready for, without the parts of me intact that at the time, would have helped me digest more sustainably.
What I am learning through my own Somatic Experiencing trauma therapy, and trauma therapy studies is to:
1. Slow down.
2. Be present to what is, right here right now, without judging it or needing it to be different.
3. Start to take action only once my body is 100% ready to move in the way it wants and needs to.
This means that once my body starts moving, it is not only authentic, it is a movement of healing.
It is what is necessary to complete a nervous system cycle that got interrupted in the past. The action, the movement, is like finding a missing piece of the puzzle and putting it back in its proper place.
Forcing the action or resisting the action would just create more broken pieces of me.
As I learn to do this with my body, I am learning to do this with the rest of me. Before jumping into the conversation, the funeral plans, the business decisions…
Slowing down, being present to my feelings, my body, my soul, and only taking action once the authentic decisions that facilitate my or others’ wholeness are clear.
Which means I may be silent for longer than expected. I may take more time to reply to an email. I may share less on social media. My writing and business may not fully take shape until many more birthdays than I would like pass by.
And for sure I’ll probably forget. I’ll get caught up in the hype, feel a massive ‘should’ and respond to that out of guilt, shame or fear. I am human.
You’re probably human too.
If you’re reading this and identify as one, I want to offer you the gift I’ve been offering myself lately:
The permission to do what you can with what you have.
This week that looked like making 2 batches of soup for my house and my mother-in-law. It was the time-out for walks with my husband, marvelling at nature. The 10-15 minutes of yoga, prayer, and meditation time instead of the usual hour-plus. It was the out-of-office on my email to give me more time to reply if I needed it. The bouquet of freshly cut hydrangeas beautifying my home. And it included the bike-ride that prompted this writing.
I was talking with a friend this evening. She’s going through a loss too. Her version of doing what she can looks like going for a run. This is her way of commemorating the life that passed, as well as caring well for herself so that when someone dear to her needs support, she is fully topped up and ready to give.
For those of us who are susceptible to catching the should and shame disease, give yourself a dose of grace. Recognize where you are comparing your response to life events, both personal and global, to that of others.
Your process may look very different to the person’s next to you, and that’s OK.
For those of you who are so affected that you’re also freezing and experiencing some form of shut down, take it slow. No need to traumatize and overwhelm even more by placing more expectation on yourself.
Just take whatever small action you can take. Your next right move doesn’t have to save the world.
The world will be saved by more people operating from a place of wholeness, so do what you need to do to put yourself back together again. You’ll know when it’s the right time to share your story, voice your opinions, take bold action.
Being present to yourself and honoring your process is also a form of leadership.
I personally can tell there is so much in me that wants to be said. And I also know that if I push myself to share it now, I will leave myself exposed and vulnerable in a way I am not ready for.
That does not mean I stay silent forever. It means I accept where I am and take the action I can to heal wounds, create my own version of safety, step out of freeze.
And that is enough for today.
Part of my healing journey has included Somatic Experiencing, a trauma therapy that helps re-set your nervous system so you can respond to situations with more flow, less fight, flight, and freeze. If you’re identifying with anything I shared here, I highly recommend exploring this or other somatic trauma therapies. Trauma doesn’t always mean abuse or a one-off shock event. It can build up over time from birth experiences and conditioning. Experiences get stored in your body and your nervous system, which means your body must be included in the healing process. Check out the following resources to educate yourself:
Therapy: Somatic Experiencing
Book: The Body Keeps the Score