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I can’t hear anything being said to me.
I want to fight. I want to run. I’m frozen. I must, under all circumstances, escape.
There is a chasm of pain opening inside me, and I’m falling in. There’s no presence here, no reason. I have no access to any of my tools that normally keep me safe inside my body.
Suddenly, a flood of tears and my knees buckle. I’m on the floor in the fetal position. I need to protect myself from the world. I cry so hard snot dangles from my nose into my mouth. My body shakes with great, racking sobs. I don’t think they will ever stop. There is so much pain. It keeps coming up. I can’t stop crying.
The tiniest spark of consciousness tries to signal me that the intensity of my reaction is disproportionate to the argument my partner and I just had, but I can’t see it. I am in full trigger, convinced that the situation in this moment is dangerous.
I’m not sure how long I am down. My sobs begin to subside. I feel wrung out. I kneel on the floor and let quiet tears fall. I wipe them and blow my nose, loud. My gaze is low and my breath is slowing down. I feel like something huge purged from me. I am still here. I didn’t run. My partner is next to me, a look of concern on his face.
Only 10 minutes ago, we were discussing our relationship. I have been questioning its primary purpose, asking the big questions: “Why are we together? There is no marriage contract binding us, no children we call ours. We don’t share a home. Our goals for ourselves do not seem to include the relationship. Is there anything we are working toward as a couple? What is it that holds us together?”
As the discussion progresses, I begin to feel agitated and anxious. Instead of stepping away to ground myself and center, I continue headlong with the conversation, ignoring the warning signs my nervous system is sending.
Being a writer, I push for a written list of concrete reasons we are together. “This is important to me!” I say. “It will force us to compare our truths for being in this relationship.”
“I hear you say that writing it down is important to you,” my partner says.
I fall into his arms, feeling seen and heard. Finally, I think. He gets it.
The next sentence from his lips slices me open. “It’s not important to me.”
The memory of what happens next is intense. Rage and pain replace the agitation and anxiety. What did I hear him say? I am not important! He just said I am not important. My inner reporter says.
I begin to emote loudly. An old hurt opens up in my chest. How could he say that to me? How could he say I am not important, that my needs are not important?
He tries to explain that it is the writing down part that is not important. The more he talks, the more I hear, “You are not important. You are not important. You are not important.”
My childhood wound, my core belief of not being important is hemorrhaging inside me. It makes it impossible to be present, to hear him out, and respond from a place of reason.
A month has passed since this episode and I continue to reflect on what happened that day. Slowly, ever so slowly, I am peeling off the layers of the lifelong belief that in order to be worthy, someone else has to make it so. Even now, as these words show up on the page, tears of compassion spring to my eyes. How did I not know the falsehood of this belief? How could I think so little of myself as to give power over to others to fill me in, like a picture in a coloring book?
I gently remind myself that denial was my body’s protective system growing up. It’s what had kept me safe in childhood. It is my now inner wisdom, not my ego that decides when it’s time to heal the wound. Until then, denial will remain my protector.
It’s hard to sit with this pain and sit I do. It shows up like a heavy, thick, mass in the center of my chest. I’ve been feeling stabbing pains in my left breast in the evenings. There’s nothing physiologically wrong with me. I have a sense that it is my childhood wound of not good enough healing and it bloody hurts. I remind myself to have patience—it took time for trauma to burrow into my tissues; it will take time to heal.
The same way I tend to my physical body when it is injured or ill, I must tend to my emotional body when the wounds of childhood rise to the surface. These are my inner children being vulnerable—my inner children trusting me to take care of them.
Today, I celebrate when they feel safe enough to show up and tell me what they need—share with me the tales of their suffering and pain. How can I turn them away?
I’ve made a ritual of sitting with my inner children every morning. I give them three pages of longhand writing to spill out everything they want me to know. Sometimes they vent. Sometimes we cry together over old memories on the page. Sometimes they remind me that we haven’t spent time together—playing. They tell me their fears, and I listen. I listen with all my being in a way that I did not feel listened to as a child. I love myself in this way, and it is good.
There are other ways that I am healing. I drop into my body several times a day. This looks like stopping whatever I am doing, closing my eyes, and bringing my focus to the center of my chest. I breathe slowly, in through my nose and out through pursed lips. After a few breaths, I begin to feel an inner calm that I can only describe as the part of me that is my protector, that loves me unconditionally, that knows me better than anyone else, finding her rightful place inside my body and resting. Pure love and safety live here. Some call this meditation, I call it checking in with my divinity.
I am learning that tears come and tears go. I remain curious when the need to weep arises and whenever possible, let the tears flow freely. A lot of the time, this happens in a yoga pose, primarily involving areas that are tight, restricted, or painful. It has been my experience that physical pain is closely tied to emotional pain. I do my best not to push, to speak words of love and compassion to my body, and let the tears flow. My inner children have learned that the yoga mat is a safe place.
I am including daily chats with my inner wisdom, usually in the mornings before I get out of bed. I say sweet nothings to myself. I pretend I am speaking to someone I love and care about very much. I make myself the most important person to me in those moments. I am worthy. I like to repeat my favorite lines from the movie, “The Help,” “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Experiencing my triggers is uncomfortable. They show up like unexpected and unwelcome relatives at my door. I have a choice to either slam the door in their face and pretend they are not there, or invite them. I choose to let them in.
They show me what they’ve left in my house, my body, and then are on their way. It is up to me to reflect on the reason they came, to gently approach the wound they’ve pointed out, and begin the slow process of healing.
Today, I view triggers as signposts to love.