I’ve been feeling agitated, lethargic, stiff, achy, exhausted, overstimulated…all the things.
What the hell is happening? My body is outgassing fear.
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 dream-scaped 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. 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.
While lying in the dark, I engage in compassionate inquiry. I ask myself questions and allow the replies to rise to the surface.
“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 40-year-old woman. I am a mother, a grandmother, and 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 hypervigilance, even now.
For too long, my body was held “on alert.” For too long, it was “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” not knowing when a dissociated gaze might morph into darkened eyes and narcissistic rage. For too long, I was not sure if I would walk into 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.
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, perhaps even my organs for years.
Bodies that experience prolonged states of stress, trauma, and fear tend to accumulate tension and even hormonal toxicity, and until those events can be felt, given new compassionate context, and then released, they may linger with us in the form of all kinds of psychological and physical symptoms for years.
When I wake in the wee hours of the morning I remind myself to take a few deep breaths. I tuck my multitude of 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 there.
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?”
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 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 was 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, which means body-based. I start there so as to ground my process in my body, and then I invite any parts that want to share to arise and communicate.
Lately, I’ve run into some interesting characters: a 17-year-old part that was actually a projection from a three-to-five-year-old part that was deeply identified with performance and seduction. This part developed to survive a certain set of overpowering experiences that I endured at a 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 of me 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 f*cking 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 the fear out loud 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 f*cking 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 the shades of me from the shadows and closets where I once hid.
I lay my hand upon my belly, upon my heart, maybe sometimes between my legs. I hold myself gently, and slowly the fear fades.