There’s a whiplash feeling that catches you like a lasso when you’re living a very different life than the one you were prepared for.
I have that at least weekly, still.
I have realized that we each contain multitudes. That we aren’t just one person. But people who weren’t allowed to freely develop have more differentiation, less integration of these selves. There’s phobias between them that need to be resolved, unrest under the surface until it is done.
I have several open phobias that I know about, related to driving cars, paying bills, waiting in line at the post office, being out walking without someplace clear to go. They induce feelings of panic. I don’t exactly know why these are the things I fear, but the theme is that I was supposed to be kept in, sheltered, and they are all independent empowering activities. I have overcome some other phobias and I believe I will overcome these too. Talking about them, chipping off the layer of shame on the outside, is a first step.
I used to have terrible social anxiety as a teen, a backwardsness that my grandparents helped me overcome, forcing me to go into stores and buy things and count change while making small talk with clerks after I begged not to be made to. I can’t tell you how difficult it all was. How conflicted I still feel about the memory.
No one would know I had a problem with any of that anymore. I’m gregarious, rehabilitated. If not the life of the party, definitely happily involved at the party.
But bits of the underlying stuff linger.
I’ve really had trouble trusting people lately. Like a fragment of myself that says the world will betray you and people hurt has a stronger voice and more recent examples than it did. I guess that only makes sense. And I’ve learned I need to let it talk. Let it feel what it feels. That’s sometimes hard. I want a shortcut. I’m impatient. It’s a phobia that comes off as realistic, pragmatic, says this has taken far too long and far too much energy for me to have only come this far and the only reasonable response is to refuse to give it the time of day. Underneath the fear and anxiety and problems with paralysis, the feeling that I’m not over it yet makes me sad.
Trauma has a half life. This is what mine looks like.
I got my wedding pictures back this weekend. They were great. Beyond my dreams. And I knew I truly loved them because I felt I did not deserve them. But they were decent pictures of my own face, smiling and feeling beautiful with someone who loves me. How could I not deserve that?
So I started to wonder if it was all real, found reasons it might not be.
I almost called my husband my ex’s name yesterday. Caught myself just in time. I had been sanding trim and painting a bedroom all day and was still only half finished. I was irritated, felt not good enough, measuring myself by these unfinished walls and whatever other yardstick of insufficiency happens to be nearby. He kept interrupting my calls and things I was reading and writing in the evening, probably just wanting attention, to be near me. But I was displeased that there was no more daylight when I still wanted to paint, and it all converged to where I felt like I was back there, demands made on my time, where I couldn’t say no, claim my space, have my time and energy be my own. I wasn’t nice about it.
I don’t even know what back there is. If I’m even remembering it correctly. Didn’t I feel love? For my ex, my dad, parts of my childhood? Weren’t there special times? I don’t even know. Can 12 years or half a lifetime fade after four years away like that? I guess it did somehow. Only vestiges remain. It’s mainly the new things I’ve had to build and acquire lately that serve as reminders more than anything I’ve lost.
I’ve had to find new favorite things because a lot of my favorite things got ruined for me. Luckily I’m still capable of finding, loving, building. I’m still doing the work of integrating, reinventing. Much of it is so nice.
But it’s a lot like moving out of an apartment owned by somebody else and remodeling a house of your own. Yes, it’s yours. But you’re never done. There’s never enough time and money to do everything you’d like to do and there’s always a project looming after this one.
Sometimes you just have to live with things as they are until you are in a position to do what you want.
I have a hard time with that. I don’t want to live in the meantime anymore, don’t want to tolerate anything. I also don’t want to burn the candle at both ends.
What I want most is to love and respect myself, treat myself with decency. I am still teaching myself how to do that, since nobody else really taught me.
I try to ask my anxiety “ok, what would you have me do?” Make it action-oriented. Sometimes she wants to hide. Other times leave abruptly and start a new life. Occasionally batter closed doors until they are forced open again. She dreams of mayhem and shutting people down, and then after she’s been heard on all those things that I would want to immediately say no to, without me saying no (and this not interrupting part is hard) she says something else.
She says “I love you,” and that she wants me to be free, safe, healthy, and well-integrated. She is frustrated whenever I’m seemingly not having those things at any given time, and when I do have them, she worries I’m about to lose them. She’s always scanning for threats.
But I think part of adulthood is learning which constraints to battle and which to accept.
When you buy a house in New England that then means you can’t be living in the Caribbean. When you marry a man, it means you marry the nights he smells like strange medicine and steals your blankets in his sleep in addition to the passionate and cuddly ones. When you work at a job it means you have a responsibility and can’t just spend your time on whatever you want whenever you want.
And the new me is coming to these ideas like she was just born, just encountered them, just figured out both that she has a choice and that these constraints look like they do. Just now is allowed to make choices and trade offs and feel awkward and conflicted about it. Because I guess I didn’t have that before, when I was in emergency mode and feeling like an escapee, an interloper trying to blend in and figure out an alternative basic guideline to follow for a good life. And now I know there are no cheat codes, no hacks, no straight paths, and also that I will take care of me, even at a worst case scenario, with an outside betrayal rate of 100%.
So I promised her that. It remains to be seen if she believes me, lets me behind the wheel and into the post office without screaming fits in the future.
We do not get to choose our starting points or our fears, and often not even our defining elements of bravery. What we do get to choose is whether or not to listen to ourselves, even the parts that we don’t like, the ones we were shamed and bullied out of or into, were trained not to acknowledge or like, so that we may become more understanding, more empathetic, more whole.
I like to imagine myself someday in the near future driving on the highway, in a car by myself, going to the post office to pay a bill and feeling chill, just listening to music on the way. It might seem banal, but that achievement means so much to me visualizing it now. I want it. I will try to have it.
What I don’t know is how well future me will recognize my efforts. Will she mostly forget and have her new views be utilitarian, pragmatic, taking it for granted like almost everyone does, or will she remember the work I did to arrive there? Will she appreciate all that I’m doing painting this house so that she may live in it comfortably, invite others of her choosing in, or move on and feel embarrassed of the next unfinished project? And if I can’t count on her to recognize my work, can I count on anyone else? For some reason this question plagues me. I feel a strong desire to be appreciated that often has led to disappointment, devaluation. It’s one thing that makes me scared to try.
But all I can do is try. And if I do, I will enable either reaction to be a possibility. I have that power. It’s like raising a kid, parenting an inner child who never got what she needed. The last thing I want is for her to feel stuck over the things I feel stuck over now. My dream is for her to have painted bedrooms and healthy trusting relationships and to feel stuck over other things, newer and less problematic things.
So I will do what I can to aid her, live life as best I can, guide her and myself further on down the trauma half life.
Thank you so much for this post. I stumbled across your blog while visiting NLQ. NLQ had been a tremendous help to me while getting out of an abusive marriage and a toxic religious environment years ago. I’ve grown and healed a lot in the intervening years and am in a happy, healthy marriage and a good place in life, but the anxiety that has always plagued me has been causing me panic attacks in unexpected situations. I came back to NLQ looking for some answers or shared experiences and found your blog. I’ve read your post 3 times and bookmarked it to read it again tomorrow, and I can’t tell you how helpful and healing it is to hear your experiences and how they mirror my own. I have my own “trauma half life” it seems, and things I thought I’d sorted out in my head haven’t fully straightened themselves out in my heart. We keep at it, because this new happy life, even with all its anxieties and monsters, is a million times better than the life that came before it. Thanks again. ❤
You’re welcome and I’m glad it’s helpful. I don’t keep up with this blog nearly as much as I mean to, and just now got to your comment, but I think it is important to talk openly about the long term little things it takes to get through and overcome this kind of past, even when you’ve been pretty successful at leaving it behind, so I try to post and share when I feel it is relevant or useful. So it’s nice to hear that it was helpful to you 🙂