I finally got up – it’s almost noon. I’ve been lying in bed trying to process. Asking how can I feel good about my life? How can I have a day where it feels like I am ok? Yes there is a lot about my life that is difficult, frustrating, maddening and out of my control. But what I was feeling into is that even if all of those things were gone that I still would not feel ok.
There IS a lot that is outside of me, but what is inside me is still a huge problem.
I have the sense that I want to somehow move through my day in slow motion. I don’t yet have the concepts around what that means, what it would do, how it relates to things. It feels like if I could move in slow motion then I could remain connected to myself. If I move fast or even at a normal pace I lose myself and become the task or activity.
If I move at a normal pace I lose myself. If I relate to another person, I also lose myself.
If I relate to another person, I also lose myself. What does that mean; what can I do with that? It’s a delicate place – if I think or feel too hard, if I try too hard to understand, then that which I am trying to understand happens. Even putting these words together, I can feel myself moving more into my thoughts and out of my visceral sensations and feelings.
That is consistent with the science of post-traumatic stress. There are thousands of threats from my past that my nervous system believes still exist in the present. So there are thousands of configurations of experience that can tip the balance, leading my nervous system to be fully armed and ready, dealing with a threat it is sure is present in the present. That’s why there is such a draw to stay in bed. When I am in and out of sleep, and hanging out only with my thoughts, I’m much less likely to encounter a trigger that snaps me into a high alert state. [Note – I know that’s not true for everyone with post-traumatic stress – some people are prone to nightmares during sleep that make it a more risky place than being awake.]
It’s Saturday. The most important priority is making my way through this maze, making permanent progress at reducing the post-traumatic freak out of my nervous system. The secondary priority is making progress in reducing the financial and physical chaos in my life.
Presencing is an option. There are lots of activities and protocols for presencing – for becoming and remaining connected with the body and with what is stored in the body. Is it a good idea to engage in that kind of activity right now? Options:
- scan the chakras one by one
- scan the body from head to toes or toes to head
- zoom in on any place in the body where there is some kind of distress, feel into it and be with what is there
- breathwork – circular breathing for an extended period
- various sorts of yoga breath
- yoga postures
- stress postures
- strenuous exercise
Why not? Well, here’s a possible why not: for a highly charged post-traumatic system, any move toward being more aware of my body than is already happening organically comes with the risk that what I find in my body will be a trigger that will send me straight out of my body and make even the level of body connection that I started with impossible to recover.
Somatic Experiencing seems to be a form of presencing practice – and in that practice, there is a huge emphasis on titration – on experiencing the body and what is held there only to the extent that the resultant triggering is manageable, where I can hold a witness that is wider, deeper and stronger than the experience of the trigger.
I was introduced to holding witness while visiting distress in 1994.
I’ve been working on my witness for a long time. The first time I was introduced to the concept of explicitly holding witness while visiting distress in my body-mind system was in a personal growth workshop in 1994. We were all led on a guided process where we were each going to be our young selves and we were each going to visit our parents. But before we started we were invited to evoke a guardian, a witness, a protector to accompany us. I had done quite a lot of work on my childhood distress and my parents before that time, but no one before had ever explicitly offered me that sort of internal protection. Visiting my parents turned out to be terrifying, to an extent that was a surprise to me at the time, but having a protector with me enabled me to walk through it without becoming destabilized.
If I have been working on my witness for 20 years now, why is it still so fragile that almost anything can knock me off my balance? It is because it is a different level of balance. When I started doing growth and healing work, and a therapist asked me in 1991, “Are you in your body?” I had no idea what she was talking about. The questions itself made no sense to me. Over time, I have incrementally increased my awareness of my body and my capacity for being connected with it. I recall that in the mid 1990’s, whenever I had some sort of emotional or visceral experience, that in order to talk about it, to put any words to that experience, I had to travel a long distance inside myself from the place of experiences to the place of words, and that once I had spoken the words, that I may or may not be able to find my way back to the experience itself. Since then I have gained proficiency with feeling and articulating more or less at the same time.
I am at a depth of connection that I am not accustomed to
So, back to the question. The level of feeling, the depth of what is in my body that I am aware of and can connect to – that increases over time. And right now I am at a depth of connection that I am not accustomed to. If I shifted into a more familiar state I would not be fragile in this way. But I would also be unable to connect to myself and to others in the way that I want to. [Not that I can do that now, because of the chaos of internal change, but I can feel that I am going in the right direction.]
And I think there is another dimension to it as well. One dimension is how deeply I am connected and another dimension is how broadly I am connected. In 2004 when I was going through major life changes and a lot of rather intense inner experiences, I recall making a conscious choice to take parts of my judgment and awareness – fears, feelings, beliefs – and lock them up away. I wanted to be able to connect more deeply to my experiences in the present, and some of my traumatic experience was getting in the way, so I got rid of it. This allowed me to be in my body in a new way, but at a pretty significant cost, as I was unable to really appreciate the impacts of my behaviors and choices on myself and others. The tools I needed for that understanding were intertwined with the traumatic experience that I had locked up.
These days I aspire to be profoundly connected to myself in all dimensions. It is a process that is messy, sometimes clumsy, and frequently uncomfortable. But the progress is real – even though one of the uncomfortable parts is a periodic sense that everything is completely surreal.
I want to move in slow motion.
So back to my original intent. I want to move in slow motion because I am making progress in being connected to myself more deeply and more broadly, but that level of connection is fragile due to the wide array of post-traumatic triggers that are currently programmed into my nervous system. So what is my plan for today? My hands. Touching my hands to each other or touching other parts of my body with my hands is soothing, grounding and connecting. So if I can repeatedly return to awareness of my hands, that should help me to remain connected to myself.
I can also ask: What are the risks that I face today, inwardly or outwardly, that are most important for me to be aware of in terms of staying connected to myself? I ask the question, and then I squeeze my hands together and touch them to my body, seeking the answer from within my body rather than from my mind. The answer: Food. I think there is trauma all around food for me. So the follow-up question: What should I do about food today? Or what should I eat? When? “Just warm goat milk.” I’m willing to try that. Warm milk sounds like an infant thing. And the traumas of pre-birth, birth, and infancy are at our core – everything else builds on that.