It’s been a bit of a challenging week and when I feel overwhelmed I tend to “shut down.” It’s not the work I’m trying to do which is the problem (which isn’t too bad). It’s not the external circumstances which are the problem (they’re nothing like what happened before). It’s not the challenges (which aren’t insurmountable). The difficulty this week are the reactions I have to obstacles and unanticipated issues which come up. I’ve had more than my fair share of stress and abuse. I’m where I am in my life because it’s difficult to make rational choices and decisions when one is constantly in a state of terror and danger. The past may be the past, but it’s shaped my present and the ways that I learned how to protect myself (in the best way possible) are hard coded within me as I make my way in the world.
One of the characters in Game of Thrones, “The Hound,” is terrified of fire. As a child, his face was held to the flames when he was caught playing with one of his brothers toys. Through the whole series, The Hound is terrified of fire and retreats from it, even when the flames are beneficial and life saving for him in the present. It’s irrational for him to be so terrified of fire. His injurious burns happened in the past and no one is going to force his face into a fire. He’s not being logical and not accounting for the fact that the past isn’t the present. Yet he’s still terrified of mere sight of fire, even when it would help him in the present.
A few months ago, I heard an interview with a refuge from another country. As a child, she grew up starving. Luckily, she made her way here and was not only able to find better circumstances, but she was able to finish college and complete her doctorate. However, even now, this intelligent, highly educated woman still had a fear of not having enough to eat. She always carried some food around with her, just to reassure herself. She acknowledged how irrational this was and that she knew she had enough resources to buy food close by…but she admitted that she still needed to always have something to eat within arms reach.
These are the depths of scars and wounds which linger beneath logic and consciousness. There is a primitive, primal part of ourselves which operates at a level we’re not even aware of. It drives us and informs us of the very essence of ourselves and how we find and interact with the world on a moment to moment basis. This primal part can be influenced, but never controlled. It can be gently nudged in a given direction, but never prodded or forced. If a child (and young adult) is given love, empathy and a sense of mastery / control over their lives and the world around them, this becomes a part of their primal selves and a basis for their view and understanding of all things. If a child (and young adult) experiences constant terror and abuse, then this becomes their primal view and understanding of all things.
When my son was in grade school, one of his classmates had a big bald spot on his head. It’s the spot where one of his parents had burned him with an iron. At the time we knew him, he was in foster care and safely away from further abuse from his parents. But the scars were still on this 10 year olds body…and also seared into his soul. There are depths of torment and terror which are not easily dealt with or faced. There are depths where mutilation and scars permanently effect functioning and consciousness on a day to day basis.
I have good days and bad days. There are some weeks when I’m able to function, heal (or at least cope) better than others. Depending on the triggers or the activation of past survival instincts, there are days, weeks, even months, when things arise from that darkness within myself which drag me back into reliving all which has gone before. There are techniques and tools I can utilize which can ease, reduce or blunt the effects. But there are certain things, at certain times, which are not dangerous in of themselves (anymore), but which trigger lessons I learned at the most primitive level. These things are instantaneous and reflexive, not rational or up for discussion.
I do the best I can with what I have to work with. Slowly, I’m familiarizing myself with the world I live in now, rather than constantly invoking all that happened in the past. However, this is a process which takes time and a great deal of gentleness, validation and self care. And there are still times when I’m overcome and swallowed by that tempestuous darkness. At such times, I do what I can to ride out the storm and maintain a sense of hope and faith in the healing part of myself. I remain mindful and aware – so that I can proactive work at healing – as much as I can. But there are times when I need to find a safe place and lock myself in, until the madness of terror and pain passes.
Be Well, My Friends