He had been having an affair.
Am I awake? I think. Can I breathe? Where am I? Is this really happening?
The door is open don’t go back to sleep.
I make my way out of the fog and begin to connect the dots. His obsession with running. Working out of town during the summer and his silences that filled our phone conversations when I would ask him if everything was okay.
The door is open don’t go back to sleep.
I quickly try to gather the pieces. Before long I realize that my initial impulse to put him and me back together again is futile. He cannot bear the weight of what he has done. This man with such a tremendous amount of integrity has scared the shit out of himself. He is stunned by his choices and doesn’t seem to know how to be present to me and himself in the midst of it. He closes Pandora’s Box telling himself that everything is tucked back in as it should be. But the truth is there is no way to work through it. In the end, I cannot bear the weight of my own grief. I move between feeling numb, anger, rage and despair.
Something inside me was demanding my attention. But I wouldn’t discover the source of its voice until much later.
I cannot go back to sleep.
It would take me years to climb out of the semi-darkness of that period of my life. I spent a lot of time moving between self criticism, denial, and blame. I kept busy. I moved like something was chasing me. My body ultimately felt the full impact of the potential “attack” and with that came an awakening that continues to ask me to grow and expand in ways I never thought imaginable.
But why was all of that necessary? Was there a kinder, softer way to have discovered the me that eventually revealed itself? How could I have allowed space for more of the feelings that were showing up without being sucked into a pool of despair?
I know now that my body and soul had needed time to process the rupture and its effects in a way that would honor their pace and pain.
In Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski, PhD talks about sex and science. Although that’s a topic I love and the book rocks, that’s for another post. What I was drawn to was her discussion of the importance of completing the stress response. She says that “our ultrasocial human brains are really good at self-inhibition, stopping the stress response midcycle because, “Now is not an appropriate time for Feels.”” Basically, we are socialized and in part, wired to stuff it when upsetting things happen.
We are socialized to cut ourselves off before we have completed the much needed stress response cycle. In our society it is typically reinforced that when we have a traumatic event, like a car accident, a death or a rupture in a relationship, that we need to get through it as quickly as possible. We are told that keeping busy and self-medicating are acceptable means for managing the stress.
Nagoski goes on to say that “our culture is so uncomfortable with Feels that we may even sedate people who’ve just been in a car accident, preventing their bodies from moving through this natural process; this well-intentioned medical intervention has the unwanted consequence of trapping survivors of traumatic injury in freeze, which is how PTSD gets a foothold in a survivor’s brain”. I vividly recall the moment that I became fully convinced that I could contain the grief and anger. I’m pretty sure it involved a lot of wine.
In no way do I believe that everyone’s process looks the same when “life on life’s terms” shows up. But for me there were certain steps I learned to take and continue to take as often as I can when I feel blown off course:
- Connect – let those that love you in
- Move your body – dance, swim, yoga
- Breathe – practice meditation, breathwork, tai chi
- Let your body talk to you – cry, laugh, sing, yell
- Find the trees – walk in the woods
- Let your inner artist shine – draw, paint, more dancing
- Seek outside help – therapist, pastoral care, shaman, bodyworkers
- Tell yourself the truth – name the struggle
- Hold space – practice not resisting what is
- Rest. rest. rest
I have come to learn that my body and soul need me to be conscious. To be awake. When I do this, I’m more clear, more attuned, more alive.
I want to be that person that when the door flies open and invites me in, I don’t go back to sleep.
Enter knowing that you were born for this. Others have come before you. Hold space and when you feel like you’re not up to the task, ask others to hold it with you. The cost is great when we allow ourselves to fall back into the unconscious slumber. Waking is its own process. Be curious. Be kind. Be.