(above image was made by Joonas, whose etsy shop can be found here)
I really don’t want to be writing this morning. The first thought I had after getting out of bed at 4:40 am was that writing might help me process some things and, at the least, shift my mood. But I spent the next several hours avoiding even thinking about writing. I’ve watched some comedy, news and a little Adventure Time. I’ve learned about the physical health effects of ACES (adverse childhood experiences), got my kids ready & off to school, ran an errand, accomplished a few things on my to-do list, did 20 minutes of light therapy, tried not to cry, and started at least 3 tasks and only stayed with each for under 10 minutes. I also spent a few minutes petting my dog, partially because I love her but also because I know this activity releases the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. And here I am, back to trying not to cry. And this time I’m going to listen to my inner wisdom and write because trying to hold back what’s going on inside is clearly not working.
The thing is, this morning is the second morning in a row that I’ve woken up because of a panic attack. Yesterday it was a purely physical sensation that I’ve experienced off and on for years but it wasn’t until this time that my curiosity evoked the obvious conclusion that my experience matches descriptions I’ve read of trauma induced sleep paralysis. This morning, the first time I awoke I couldn’t move any part of my body for what seemed like several minutes and it was followed by the repetitive, and uncontrollable motion of my jaw opening up and then biting down. The second time I awoke I’d had a dream that a close friend with HIV had developed full blown AIDS and was dying. And I again couldn’t move any part of my body. I felt overwhelming sadness and then panic that I couldn’t move. I got out of bed as soon as I was able to convince my body to respond to my command to move. There was no way I was going back to sleep and risking waking up paralyzed again.
I will be checking in with the friend who was in my dream but I think the sadness is coming from current events in my own life. Yes, I’m waiting to get the call from the trauma center that I can come in for an intake appointment but I’ve been doing a pretty good job of compartmentalizing that and letting it rest in some back corner of my mind. I’m almost certain I know exactly where the sadness is coming from but I don’t fully understand it, thus…well, this writing thing.
On Tuesday my husband and I went to marriage therapy and we had plenty to talk about. I’ve been pretty unavailable since my breakdown in front of my kids a few weeks ago and things have been pretty tense between us. We both wanted to talk about it so we jumped right in and each shared our perspective of what’s been happening and how we feel about it. Without getting into the details of the session, I’ll say that I walked away with two things that seem to be having an impact on my mental and physical health.
First, our therapist straight up told my husband that he really needs to be in individual therapy. She said he needs a place to talk about his feelings and experiences and have support. That felt amazing for me. It’s something I’ve been encouraging for a long time and my husband has finally agreed to try it. She also said, and this made me very uncomfortable, that he needs therapy of his own because it’s not fair to me for him to place his feelings about my patterns of unavailability and avoidance of intimacy onto me. Whoa. What’s not fair is that he has to deal with it in the first place. I said it therapy and I’ll repeat it here: it’s my problem and it breaks my heart that he suffers because of it. He deserves better. I feel that very strongly AND I know intellectually that the reality is that I don’t deserve my problems and suffering either but I have to deal with them. I guess that’s his reality as well.
The second big take away was hearing my husband tell me that he knows I sometimes do things for him that I don’t really feel like doing. He said he doesn’t like that and it makes him uncomfortable. No one’s ever said that to me and really, truly meant it. I responded that I like to do things for him. And that’s true but I also know that there are times when I do things for him even though it’s triggering for me and there are most certainly ripples of unhappy consequences to those actions. I also recognize that by doing those things I can go about life and mostly believe the lies they create: that I’m ok, that being close to him emotionally or physically doesn’t trigger feelings from dark, scary places deep within me, that past abuses no longer haunt me.
I’ve spent a few days contemplating this and trying to see the past in light of what my husband said. I never meant to create a lie, or deny that I was triggered; that’s just the nature of living with trauma. When you haven’t done enough healing yet, you can’t possibly walk through your life holding the awareness of how awful things were and how fucked up you still are because of it. After 27 years of healing work I can say with absolute certainty that there are seemingly endless layers of damage and with the work comes seemingly endless moments of new understandings and letting go of the ways of being that don’t serve life.
There are so many ghosts living inside of me and hovering around me, and I’m finally at a place where I never again want to believe that I’ve come to know all of them. Maybe someday I’ll be acquainted with them all and many will have been put to rest, but I think it’s more realistic to live with eyes open to the possibility that I’ll discover a new ghost now and then. I’m crying as I write this because being this honest with myself hurts as much as it unburdens me and allows me to live more authentically both for myself and the man who’s chosen to walk this path with me.