There’s something about dawn that commands me to wake before the light changes so I can witness the lightening sky and the orange glow that washes everything when the sun finally meets the horizon. A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to travel to Scotland and York with my mom and oldest kid. I rose every morning before dawn and went for a walk. From the North York Moors to Edinburgh and Inverness, I would walk until the sun was up and the light no longer brought color to the clouds.
In Edinburgh I watched the light change as I walked up the High Street past St. Giles cathedral and until I came to the castle that sits atop the plug of an extinct volcano. Standing with a full heart just outside of the castle, the only person I met was an elderly woman who had also come to take in the quiet view. We exchanged a few words about the light and the peacefulness of the gloaming and then parted.
The sound of gulls hunting over the River Ness in Inverness will stay with me until I die. I too had risen early to find the nourishment a new morning brings.
I spent a lot of time alone wandering aimlessly about while in Scotland and I was surprised to find that I never once experienced any anxiety. I was certain that my anxiety would return when I got home and re-entered my life of divorce and moving. It has not. I feel worry from time to time but that keeps me on my toes as I prepare for moving and a life as a single mother.
The sunrises in Scotland elicited a visceral response in my nervous system. The damp, cold predawn air felt sharp against the skin of my face and the wind snuck the chill beneath my hat and layers of clothes. Ornate outlines of even the simplest buildings were like ghosts taking physical form as the light grew and my eyes were drawn to them again and again as though I couldn’t quite believe they were real. The pinks, reds, blues and violets that slowly crept into the clouds were more intense than anything I’ve seen here in Boulder, perhaps because of the moisture in the air. Whatever the reason, I often went completely still for minutes at a time, allowing everything in my body to stop except for the bellows of my lungs and the pumping of my heart. My brain was awash in the natural hormones and chemicals of safety and joy. I let myself truly take it all into myself, each moment, every shift of hue and all the eerie sounds of gulls and crows, both their calls and the air moved by their powerful wings.
I think the trip to Scotland was the pinnacle point in a process that began with my early trauma, then cascaded into vulnerability, further trauma and a complete change in my neurological and biological systems, and after years of treacherous and unceasing psychological work, finally resulted in a state of wholeness, capability, and stability. That’s a lot to take in, believe me, I know. I began to be curious if significant change had indeed occurred and was going to persist, when I’d been home a few days and hadn’t had a single experience in which my nervous system spiked or dipped without my being able to skillfully and quickly bring it back to a place of harmony.
I can’t yet explain it properly, but even with all the other healing events on the trip, I know without a doubt that it was the sunrises and long solitary walks that brought about the change. My body relaxed in a way it’s never been able to before. I was able to stay in the moment, playfully choose intriguing streets and closes to turn down and I allowed myself to be permeable to every experience. There’s something that shifts inside when you stand at the base of a 900 year old castle and let the ripples of Loch Ness wash over your hands. You breathe deeply and feel the very place where people came to do their wash and bathe hundreds of years before you were born. When we went to Clava Cairns, a 4000 year old burial site with large standing stones all about each cairn, I stopped at each pillar of rock and put my hands and face on the moss and cold, before I entered the skillfully placed pile of rocks and wondered what its purpose was.
It’s not as though I’ve returned and no longer experience the residue of trauma. I’ve had a few dissociative episodes and panic attacks, as well as a sleep full of night terrors. The difference is that, for the most part, I’m in my body and feel safe and when I do spike up into panic or down into dissociation, I recognize it quickly and automatically begin to bring the cognitive part of my brain online and find a way to get back into my window of tolerance. There’s awareness that I’ve lost my ground but no panic around it; I have a deep knowing that I can get back because I’ve done it enough times to trust that no matter how disregulated, I will successfully take the steps to come back to a centered state.