Imagine that you’re in a very long hallway. One whose distance is proportional to the number of years you’ve lived. Mine is white, with warm lighting…simple, clean and efficient. When I’m present in my life, I can look up and see grocery store aisle headings and I’m currently standing under aisle Present Day. This is exactly where I should be so that I can engage with the world from a place of mindfulness. This is what it means to be present. This is what I aim for at all times.
When I look behind me, there’s aisle headings for all the years of my life. There’s also many doors that line this very long hallway. Special moments, significant memories…the hard times. The doors down this hall open to rooms that hold all these memories.
Here’s where it gets tough. In the past, before trauma counseling, some of these rooms were shaking, sometimes violently. Under the crack of the door, things were seeping out. I had duck taped some of the doors, boarded and locked them up the best I could. Others were flung wide, the door ripped off its hinges and blasted in to a million pieces. The wreckage littering the hallway where real life occurs.
Sometimes real life would trigger me and I’d be instantly transported to the door associated with the memory being triggered. At times, I could stand outside and use the peephole to look in. A ghost of my former self visible, going through that experience in a constant loop of the events. If I held the door shut with all my might, the moment would pass and I could walk back to present day.
There were many other times that I couldn’t just stand outside and look in. No, I was given no choice at all. I’d blink and then find myself in the room. In that room was my younger self, the ghost of me – just a small fraction of what I am as a whole. The room was heaving around the both of us. A maelstrom of emotions and things from that memory flying around. Whatever was in that memory was now beating us down. Pummeling us from every direction. In an instant of panic and overwhelming emotion, my current self and my former self cling to each other for support. Before I’d realize it, we were one. Did she become me or did I become her? I could never be sure. But you surmise that you must have become her because you’re stuck in this room. And the chaos of the room has taken over. You don’t know up from down…where’d the door go? Was there ever such a thing? You’ve been here so long, this is life, isn’t it?
Then one day you wake up and realize the hallway is where you’re supposed to be, not inside this room. You get out, leaving behind that piece of yourself that still isn’t healed, but you don’t know how to fix this. You don’t know how to fix her, or the mess of this room. So you run, only now you’re afraid to look back. You’re afraid to get close enough to shut those doors. What if I got sucked in again? What you don’t realize is that those other yous will always call you back. They are a part of you that shouldn’t have ever been separated and they need your attention.
This mess is so big now. It’s leaking into present day. How will you sort this out?
At first I don’t try and sort anything. This is life now, I assume. This is how it must be for everyone. So I deal with it as best I can. I’m no longer in the aisle titled Present Day, though. I don’t when that happened but when I look up, some of the aisle signs have been ripped off. You don’t know where you are but playing Candy Crush is a good distraction. It keeps your mind busy enough that you don’t have to think about anything else. Food also helps. Surely a donut will cure all that ails this place.
Then you learn what emotional eating is so you give that up. You trade that for controlling everything. Control how people in your life act, because if they treat you just right you’ll be ok. If your husband loves you just so, it’ll be ok.
You think and plan for every disaster, you can’t be caught unaware. If you’re prepared enough, you’ll never feel the things happening in those rooms ever again. Life is so hard this way. You’re holding on so tight to this perfectly controlled version of life, there’s no room for joy, laughter, or uncertainty. There’s no room for anything but your control. That’s one way to deal with it…alcohol and drugs is another. Addiction of any kind really. Anything that allows you to escape your reality. Hyper control and hyper letting go are two sides to a very dangerous coin. You lost your way and digging through the rubble is goddamn painful. So drift away or control what you can and pretend it isn’t happening.
In this version, life is really depressing. Sometimes you’re at the end of this hallway curled into a ball, barely functioning. Other times you’re aware that this isn’t the way things should be and are looking for any kind of relief you can get. But this is the place where depression, anxiety and things like PTSD live. Some people like to call this the black pit. It feels bottomless and you feel hopeless. Having gone through some very intense counselling in the past year, I have a different take on it now. I used to think it was a black pit and that’s where I was gonna live until I crawled my way out. I tried to get out. Sometimes I would feel better, but most of the time I’d lose my footing and slide right back down to where I started.
It wasn’t until I gave Lifespan Integration a try that I saw a different way. The process revealed to me how many different ways I had hidden from my past, effectively shutting the lights off in this hallway and creating the feeling of being in a black pit.
“The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong
Brene Brown’s quote is absolutely bang on. I think the tough memories and situations that that make us feel stuck might need more than the process Brené Brown has described in her book Rising Strong, however, getting curious is definitely the first step. That’s a great start if you can do it. For me, getting curious was too dangerous. When you live with what was essentially PTSD, getting curious can do damage. There’s the potential to retraumatize yourself and it’s one of the reasons that traditional talking counselling hadn’t worked for me. I could talk to a counsellor about what had happened to me in my childhood, but as a protective measure there was a large part of me that was very disengaged and checked out during that process. It was too painful to touch in this way. So how can you heal when you’re trying to deny your story?
On the other hand, Lifespan Integration is essentially a supportive and trained professional who has the tools to get you safely to all these doors, taking you one step at a time to the threshold of these rooms so you can sort them out. You definitely do all the work, but it’s like having a guiding and protective hand, leading you to these places you’ve done your level best to avoid.
Once there, you have the opportunity to get your other you. You need this piece of yourself and you need to make the situation right in your mind — for your own peace. A large part of that happening is doing what your younger self couldn’t and then teaching your mind that the situation is really in the past. I was so skeptical at first…how could reliving these memories ever heal me? I relive them all the time. When I get stuck in those rooms. It’s horrible. The difference is that you’re never the you that had to face that situation. You get to get her out of there and your present day self is the one that does what needs to be done. It was the oddest thing, but those early sessions were splitting me in half. The duct tape I had used to hold all the pieces of myself together was failing me. Then something strange happened…the intensity of emotion in some of those rooms, the ones we had worked on, died down. It didn’t feel like an all out war was being played out. I could go back and look at these memories and that piece of me that was always in the room, was no longer in there. The me that had been trapped, was now a part of me — the present me.
I slowly started to feel less fractured and more like Scarlett Johansson in the movie Lucy. In the movie, Lucy goes through this process that removes all the limits of her mind and when she gets 100% access to her brain, she starts to see everything in code. As if she’s deciphered the invisible code that runs everything and everyone in this world. She is invincible and she can become anything because she understands it all on a completely different level. I felt like Lucy. My mind was no longer a minefield of memories that could ruin me for days. I felt free from the tethers I had bound myself with. I felt untangled from the web of anxiety and depression. I felt my mind was once again wide open to me and completely under my own control.
Soon after all the chaos that lived inside of me went quiet. I will never forget the feeling of this peace I had lived without for over 10 years. My mind was quiet and it was the oddest and most extraordinary thing. You know if you’ve worked in a place that plays Christmas music during the holidays and eventually you get used to it? If you don’t like Christmas music it’s unconsciously grating on your nerves. You go on with life, but everything is underpinned by this annoying soundtrack. That’s what this noise was like. Only for me it sounded like high pitched static. The day it stopped was like turning off the radio. I must have cried in gratitude over this simple joy for weeks. I’d wake up and realize…silence. Peace. I’d breathe a sign of relief and cry a few tears while I emailed my counsellor and thanked her over and over again for helping me get my life back.
For me it happened in this miraculous overwhelming way…all at once and like an avalanche. As soon as I gained access to a few rooms, the rest came fast and furious. I don’t know why and I don’t know if my counsellor knows why or how it happened so quickly for me, but it did.
“The strongest steel is forged by the hottest fire.”
And that quote sums up my past year quite perfectly.
*Side note #1: You’re not alone. If you’re wondering if this is all life has to offer you, there is more. Take it from me. It takes some breaking wide open, but I now believe there’s a possibility of healing. The following authors are all people I’ve worked with, admired and generally fangirled on. They all know what depression and anxiety are like and they have been brave and courageous enough to talk about it. Basically they are amazing accomplished authors and Vulnerability Badasses. I think you should read their experiences: Alyssa Day, Vicki Pettersson, Saranna VonBats and Carly Phillips.
*Side note #2: If you think you may benefit from Lifespan Integration, Gillian Drader from Drader & Associates is who I used. She is wonderful. She may not be local to many of you who are reading this from outside of BC, Canada, but I’m sure her website would be a great starting point.
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