Monday, January 09, 2012

Stuck in Trauma Thinking

"The voice of the perpetrator says it is all your fault and you should give up in despair because what you did was so awful," my spiritual counselor said, "Believing you are hopeless and stuck is trauma thinking."

"What would happen if you dismissed the voice listing all the things you've done wrong and just let yourself feel the feelings?" she asked. "Describe the feelings. Where in your body are they? What texture do they have? How old were you the first time you felt those feelings? Just stay with the feelings and see what emerges."

I tried that this morning. The voice started in on all the ways I've messed up: hiring a bad contractor who wrecked the floors - that I can not afford to fix, buying the wrong house, deciding it was a good idea to take my uncle out of the nursing home in the first place, not applying for a full-time job the minute I was out of the monastery, not doing whatever it took so the sisters would keep me in the monastery, throwing over my tenure-track position at DePaul, not...

You get the picture. Starting with the most recent, a long litany of every major decision I've ever made, or had made for me, marched accusingly through my brain. All bad. All wrong. All adding up to why I was now lost in a morass of despair.

All to say I wouldn't have these feelings if only I was good enough.

I let the list of bads go and watched what emerged.

A little girl was crying in wrenching, gasping hopelessness. She had just been shut behind the gates of Hell with no recourse and no way out. A little girl, no more than three. What was she doing there? How could she possibly have done anything worthy of eternal damnation? That makes no sense. My stomach hurt.

So I held her. She cuddled up on my breast until her sobs were exausted.

"I love you, sweetheart. You are wonderful. It wasn't your fault. I love you," I said.

It still took me awhile to get my taking-refuge-in-freeze-response body out of bed, but my sense of upwelling trauma went from an 8 to a 3 (on a 1 to 10 scale).

"Just be with the feelings" is the most common thing my spiritual adviser says. "They've come for a reason, to bring you information. Let yourself receive the information. The only way out is through."

Not sure if I went very far through today, but at least I opened the door and went in.

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  1. That's huge. Thank you for sharing it. It pains me so much to see friends and family stuck in trauma thinking. I'm glad that you could hold the little girl and be with her with love and compassion.