How pushing myself to "be okay" in social situations perpetuates past trauma, and how to heal
Trigger Warning: sexual abuse
Lately a lot of people have been asking me, 'How are you feeling?' and I often give a cursory answer because, really, it's too much to dive into most of the time. But the other day when at dinner with one of my best friends, I fell to pieces. As I recounted a stressful recent visit with family, I found myself in the middle of a powerful AHA moment.
This moment parallels with conversations I've had multiples times today with clients as well...the theme revolves around feeling that we push so hard to do all the things and pick up all the pieces and just BE OKAY in social and business situations that we end up feeling that others don't understand the amount of duress we're experiencing (and treat us as if we are simply being picky or like a 'princess' when we actually do fall apart, set boundaries, or ask for consideration).
For me, this looks like pushing myself to tolerate a constant feeling of sensory overwhelm to the point of breaking. From a previous brain injury, I struggle with going out in the world - even to the grocery store or a friend's house.
Everything feels amplified: I hear every layer of sound, and the chaos drives me crazy. The feeling of clothing brushing on my skin or a friend lightly rubbing my arm in a gesture of kindness can feel like hot glass ripping my skin apart (especially during otherwise intense sensory times). I have a constant deep gnawing pressure headache, and feel lightheaded and spinning sensations, often like I'm walking on a trampoline. I feel like an elephant is squishing my chest to my upper back, and frequently experience electric shooting pain into my arms and legs. When I visited my mother, she had a motion-detecting nightlight plugged in, and every time it turned on - even when I was 15 feet away, I felt my heart rate spike and breathing get shallow in strong startle response.
This is barely a fraction of the chronic pain I experience, yet I don't like to talk about it...especially because I don't want to focus on what is challenging or take on an identity as a 'broken person'.
Many of you know that I love to dance: salsa, bachata, contemporary jazz, and most recently - zouk. Being in that loud environment, often with flashing lights, means I must wear earplugs and still feel a bit lightheaded, weak, and in a semi-permanent 'startled' mode the entire time. And I get injured far more easily and frequently than my peers. But I've withstood that barrage because I just want to feel like a person.
What I realized the other day is that by pushing myself to exist in these overwhelming situations, I am doing the very thing I constantly advise against...which is to ramp up my sympathetic nervous system (aka survival mode response) in order to push through. There are three major problems with this strategy:
This constant engagement of survival mode means my body can never quite catch its breath for healing mode, and
Family and friends interact with the persona I'm presenting...which looks kind of 'okay' - so of course it makes sense that they would be incredulous when I actually do fall apart...and finally,
Basically telling my body to 'suck it up' means I'm ignoring boundaries and not protecting myself, which perpetuates old trauma (more on this below).
When I recognize the first part, it's no surprise that cancer is taking over my body. How can I possibly heal when I so constantly engage survival mode?
And the second part...well, this is where I totally understand how people can continue to ask more of me than I feel I have to give. Because I have presented to them a person who seems functional in ways that (right now) I am not. I had a conversation with a client today about this exact thing, where she has been catching all the dropped balls from her business partner...which means that partner takes advantage of her all the time. Because she knows that my client will be there to clean up the mess.
We can be angry and resentful at those around us who expect more than we feel able to give...or what if instead, we just stopped trying so hard to be okay and do all the things? What if we just allow the balls to drop? Allow ourselves to fall apart? Stop pretending that we can do all the things.
Let me tell you: a MAJOR part of my healing plan involves dedicated time to FALL APART. To quit all the things and channel the west medicine (native american spirit tradition) aka shiva the destroyer energy (indian spirit tradition). We in the modern western world are so terrified of death that we grip tightly to the way things are. But here's the thing:
When you hold on and refuse to let go, things rot.
Another important decision I've made is that I am going to STOP PUSHING so hard! Stop wearing this mask of 'okay' when I'm really not. And knowing that it's okay to acknowledge my boundaries (without that meaning that those boundaries signify an identity as 'broken').
WHEW this is an intense post! Sigh. Okay, the third part is where I had probably the most significant AHA moment...
As I poured my feelings out to my friend at dinner, I found myself lamenting over this piece of unresolved trauma from my childhood: finding myself engaged in sexual activity that I did not want. This occurred on multiple occasions and with multiple people, as early as 7 years old, and repeatedly in my late teens and early twenties.
While I have done significant work to process these situations, and have mostly moved through my resentment of the other parties, I realized that I still hold massive resentment for myself. Because the way I coped was to abandon my body. To go somewhere else in my mind. I found it safer to do this than to fight (especially at the worst time, when I said NO and he would not stop). I simply checked out of my body.
There is obviously much to unpack there, and I will continue that work. But here's what I realized:
When I say yes to situations that feel painful and require engagement of survival mode, I am perpetuating this old wound where I abandon my body.
It creates this schism in my being that breeds resentment and a deep feeling of separation that makes me feel far away from everyone and everything.
So what is the solution?
Well for one, I am already feeling a bit better just by opening up and allowing the chaos to pour out. And there is more to go...so as I mentioned earlier, a crucial part of my plan includes a date with my kitchen floor to cry it out! Have all the feelings! Because WOW did I feel better after that conversation with my dear friend. So if you resonate with any piece of what I've shared, I highly encourage you to seek out a safe space to unpack the chaos buried inside, packed away into the corners of your body, and let yourself actually fall apart. This may be with a trusted therapist, a dear friend, or maybe alone. My favorite solo way to move energy through and allow the experiences and feelings to simply exist is by barfing all my incoherent feelings on paper and then burning it (with fire!) and give it back to the universe.
The second part of the solution comes from a forgiveness procedure my dad taught me as a child. I learned it as how to heal a wound between people, but it works just the same with one's self. It goes like this:
Get really clear on what went wrong
Agree on the magnitude / how big a deal this is
Say you're sorry
Do something to make up for the hurt
Make a plan to avoid this happening again
This isn't about beating one's self up, but rather having a really clear path to forgiveness. And I realized that while I'm (pretty) clear on what went wrong, and how big a deal it is, and I've said I'm sorry to myself and made a plan to avoid it happening again...I haven't done anything to make up for the hurt. So now my next step is to sit and meditate on that question. When we hold relevant questions in the forefront of consciousness, that practice often attracts the answers from our intuition and connection with universal intelligence.
I know that my last two posts were more technical in the details of my plan to heal cancer...and there is still a third post to come on those physical plans. But when I am asked how this healing process is going, know this: while the physical pieces are important and I will continue to support my body in those ways,
I believe that this deep, messy, difficult but powerful spirit work is the true path to healing
- not just from cancer, but the core healing that is our true purpose as spirit beings having this human experience.
It is my hope that in sharing my experiences and thoughts, you will feel inspired, connected, and perhaps a spark of the real magic which catalyzes our conscious evolution.
Being human is hard, y'all! And yet, here we are, on this beautiful spinning marble. Thank you for sharing the ride ♡ With love,
Satya Sardonicus, DC, CACCP
Champion of Human Potential
Founder | Chrysalis Studio PDX