Healing from trauma is a process of untangling conditioned experiences in addition to the direct episodes of violence regardless of when they occurred in our lives. These factors contribute to, reinforce, or exacerbate somatic experience and make it difficult or impossible to escape doubt or achieve feelings of normalcy.
I am arriving at a place where my diverse efforts are starting to converge, and I need to find a way to open my breast while controlling the verve. What I reference is not initially profound, but consists of glimmers in the process, signs that fruition is on the horizon. I cannot define what that will be, but I know it is coming. Nothing holds me back from moving forward more than fear of the very future that I imagine.
During divorce, I was thrust into the realm of trying to gather the pieces of life that would not be swept away in the aftermath – but it was impossible to hold everything simultaneously. The greatest need at the outset was to continue my son’s unschooling, the lifestyle to which he is most accustomed, for it has been the golden thread in his life – a fabric otherwise distorted and frayed from the dynamic of family disintegration.
To achieve this, I needed a roof (a space) that supports his lifestyle and my path to assimilate back into earning income through entrepreneurship. I needed to fight for financial stability after a long marriage and long gap from earning income as a stay at home parent because absurdly, my state doesn’t award alimony. While I dive through one dark tunnel after another to address circumstances of disability, need for assistance, and dependence on the system to survive (i.e., shame, guilt, fear), I must switch directions simultaneously to toot my own horn and polish my professional standing. This is complicated by a large loss of professional respect when I delayed my career to facilitate my child and support my ex-spouse in his endeavors. It’s a lot to balance.
Despite my experience and talent, I was forced to start at the bottom of the hill with no hiking poles and a fractured spirit. Reentering fields of earned income after such a gap and at an age that qualifies me for the senior discount on Tuesdays at my local IGA is instantly overwhelming.
I must repeat what I did at the very start of my professional career decades ago to stand as tall as I might for the virtual recruiters. I do this while secretly wincing in physical pain (and anxiety) at an age when many women are winding down in their careers and becoming grandmothers. Threaded like a laundry line through these opposing dynamics are the canons of constant demand imposed by carrying the single-mom card with its doctrines of… shame, guilt, and fear. And herein also lies a problem inherent to carrying this card. Much of what we single moms try to do takes eons longer than it should. I have had to learn to be patient with myself while guarding my calendar as a sacred life preserver to keep my head above water. What good am I to my child if I’m drowning?
For now, it must be enough for me to acknowledge the intention of an open heart chakra and let the light that is mine ignite in all of its honesty, which really is the motivation for this post in response to reading about somatic experiencing and sexual trauma.
I am neither prolific nor proud, but I Am. I owe my soul more, for its eternal travel is unquestionable. This is for me.
This discovery is hugely important for sexual assault survivors, because it shows us that the most dangerous, damaging part of trauma is not the event itself, but the way we become its prisoner — its ghost — if we cannot ask for help. And because we attach so much shame to sexual violence, this particular type of trauma casts the longest shadow. Sexual assault survivors are taught to be ashamed of what has happened to us, and that shame can silence us. The assault becomes trapped in our throats, our mouths, our bodies, with no chance of being discharged or processed. ~ Lucia Osborne-Crowley (writing about somatic experiencing).
Panic and anxiety come in waves. As I think I have begun a new trajectory of gaining ground, it comes out of nowhere and derails me in a panic attack, or anxiety. This compounds physical disability because stress turns to pain in the body.
Many damaging experiences that occurred alongside sexual trauma are rooted in paradigms that numerous otherwise caring individuals in our society continue to deny, such as the impact of patriarchal authoritarianism that is so enmeshed within our systems and our styles of relating. So many people have absolutely incongruent notions about the tangible threat of belief systems and political policies on individuals like me – which trickles down to their offspring and infects everything.
Truly, I am beyond arguing about politics and religion. It isn’t a luxury I can afford, but it doesn’t change the fact that people cannot have it both ways – they cannot claim to love... and also judge or seek to control.
I am inclined to resist discussing these personal matters because of shame, guilt, and fear. But as a woman empowered by #metoo, and as a mother raising a child alone in the authenticity of whole life unschooling, self-acceptance must be practiced against the noise. The programming is difficult to rewire. The support of community exists only in pockets when you go against the grain. I am grateful especially for the single mothers who identify with what I’m saying. Our spines are interlaced as we hold the space for each other and understand the love our children need, collectively.
Glancing over my childhood and the decades that followed, there were signs that I didn’t learn how to connect to a larger grid of support in times of stress. I try to give lip service to giving no energy to any of it so that I may attract the positive ions that allow me to co-create a spiritual reality that celebrates life, love, and connection. The anxious wiring of trauma is bonded within my body so pervasively that I often forget to recognize that it isn’t actually me!
Losing myself in waves, in moments, in situations, or in response to situations feels like a derailing brain fog that separates my intentions from everything I believe or know to be true. It is scary, and I rely on the tiny pockets of community I’ve organized to remind me that I am OK and still on track. The problem is, most of them – most of us – are no better suited to handling stress without a cost. We ignore the red flags that crop up in our paths. We deny self-care because we lack the community of support we need to take it. A good day is a day when I remember to light a stick of incense, but rarely do I manage to truly spend enough time within.
I had panic attacks in my teens that were translated as behavioral anomalies because the moral paradigm focused on being good or bad. It is actually a fact, while considered a humorous memory within my family, that my mother would address me when I was a very young child as someone who did not belong as she would send the bad me outside to go find her good child. She would gently scold the bad me, demanding to know what I’d done with her good version of me. So, out I would go, wandering the woods at the foot of our back yard looking for a good girl. This was creative as it didn’t require my mother to be the bad guy when disciplining me. But, this was, finally, a seemingly innocent ingredient in a larger recipe.
From very early ages, I sought out friends and crushes, and later partners who would deny me respect. I was the child knocking on the door too early seeking connection while violating the sanctity of a neighbor family’s Saturday morning. It is important to note that a victim or survivor of sexual, domestic, or any kind of intimate violence does not deserve to be used and discarded. In hindsight, my life was full of red flags in friendships and relationships. While there must be self-culpability when attempting any healing process, violence of any kind is the full responsibly of the perpetrator.
I had panic attacks disguised as desperation during my marriage, when I couldn’t achieve empathy or respect – or worse – as a never-ending undercurrent threatening to shock me with each step I took over the fragile egg shells that served as my footing in the dysfunctional relationship. I had panic attacks after I secured the protection order to remove my spouse from our home and began to understand in the weeks that followed how complex “post-stress” operates and afflicts in the aftermath of trauma (in my case, prolonged complex trauma).
The divorce process was a singular tsunami that generated waves of anxiety or panic when I least expect it, even when things are going well. In these waves, I recognize the somatic experiencing for what it is. That doesn’t mean I can stop it when it paralyzes me and leaves me gasping for breath or feeling shame in the evidence of tears. It helps to relate the details of these experiences to caring friends – to safely dissect them for examination.
This somatic experiencing gains definition as I continue to spiral out and unload the burdens of a lifetime of not feeling like I had the permission to be who I am or need to be. My solace is the bright light that is my child who seems to pivot in spite of my imperfections into a realm free from many of the threads that bound me over in my own childhood. Though, he is not without his own trauma, he’s learning the tools for coping in real actionable time.
Nonetheless, it is pretty annoying when entitled, self-righteous people who don’t take responsibility for themselves are able to gaslight me in an instant, as if they have a remote control for my body and mind. I try to help my child learn not to give his power away to jerks or ignorant individuals, but admittedly, his mother is a work in progress.
The thought brings me all the way back to college when the boyfriend of a roommate – a man who was sniveling and unattractive and overtly narcissistic – could melt my self-esteem into an unrecognizable puddle of grief and self-loathing at my very own feet with comments that should have bargained only an eye roll. And why? He was nothing and no one that mattered. In fact, this phenomenon of feeling reduced in an instant occurred at every age, at every level of my social, school, professional, and personal life.
But now, I know it is there. It is like waking up and finding an ally has always been walking beside me if I could just gain the awareness to see. I know others experience this, too, and I understand why despite all of my personal shame, guilt, and fear – there has always at least been hope. Maybe that is where I found the courage to speak out and test reception with the power of the written word.
I feel that in my lifetime I came here to live these truths so that I could intuit the need to stop the cycle of dysfunction – to raise my child in connection and compassion without the hierarchies and judgment in our conventional society.
I dreamed this process would be perfect. While it has been profound, and my child demonstrates amazing leaps in a single generation away from the very guilt and shame embedded in my DNA, he still has fear from the trauma of divorce and all that led to it and all he faces moving forward.
He still needs to compensate at times for what he has lost, and I think I understand him when he grasps for stability in the face of panic and anxiety that separates his intentions from everything he now believes or knows to be true.