I’m scared.

I’ve started to think the goal at the moment isn’t to process any particular experience, but just to get better at processing emotions. At the moment, fear seems to be the one I need to get a handle on.

There was a point in this process of trying to heal when it was as though I thought I could just “work through” the trauma and then go back to the way I had been dealing with life minus the flashbacks. Then I started to realize there was something wrong with my personality and I started to think I needed to put it together. Now I think I just need to be able to regulate and process emotions—all kinds of them. Ordinary, day-to-day ones, traumatic ones, positive ones, negative ones. I didn’t learn how to do something important with them in childhood or didn’t get very good at it, and this has caused all kinds of other problems. And then there was all the trauma, with all these emotions….

I came home after the half-day of Saturday and the power tools were up and running. They are both sanders, I think, but this doesn’t seem to help that much. It was really, really difficult to deal with. I tried to stay with the emotions as long as possible, trying mainly to breathe. I couldn’t think straight enough even what to do beyond that. But I have the hope these days that this is practice, and I am getting better at it. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’m giving it a shot.

I can shut the feelings down and go on with life. Periodically, that happens without my consciously choosing that. I suppose it gets too much, or I get tired, and things just kind of dampen down inside. It makes me realize I have a particular feeling when I do this. The dampening down is like a hum, a sort of mechanical sense. The hum is probably fear, that keyed up state of being anxious when really what I am feeling inside is terror. It used to be my normal, so I suppose that means I’ve changed since then, as it isn’t normal anymore. It’s abnormal enough that I can notice the difference.

Anyway, I tried to stay with the feeling, tried to keep breathing. Eventually, I took a nap. I am not sleeping well—I think it’s fear waking me up. I lay in bed a long time after that, thinking, maybe not productively. Who knows. I don’t exactly know what is helping at the moment. I can’t tell. The power tools stopped eventually, but then it got dark. I still have to deal with that trigger.

But I feel optimistic now. I think I can do this. It’s not very easy, but I have an idea it’s like riding a bicycle. It’s this coordination thing that has to be learned by doing. You keep trying and eventually it happens. Then you can ride a bicycle. I think I can do it.

The thing is whatever is happening in my head, it’s just thoughts and feelings. It was unbearable before because I had no idea how to manage them. They were torture. It is still torture, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. The thoughts and feelings can be managed. I just need to learn how to do it.

I think I had the wrong idea about it for a long time. I think I had no idea what it was to have normal feelings all the time, or what it might be like to do that. The thing to do seemed to be to try to find a way to get rid of all the really bad ones, like maybe vomit them out if that worked. Or express them until they stopped needing to be felt or something. I had no idea you go through life feeling things, quite a lot of them negative ones, and if you have a lot of trauma many of them are negative, but they don’t need to be torture. There is a way to make it manageable, but it takes time to learn.

At the moment, I am afraid of being this person. I think that’s what is really going on. In some way, I feel out of hiding. Not that I wasn’t me before, but I was me without having to know I was me. If I was showing more of myself, then I suppressed the feelings I had about being myself in the world. I didn’t have to see it.

Now, I am seeing more that this is me—the person acting out in the world these days is much more authentically me than it has ever been before, and it’s really quite scary. I imagine it would be scary for anyone in my position. Still, it’s possible it’s doubly scary for me. Maybe. I don’t know. It just seems possible that I am more unique than average. I guess we all have our own paths. What I know is that if I can cope with the fear of where who I am is leading me, everything will be a lot easier.


4 thoughts on “Fear

  1. desilef February 20, 2016 / 9:40 pm

    No question about it – you are unique! In spite of which, the person you are wasn’t able to save the world. It makes me sad to think of you afraid to be seen as who you are. On the more positive side, what you are coming to on your own about self-regulation and naming internal states is so much like what I’ve heard from van der Kolk who I know I’ve mentioned before ever since I heard him speak. Here’s an excerpt from some stuff he put online that I saved. You’ve figured all this out yourself, but the last part, about rhythm might be useful.

    Step 1: Start with Self-Regulation
    Dr. van der Kolk: I would say the foundation of all effective treatments involves some way for people to learn that they can change their arousal system.
    Before any talking, it’s important to notice that if you get upset, taking 60 breaths, focusing on the out breaths, can calm your brain right down. Attempting some acupressure points or going for a walk can be very calming.
    Dr. Buczynski: So this is learning to modulate arousal?
    Dr. van der Kolk: Yes, and there’s alarmingly little in our mainstream culture to teach that. For example, this was something that kindergarten teachers used to teach, but once you enter the first grade, this whole notion that you can actually make yourself feel calm seems to disappear.
    Now, there’s this kind of post-alcoholic culture where if you feel bad, you pop something into your mouth to make the feeling go away.
    “The issue of self-regulation needs to become front and center in the treatment of trauma.”
    It’s interesting that right now there are about six to ten million people in America who practice yoga, which is sort of a bizarre thing to do – to stand on one foot and bend yourself up into a pretzel. Why do people do that? They’ve discovered that there’s something they can do to regulate their internal systems.
    So the issue of self-regulation needs to become front and center in the treatment of traumatized people. That’s step number one.
    Step 2: Help Your Patients Take Steps Toward Self-Empowerment
    The core idea here is that I am not a victim of what happens. I can do things to change my own thoughts, which is very contrary to the medical system where, if you can’t stand something, you can take a pill and make it go away.
    The core of trauma treatment is something is happening to you that you interpret as being frightening, and you can change the sensation by moving, breathing, tapping, and touching (or not touching). You can use any of these processes.
    It’s more than tolerating feelings and sensations. Actually, it is more about knowing that you, to some degree, are in charge of your own physiological system.
    There needs to be a considerable emphasis on “cultivating in myself,” not only as a therapist, but also as a patient – this knowing that you can actually calm yourself down by talking or through one of these other processes.
    So, step number two is the cultivation of being able to take effective action. Many traumatized people have been very helpless; they’ve been unable to move. They feel paralyzed, sit in front of the television, and they don’t do anything.
    “Programs with physical impact would be very, very effective treatments.”
    Programs with physical impact, like model mugging (a form of self-defense training), martial arts or kickboxing, or an activity that requires a range of physical effort where you actually learn to defend yourself, stand up for yourself, and feel power in your body, would be very, very effective treatments. Basically, they reinstate a sense that your organism is not a helpless (tool) of fate.
    Step 3: Help Your Patients Learn to Express Their Inner Experience
    The third thing I would talk about is learning to know what you know and feel what you feel. And that’s where psychotherapy comes in: finding the language for internal experience.
    The function of language is to tie us together; the function of language is communication. Without being able to communicate, you’re locked up inside of yourself.
    “Without being able to communicate, you’re locked up inside of yourself.”
    So, learning to communicate and finding words for your internal states would be very helpful in terms of normalizing ourselves – accepting and making (the communication of internal states) a part of ourselves and part of the community. That’s the third part.
    Step 4: Integrate the Senses Through Rhythm
    We’re physical animals, and to some level, we’re always dancing with each other. Our communication is as much through head nodding and smiles and frowns and moving as anything else. Kids, in particular, and adults, who as kids were victims of physical abuse and neglect, lose those interpersonal rhythms.
    “Rhythmical interaction to establish internal sensory integration is an important piece.”
    So, some sort of rhythmical interaction to establish internal sensory integration is an important piece that we are working on. With kids, we work with sensory integration techniques like having them jump on trampolines and covering them with heavy blankets to have them feel how their bodies relate to the environment because that’s an area that gets very disturbed by trauma, neglect, and abuse, especially in kids.
    For adults, I think we’ve resolved rhythmical issues with experiences like tango dancing, Qi Gong, drumming – any of these put one organism in rhythm with other organisms and is a way of overcoming this frozen sense of separation that traumatized people have with others.

    • Ashana M February 21, 2016 / 6:56 pm

      I think we part ways very early on in our thinking about it, however. One thing that is interesting, maybe, is that I actually have a very slow heart-rate and a very slow rate of breathing. I am hypervigilant, but I have the respiration of an athlete despite rarely actually exercising. When I had typhoid, the doctor commented on this, and he said it was something to tell any other doctor in the future. If my heart rate is normal, I probably have a fever. So I seem to be so focused on lowering my arousal state all the time, that you can’t tell I’m basically in an ongoing state of terror (or was). The self-regulating I’m talking about is moderating your emotional states and that seems to be different. I mean, if I can have a low level of physiological arousal and also feel scared, these two things seem like events that can occur separately. I think what van der Kolk is really talking about is basically an extension of what traumatized people already do: some of it helps, for sure. But much of it sounds to me like a form of self-hypnosis that shifts you back into a state where you are mostly “cold”and can then discuss your feelings without really having to feel them that much. You are busy tapping and focused on that, and not on how upset you are. It’s more pleasant, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem of processing emotions. It looks like you are processing emotions, because you can talk about them, but I have an idea people probably stop feeling them. I am not sure, but I really think folding memories of the past into the present and processing them, rather than trying to keep the past and the present neatly divided, is where it’s at. The reason rhythm can help is that our hearts beat according to a rhythm, so it regulates us. Most rhythmic activities are too stimulating for me. I get really stressed. I am trying to calm down all they time, and they are speeding me up to a point beyond where I can cope. They can be fun for short periods or on certain occasions–I do really like to dance–but normally I get so wound up from them, I feel scared. It’s just too fast.

  2. Rachel February 21, 2016 / 11:28 am

    This is really insightful. I also have come to the beginnings of realizing that emotions will need to be felt and processed, on going, it isn’t this “getting rid of” that you described so well. Those of us with trauma, well, we just have a lot more of the negative and high-intensity ones that give us reason to want to numb out. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate your writing, I learn a lot from your insights.

    • Ashana M February 21, 2016 / 6:58 pm

      Thank you. I am glad it helps.

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