“As long as it’s important to you, it’s important to me…” was R’s reply to me when I texted him about something that happened last week that affected me deeply. I wanted to but didn’t text him back, “It is actually not important.” because I know he is smart enough to tell me otherwise, given that theoretically he has said I always always put myself as unimportant. Are these feelings important? No. Are these thoughts crucial. No. And then what next.
One of the hardest part this week is the overwhelming number of triggers and thus me quite frequently this week experiencing the inability to breathe (not literally), but the feeling that I cannot catch my breath. It is a feeling. I had to open the windows, I had to sit in the balcony. It is all very strange. I know it is a somatic response that I have of feeling intense fear/ trauma. This week was hard because I felt it too often. Almost every morning.
I had to remind myself that feeling fear and that safety is not a thought, it is a feeling. In fact, safety is not a cognito-centric process (we don’t “think” that we are safe). Safety is a somatosensory experience that involves neuroception and interoception aligning to tell the organism that they are, safe. Safety is a feeling, not a thought.
My trauma is not located in just my thinking brain. It is, and I mentioned before, located in the ancient parts of our brain that look for safety, and to be traumatised is to be in a constant state of ‘un-safeness’. To heal trauma, all we have to do is to help make people feel safe, which helps me to lower their defences, engage my ventral vagal complex. If we can do this, the nervous system will heal itself. One of the most challenging issue I faced this week is my complete lack inability to find safety within my own body and in doing so gain a measure of control over what are otherwise overwhelming sensory experiences that inevitably result in intense fear (cannot breathe), rage and intense gut-wrenching shame. Put simply, my traumatised brain and nervous system seeks the sensory experience of safety in pathological ways.
So you bet, I had to remind myself – I am not thinking crazy that I cannot breathe. I truly am feeling it.
Traumatic memory is qualitatively different from non-traumatic memory. If I asked you to recall how you felt as you had breakfast this morning, whatever the feelings you experienced were, even if they were unpleasant, your brain would know that those feelings belong in the past. Traumatic memory is not remembering what it felt like when the traumatic event took place, it is re-experiencing the original emotions but in the present moment. I am 9 or 11 or 16 years old again, experiencing the same (repressed) emotions, but in the present moment.
Yet amongst it all, I cannot be surviving this week, without some of my closest friends’ empathy. One of the hardest aspects of treating trauma as it requires endless reserves of patience and empathy, and sometimes, clinicians can’t do it. Talk therapy is not going to cut it. We need systems that will directly target the neurosceptive and interoceptive systems, and shift them in such a way that they will allow social engagement in the presence of bodily mobilisation…
I do not know how many people I have across who are clearly seriously unwell, and who will ‘soldier on’ because to stop would mean to lose their sense of self esteem. And I was determined to not be one of them. But the many ‘out there’ makes me shed a tear or two sometimes.
“It is important to me…” I guess it is important that both R and myself are able to put those memories where they belong, in the past. And I can have the ability to esteem self, to set boundaries and protect myself, to accept imperfections, to form secure attachments, to be able to meet the needs of myself and others healthily, to be open moderate and contained, and a functional adult ego state.