Authenticity is on my mind these days. Even now, at my ripe old age of 63, I struggle to really connect with other women as friends in an authentic way, where we can share emotional reciprocity. Usually, once I share with them what I know about my own healing from trauma, recovering from insecure attachment to my family and ALL of the challenges and fallout from these in my life, they often nod their head but don’t reciprocate. Sometimes I don’t hear from them again.
These feelings are icky!
During the 30+ years that I struggled with emotional dysregulation, I was unable understand what was happening in my body and mind. During these years, my body sensed and reacted to past trauma; current experiences made it feel like trauma was happening all over again in that moment. I now know that It did this to inform, and at times, to protect me. But I ignored these sensations – avoiding feeling them, and especially avoiding situations that would trigger them. There was a price to pay by pushing down all the gut feelings and difficult emotions in order to look good, get along, go along, fit in, etc.
But I was curious and wondered why I reacted this way – why couldn’t I manage my emotions? And why I was sick so often? The concept of emotional self-regulation was foreign to me. Because I was SO reactive, I managed relationships as though I was wearing suit of armor. The many roles I adopted in my life helped to fortify this barrier:
Good daughter who never spoke her true feelings
Career woman who hides behind her titles
Wife who tried to look the part of living the so-called dream
All of these layers betrayed what was inside. My body was crying out for healing through chronic health conditions: endometriosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The stress of coping with my distress was taking its toll. The pain that I had yet to identify or understand led me to cope
with drugs and alcohol until this abuse detailed my life. This is how I separated my “self” from my emotions. It was an effective coping strategy, until my life became unmanageable.
Anger, isolation, numbness. Oh my!
I finally got clean and sober at age 29 but, I didn’t have any coping mechanisms for the post-traumatic distress that I always felt. The only way I could manage the extremes of my distress were through anger avoidance (isolation) and numbness.
Even as a clean and sober adult woman, the messages from my family “you’re damaged” resonated constantly. My body lived with the constant fear of loss of emotional connection – a connection that was really never there, but one that I, and every person needs to thrive. So I pushed these fear sensations down – way down, to conform. Meanwhile, my mind stayed disconnected from my deep sense of pain so that I could play my roles. Talk about not feeling authentic!
It would be 30 more years before heard this phrase from Gabor Maté, MD when I interviewed him for my documentary “Visceral: transforming trauma though theatre:
“instead of asking why the addiction, ask why the pain?”
“The first thing that happens to a child that's abused or a child that's just not supported properly emotionally, is that the stressed mechanisms don't get regulated because they're in high alarm all the time,” said Gabor. “A traumatized person is always acting over the fears and pains and negative experiences of the past. Trauma fundamentally is a disconnection from the self. Yet, connection with the self is not a luxury. In order to survive a million years of evolution in nature, we had to be very connected to our gut feelings.”
“Our true, authentic self was never destroyed or damaged, we just lost sight of it. We got disconnected from it,” said Gabor. “The healing of trauma essentially means that you reconnect with yourself and your gut feelings.”
I’m happy to say that I’m on the healing path, thanks to Gabor, and many others with whom I spoke during the making of my documentary. What’s different today is that I’m
intentional about not letting my physiology and triggers overtake me. This awareness is the BIGGGEST change in my life. For example this morning during a difficult conversation with my husband as old feelings of rejection began to build, I could sense my heart beating so hard I thought it would fly out of my mouth. In that moment I shifted my focus from what I would say next. Instead, I listened with my senses. What my body was telling me? I didn’t judge these sensations, they were neither good nor bad. I took a few deep belly breaths which calmed me and gave me the composure to say what I needed to say without letting my fear take over so I could continue the conversation with my husband.