Session Two. How this seems to be working is I go to my session, participate fully, eagerly even, then drive back in a spent daze. Following that comes avoidance of all thought, feeling, and action for the rest of the day. Good times.
I come to you now, fresh from six hours of curling into an inert ball and pretending everything’ll be fine if I just disappear for a bit. No one will notice or care, right?
The upside is, there’s a tiny fleck of understanding emerging. Last week, we talked about the concept of vigilance and its role in everyday life. Because trauma, ya’ll. This session, we took it a step further to the idea of contraction (that’s what I’m calling it anyway). For this conversation, what I’ll refer to as “contraction” is that thing you’ve seen some animals do when threatened: they pull themselves into as small a form as possible. This is their best defense and some are straight-up pros.
Imagine, if you will, an exoskeleton fused to your soft, easily pierced, human body. It’s heavy, sure, but damn it if it isn’t right on tap when you need it. Deployed, it’s all cozy inside. It’s quiet, dark, solitary. Ain’t nobody or nuthin’ getting through that shell. Bliss, no?
Move into a shell of your own early enough, and you’ll probably come to find out that you’ve also shielded yourself from a bunch of formative experiences too. Good ones. Ones you’d love to tell stories about when you’re older and looking to impress someone at your cousin’s wedding. But you didn’t experience those things from inside that shell. If you’re like me (god help you) you kept a safe distance and read about them and watched them on prime time TV instead.
I’ve observed that some people step out of their shell through trial and error, finding out that their fears aren’t as dangerous as they’d thought. Others retreat deeper, piling the evidence of the rotten world at the threshold to remind them to stay deep, deep inside. Me? I dabbled in a little bit of both becoming an enormous risk-taker in my career and a hermit in my personal life. Not a great combo I’m here to tell you.
Bravado earned me meteoric career success many times over which, on paper, is killer. Meanwhile, the bunker survivalist in me stocked up provisions and hunkered down, away from anyone and everyone. What happens to star wattage when you don’t share it? It fizzles, dear reader. Quickly. The better I did, the more I retreated and, as a result, now find myself in middle age in the pit of my own making, without any solid sense of what I enjoy, what I prefer, what I’m interested in. Blah, blah. You want to win friends and influence people? I can hook you up no problem. But ask me what I like or what my opinon is? Welcome to my huge sucking blankness.
I am not here.
Oh poor me, right? So what if, like a perpetual teenager, I still can’t “find myself” decades past schedule? People have real problems — life-threatening, generation-destroying, soul-crushing problems. I would have agreed with you once. After all, I’m not ignorant of nor callous to the challenges others face and here I am, a physically healthy adult living in a priveliged economy, navel-gazing like it’s my job.
But pain is not a contest. Existence of one hurt does not diminish nor negate another. Different magnitudes of pain will continue to co-exist as has been true for all of human history. If anything, pain respects pain. Also? Check your assumptions. My life was not always some gilded middle-class fantasy but I’m sure we’ll come to that later.
Now that I barely leave the house on any given day, now that I become nearly paralyzed with each decision, now that my life has ground to a halt and is affecting those I love emotionally and economically, I’m inclined to say the issue has become non-trivial. Hence therapy and hence this experiment.
And yes, I’ve sucked it up. I’ve picked myself up by my bootstraps. I’ve medicated. I’ve burned enough calories to negate my physical self. I’ve even visualized a positive future awash in golden light. If you’ve got a way that you’d deal with this if you were me, I’ve probably given it the ol’ college try. This experiment is what’s happening now.
To recap, trauma leads to encasing oneself in a protective ball which leads to next-level suppression of said self which leads to blindly moving through a few decades like a blind mole-rat which leads to being personally and professionally stuck in the quicksand of one’s own making.
I’ve been working on this entry all week. Maybe that’s how it’s going to go. Less of a quick recap and more of a labored pondering. With memories and connections appearing and disappearing, anger taking over without obvious cause, and a bunch of other crazy garbage going on for days, I head into this next session hopeful yet wary. It starts in forty minutes. I need to find the next key to digging out of this. Wish me luck.
This post is a snapshot in time. It reflects what I understand about myself and the world at this moment. It contains zero medical advice. To repeat, this entire experiment is one person’s interpretation of events and reflects my opinion only. Do your own research. Draw your own conclusions.