Naming a Brokenness

I first wrote this post six months ago, before the pandemic, before life as any of us had known it would come to an abrupt stop. I kept it the draft folder, thought about it every week. I had just created this blog, A Wabi Sabi Life, wherein the beauty of my imperfect, sometimes broken, mostly well-lived life is acknowledged and honoured. Like my previous blog, A Moment Rescued, it’s premised on knowing that by naming and noticing life’s bits, one makes meaning and gives value to life. And this time, it’s the committed space to keep my promise to write, for if I am to become a writer, then write I must.

Six months ago I felt too vulnerable posting this. But after writing some about grief – mine, and loneliness – mine, while feeling no less vulnerable, I now have a bit more in the guts and gumption department to pull it out, dust it off and press “publish.” And too, knowing I have the companionship of others who have felt similarly in these covid days helps me call out “anxiety” as my on again, off again companion.

Arriving mostly unbidden…it’s like a cloud covering the sun, turning it suddenly chilly. Or the wind that moves through the just-a-moment-ago-motionless spruce and willows, as darkness gives over to dawn. Subtle. Nuanced. Insidious. And then, there it is, colouring my insides like an ink drop in water. Chest tightens. Thoughts on overdrive. Adrenaline racing. Washed over with dread and wrung out. And too, the gnawing visceral pain. During its visits, I’d often withdraw socially, mustering energy enough to get by and through to other side. In its aftermath, often the lingering fatigue and yes, shame.

“Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax, take a breath.” 

Sylvia Boorstein

For as long as I can remember, I’ve worried, been told I over-think, over-analyze. Told myself it’s a habit of mind that I was convinced helped me make sense and stable, the senseless and chaotic. Realized it’s like an addiction wreaking havoc with my energy, focus, and sleep; wasting my time, which becomes more precious with every day; withering my enjoyment and enthusiasm for life.

Named it anxiety. Now have learned it’s a manifestation, and not exaggeration, of “trauma.”

“Trauma is not an event.
Trauma is the body’s protective response to an event – or a series of events- that it perceives as potentially dangerous. This perception may be accurate, inaccurate, or entirely imaginary.”

Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands, 2017

These words too, like those of Dr. Vivek Murthy’s on loneliness, are a stone dropped into the pond, rippling out in concentric circles of awareness, connection, awakening, and compassion.

These words, and others of Menakem’s – “we can have a trauma response to anything we perceive as a threat, not only to our physical safety, but to what we do, say, think, care about, believe in, or yearn for” – pretty well cover, for many of us, the territory of living, particularly now during the pandemic. Recognizing when something happens too fast, too much, too soon to the body, and causes it overwhelm, may create trauma. Understanding a body-embedded trauma response manifests as fight, flee, freeze, or as a combination of constriction, pain, fear, dread, anxiety, unpleasant thoughts, reactive behaviors, and other physical sensations. 

Bessel van der Kolk, a global expert in the field of trauma research and treatment, and Rachel Yehuda‘s work on epigenetics, or cross generational trauma, brought a contemporary lens to my growing understanding. And Canadian physician Gabor Mate’s study of addiction, attachment-attunement, stress and illness, make more connections within and across disciplines and experiences.

“Trauma really does confront you with the best and the worst…
you also see resiliency, the power of love,

the power of caring, the power of commitment to oneself,
the knowledge that there are things that are larger than
our individual survival.
And in some ways, I don’t think you can appreciate the glory of life unless you also know the dark side of life.”

Bessel van der Kolk, On Being with Krista Tippet, July 13, 2013

When I feel anxiety’s pain, relax, take a breath and ask “Sweetheart, are you feeling safe?” I create a sliver of space and that space, for a moment, makes possible a different story, and invites in a kindness.

 “There is a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen

I’ve grown to appreciate, too, that I’m sensitive and empathic. True, the wounded healer‘s cocktail when mixed with anxiety, but not without bearing several double-edged gifts: a certain “prescience,” the ability to listen into the silence of words not spoken, to notice and name elements of the emotional field for people to feel deeply seen and heard, and to see connections and patterns among the disparate and barely perceptible, helping identify root causes.

Learning to claim and cherish my quirks and qualities, my flaws and features, naming this particular brokenness of anxiety and trauma gives me rest and brings me comfort. Perhaps in naming it here, you, too, may come to name and cherish those of yours.

With love and kindest regards.

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling rain and remember it is enough to be taken care of
by my self.”

Brian Andreas, StoryPeople