I am beginning to be able to recognise when I have been triggered and start to feel fear. I don’t think I have been very emotionally literate in this way before. I am coming to see that there has been not a lot of pause time between unconscious fear being triggered and me having a back lash. It has been difficult to understand when feelings of anger are legitimate for me because at times when I have been angry I have been told I am feeling fear when I felt I was being invalidated or my boundaries invaded.
For me that triggers anger as my boundaries where invaded in childhood a lot and my emotions mocked or invalidated and so, of course, when this happens I have a big reaction, until I can sort out how real and current the threat is and how much historical feeling is involved. Anger will help me to set a boundary and being told I am just scared invalidates that.
I went to see the breast cancer specialist yesterday. The news is good, the cancer was small they managed to remove it, it had not spread to the lymph nodes but there are cancer markers in other parts of the breast and so they think I need six weeks of radiation. Last night I had a very bad night’s sleep, I was smack bang awake after only an hour of sleep, pulled this way and that by the energy in my body.
Another hour or so then “bang”, awake again for about two hours during which I was stretching and turning this way and that. I awoke at 8 am after about four hour’s sleep feeling very mixed up inside my body. It occurred to me that yesterday’s meeting with the specialist re the radiation probably caused me some fear.
I am not a fan of hospitals or surgical procedures. I guess for me it feels like being invaded. I am put into a machine which is not a human being and things are done to my body, I don’t fully understand. They may be things that will help me to heal, but I know this kind of encounter with a machine stirs up the PTSD memories and experience of being trapped in a car crushed by the steering wheel with schrapnel from the car engine inside my legs, which were torn to ribbons.
I can only be aware that the immanence of this kind of treatment is stirring up fear for me and take steps to be with myself as I recognise this emotion.
We have a saying in the AA fellowship that the acronym for F.E.A.R. is Fuck Everything And Run. It can also be False Evidence Appearing Real. We can be frightened of things that might be good for us. We can be frightened of things that will hurt. There may be times the hurt is a necessary evil to achieve something good and if we allow our fear to hold us hostage we will limit our life by not holding our hand and acting despite the fear.
For me, this is what courage is. It is keeping the heart open (couer in French means heart) even when everything is us screams that we must close it. It is learning to stand still and face what is scaring us, instead of running away when it would be healthier to do so.
There are times when keeping our hearts open will just cause us more damage and we may be better off to protect our heart. There is a saying “she wears her heart on her sleeve”, people used to say that a lot about me when I was young.
Lately I have been reading more about the practice Pema Chodron writes of in her books. It could be called “the learning to stay and open practice”. It is the practice of noticing when we are starting to feel anxious about something and instead of just flying off into an unconscious reaction of becoming hooked (to which she gives the name shenpa), instead of reacting from our fear we breath and just stay present with what ever we are feeling paying attention to it.
Often when we practice in this way we may notice that there are other feelings underneath the habitual reaction which arise.
This morning, rather than getting hooked by the fear that was obviously kicking around inside me, I made a big step. I had the thought “I think I am scared about the prospect of the radiation”. I’m a bit of free spirit, too and I am not that found of schedule’s and commitments. The prospect of having to attend something every day of the week as well as care for my house and dog can seem too much.
However maybe there will be other gains around this routine. Maybe it will bring me to interact more with others. It will certainly take me out of my comfort zone. I don’t want to be resistant to something that will help my chances of survival. Facing up to the surgery alone, knowing how it would trigger my deep trauma, was feat of courage. The backlash has been big for me over the past two weeks.
But even though it has been painful and not what I wanted for my life, I have come through. I have been in deep pain some days and my grief has been huge, but there has been more emotional support at this time of my life than I have ever had before.
I also have this blog where I can write about what I feel, if I wake in the morning feeling tired and disoriented in an empty house I have this space to come to, to put my thoughts and fears down and make some small sense of them. For that I am extremely grateful.
All in all, after many years in the emotional wilderness I now have some effective strategies to help me understand when fear is triggered for me. In understanding I can spark a dialogue with myself to soothe myself and encourage myself as I step through fear. And I can also be kind to myself when I am feeling fear. I don’t have to beat myself up. I can retreat for a time if that is what is needed, take a break, have a rest, listen to my breath, return to the present moment, call a friend. I can touch base with someone who might understand my fear and will help me to deal with it in a healthier way, so that my life does not contract in fear but expand in love.