I had a few very painful days this week. I am nearly three quarters through my current radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer this week and the reaction of burning pain on my chest has developed over the past week. I work with my mindfulness and with soothing the pain by placing my cold hands on it (we are in the middle of Autumn here) but some days it has been difficult to get going and to feel positive. And I noticed yesterday I had a lot of painful feelings about the past trajectory of my life, of the grief I’ve gone through, of the losses and the pain.
When I am feeling like this I notice I want to reach out to others to be able to share about it, but yesterday no one was answering the phone. My therapist texted that she was in a meeting. (Later on she called me, but by then the pain has passed.) An inner voice said to me “sometimes, Deb you have to face things alone. You need to be there for yourself.” These words were accompanied by a lot of tears as I realised how alone I have been.
I believe that there are certain paths some of us go down that are very lonely. If we have had a childhood, too, characterised by aloneness, lack of connection we do tend to repeat that. We don’t get to develop the skills others have to attach and connect. Also one of the major effects of any kind of trauma is a breaking of connections, first with our body and self and secondly, with others. We loose trust in the world, or if it’s early trauma we never get to develop a sense of safety and trust.
One of the effects of this, it occurred to me this morning is a constant state of hyper-vigilance, the sense of being uncertain and on guard, just like a wild animal on the plains. Of course our body and brain is effected too as in this state we have certain chemicals elevated in our bloodstream by no fault of our own. We develop too, mental patterns that repeat and race, mostly along negative lines.
If we grew up with an erratic parent, someone who flew of the handle or was inconsistent or unpredictable, too we develop a sense of never feeling safe or knowing where or when to turn. We may have internalised beliefs such as : It isn’t safe to trust. I cant really trust that someone will be there. We may try to compensate by always being there for others but may attract those who let us down consistently. We get trapped in patterns of fight, flight, freeze or fawn and collapse. We loose the power to normalise and regulate our emotions.
Another major effect of trauma, especially abandonment trauma is that we don’t get to develop healthy boundaries both with others as well as with our own bodies. We may tend to dissociate.
Realising where we are at and what has happened to us takes a lot of time and a repeating of painful patterns. It often involves being shown the truth by someone outside of ourselves, and if we lacked the parenting or other attachment connections with others that would help us, of course we look towards others.
Yesterday, I was very conscious of the frightened, suffering little child in me, I was very aware that when I suffer trauma or a damage to my body it arks up the past trauma. During this last section of my radiotherapy I have to lie very still on my side in a certain position with one arm over my head and the other cradling my body. I cannot move for some time. Attendents have to get my body in an exact position and then I have to freeze and not move, which is the past pattern of my trauma where I woke twice from accidents in a frozen trapped state of being crushed in a car or bent over by a paramedic while laying paralysed in the ambulance with a major head trauma.
Its difficult to explain to those who have not suffered this kind of PTSD how I wake in the trauma state every morning, feeling paralysed and pressed upon. That it is a real thing happening for me, not something I can just get over. I was making good progress in moving through it before my cancer diagnosis, now I feel pulled back again due to the trauma of the operation and treatments, yesterday I think I was beating myself up needlessly for this. An inner monologue was running like this “wow you are pathetic, look at you turning outside of yourself to others all of the time, why can’t you just get on with your life like others do?”
The truth is that often I do get on with my life, just yesterday I could not. And I don’t need to beat myself up about this like I was yesterday.
But I am also aware that due to not being very well parented emotionally I DO tend to look outside of myself to others a lot. Because I had difficulties being mirrored and regulated emotionally I also doubt the truth of what I feel and believe. Having been told messages about myself that were not true (you are too dramatic, and too sensitive) at times I speak to myself in mean ways and misjudge myself. I can loose touch with what I need and the trauma I have been through that has left me with a legacy that has it made harder for me to achieve in life the way others do, to foster and establish healthy relationships. And the truth is that in the past few years I HAVE started to find and surround myself with healthier people and recognise more who is not as healthy for me to share with or be around.
Today as I sat meditating and resting in the sun the thought came to me. I need to find and steer by my own inner compass. And that is a journey that takes time and a hell of a lot of learning, experimenting and mistakes. I long to find that strong sense of direction within for yesterday I felt as though my life has been one where I have been tossed about on wild seas so far outside of my control that have left me shipwrecked at times and lost.
Perhaps with the ending of this phase of my treatment I am on the brink of a new stage. And its been an enormous thing to go through a breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment, especially on the back of so much other past trauma.
The last thing I need to do is to beat myself up for my deficits, which resulted from conditions outside of my control. Today I can take responsibility for what is within my control to change, that which I cannot, I need to release responsibility for, and continue to practice towards myself and others loving kindness. I need to have compassion for the small child in me that at times feels bereft and lost, and I need to see the adult part of me who has stood by, helpless at times but also lately, who has stepped up, taken hold of that little girls hand and said “you are not alone, I will never leave you alone, we will get through this together.” I need to be with that part of myself on the dark days when she is grieving and hold her close as she feels the pain it was too painful to feel, so that in she can begin to embrace the joy that life can hold as she re-embodies her being and learns to feel and experience what brings her goodness, healing, light and joy.