Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Name it, claim it, tame it

  I'm away for a couple of weeks, and unsure of wi-fi access and time zone differences, so will be re- posting a couple of early blogs. This one is from January 2017:

This week I had an experience where a past hurt, in the form of shame, reached across the years to remind me that no matter how much time I have in recovery, I still have emotional work to do.

In a brief exchange, someone responded to me with unexpected sarcasm. Usually, I would brush it off, but these particular words, in this particular tone of voice, cut me and I started to cry. After their apology, I got off of the phone, but the tears didn't stop and I remembered that "when I'm hysterical, it's historical." I know that when my reaction to a situation is out of proportion to the event, there is a deeper root.

So, I intentionally sat with the intensity of the pain. As I was able to quiet my mind, I could sense that my tears were very young and from a place of feeling small and defective, like a nuisance. I don't remember my parents ever speaking to me with sarcasm or hurtful words, but I do recall the sensation of being in the way. What I know from years of recovery work (inventory, outside help, education) is that often, as little children, we make decisions about the world and our place in it that are based on our perception, not necessarily the reality that an adult might see. We, or rather, I, carry this worldview into adulthood, and without exposure, I run the risk of continuing to react to stressful situations like the wounded 5-year-old I once was.

Getting to those inner layers of truth isn't easy. For a time, into early recovery, I'd misplaced the journals and diaries I'd kept since 5th grade. When I finally found them, buried in a closet, I opened the volumes from 7th & 8th grades, hoping for a miracle revelation. I was looking for the one entry that would explain why I started drinking, why I had such low self-esteem, why I was starting on the journey of alcoholism. No such luck. There was an entry that said, "Dad got home from the hospital today. He had a nervous breakdown," followed the next day with "I wore my new yellow jumper to school. Greg H said hello to me in the hall." Introspection was not a trait of 13-year-old me.

Sometimes the Universe does hand me lessons on a silver platter. When I'd been sober quite some time, I stopped at Mom's to introduce her to a new date. When I saw her a few days later, she asked, "Does he like you?"  Not, "Do you like him?" or "Are you compatible?" but "Does he like you?" Thank you, dear Mother, for that illustration of one of my basic flaws - being more concerned with whether "he" likes "me" than vice versa.  Another time, when once more I heard a berating voice in my mind chastising me for some minor mistake, I had the realization that it wasn't even my voice, but my Dad's. And not a voice he used with me, but one he used, out loud, to himself. Oh. I can stop that now. I truly don't need to carry my father's self-criticism any further.

But, it is rarely so obvious. It is much easier to blame and point the finger - He shouldn't talk to me like that! She needs to be nicer to me! (Beware the "shoulds" in any form!). The more painful, but ultimately more rewarding process is to slow it down and wait for the story to unravel. When have I felt like this before? Does this remind me of anything from my past? What do I need to do to take care of myself?

What I did this week was allow the tears. I wrote about it, and in the healing magic of putting pen to paper was able to see where my hurt in the present was attached to the past. I then shared about it - with 2 trusted friends, and then in a general way, at one of my regular groups. And I talked to the other person involved, calmly, and from my point of view (when you said this, I felt that), finishing with "Thank you for triggering me, because it helped me to heal."

I am certainly not claiming that my feelings will never be hurt again, but by taking the time to dig deeper than the zing of emotion this time, I hope to be able to put spiritual distance between the feelings and my response next time. And in that spiritual space I can remember that the winds of other people's moods do not need to impact mine. I can remember that what made sense at 5 or 6 years old doesn't anymore. I can remember that speaking my truth can take the power out of my pain or confusion or shame. No matter what 5-year-old me thought, I am not defective. I am not a nuisance. I am no longer small.

How do you practice self-care when your emotions are triggered? Where do you need healing? Who do you talk with when old reactions get triggered?

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