Fighting to take the gloves off


Fighting to take the gloves off (aka - another post on the darker days of surviving)....

I’ve been healing for a long time. One thing I have come to learn is that, no matter how far we feel we have come, sometimes we have a day that just comes up and punches us in the gut. Today is one of those days for me.

sometimes we have a day that just comes up and punches us in the gut. Today is one of those days for me

There’s a lot going on at the moment. First and foremost my house is a construction zone. We’re renovating the kitchen and bathroom in our apartment. As anyone who has lived through home remodeling will confirm – the process is disruptive. It’s noisy, dirty, and no matter how many times you remind yourself that the final result will be well worth the frustrations, delays, and mistakes that need to be corrected things are bound to happen (and not happen) that will make you question your sanity for even starting this project in the first place. Some days (weeks) the frustrations just seem to compound endlessly. For me this process is doubly disruptive because I work from home. Since I don’t have a separate office to go to my days are now comprised of finding other places - coffee shops, libraries, and sometimes even the subway (where I’m writing these words) - to get work done.

The lack of an office brings up the second part of why I’m feeling in foul humor today. As many people reading this know, I run a non-profit organization called MaleSurvivor. As is the case with every non-profit, getting the money to come in when it’s most needed is not always easy. Even though we do a lot of wonderful work, and have much to celebrate (for instance MaleSurvivor was just named a Top Rated NonProfit organization for 2015 by Great Nonprofits), the challenges of staying on top of all the organizational minutiae can add up. On top of this just the everyday challenge of being a survivor running a survivor advocacy organization and coming into almost daily contact with new stories of abuse from all over the world can get a little wearing at times. I can count on both hands the number of news articles about abuse stories I’ve seen or read about in the past week. And while I think I’m somewhat less raw and can better process exposure to these stories than most other people are, the truth is that after a while it takes its toll.

All of this is to say that there is more than ample reason for me to struggle with dark feelings. Even with engaging in good self care regularly of late (e.g. I’ve meditated today, I’m reaching out to friends for support, and I’m making sure I’m getting rest and exercise) it’s important for me to be mindful that some days the triggers will pile up and the negative feelings will seem to build and build and build. Even with all my best efforts some days will just feel awful, like today does.

This is a day when all my best efforts and hard work over the past few years are put to the test. But unlike a battle of skill and strength contested in public between people, this struggle is happening on the inside between different parts of me. On the one hand, my “trauma brain” perceives immanent danger all around me and has pulled the alarm switch. At the same time, my cognitive and (theoretically) more rational parts of my brain are constantly working to calmly assess everything and cope with the alarm bells blasting from down the hall. The battle between these two conflicting forces is exhausting to monitor. It’s one thing to watch a powerful tide crash against the rocks when you are safely within a warm structure protected from the storm. However when the storm is raging within you, it can feel dangerously as though there is not safe place, no way to reach out for support, and no way to keep yourself from drowning.

With almost every breath I am trying to reconnect to a sense of calm acceptance of the moment – something that’s made infinitely harder when my body is literally pumping out stress hormones as though I were a warrior preparing for a life or death battle.

Most people who look at me would have no reason to believe or even consider that I’m in the midst of a battle inside. With almost every breath I am trying to reconnect to a sense of calm acceptance of the moment – something that’s made infinitely harder when my body is literally pumping out stress hormones as though I were a warrior preparing for a life or death battle. Fortunately I have enough experience fighting this emotional battle (trauma brain vs rational brain) to know whatever I’m feeling is transitory. One of the great gifts of proactively engaging in the work of emotional healing is that over time we build up a memory for places we return to often. These cascades of overflowing tension are a frequent sight on my path, and I’ve enough experience to know that if I keep moving I will eventually reach safer and stabler ground where I will feel safer.

So I will keep breathing and wait for this storm tide to ebb. Sometimes that is all we can do. And even though it may feel like I am powerlessness, choosing to mindfully and intentionally monitor myself is an empowered act. At this moment I cannot win the battle against all evil in the world. But I can win the battle within myself and make sure I don’t lose grip of my own self. I can choose not to engage with my trigger brain and fight the shadows and ghosts of my haunted past. It may feel like I’m giving in, but so long as I keep breathing, I know that I’m doing what I need to do to heal.

photo credit: Travis Modisette

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