Becoming whole after years – or a lifetime – of pain and sorrow always takes longer than we wish it did. Sitting with the emptiness of change is hard, and the instinct is to fill up the void of what once was with something new. But here I am, sitting in the stillness of this new place, fighting the pull to comfort the discomfort. And that pull is deep and relentless at times. Fill it up, numb the discomfort, feel better. But it’s here in this in-between space where if I will let it, the creativity will begin to flow again.
Through my life I have pushed for things I wanted – music, writing, connection, art, meaning in what I put my hands to – and inevitably something would happen that would siphon off my momentum, leaving me idle again. This is one of my cycles that it’s time to break. There are a lot of outside forces through the years that have come to feed off of my forwarding energy, and because of how I’m wired, it’s easy for me to get distracted and begin to pour into other people and what they are building instead of keeping my focus in front of me. Where am I walking? What am I building with my life? What do I need to make that happen? That energy can so easily be shifted into helping others and then at some point I look around realizing my energy is depleted and I have abandoned my dreams, and those I have fought for have gone – yet again. For me, this begins a downward spiral of – “nothing matters….nothing matters” – and I have learned to listen to that hopeless little voice inside of me and ask her why. Why, darling, do you feel that way? She is small and a little frail, that voice in me. She is the one that dreamed in technicolor and believed that everyone could be healed from their pain and have the intimate Love we were all created for. But she depends on the other parts of me joining forces with her and her undying optimism, to make that happen. The smallness of her stature comes from years of being kept isolated, deep inside of me in the shadows.
We all have multiple aspects of us that make up the whole. Trauma and unhealed wounds cause these parts to fracture and come apart, sometimes fully losing parts of our personality in the murky waters of pain inside ourselves. Recovering those parts and reintegrating into wholeness is maybe some of the hardest work I’ve done yet. To be made whole, we first have to discover those lost parts of ourselves and call them out of the shadows into the light. But like every scared little child, they don’t always want to come out. They won’t come out of their hiding places until they know it’s safe. And there is no fooling them – they have seen the dangers lurking outside their hiding places and they know it’s not safe out there.
Back in 2017 I heard the voice of Holy Spirit calling me out – “Sallie, it’s time to come out of hiding.” And my immediate answer was – fuck that, I’m not coming out, I’ve seen what’s out there. It’s not safe. – It’s the protective instinct that we all have, gone awry. After experiencing enough pain and feeling unable to protect yourself from it, hiding is the clear solution. It’s just the smart thing to do. So down into the shadows that part of you goes, to hide away from anyone being able to hurt you again.
And then comes the isolation. And a deeper, more profound pain than before begins to spread through you like a sickness.
Last year during a trauma session, I found that five year old part of me curled up in her bed in my childhood home, unwilling to come out. She had been brutalized. The horror of what she had seen and experienced was too much for her to process or make any sense of. And this was the genesis of my trauma. I had gone through 5 years of therapy to uncover and restore places in me that had been shattered and lost, the work of reintegration slow and tedious. And here I was, standing by her rumpled bed, her body curled into a tight ball, and I was filled with compassion for the little girl in me that had been so hurt and confused. She was too terrified to leave that room, beset by the horrors she believed were right outside the door still waiting to devour her. I wept for her pain, told her how sorry I was that she had been there all alone and scared for so long, and I took her by the hand and led her out into the sunshine.
It took me years of unraveling other parts of me before I was able to find her and ultimately lead her out. When I heard the voice of the Spirit tell me to come out of hiding, in my mind that meant right now – immediately. But it didn’t work that way. I couldn’t. We were created with mechanisms to protect our most vulnerable places to survive things we can’t control or understand. And it’s correct. It’s right to hide away those part of ourselves that keep getting brutalized – it’s correct to find safety. But there does come a time when the safe space becomes it’s own prison, locking away parts of you that are necessary to move forward in your life.
Attempting to navigate the world without the wholeness of your identity is a maddening thing. We know there is more for us, we cling to the dreams in our hearts to accomplish and build and create, but can’t quite manage to keep walking forward toward those things. And the voices come, condemning us — you’re a failure, you’re just broken, you’re too much for anyone to love, you’re worthless… and then all the energy we could have used to forward our lives is spent on managing the endless spiral into hopelessness. So we cope. We hide deeper. And the cycle perpetuates drawing us into numbing the pain.
This is why understanding our emotions is so vitally important. The pain and discomfort we feel is pointing to the reality that something needs attention. A signpost saying – hey – look over here, notice. If we will listen, then we can begin to uncover what is underneath the pain, the belief that continues to derail us – I’m not worthy of love, I’m too much for anyone to handle, I’m too broken… and then we can take a step deeper to find the core of what told us that load of bullshit to begin with. And the frustrating part is when it’s so far down, so deep inside that we don’t remember that it happened. Like for me. My five year old self simply left the room when the horrors began, my body being there, but my consciousness completely dissociated. A brilliant survival mechanism that caused me to not be able to access the memory later in life. But the trauma lived in my body, and when I was triggered, caused me to react erratically, unable to escape the fear, having no idea why I was so afraid.
When I read “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel A. Van der Kolk it was the equivalent of turning on the light in a blacked out room. I began to learn how to trust that my body was communicating with me, not just shorting out. The panic, fear, pain in my chest, and sweeping nausea were telling me to look deeper. But often instead of turning around to face the unseen monster we feel breathing down our necks, we numb it, we comfort the pain, we self medicate and find ways to short circuit what our body is screaming at us. And why wouldn’t we? It’s terrifying to have reactions to things we don’t understand.
Even after all of the trauma recovery I have walked through, I still have to be mindful not to comfort the discomfort, to not simply numb the unwanted feelings, but to instead sit with them and ask questions. To approach uncomfortable feelings with curiosity instead of shutting them down is a practice that has to be developed. I’ll be leaning into the practice for the rest of my life. Fortunately we can learn how to more and more quickly move through the steps from discomfort to understanding, continuing to sharpen the skills of emotional intelligence until it is such a natural process we hardly even notice we are doing it anymore. We simply live at peace, being present and connected the way we so deeply desire.
So until next time my friends, I’m sending you all my love and grace to be brave, feel the feels, and walk out of our hiding places.