New writing rule, Amy Winehouse for the hard shit. Girl totally got it. RIP.
So, I have been struggling connecting with chronic pain, something a lot of our clients (and my partner) live with daily. According to Brene Brown's synopsis on empathy, the path to connection and true empathy is being able to find the similarities in other's experiences. I have been in pain: check. I have been in a lot of physical pain: check. I understand the neuroscience and physiology of the pain response in the body: I mean, holy shit, that takes it all, right? NO. Stuck. I have been so fucking stuck on this. How do I relate? I pushed out two humans unmedicated from my vagina and thought I was going to die both times. I finished a marathon hobbling from a leg injury. I get pain. I just don't get non-musculoskeletal continuous pain. Or so I thought. Y'all, be really careful what you wish for, the Universe doesn't pull its punches.
The other day I was telling a client about this, she is awesome, you can read all about her story over on our business blog: Just Keep Moving. Then I chatted with my partner, who informed me that he lives with chronic hip pain. 13 years with the man, and the things you don't know, right? I knew he had pain, just not every day. But it wasn't clicking. I felt disconnected. I even used that day's therapy session to try and break down what was holding me back. I left in a pretty raw and vulnerable state, a place I had been falling into a lot lately. Self-care levels having reached zero a while ago. Thankfully, my therapist is so freaking perfect for me. She told me I had a responsibility to share my knowledge with my clients, and then she sent me out the door calling me by my title, it's technically Dr. in case you are curious. I shy away from that title quite frequently...but that's a whole other area of shame, so I won't unpack that right now. There I was all vulnerable from trying to work this out, hungry, and I had a bit of time before another engagement that night. I drove around and everywhere was packed, so I stopped by a Japanese fast food-like place. When I park I see this group of young guys get out of their car, smoking and laughing, and walking towards the same restaurant. Now, it's important that I say that these guys did absolutely nothing to me. I don't think they ever even looked at me. But something about them, most likely their demographic, triggered me. I all of the sudden felt unsafe. Like heart racing, skin crawling unsafe. I knew this was not real, so I went inside and stayed distracted on my phone while waiting for my food. I ate a little of the horrid food in my car before heading to my next commitment. At this point I still have about an hour before I need to go in, so I read, and tried to settle my nerves. The next engagement is somewhere I attend regularly, and I know everyone there pretty well. I felt relatively confident I would not encounter anyone new that just happened to be part of that same demographic. And yes, I am aware this is an issue I need to be working on. Thanks for the reminder.
I went inside early and said hello to people. All was well.
I went inside early and said hello to people. All was well.
And then...it wasn't.
A friend came in behind me and startled me. I caught a glimpse of him before I recognized who it was, a male who happens to fall into my triggering demographic: white male around my age. I'm not sure if I visibly flinched or not, but I know every muscle in my neck seized up. I was instantly transported in time to a moment when I was not in control, to a moment in time when I was a victim fearing the worst. Before I vomited I realized who it was and tried to cover my physiological response. In case you were wondering, fight or flight is a hard one to turn off. Eye contact was rough. We chatted, small talk really, and the rest of the evening continued on. I didn't bother trying to stay after, because my skin was crawling. I couldn't tell anyone. I was so ashamed. I felt absurd. This is a friend I know well, someone that is truly a kind human being; and that night my brain told me that he was a threat to my safety.
Yea. I know pain. I know chronic pain well. I just call it TRAUMA. And mine isn't visible either, but when it flares up, it is debilitating. I am actively working every day on my recovery from all the things, and I have a support network that has my back. Plus that fantastic therapist. Yet when I am triggered, none of it matters. In all of the infinite irony of the universe, that same friend shared a statement with me that hit deep. "I am here, right now. I am ok." I am going to edit it, because sometimes I really don't feel ok. I am changing it to "I am here, right now. I am SAFE." It's an important reminder to myself that in this moment, none of that is happening. Also, I am a helluva lot stronger than I was then. If anything DOES happen...I'm taking someone down with me.
I am NOT a victim.
My pain may not be visible, but my scars are. My visible scars, my tattoos, are ones I chose for myself and I think they are beautiful. I chose them to remind myself that I am alive. I survived. I am kicking some serious ass. 3 of the 4 represent a time when I needed to etch my strength and self-worth right into my skin. They are each imperfect, sometimes a far stretch from what I had aimed for or even unfinished, and yet a spectacular physical symbol of what it is to endure. The 4th one, well that's just my permanent token to the man that taught me what safety was, how I could achieve it for myself, and keeps me grounded.
My very first one I got when I was so young, and unknowingly had the flu when I got it. It is half of the Japanese symbol for courage (at least from what I can translate). It was supposed to have 2 symbols and cherry blossoms with it, to represent my hometown: Macon, Georgia. Where my foundation of strength began, and where my ultimate salvation came from after I left my ex. Unfortunately I ran out of money and got too sick, but I think it's time is coming for completion. It took Herculean levels of courage to leave my first (sham) marriage, so I put it somewhere that I would see, somewhere that I felt vulnerable.
The second one I chose to put on my low back, because in many ways the inspiring events for this one were like surviving a spinal break and learning to walk again. It is a reminder that anything can happen when you give up on yourself, a tribute to traumas I have yet to share openly, and drug addiction that damn near killed me. It is hidden on my back because I didn't want to see it daily. I knew it was there, telling me that "pase lo que pase/come what may" I would survive. But it also didn't turn out the way I wanted, and so it was ugly to me for a long time, just like those years of my life. Now I see how very important it really is. I have a feeling it will experience a re-birth as well.
My 3rd one is my wedding date, and my partner has a matching one. For two people that didn't wear jewelry (massage therapist/research scientist), it just felt right. It's my favorite one.
My most recent one, but not my last, is the Pieces of Me on my forearm. I wrote an entire post about it, that I may share soonish, but in short it represents all of the things I wish to be and that my little family sees in me. My son wrote LOVE, I wrote HOPE, and my husband wrote STRONG, GLUE, PASSION.
My beautiful and permanent reminders of my humanity, my mortality, my imperfection.
Here's the thing:
I am more than my trauma.
I am more than my triggers.
I am more than my scars.
I am a strong and resilient woman that refuses to stay down.
I am going to keep choosing to get back up, not matter how bad it hurts, because if it hasn't killed me...then it can't be that bad.
What will you choose today?
I have hope you will choose you.
You are loved my friend. You are not alone.
You are more than your pain and scars.
We all are.
I love you,
**I am in the process of compiling my story, into book format. If you enjoyed this piece or any of my writings...let me know. I will be sharing excerpts as I go along, and appreciate any and all feedback.**