1996: Work with Conflicts

From my journal for February 5, 1996

I wanted to write down the number of conflicts I’ve been experiencing:

MOVEMENT <—> STILLNESS     I know that exercise is important in combatting depression.  I’ve found that getting up and moving often eases that frozen state.  It’s hard to do things like yoga and continuum because it’s hard to be with myself.  I don’t want to jump up and run away from the pain, but to try to be there for myself, be at least a witness if I can’t comfort myself or make it change.

“That frozen state” is a consequence of trauma. If one cannot fight or flee (the state of a baby) the reptilian default is “freeze.”  I describe it beautifully, but I have no idea what I’m up against.

CORRECT DIET <—> COMFORT     I no longer know what’s OK and what’s not OK to eat.  In the past, tightening up my diet seemed to help make me feel both mentally and physically better. But this fall, it didn’t work at all.  Now I’m starting to feel that being so strict about food is counter-productive.  But I don’t know, and there’s no way to know.  I have experience of too many headaches resulting from white enriched flour and/or sugar to make those an attractive proposition, but as for avoiding dairy, corn, meat, etc, I’m not sure it’s worth it any more.  It would be easier to decide if I had an actual craving for something.

Now I think that the issue of trauma is confusing things. It may have an impact on what’s safe to eat that I don’t even know about.

DIGNITY <—> DISCHARGE      I’ve been holding up the ideal for myself that I should behave with dignity, that I’ve done plenty of crying in front of my friends and it “hasn’t done any good” — doesn’t make me feel better, gets them upset.  I’ve been thinking that if I were going to die I would not want to poison my last days with a lot of negative emotions.  But today on my walk it occurred to me that “dignity” describes what it looks like from outside.  “Dignity” is one of my mother’s values, it’s a form of “looking good,” and, when I lay it on myself, it’s form of trying to keep my pain from inconveniencing someone else, i.e. Mom.  I have decided that when it comes down to a choice between dignity and truth, I chose truth.  And though I would like to spare Dana my pain, I can’t do it by pretending I’m OK, he cares enough about me and is sensitive enough that he sees right through my pretence.  Mother, on the other hand, wants me to pretend, and is perfectly satisfied with the most minimal version because it doesn’t make any demands on her.  So I think I’ll throw out “dignity” as a value to live by.

Neither hiding my pain nor expressing it will work to help me heal. I need to be doing something like Somatic Experiencing where I allow my body to discharge the trauma energy.

On the other hand, I do want to be able to create some spaciousness around my pain — as Stephen Levine describes there’s a way of having pain “float” in the spaciousness.  This is not something I’ve been able to achieve, but it appeals to me.  It seems to be a way of staying with the truth of my pain and bearing witness as I want to do.  This means I can’t get all wrapped up in the pain, involved with expressing it, I have to stand back a little, keep quiet, give it space.  Sometimes I feel that trying to discharge the pain by crying, screaming, getting upset, is really just another way to try to escape it.  Yet I know that actual discharge can help release muscular tension.  So I come back to discharge when appropriate, i.e. with Karen, and sometimes with Dana what I know what to ask for.  Exploring and witnessing the pain is something that I need to do alone, not something I can do easily with other people around.

Before I can really begin to work on healing the trauma, I need to know that’s what I’m up against, I need to get on medication so the effects aren’t too strong, I need the help of a trauma informed therapist.

DISTRACTION <—> STAYING WITH THE PROCESS     Actually, I think distraction has ceased to work.  I’m thinking back to when I first went skiing and it was such a lift.  Also visits with people that seemed to help for a time.  But now the distraction effect only works while I’m actually doing the thing, and I can’t ski or visit all the time.  Then the relief of distraction only makes the down time worse.  On the other hand, as with food, I’ve haven’t seen any real advances from “staying with the process.”  I think I’m worse now than I was in November.  Well, I remind myself that I don’t have any idea how long it will take.  And I would stick with see clearly, true to myself, and bear witness even if there were no improvement.  So I’m back to that bottom line.

It surprises and impresses me that I have something to hang on to even when nothing is working.  See clearly, stay true to myself, and bear witness to the pain.

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