We know we are different now. We’re not as reactive. We have tools to self-regulate and we remember to use them. We recognize when we’re in survival responses of fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn. We don’t go as deep into the trough and we “come back” sooner.
Our body is more relaxed as we move through our day. Our minds are not as compulsive. We don’t worry as much or we catch it sooner and are able to stop. Our inner critic doesn’t have the grip it used to. We no longer believe that we’re bad or unlovable. We are more often aware of our present moment experience and reactivity. It’s relatively easy to come back to our breath, look around the room for cues of safety, reach out to a friend, or hold our own hand for support and comfort.
We connect the dots as we get to know ourselves. The sinking feeling in our gut is connected with “that look” on someone’s face. When we are around certain people, we clench our teeth or tighten our shoulders. We are aware of how vulnerable we are when we feel excluded because we had no reliable relationships in childhood. We learn to connect with our younger selves. It becomes safer to stay aware and present. We become trauma informed and understand deeply that our childhood experiences were not our fault. We become willing to be on our own side.
Then something happens and we feel like we’re back to square one. This can also be caused by a slow build up of heightened stress and not enough supports to keep our resilience. We are feeling the pressure and joy of moving back out into the world. We crave connection and our nervous systems fear people. We were used to a quieter environment and we feel overstimulated with a sudden influx of visitors.
We may have a lot of compassion for ourselves or we might revert to our old patterns of disconnection and blame. We’re frustrated that we’re losing ground. We’re in the grip of a shame storm and inner critic attack. We wake up to the consequences of late night eating or drinking. We raged or we froze and disconnected.
What makes it better and worse is that we’re more aware of the nuances of how we feel and how we got here. It’s no longer the water we swim in and that’s good! The contrast is uncomfortable. Social isolation has protected us from the rough and tumble of human interaction. People make hurtful remarks and our window of tolerance has narrowed.
Trauma sensitizes us. We’re hurt more easily. We feel things more deeply. We are more likely to disconnect. We may have years of healing and hate that when we’re pushed past our limits, we go back to old habits. We feel swept away and powerless. Is there anything we can do to get back on track?
Yes. First, acknowledge reality. It is true that you are struggling. It is also true that you are healing and stronger than before. This dip into despair or old patterns is not “like before”. It is a temporary situation and completely predictable. It happens to everyone when we’re overwhelmed. Our healing journey is not a straight climb into 24/7 health and happiness. You are not a failure when you have a set back.
We can have a powerful compulsion to reach for what worked in the past. Our conditioning and old habits created a strong groove in our nervous system. Some people stay in bed depressed. Others get really busy at work, or binge on booze, drugs, Netflix or food. It is natural and healthy to seek relief. With our level of awareness now, we are also no longer willing to bear the consequences of certain strategies. We are more resilient now and have more options.
Cultivate kindness and compassion for yourself. Being in a shame storm feels awful! It’s scary to be dragged back into old habits of self harm. Coming back to emotional self-regulation, we are able to see our situation with more maturity and a different perspective. We are not a lost cause because we are struggling. We can come back to our own side and take appropriate steps to support ourselves.
This is life. We get frustrated and scared when we’re triggered back into old ways of thinking and coping. We want things to be easier. It’s quite a dance to keep letting in reality with a kind and open heart for ourselves and others. This is advanced practice.
It’s okay to be scared and to struggle. I’m not a failure because I’ve had a set back. I know how to cultivate patience and stay connected. I accept that healing takes time.