I stood on the cusp of a panic attack and felt my body and mind slip out of control. A whirlpool of fear grasped me by the ankles and sucked me down, down, down until I could barely breathe, could only hear my pounding heart and feel my clenching gut fill me with doom.
“What is happening to me? Am I crazy? Am I dying?” my thoughts zoomed around, not landing, only swirling.
“Breathe in, breathe out, slowly” didn’t help enough, I was still drowning.
My body was finally screaming “ENOUGH!”
A trip to the doctor, emergency therapy calls, meds that made it all worse for a week…it was a spiral of hell.
Why now? Why after years of therapy and self-healing work? Why when I have felt my true self emerging more than ever and my sense of personal belonging increasing? It felt deflating, defeating.
I guess what a ‘breakdown’ serves to expose is the ways we’ve been hiding all along.
It’s not like suddenly a new issue popped up and broke me, it’s more that the issues that have been under the masks and performance finally broke through so they could be healed.
Maybe you, like me, have been a schooled avoider and pray-it-awayer. Trouble is, the low level anxiety and fear that has plagued my life has always reared its head at certain times over certain issues and finally my glorious body who has been holding it all said (maybe screamed) NOPE, ENOUGH.
For a couple of days I just couldn’t shake the disappointment. I’ve been on this path of integration and wholeness for years now. I’ve done so much hard work towards embodiment, read so many books and intentionally applied what I have learned to my life. I’ve been ditching toxic patterns and survival strategies, made significant changes in relationship dynamics. I’ve started seeing a trauma-informed somatic therapist who has been helping me excavate the roots of pain in my life and I have felt stronger and more clear on who I am than ever! So why now?
It didn’t take long for me to put the pieces together that when our survival strategies are revealed as such, they are no longer available for us to use in that way, revealing the very thing we’ve been using them to mask or numb. Well shit.
Then, I paged through my journal and found the reason, spelled out clear as day in my own words just weeks before the panic attack. Here is what I wrote (a response to Alice Miller’s, “The Drama of the Gifted Child”):
The insight I’ve gained so far is profound and timely. Repressed emotions from early childhood will inform and define our lives, as we search for our earliest and most base needs to be met in the way they were not in childhood. If we repress the needs of being seen, mirrored, valued as we are, our true selves go into hiding and we spend our lives trying to be the thing that will get us love. I’ve come to realize this through my journey with the enneagram, and the humiliation of realizing that much of the way I fill gaps and “show love” is actually my attempt at being loved in return. This has been 5 years of coming to awareness.
So now this step of realizing that this comes from the repression of grief, anger, rage over what was lacking in my littlehood feels super important. In short, I became the source of all the love, nurture and protection that I lacked, hoping to ensure that no one within my care would feel what I felt.
It’s only in allowing these feelings to surface that we make space to remember the things we lacked, or the things that were done to us to create the lack.
Not allowing the emotions, repressing them, talking ourselves out of them, gaslighting our own selves, all create barricades for seeing the truth. And it’s only in seeing the truth that we can be free from the drive to be loved and have early needs met now. The needs that were not met, can never be fulfilled in the present. They must be grieved and felt.
The abuse that happened cannot unhappen, and the ways we were deprived of care will continue to guide our lives until we can express the appropriate response and then release it.
“He will discover in himself a need to live according to his true self and no longer be forced to earn “love” that always leaves him empty-handed, since it is given to his false self- something he has begun to identify and relinquish.” (Miller, 1997 p.60)
As our true feelings become clear, their origins will too. And then we will be equipped to assess our lives truthfully and release the patterns that are harming us and those we love.
“The child must adapt to ensure the illusion of love, care, and kindness, but the adult does not need this illusion to survive. He can give up his amnesia and then be in a position to determine his actions with open eyes.” (Miller, 1997 p.65)
It sounds scary, I know. Why dredge up old, painful memories best left in the past?
The thing is, those memories shape our lives in very real ways even if we don’t acknowledge it. We spend our lives developing a self that will be loved in response to those events. However, the love we receive as a result doesn’t reach deep enough because our true self is hiding, unreachable behind the false self we’ve built.
It takes the process of becoming radically honest, first with ourselves, often with the help of an empathetic witness (like a therapist). Honest about how we have felt, about what happened (our experiences), about our own pain. It takes ceasing the gaslighting we’ve been subjecting ourselves to when we try to convince our own hearts that what we feel isn’t real or worthy.
I know for sure that offering my own self the care that I’ve projected outward is my next step towards wholeness.
Maybe some of you can relate. Maybe you, too, are feeling that the ways you have survived are not working anymore.
Maybe your body is sending up flares telling you that it’s had enough of holding it all in.
If that’s the case, you are not alone, and you are not crazy. Can I encourage you to find a therapist? One who can bear witness to your true self emerging? Sometimes we crack open after years and years of holding it all together, and that’s ok…it’s even a gift…to reveal the you that has always been there, the true you.
And one reminder – you are loved, you are worthy of love exactly as you are.