Taking PTSD under the pavilion - Lorca Smetana
Three months ago post-traumatic stress came to walk beside me again, after many years gone.
Random panic attacks and loss of breath that came with me out to visit the sheep or had me veering my truck to the side of the road, nightmares that chased me out of my bed, and a demoralizing paralysis in writing as if the two occupied the same synapses in my brain and couldn’t coexist.
A year into returning to my story of trauma in writing the book I had been surprised at and congratulating myself on my own steadiness in the face of its return into my life.
Until suddenly I wasn’t.
There was a letter.
And video footage.
And perhaps other triggers.
And maybe my body decided to just jump in and face that shadow-self, even that it came because I was going to be strong enough and ready. But I fought it and tried to go alone and then I surrendered, handing myself over into the hands of others, building a pavilion of care where PTS and I could go together and shake things out.
Four pillars that I chose in this pavilion I built — EMDR, horse time, acupuncture and singing, built on the strong rock of Dusan keeping steady ground under me and the kiddos, even when I couldn’t feel it.
Asking for and having the perfect guides in EMDR practice and hilariously intuitive horsewomen and body work, and trusting myself in the singing, only asking that it happen more and with the greatest honesty and heart and daring I could bring. Beloved tribe in place — women and men who I let see me at low ebb and high. And I gave myself a steady diet of On Being, week after week.
And what have I gotten from this?
In each day, in each week, an opening and a softening and the astonishing luxury of experiencing life more and more directly, losing the never-failing intervening lens of trauma and armor. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing. I know. Really!) was not available to me those years ago, the last time I was able to put myself in the hands of a therapist.
Therapy was trauma.
Now, it’s not.
While I was waiting the understanding of trauma has grown into an extraordinary marriage of mind/heart/body, understood as cellular, epigenetic, normal.
So therefore…targeted body work for physiological and mental symptoms, because, finally, it’s all understood as connected. And the smallest measures show up as unimagined luxury — minute after minute that unfolds in not being endlessly screwed up to the hard. Letting trauma pass into story rather than having it occur again and again as direct experience. The sheer energy that is no longer needed in proving.
Feeling sometimes, a scintillating bowl of enough.
Oddly enough, in the three days after I admitted to PTSD to myself, three separate veterans’ advocates reached out to me to come work with them, as if I had in surrendering allowed myself to speak a different language. I had been holding myself back somehow, fearing I couldn’t safely work with people who were “still broken”, feared that in doing so I would damage again myself or them. But relaxing into being broken as we all are broken, letting myself be broken open like an acorn or any seed that is starting its journey? That’s a different way of letting yourself be in the world, the astonishing strength that only shows up on the other side of vulnerability, power on the other side of my own softness, healing that grows organically from me into everyone I touch in any way.
For myself, for my children to grow into a less-triggered ripening, for my life with my husband as a true partner. For those I work with. Preemptively healing things that now never have to happen.
I took my existing clients on this ride with me, didn’t hide from them, and was able to give them things I never had before. And watch them open doors.
I let horses and my singing voice and my own body and my therapist mirror back to me each flash of armor so that each time I can make a choice. I put myself in the hands of my husband and my children and let them take me into fun, into us, up onto the top of the trellis with them, into the tipi and into the river, cold and clean.
So grief is still one of my languages, and compassion and death and loss. I speak these and can be fully present in listening to them with others. And I am still full-out in the fight against the existence of burnout and exhaustion and despair in humans working in this world (“Ambitious much?”) and I know how to fight them in individuals and in systems.
And I will again be frozen in a sheep field, launched gasping from the bed, pulled over by the side of the road, waiting it out.
But there is more now, more making, more art.
More play with leadership and breaking boundaries, bringing more grace, more music, more soul and more creatures into places where I hadn’t before, because I want to. Asking for more freedom to grow in the life of each client because I am living in the freedom of asking more for myself.
Earned joy that doesn’t need to be earned to exist.
More daring. Thresholds. Lightness. Being light.
Being a stand for the coexistence of the hard and joy in a single being.
Painbearer and lightbearer, both, until the very end.
It’s a good life, one I think I’ll be glad to have lived.
And holding a candle for those coming out of that prison.
I will be right here, always.
We all walk each other home.