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“Your wails are worthy to be heard. Journey to the center with me now; together, we won’t get lost in despair. Your wails are worthy to be heard.” ~ Cole Arthur Riley, “This Here Flesh”
The crack that broke the dam open was a simple web form to join the pool for the summer.
Stupidly, these days it’s like getting tickets to a Phish show: I’m in front of the computer by 8 a.m. when the registration opens. Something is wrong with my account, it’s not set up right, and I can’t fix it, so I’m watching the spaces count down 200, 150, 125, 100, 75…
I’m doing everything in my power to fix this issue, meanwhile my executive functioning frontal lobe is shutting down. I can feel myself slipping into my eight-year-old body. I was flying downhill when my friend’s back wheel touched my front wheel as she steered in front of me out of the way of a car. I fell spectacularly! I went over the handlebars, tumbled down the asphalt, half rolling, half sliding. I heard the car stop and an adult got out and ran over to see if I needed help, but within seconds I had popped up exclaiming I was completely fine, I didn’t need any help.
I was bleeding from elbows and knees, my hip still has a scar today, road rash down my thighs and palms, and I there I was insisting with increasing panic: “I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m fine!”
I don’t have a good memory of what happened after that. I’m pretty sure the adult (could have been a teenager) was freaked out and got back in his car and drove away. Maybe my friend and I went to her house and did our best to bandage me up; likely there were no adults at her home to clean me up, and no doubt I would have waved away the help, reverting to injured animal behavior and doing everything in my power to escape and tend wounds in secret by myself.
But, why? Why at eight years old could I not sob like my own eight year old does when he falls off his bike? Memories flood me as I ask that question—could it really have started as early as infancy when babies were left to cry it out so they didn’t get spoiled?
My logical brain says of course that is what happened, why are you so surprised, why are you even asking these questions? I am only now connecting to my pattern of overwhelm as a strategy to mask the pain of helplessness, while realizing it is also an expression of the trauma presenting itself for attention and healing.
I realize I have had three weeks of overwhelm: moving offices, refurbishing a rental, and my husband doing intensive training whereby kid duties primarily became mine, a full-time job, and growing suspicion that I am dealing with full-fledged ADHD. No part of me stops to consider what three major events might do to my system. Pausing to consider the timing of moves and trainings never ever occurs to me.
“I’m fine. I’ll just handle it.”
I have metaphorically been riding my bike downhill with no brakes, wheels wobbling, hands sweating, feet slipping off the pedals. And here at my computer, trying to fill out a stupid web form, I just fall off and sob—an ugly, snotty, hyperventilating sob. I fully embody and blend with that bleeding, terrified, helpless eight-year-old and let her ugly cry.
I also feel that I am present for her. It is safe for her to let go and tell me that she was not fine. That she really needed to cry then, and she really needed that adult to not believe her when she said she was fine, to move through that lie and get her some help, to assess the hurt, help her get back in her body, tend to her wounds. She needed someone to take care of her, to stop believing the “I’m fine” nonsense.
She said more people should be crying and telling people they aren’t okay. She insisted that we shouldn’t believe people when they say they are okay, because we aren’t okay—we aren’t fine. When you know someone is hurt, let them know you see them. Don’t believe them, risk embarrassment, risk awkwardness to move closer and let them know that you see they aren’t fine, and that’s okay.
I have been doing deeper and deeper work over a lifetime and often feel like I’m just scratching the surface. At least parts of me feel that way. My overdeveloped “I’m fine” parts have imprisoned my many deep-wounded parts that were shut down when I was in single digits.
Today, the work worked. She broke through and I held her, and we talked and talked and felt a whole lot better afterwards. Less frantic, less panicky, and more resolved to pause and see if I can now navigate life with care and feelings and not ride my bike at full speed downhill without brakes so much.