I sat across from my therapist as she said: “So, in your own words, can you tell me what it feels like?
“Well… have you ever run across a grassy field in your bare feet, the unencumbered freedom of the cool grass tickling the soles of your feet? That’s what it feels like for me too, except all the while I’m just waiting to step on a jagged rock or piece of glass. Or maybe it’s the warm sensation that rushes over you the moment you slip under the covers, your body spent after a long exhausting day, for me, a feeling that begins to dissipate the moment it arrives because I know the only thing that lies on the other side of closed eyelids is the dread of what my dreams might bring. Or perhaps, it’s an unbridled feeling of contentment sitting beside the person you love as the lights go down and the movie begins. But with the dimming of the lights, comes a stiffness that courses throughout my entire body, knowing that the next scene might trigger a well of anxiety fueled nausea. That’s what it feels like. That’s what life looks like through the lens of PTSD.”
The gift of trauma is that it reminds us that we are in fact “living”, but more importantly, it unearths a primal resiliency that we rarely draw upon as we go about our day. What I find most disheartening about this deep well of untapped resiliency is that in one respect, it whispers to me that I am invincible, but at the same time, like a magician’s sleight of hand, it can be pulled away in an instant. And it’s in those moments where the resiliency has abandoned me, where I feel the most “stuck”, frustrated, and overwhelmed. At times like this, I need to remind myself that at no time am I ever “stuck”—I simply haven’t finished parsing the lesson from the discomfort I am currently sitting with.
When I started posting on my blog Breathe Through This eighteen months ago, I adhered to only one guiding principle—that I write candidly and honestly about my struggles with addiction and mental health issues brought about by my coming to terms with the sexual abuse in my past. There have been times when the result has been a beautiful testament to the human spirit, and there have been many others when the implosion has been messy and jarring.
Somewhere along the way, this little blog has grown to over 425,000 readers/subscribers, and with this, a vibrant dialogue has commenced, as what I have written appears to resonate with many others who see themselves in my vulnerability. Within this dialogue, I have had the opportunity to engage with readers who support me and challenge me, and all the while, revitalize me. I’m no longer terrified of being so publically vulnerable because as the author C. Joybel says: “The only way that we can live is if we grow. The only way we can grow is if we change. The only way we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we are exposed is if we throw ourselves into the open.” So, I guess that’s where you’ll find me—wide open and diving into the abyss.
I’m a firm believer that healing begins with a conversation, and when we are at our most vulnerable, when our façade is down, true connection, and thereby transformation, is possible. Every one of us goes through life telling two stories—the story that we outwardly prescribe to, and the story we inwardly subscribe to. It’s the collision of these two stories—the projected and the internalized—that causes us the most discomfort by ultimately disconnecting us from what makes us whole in our heart. Lately, I’ve really started to question what I “project” and what I “protect” by looking at ways in which these two are not aligned.
As if life weren't already frantic enough, my wife and I are getting ready for yet another house move, and this time, we are significantly downsizing. Mary-Anne read an article about the queen of decluttering, Japan’s Marie Kondo, and her recommendation to get rid of everything in your home that doesn’t “speak to your heart.” In the 28 years we’ve been married, I’ve never seen Mary-Anne feel so liberated as she sorts through her closets, putting items aside saying “I don’t need this—it doesn’t give me joy.”
All of this has got me thinking that I should adopt this “if it doesn’t bring me joy, let it go” approach to life. Even more so would be if I extended this beyond mere possessions in my life, so what better place to begin than with the “guarded story” I project into the world.
From now on, I aspire to be more authentic when it comes to aligning myself with what “brings me joy” and distancing myself from what “weighs me down.” As Elizabeth Gilbert reminds us in "Eat, Pray, Love", the hard part is figuring out when to let go. “You're like a dog at the dump, baby - you're just lickin' at an empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you're not careful, that can's gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable. So drop it.”