It’s been 6 years.
6 years today.
I have photographic proof of my moment of emancipation.
The first picture taken of me in at least a dozen years where I don’t look haunted or hollow.
I have my face to the sun and I am content in the moment.
Those moments are much more frequent now, but for 12 years they were non-existent.
Maybe longer really. Always doubting myself, always afraid, low grade panic attacks that would stretch on for days so I couldn’t remember what it felt like not to be attached to a low amp electrical current. Coursing through my body, my brain screaming at me RUN. But I had nowhere to run to.
Or alternately living in the dark place.
I built a home there.
The only music playing just a chorus of “you are unworthy of love and trust and basic human kindness”.
I would sit for days in a darkened room, painted a moldy brownish grey that defied description. Paralyzed and perched on a tattered couch with springs placed in awkward places so although I couldn’t find the energy to stand I was never really comfortable. My legs were asleep anyways, always walking on pins and needles, like they weren’t mine and I had no right to them.
A low wattage lightbulb that would come on for a few seconds or a few minutes just long enough to remind me how ugly I was and that there were no windows. No way to tell how much time had passed. I lost days at a time.
The longest I ever shut the world out was a calendar month. The February before this photo was taken.
I was broken beyond recognition. I was taking pills to shut my brain off just long enough to sleep. I lost 10 pounds of flesh. My body was leaving me and my brain didn’t care. I coveted the empty feeling in my stomach from not eating anything. Nothing tasted good and that emptiness felt clean and like control over something when I was spinning out.
I couldn’t calm down and my only respite was sleep. I was always angry upon realizing I was awake, the fact that I had to be awake. Minutes became hours unless I was sleeping then it was the opposite and 8 hours felt like 8 minutes so I never felt rested. Just restless.
I remember having opiate induced hallucinations about John Cawfee and how he pulled the poison out of the warden’s wife. And I begged any god that was listening to just get it out of me. That’s what it felt like. Brown dust and flies swarming and swirling around my brain and body. The buzzing drowning everything out, the dust clouding my vision.
I wondered if I had a brain tumor.
I wondered if I was going insane.
I still do sometimes.
I understand panic attacks, like in a clinical way. I know what chemicals are firing in what parts of my brain. I know it is a survival mechanism held over from when we lived in caves on high alert. I know that I have muscle memory of trauma, as much as I have cleared those files in my mind, there are still fragments and triggers. Abandonment, loneliness, even feeling too happy because someone might take that away from me.
I know the low build that starts as a slight clench in the gut. Lactic acid is released into the muscles and they start to buzz and twitch. Sometimes, now, I can keep it there. Not let it progress. The loops of ‘you are a piece of shit Sarah’ become a round, where the calm part of me chimes in ‘this will pass, we have done this before’.
I lived in that buildup for 12 hours the other day.
At one point I wanted to go over the edge.
The edge for me is that I lose muscle control. I lose all of my words and reason. There is no logic in this place. Just screaming noises in my head and a burning in my lungs because I can’t take a breath or I take too many. My hands make fists, my body goes into a fetal position, my legs and arms become tree limbs shaking in the wind but completely solid and my head is an angry beehive, swarming and stinging. I can’t move.
My body decides that when given only the 3 options of fight flight or freeze, to freeze, solid.
I don’t know what is worse in those moments. Being alone, convinced I am going to die here on my floor or having a witness to my mess.
I don’t want to be touched but I want to be held. I don’t want to talk and I can’t even listen, their words just become more stings and buzzing in my head and I feel judged and so much shame. Because somewhere in me is a woman who knows this person standing over top of me is right, which just makes me feel more wrong. The shame is a weight that pushes me under further and I have to fight harder to get out.
I met a man once. He knew the dark place, like I know the dark place. All the feelings that had no words found language when we would talk about it. He would slip and I would reach in, not to pull him out but so he had something to hold onto. He did the same for me.
I learned, finally, to master the third option.
It’s fight, flight or freeze.
I ran, I hid, I went solid so no one could get in. Those reactions I knew like the back of my clawed hands.
6 years ago, I learned to fight. I learned to self soothe, just a little bit. I learned how to use my words when they were available to me and find some answers. I learned how to say my shame out loud and found someone who said ‘me too’. And that was huge for me.
My logic grew stronger the more I exercised it. I started reminding myself that I had survived these things before, that although in the moment I thought I would die (and I wanted to), and that I was indeed still here. Brushing my teeth, tying my shoes, eating, laughing, living…all the things that seemed impossible in those moments or months when anxiety would win.
I learned to touch trees, to walk barefoot in the dirt, to let the shower wash away the bad things and I’d feel them slip down the drain and out of me. I realized everything is energy and it is neither good nor bad, and those moments where I felt like I was going to explode is because I had collected energy and my negative thoughts were making it into pain and that I could decide to let it go. I learned to clear my own blocks.
Then Wednesday happened.
I realized that I had done myself (and others) a disservice by celebrating all my love and light and victories and not showing the battleground where it was fought for and won.
I hid my scars. And in them are written the answers.
There are still mines and shrapnel from the war I fought inside myself, blood and bones of who I was. They hide under the flowers and sunshine of where I live now.
And I trip and I fall and I explode.
Not remembering is a dangerous game. I was unprepared.
Someone who could have benefitted from seeing my dark place was denied, and I can’t reach him.
And even then.
Isn’t that scared and tattered girl a valid part of who I am. Doesn’t she deserve recognition for making it through?
I have to reconcile. I have to welcome her and love her.
Because she is part of who I am.
Skinned knees from crawling, raccoon eyes from crying, I love her anyways.