What is the Bravest Thing You’ve Ever Done?

What is the Bravest Thing You’ve Ever Done? June 4, 2014

by AJ cross posted from her blog I am Phoenix

The bravest thing I have done so far in my life has been allowing myself to feel.

I was able to make it as far as I did  in life appearing on the outside to be normal and functional because I buried the past. Completely. I didn’t talk about it to anyone, and I didn’t acknowledge it to myself.

Being numb to it was the only way I could survive. I purposely hung around with people who didn’t talk about feelings or emotional things. I buried who I was, even if it meant I also had to bury my intuition, my creativity, my feelings, my empathy, and any form of introspection.

My preferred route on the path to numbing: moving far away from the geographical location and people who were abusive to me, burying myself in relationships with men, working out, and being so busy in my career that I didn’t have time to feel.  It worked, LOL. But only for so long.

I thought I could go on that way forever. But then, my life got very stressful and I started having symptoms of C-PTSD. The stress weakened me, and then my whole mind and body fell apart one day out of the blue. Then I had to move back home to live near my family, and THAT is when things fell apart even more.

After decades of being away from the cult, my abusive family, and the religious ideas that had haunted me in my childhood, I was suddenly back in my hometown, interacting with people and ideas from my past. Things I had completely buried and had no memory of for most of my life started resurfacing. The family that I thought would support me with open arms turned their back on me. The religion that had been my support and supposed comfort my whole life suddenly seemed surreal and evil.

There is a part of me that wishes I had never moved back home to PA to be around my family. I know I wouldn’t have been as traumatized if I had stayed in NYC. I would not have had to face old memories if I hadn’t move back home. Why didn’t I stay in NYC where it was safe? I guess I didn’t know I’d be re-traumatized by returning home. I had blocked things out so well that I did actually think I would be safe in going back. I mean, I was an adult returning, not a child. I had really forgotten the past and wasn’t afraid to come back. I had repressed it so much that it wasn’t on my radar as something to be concerned about.

But there is that part of me that does wish I hadn’t had to get re-traumatized. And there’s that part of me that wants to run so fast and so far, even now. I’m still too close to the family and the homestead, and the pain is too fresh, too in my face. I want to fly away. I want to go cross country and live in sunny LA, or Florida. I want to lie on a beach for a few years and be numb, then wake up and live again.

I want to run, or I want to be numb.  I can’t run right now. So I wish I could go back to the old days of being numb.

But once you open up the box of repressed memories and trauma, I don’t think you can just move away and close the box all neatly whenever you want. Once the process starts, I have a feeling that it will run it’s course until I’ve felt it all and come to terms with it.

Trust me, I did try to “run” from the trauma again, thinking that running was the answer. Karl and I moved to this new town 1.5 hours from my family. I made a rule that there was no talking about the past here in this house and this new neighborhood. Yet this hasn’t worked. My sister moved in with us, and she talks about the past often. It’s like the past is following me, still. Even if she didn’t talk about it, I have a feeling it would still be in my mind, though.

It cycles endlessly like a broken story as I fall asleep, as I wake up. I have flashbacks in varying degrees, I wake up in panic attacks in the middle of deep sleep at night. In the morning as I’m planning out what I want to do that day, broken bits of old traumatic memories crash into my thoughts. I lay there listening to these people threaten me, and I think up ways to challenge them and stand up for myself, but it takes so much effort and I feel so alone, that I wince and shake my head, and try to opt for numb, that old comfort, that now elusive comfort. I try to think about something neutral like the sun or lack of it slanting through my window shades, but this triggers another memory from the past.

I think about my younger sister, who blocks things out with anti-depressants and distancing herself from the family. My oldest sister and mother cope by living in a dream and pretending like everything is OK. My other sister lives with traumatic memories like I do, and neither of us blunt it with medication. I couldn’t take medication even if I wanted to because my body reacts to it.

Sometimes if I’m ‘lucky,’ I can still go numb every now and again. Blessed relief. But this is a rare state. It happens mostly when I’m asleep. Or when I sit for a long time out in the sun on my patio. But it doesn’t last long, and I can’t go there like I used to be able to.

I don’t see any way out, except through. I’m trying to just be with my feelings and allow them, without getting scared and without freaking out.

I used to say I wished I had a tiger or lion as a pet. One that was completely tame, of course. It would be my companion, and it would sleep beside me keeping me safe, keeping me warm. If I had to cry, I could cry into it’s fur and it wouldn’t say a word of judgment. It would be there beside me, and it would protect me from real people and the people from the past in my mind.  I could lay beside it and absorb it’s strength, and internalize it.

Read everything by AJ!

AJ was raised in a spiritually abusive cult based on the teachings of ATI’s Bill Gothard. She has five siblings. After enough time AJ developed Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Burnout and PTSD from the stress of her childhood. Her parents refused to help her in her ongoing health battle. She is married to a man that has recently emerged from spiritually abusive religion and together they are healing and moving towards daily joy! She blogs at I Am Phoenix

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  • That_Susan

    I’m so sorry about all you’ve been through, and I agree that it’s very brave to keep moving forward as you are doing.

    I feel like the bravest thing I’ve needed to do over the past few years is continuing to branch out and help my extraverted daughters meet their needs for ever-widening social relationships, during a period when I’ve often felt like doing the complete opposite.

    Nearly six years ago, my sister called CPS on me because she disagreed with many of my husband’s and my parenting choices, such as unschooling and not vaccinating. The visit from the social worker went well, and she saw no need to open a case, but this incident made me wake up really fast to the fact that while normal people can simply disagree with each other’s choices and leave it at that, there are some who feel compelled to try to force others to conform to their ideas and standards.

    I quickly learned that it’s stupid and unnecessary to be such an open book about everything I’m thinking and doing, and, of course, we’ve broken off all contact with my sister. This has been really positive in some ways, as there’s a lot of dysfunction in my family of origin, and since the rest of the family has chosen not to take sides, and to include my sister in their Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, this has given us the gift of being able to celebrate these holidays in our own home and our own way.

    But it has also made me anxious, and sometimes even paranoid, about how others might be perceiving me. If someone who has literally known me all my life, and even trusted me to babysit for her own infant daughter many years ago, can see me as a bad parent in need of outside intervention, then maybe there are others who could see me that way, too.

    At the same time, it has forced me to become stronger and develop a thicker skin regarding what others might be saying about me. Since my girls are so outgoing, I pretty much just had to give myself a kick in the pants and get my family out there, experiencing new situations and meeting new people. The CPS call occurred during the same time period that we were beginning our shift away from fundamentalist Christianity, so we pretty much lost our spiritual family as well as our extended biological family (to a great extent).

    And I was needing to make first impressions at a time in my life when I had practically zero confidence in myself socially (I was also morbidly obese at that time, and didn’t have the money for the kinds of clothes that can make a really big woman look good).

    I just had to take a deep breath and do it. We are now part of a secular homeschooling group and a Unitarian Universalist church, and have gradually cultivated some good friendships in both places. My older daughter ended up wanting to attend public school, and started last fall, so we are also getting to know her friends and their parents, as well as the lovely folks in the Theatre Booster Club (she’s into acting).

    As well as embracing being a public school parent, I’m also embracing the need to keep reevaluating the information about vaccines. I’m in the middle of reading “The Vaccine Book” by Robert W. Sears, and my husband and I are pretty heavily leaning towards vaccination now. Which is a little scary because I’m reading in-depth about the things that can go wrong; I’m mainly concerned about the seemingly high rate of teen girls who can develop arthritis problems following the MMR vaccine.

    There’s a part of me that would rather just make a snap decision and get it over with, and it’s taking a lot of bravery for me to take the time to examine the pros and cons as thoroughly as possible.

    Sometimes it seems like as soon as I become comfortable in one area of my life, the rug gets pulled out from under me in another area. As a mother, I have to be brave and find healthy ways to release my anxieties, while presenting a positive and empowered face to my girls. Not a fake face that acts like everything’s rosy when it’s not — just a strong one that says we can handle it.

  • AJ

    Keep on being flexible. We learn as we go. That does sound like quite the challenge having two outgoing daughters when you are introverted yourself. But that you are aware of it and are trying to branch out and support them and their growth when it pushes you past your comfort zone is a credit to you. 🙂

  • That_Susan

    Thanks so much for your support AJ! The funny thing is, I actually think I’m slightly more extraverted than introverted most of the time (by nature) — the last six years or so have just been a time when I really felt like hiding out. I’m honestly thankful to have two daughters with such a need to interact with the outside world, because it’s helped me move past my hurt a lot faster than I would have, had I been allowed to just stay at home and nurse my wounds.