January 2023: Brain Goo
The year 2023 has had a rough start for me. My trauma triggers have been tested; and I haven’t passed with flying colours. However, this has led to a few self-realizations and a reverse validation of sorts.
I work with trauma clients on a regular basis. I see the signs in others, put puzzle pieces together, connect the dots. I introduce alternate coping strategies, mainly ones I have tried myself and found helpful.
Sometimes I forget, or minimize, or deny my own trauma as a well-worn coping mechanism. When it comes to internal work, I feel I’m pretty good at resolving trauma and healing from abuse. My weak point seems to be interpersonal.
So, how do I unravel this for you?
There was a whole Christmas family fiasco (escalated by my runaway PTSD anger) that is associated with how my new year started, but not the main feature. When I opened my front curtains January 1st, I was met by frozen egg caught in time as it oozed down my window. My amygdala did not know what to make of this. Was I targeted? Was it random? Who could be out to get me? Why would anyone do this? And so the process began to get answers to these questions. I knew I would not be able to calm my amygdala until it knew if I had made a personal enemy somehow, or it was pranksters.
When I talked with others about it (in person or online), the general response was that it was kids which proved to be true thanks to the neighbour’s security cameras. The RCMP couldn’t do anything with said footage, but at least there is a record of this activity for any future incidents. I was grateful that I hadn’t also been hit in October like a few folks online. And I wasn’t the only one whose first Google search of 2023 was how to get frozen egg off your window.
Once I had enough information, I was able to talk myself down. The most interesting part for me was seeing the impact of my trauma “full on.” The first assumption by others was that it was childish pranksters. My amygdala automatically went into high-alert danger mode. The threat was real even though there wasn’t reality to back it up. It’s first assumption was: “uh oh, I’m in trouble.”
This was the reverse validation—evidence that I have, indeed, been traumatized. There is no denying how my brain initially processed events. To make matters worse, the unfriendly dogs across the street escaped their house, while their owners have been away, and terrorized the neighbourhood. Just another in a bizarre series of unfortunate events. Due to their antics, the better footage of the eggers was erased from the neighbour’s motion-sensor dash cam. Dogs were eventually contained, but I think it was three or four days of “gong show.” In amongst the dog drama, an emaciated stray with a sweetheart personality met me when I was walking home from downtown. He greeted everyone who came by, evidently in need of attention.
Another lesson. I wanted to let the dog into my porch (he came right up to the door, practically rang the bell), yet felt I needed to defer to the male in the house. By the time he got outside, the stray had run off; and wouldn’t you know it, the dangerous dogs got out again. I felt immense guilt for not helping a fellow creature in dire need. Why didn’t I simply invite the dog inside when I entered my porch? Why did I feel the need to check first? It’s my house. I can invite whomever I want inside. Just because all the other neighbours who also saw the dog didn’t do anything doesn’t mean I had to follow suit.
Then, just yesterday, there was communication confusion with an established client (meaning they weren’t new and “impressionable”) due to time zone differences and my brain fog (it wasn’t a good Chronic Fatigue day). My sense of failure/guilt has been immense and disproportionate to the circumstances. It would appear I have lost my ability to give myself permission to disappoint others.
It would also seem that my first (repeat) recovery lesson of 2023 is self-forgiveness. Strange given the meditations/journalling I completed last summer/fall on the subject. It’s one thing to forgive yourself for unmet childhood needs and long-ago choices. It’s quite another to forgive yourself for disappointing others (animals or people) in the here-and-now.
I think on some level, my subconscious is stuck in trauma mode from Christmas. After the fiasco, my brain went into “uh oh, I’m in trouble” mode; and it took awhile to realize nothing bad was actually going to happen. Or more accurately, my latent “I’m in trouble” mode surfaces as an automatic response to (potential) trauma triggers. It has become my working theory that we can never truly reprogram our trauma brains, only learn to manage it better. The fiasco at Christmas also removed a veil to the reality of damaging patterns. Almost an ah-ha moment of “no wonder I _______ all the time.”
I just finished watching a TV series that ended up being about simulations; and it occurred to me, I wish the trauma brain was a simulation. A simple reset, and off we go again. But reality check says trauma is real and that ‘inconsiderate’ people are real. We can’t avoid pain by living in an alternate reality (although some of us do try). Being human means experiencing suffering whether in a simulation or real life. There is no reset button. The best I can do is reset my thinking until the next trigger; and hope that one day it won’t be necessary anymore. In the meantime, the goal is to get better at resets.
This leads me back to what I chose as a framework for my blog entries for 2023. It is my intention that I will provide monthly updates on my own healing journey. I realize that there has always been an element of this in my blog entries; but this year, I plan to be more mindful of it. The hope is that something I experience along my healing journey will be offered as a breadcrumb for your own.
May your 2023 be one of hope and healing.