This is the first in a series of essays I plan to write, which will eventually be collected, along with past work, into a book.
I crumple inward on myself. It’s more than a mental retreat, I find my muscles ache with the effort of drawing my shoulders down and in. The autonomous system implodes under the weight of my fear.
Thinking about it, I’m suddenly envisioning an Icelandic Poppy. This poppy is one of my favorites, with it’s bright silken petals and sheer tenacity – it thrives in some of the most inimical environments in the Arctic. If you look closely at the petals, you’ll see that like a shirt out of the dryer, they are creased and crumpled. Poppy blooms start out crushed inside a two-piece bud. The bud is covered in soft fuzzy stuff that protects the developing flower within from the cold and wind of the world. Then the bud finally splits open from the internal pressure and the petals escape, the damage is done. The crumpled petals dance in the breeze, and from a distance the blooms are perfectly beautiful.
I wouldn’t go back and start over, developing like poppy petals, even knowing that the crushing would in the end not mar my inner beauty. I’m here. I can’t retreat into bud and kick it open earlier, and I can’t change the environment I grew up in, married into, and the effect of the years on my bloom. I can re-train my brain to stop crumpling up along those permanent fold lines. I must, because it would defeat my own purpose to attempt to become so small again.
The body, powered by the back brain, remains convinced that becoming small enough, and mute, will make it invisible and thereby escape the pain of the stressor. For days after a bad episode I am drawn in, shoulders cupped protectively toward my chest, spine curved until my chin drops there, too. The muscles scream in protest where my throat cannot.
Most of the time I catch myself, these days, trying to shrink into insignificance and stop. Even though I’m uncertain internally, I return my posture to an upright and confident stance. This little act of defiance has a galvanizing effect. Even while writing this, I am stopping and rolling my shoulders and neck, loosening the muscles, fighting off the unreasoning reactions of the deep reflexive habits, and it feels good.
The brain instructs the body, yes. However, the other way around works, too. I’m training myself that if I can unfurl, like that flower, and face the sunshine, I’m safe. There is nothing to fear. The body posture comes from the false confidence of logic, but fiven time it reforms the true, what is truth, confidence of the unconscious hid brain. The instinctive, baked-in, reflexive signals have to be reflected back as false. Over, and over. That deep emotion is a river carving through your life history, and changing it’s course is not the matter of a day’s work.
Even if the channel was laid down by the flashbulb instant of traumatic experience, rather than the dull monotony of passing days, months, years. The flashbulb of an explosion: a bomb going off of unimaginable power, if you will, one that destroyed what was true and real in the landscape of your mind. What’s left after the explosion is a mess. A new reality, a new truth, trust lies in ruins and you don’t know where up and down are, any longer. Now, imagine a succession of bombs going off. I have… several. I’m not going to count how many, over almost three decades (more than half) of my life. The rubble of my inmost world is unbelievable. How do you navigate that?
How do you not?