We all walk around with a little trauma in our back pocket. Sometimes we forget it’s there. Sometimes, unbeknownst to us, we pull it up and it’s in our face without any warning. How we experienced the trauma is individual and unique: what happened, how we dealt with it or didn’t deal with it, our own personal experience of the trauma. We were innocent one moment and then the event rocked us to the core and that is something we all share.
We’d like to pretend it never happened to us. Why talk about such negative things that don’t affect us now? The event shaped us whether we’d like to admit it. We can choose to acknowledge this trauma that we’ve been carrying around for far too long. Perhaps we’ve grown tired and exhausted from the heaviness of that burden. And it has metaphorically created a hole and fell out of our pocket. However it happens, the opportunity lies before us.
Do we quickly scoop it up and bury it once again? Do we distract ourselves and hide it, ignore it or stuff it? Or can we just for a moment accept our common humanity that trauma unfortunately happens. It’s a part of the journey of life. But it doesn’t have to control us any longer. It happened, for sure. It sucks. Who wants to rehash unpleasantries?
But once we acknowledge our common human experience, our trauma, something shifts. Our burden lightens. We see that we are not alone in our suffering. It is okay. We are not justifying what happened, but right now in this moment can we feel safe? Can we take a breath? Can we sit with this feeling for just a few moments?
Here’s what I would like you to do right now. Don’t engage in a dialogue with the trauma. Just be the listener. Write if it helps you to sort out your thoughts on paper. Treat yourself gingerly, with the softness and tenderness as you would a small infant. You were innocent when it happened through no fault. Can you see what “trauma” is showing you? Is there a message? A nugget of wisdom that you can explore?
When you’ve listened to what has to be said, put your hands on your heart and just breathe for a minute. Counting breaths helps. I like to count to 10. One, inhale; one, exhale. Two, inhale; two, exhale, etc. I promise you any fear, anger, or other strong emotion you feel will dissipate if for just a moment you can let it out. It’s been bottled up for too long.
We are all connected. And the speed of information has advanced our society into a global community. You want to learn about X? What does Google say? Information is literally at your fingertips if you happen to own a smartphone. And knowledge is power.
Even though my family got rid of cable years ago, we still have access to the news from our phones and apps on our TV console. I love that we can choose what to watch when we want to. But we do channel surf through YouTube and you can’t escape the collective fear that is ever present. The recent tragic events and acts of violence have pulled at my heart.
I love working in Providence. It’s a city rich in history and I’m proud to be a native Rhode Islander. It’s a beautiful city to walk around: the Brown University campus, the financial and downtown districts, and historic Benefit Street. But I’m tired of living in fear. If a car comes racing by or a strange box truck is around, I tense up and anxiety takes control. My leisurely walk is interrupted and I’m terrified for a moment, especially if I’m around city hall or a federal building. It never used to be this way. Fear never played such a prominent role. I started working full-time a little over a year ago. And I loved the city. I drank in the architecture, the people on their way to work, students walking to class, and the waterfront. It was a welcome sight.
But over these last few months, the anxiety has been building. Yesterday as I was walking to the parking garage, a box truck stopped right in the middle of the street and began to back up. Normally this wouldn’t have been an issue. There’s construction everywhere and the street was a one-way. But the truck seemed to be backing up and keeping in pace with me as I walked. Cars behind the truck began to honk, and it seemed like the truck was going to back up regardless of traffic. This odd behavior made my anxiety soar. I started to run, and all I could hear was the incessant “beep, beep, beep” as it continued to reverse. I had the worst panic attack. I feared it was going to blow up right then and there next to the financial district. I had visions of me getting into the garage on the fifth floor and being toppled over by the above floors during the explosion. I couldn’t wait to get out of that garage.
Once I got behind the wheel and started to exit, I shouted, “I’m tired of being afraid! I’m tired of living in fear! I’m tired of freaking out over a truck! I just want to be able to walk in peace without feeling terrorized!”
I don’t have an answer during these crippling moments. I just try to deepen my breath. I remind myself that meditation helps ground me and I should meditate more and journal more. Events will happen that are beyond my control. And one thing I can control is my breath.
How do you bring calm when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed?