"Below the surface"
I am looking at you, smiling, as I tell you I am ok.
I am not.
Beneath my unshapely, faded sweater I am panting, tightening, unraveling in my chest.
My mind is telling me many things. It tells me back to keep posture. It tells my skin to remain unmoistened by the pick up in heart rate I have been experiencing for 20 minutes already.
It is telling my eyes to stay wide, my mouth to stay creased but not open.
This is a panic attack.
I do not look any different than I do any other time of the day. I keep a doe eyed and smooth forehead composure through the most uncomfortable moments.
It is a survival tactic.
One I developed in almost 3 decades of experiencing people close to me who had aggression, hostility, bipolar, manic episodes, split personalities, schizophrenia, and disassociation with normal, regulating emotions.
These traits can be found in my parents, some of both of their siblings, some of my ex girl friends, ex boyfriends, and people I was drawn to at work or school. It is not a coincidence for sure that even some parents' of old flames had these traits.
I attracted these things into my life. And then did not know how to tame them or handle them.
I am not about to say I ever put energy into attracting my own triggers, that I manifested shit or that I actually sought out people to help.
"This was not a savior complex. Even though I very much want to help people."
What I am talking about now are the traits I developed from being a childhood victim of abuse into a susceptible partner of trauma.
I was prey.
As a child, I was unfortunately a prey out of birth right. But as I got older, though I was not aware of it yet, I brought out the aggressors by being docile, doe-eyed, dedicated blindly to all that I did, a willing listener, accepting of all attention, caving to any form of praise at all.
So any predator could come and sway me into their life so easily, when my nature was to be open and accepting to all.
Only now do I see that I was an open fortress, ready to be invaded and conquered. At least, in an abusers eyes. Someone who saw that I could enable their bad behaviors, forgive their errors and even blame myself for their betrayals.
I know this now because of my ability to hold in my pain, oppress my panic attacks and completely shame myself when other people betray me.
I will never forget the one time I went to my mother for advice. I was in middle school. I came home crying after getting into a big fight with some girls at school. They were some of my close friends. And then they started to be cruel and be friends with someone else who bullied me.
I was so upset I was crying outright and melting into my bed, when my mother came to see me. She asked me what happened, which was rare. She was in Jekyll form.
I told her what happened and her response was this:
"It must have been something you did. You are a bitch."
Really. My memory does not betray me. My thoughts on this have been clear ever since.
Whenever I spoke out against my mother, from childhood to adolescence, she called it "talking back".
I spoke out against domestic abuse, violence, bad name calling, grounding on no grounds, rude behaviors, physical acts of aggression or drunken rages. I spoke out against alcoholism. I spoke out against her addictions.
And yet, she always told me it was me.
I was trained to think that other peoples betrayals were my fault. So what did that do to my teen years?
I was too ________ , I did not ______ enough; every single time someone was not my friend anymore, a boyfriend cheated on me, a person hurt me. It must have been me. I must have asked for it.
I have always considered myself "smart", "aware", "deep", "conscious". Each time I unfold my trauma, I realize I was doing the best I could with what I had. So I just accept it. It is OK that I made mistakes. It is OK that i sometimes chose wrong.
What is not OK is holding in those feelings. But imagine what 28 year old me would feel now if I let all these feelings flood in?
What would you feel? All the hitting, the screaming, the cursing, the lies, the truths, the mental illnesses that raised me just circulating as dark smoke in my lungs.
It never really came out in the times of chaos. When all the things I saw and experienced were happening, I did not break.
But I realized something recently about this quiet, unrippling body. I am like a hologram of a lake. Toss stones into me and I do not let out a plop, or even a ripple.
No movement above the surface.
Just that hidden whirlpool beneath my unshapely, faded sweater.
Now that I know I have symptoms of a survivor of trauma, I can catch myself after they happen. Which is a big deal and break through for me.
I know if I work at it and focus, I will soon be able to catch myself in the moment. What helps that is being transparent and real with myself.
I am not ok right now, but I am inviting the flood and embracing the aftermath.
Published by Jean Soto JS Jaded Savior blog: email@example.com
Jean Soto, mother of 3 and wife, is a writer + artist in the Hudson Valley, NY community.
Content mention of Rape, Abuse, Neglect, Addictions, Mental Illness, Kidnap, Molestation, Child abuse, Teen Pregnancy, Abortion, birth, body image, gender/identity dysphoria, sexuality, personal trauma, domestic violence and other extremely personal stories. Please practice caution. I am not a licensed physician or mental health professional. No medical prescribing is provided on this site, Only personal insights, experience stories, and advice; All stories published have had prior authorization. Questions? Contact Jean at: firstname.lastname@example.org
EMPOWERING MINDS SINCE 2019