“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” ― Stephen R. Covey
This week I got in an uberpool taxi in New York and listened to some poignant words from an insightful passenger named Dante. “It’s your situation”, he said. “It can be your anchor or your springboard; it’s your choice”. He continued, to talk about how good or bad situations could be used this way and that it’s all to do with our intention. Dante was pretty switched on. He was a 27-year-old NYC actor and a bartender which he relabelled as ‘the people’s psychologist.’
In the 20 minutes that my friend and I have graced with his presence, his perils of wisdom sprinkled through the taxi like flickering lights into the darkness. My friend Guy, and I talked at length about this experience after and we’re still unsure of the oracle who presented himself as Dante. Did he exist as a real person, as a figment of our alcohol-infused imagination or maybe he was the ghost of Christmas past, gently directing us on our way? Whatever he was, he told me exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in time.
On that particular night, I’d been pushing myself pretty hard in the area of triggers, and it had ended in a spectacularly awful way. I’d had a disastrous night trying to connect with a new guy I’d met and without realizing my ego had jumped up and sabotaged the evening without me even noticing. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to get into a romantic situation, with a guy who I hadn’t know before the attack. The first time since my Dad died at least, which is when the trust that I had in my judgment of new men disappeared completely and subconscious fear started controlling my life.
Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it. – Tori Amos
Trusting men has become difficult for me since these traumas exploded. As though my subconscious fears that all men are now going to break my heart, rape me or die on me. It sounds kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it? But that’s how our neuro pathways work, and it takes work to re-program them. I’ve known about this for a while, and it’s something I’ve started working on as I start to work on the male relationships in my life – my brother and my close male friends.
The thing is that the area of romance is the one that I need to work out if I want to lead the fulfilled life that I dream of, but these lessons don’t come easily. They’re peppered with pain, embarrassment and sharp emotional edges that all these authenticity insights have brought me as I unwind the traumas. It feels like I’m being reset back to the start of this recovery journey and every time I think I know something my whole world seems to completely morph into something unrecognizable, as though all I knew before turns out to be an illusion.
As I sat in the back of the taxi, I felt deflated, upset and embarrassed. I was exhausted from spending the later part of the evening in floods of tears while my friend comforted me and helped me reflect on the situation. Secretly, I wished that I wasn’t me. That I could just switch back to being a normal person, talking about normal stuff and enjoying the frivolous light conversation that modern dating life continues to provide.
Unfortunately, trauma processing provides no such grace and the emotional hooks that spin out when someone’s unwinding go far and wide hooking up all in their presence. It’s something which leaves me feeling outcasted and alone in a world where being emotional to any depth is simply taboo until other social confirms are met. I do reflect on this often and wonder how we got to a point where we exchange saliva and body fluids with less social policing than we do with the exchange of tears?
I don’t know if the insightful young Dante sensed how I felt, or maybe he somehow knew what had gone on that night. Maybe he got the gist from my tear-strewn make-up less face. Or maybe he just said something completely coincidental, and I chose to apply it to my evening and be in awe of it. Either way, I found what he had to say pretty profound.
Your Situation Can Be Your Anchor Or Your Springboard
Viewing my situation as an anchor or a springboard suddenly made me see things differently. Suddenly I wasn’t upset anymore. It highlighted that I could see my situation as one that tethers me down, restricts my life’s movements and keeps me in one place. On the other hand, I could see it as a springboard to jump up and down until I get the momentum to move forward. Depending on how I saw it ultimately affects my reaction and all of this is ultimately my choice.
It strung a cord with me because it also highlighted how important it is to reflect and react from our stories so that we can work at changing our situation. It sums up my whole journey of my trauma recover so far: sit and dwell in my situations or use them to my advantage and progress forward in life. As I looked back on the evening, I knew I’d finally been trying the later.
After avoiding dating for months after being terrified of trusting men, I’d put myself out in a vulnerable situation and tested the water. I knew that I still had issues of coming across as confrontational or even aggressive towards guys. After having fought off a rapist, this is, unfortunately, my current ‘go to’ whenever I feel the slightest bit vulnerable. The worst of it is that for the most part I’m unaware of this behavior and it takes constant mindful practice and gentle reminders from my friends that I’m acting this way. All necessary feedback if I’m to make progress.
It’s a difficult situation, balancing between consciously trying to face my triggers and subconsciously fighting them off all at the same time. I can only imagine how ridiculous it must look on the outside. In a world where words and body language usually flow in sync to see a person who contradicts themselves to such an extent.
The night had been a disaster, but it had been a huge step forward too. It was the night I’d pulled up the anchor that had held me stationary for so long, and I’d started to springboard. In this particular instance I felt like I’d sprung up and banged straight into a painful lesson, but at least it was movement, and that means progress. A step forward from being locked in a secret solitude
That simple comment at the end of my night turned a teary deflated evening into a reflective one. It gave me the slap round the face that I needed to give myself the well-needed break of self-compassion. It reminded me that although I struggled to be the person I so desperately want to be on the outside of these traumas that I was at least moving forward in that direction. It showed me that the tears, the upset and deflation that I was experiencing were necessary to build momentum in my spring. It reminded me that I was doing all I needed in the right way to get there.