(trigger warning: SA, childhood SA, ED, anxiety)
I came up on a capital T-Trauma anniversary that knocked me on my ass and sent me down some very overgrown trails (IF you know what I mean).
I have been fascinated with spirals since last spring. In the literal sense (like the fibonacci spiral, the incredible mathematical formula that permeates nature with its consistent ratios, found in sea shells, in waves, in flower petals) in the psychological sense (the spiral of healing, the concept that throughout life you will come across similar situations and dynamics that shift only in your own growing response) and in the spiritual sense (the spiral of death, the belief that we experience a cycle of death and rebirth throughout this lifetime as versions of ourselves are put to rest to allow for rebirth).
The way that I experience this particular anniversary is as if my body travels back in time, without my mind. It is as if these past 7 years of becoming, of learning, of fighting never happened. Every cell in my body screams to me that we are in that unsafe place with a stranger, that rescue is too slow to arrive, that the ER feels cold and unnatural. The panic attacks and night terrors that accompanied me in those first few months of recovery return to visit like we never parted ways.
It is flippin hell.
This year, I forgot the anniversary was approaching. I was going about my life like a happy little moron when the first debilitating panic attack hit. I was filled with confusion. I checked in on my grounding routines, added some nervous system regulating herbs to my tea and assumed it was a strange fluke. Then the second arrived. My sweet husband held me and when the waves eased he whispered, almost like he was afraid to remind me, that this happens every year.
The realization was jarring. Firstly, that I had forgotten. Secondly, that it arrived with such vengeance.
In the days that followed the attacks arrived more regularly. I added additional movement to my routine. Canceled obligations where I could. Sat with tea in meditation more often.
And still the attacks came, harsher and more frequently.
I shame spiraled (another familiar spiral) into what I’ve done wrong, how I could have let myself down. I sought the answer in my journals, searching my various trackers for a pattern. Reading the prose looking for signs. Visiting last year, and the one before, and the one before.
I began to see this anniversary as a visitor. A painful, annoying, terrifying visitor. I saw the way I prepared, the way I battled, the way I survived and the way it always, eventually, passed.
But as I explored the weeks leading up to this unwelcome visitor I noticed a major shift: this year, I was experiencing a new level of safety.
There were many reasons for this shift, logistical and ethereal. But regardless, I could not deny that I had successfully built a spaciousness in my life that was new. And almost without trying, I became curious.
During an especially challenging panic attack I found myself screaming into a pillow, “I AM ALWAYS ALONE”. In my mind’s eye, I straddled a mountain peak cracking down the center. My arms and legs braced either side, straining to keep the crack from growing. My shoulders ached, my hips shook, each breath agony as I held it all “together”. I peeked between my palms at the oblivion I resisted and for a brief instant, felt the curiosity. A crack in the foundation of myself, felt as a deep ache in the right side of my chest split open. Beneath the scream of today’s me experiencing the panic, and beneath the scream of 7-years-ago-me who woke up alone and afraid, was the higher pitched more willowy voice of a child me, experiencing confusion in abuse beyond what her small body could understand.
Will I ever experience gratitude during a panic attack? Probably not.
Will I ever be grateful to the perpetrator of trauma that gave voice to the echoes that came before? Hell no.
Can I sit in the shallow waves in the aftermath of a panic attack with my hand on my heart in gratitude to the body so resilient she keeps going regardless of how high the waves, how steep the climb? Yes. Absolutely yes.
Did I find enlightenment in the center of the spiral? Nope.
I was quite hopeful that this treacherous journey would offer me new knowledge in how to experience this pain less fully.
In reality, I find myself instead focusing on how I can experience this pain MORE fully.
Because, this Trauma anniversary wasn’t worse, wasn’t harder, wasn’t louder.
It was the most true.
Tracking the spiral backward I see the times I was truly alone, truly unsafe and truly afraid. I feel compassion and profound awe at my past self.
And watching it flow forward I see that I continued to nourish myself (huzzah ED recovery), I had the bravery to seek the truth with curiosity and I reached out for support EARLY.
I was not alone.
If pieces of this story call forth a pang in your chest, I hope you’ll reach out for support.
If you’re wondering what releasing those aching shoulders for that glimpse of oblivion looks like, let’s try releasing a finger or two, together.