The Space To Settle

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    Leanne Matton

    I was going to send an art prompt today but after a few of you messaged me about last week’s prompt, it got me thinking further.

    Back to the ice rink, I have actually never fallen since I started my lessons last year because I’m so careful and cautious, which makes learning much harder than if I was more confident.

    My husband once asked me why I’m so worried about it. Is it because you’re afraid of hurting yourself? Not really, I don’t go that fast. Feeling embarrassed? Maybe, but I see a lot of people fall over and get up again, no one really notices.

    For a while I suspected it was about feeling it would confirm everything I was told about my ineptitude, evidence that it was all true. But I don’t think it was really that either.

    On my second lesson, my coach offered to teach me how to fall over and get back up again. We sat down on the ice, then got to our knees, put one foot in front and pushed up to our feet.

    Getting up was surprisingly easy. But the sitting down part sure wasn’t.

    While she was demonstrating, I realised I was on the verge of tears. I had to ask her to show me again, buying time to let my nervous system settle.

    Last week I mentioned that I would have been like the young girl who needed to leave the ice and cry for a while to regulate herself after falling. But I later realised that I never was that girl – instead I was the one who pretended she was fine, the one who said she was ok when she wasn’t, who smiled and held the tears in because it was safer.

    I remember once I went to get off the train at my stop and the door wouldn’t open. Finally someone said “oh that door has been sticking, you’ll have to use the next door along”. By this time the train was about to leave the station.

    I thanked the person and calmly walked to the next door as the train moved out of my station. As I stood waiting for the next stop someone said sympathetically “I guess you’ll have to wait for a train back the other way now to get back to your stop”.

    “Oh no it’s fine” I said calmly. “I can get off at either, I live in between”. Which was true, but what I didn’t mention was that my car was in the carpark at the earlier stop. I would have to go back and get it.

    I actually walked all the way back because I didn’t want anyone to know! I know many other people in this situation would be cursing and furious but I needed to appear calm and ok, a habit I developed early to avoid being shamed and mocked.

    If trauma is defined as anything we can’t fully respond to in the moment it’s happening, then this would include a huge chunk of my life experience. Falling (or even pretending to) triggered all the unfinished stress in my nervous system to rise up and say “can I finish this here?”

    It’s useful to be able to complete these responses to earlier experiences but not when it all comes at once! That’s why treatment for trauma is always titrated, delivered in microdoses to avoid overwhelm.

    I wonder how many of you had to pretend you were fine when you really weren’t because those around you couldn’t make space for your real emotions. Not having the opportunity to settle this activation in the moment it happens certainly makes living in the present moment a challenge at times.

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