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Holding back and pushing out - Sara

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June 1st, 2014


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11:24 pm - Holding back and pushing out
I've been seeing a counselor since last September. Almost every time I see her, the same theme comes up.

I feel powerless. Then she tells me to tighten my muscles and push down, or push against something, and to remind myself that I am strong.

I've had a hard time internalizing this advice, often not really going with the action fully, or not thinking about my own strength. Maybe because deep down I have felt helpless.

But now it's starting to make some sense. I shut down because so much happened that I couldn't fight against (vicious bullying as a kid, then, later, hospital trips). Then that energy got "frozen" in me.

People sometimes confuse being shut down ("freeze" in fight/flight/freeze) with being relaxed. Trauma shuts you down, while relaxing/recovery is opening up. The world becomes less narrow, and sensations and impressions can actually sink in. You feel more alive. On the other hand, perpetual trauma is like being in the worst deep freeze possible. I don't feel anything in that state - myself and the world are distant and have no impact emotionally. Some call that "state" depression, while some recognize it as a trauma reaction.

I've noticed I put a ceiling on my effort. It's a habit I started a long time ago. I'll convince myself that I can only do so much, and that much is a tiny amount. It's like I imagine I have the muscular power of a 2-year old, when I actually have an adult body in my mid-30s that is capable of quite a bit. When I exert myself, though, I tend to "shut down" emotionally at a certain point because I have uncomfortable feelings. I get overwhelmed with the sense of "I can't", or I don't like how intense I feel. I tend to avoid intensity in my emotional reactions. Another long-term habit.

Lately I've been "gritting" against those uncomfortable feelings, pushing myself to move, to put everything into what I'm doing.

I don't believe that forceful, robotic effort is the answer, though. The acting has to be wholehearted - I have to allow myself to engage in something fully, to push out, to counteract the tendency to pull in and stay protected. (Ironically, my "mental health"-themed screenplay is called Turtles.) It's that whole-hearted, energetic push into life that will propel me out and forward, thawing my emotional core.

I have memories of all those years as a kid when I would go to a party or hang out with people, and I would just hang back. I would not participate, not dance, not get excited. Like some part of me thought everything was dumb and refused. Well, fast-forward to life as an adult, and that kind of habit can morph into a serious reservedness that is no longer enjoyable. In the old days, being alone meant connecting with books. Nowadays, I need something different.

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