One of the most challenging things I’ve had to deal with on my journey towards recovery, is the pain and physiological effects of the feeling of trapped emotions. I have tried to keep the lid on my box for so many years. I lived with my grandparents from the age of fifteen, which largely saw my emotional maturity and development halted. The self harming behaviours I displayed were a result of not being ready to face and unpick my story head on, which only led to more emotionally numbing behaviour. One of the reasons I sought professional help recently, was to deal with this feeling of trapped emotion. I can now talk about the facts and events of my life, but it has still been like telling someone else’s story; like I’m not emotionally connected to my own story. The appearance and prevalence of my inner child has seen a more connected me. I strongly believe that if I feel all of the emotions attached to all of my memories, now as an adult, then I can set that inner child free. But in-spite of my best efforts, the emotion remains trapped. I wrote about the feeling so I was forced to sit with it and describing it, has helped me to identify what is actually going on……………………
The trapped emotion I’ve experienced is very powerful. It is all consuming and toxic and it hurts like hell. I get a pain in my chest that is constricting (a real ache where my heart is), which travels up to my throat and just sits there. It has at times affected my voice; the sound and quality of it; and it feels much harder pushing air threw my voice-box to make sound. The feeling is heavy and choking and debilitating and distracting and even after twenty years, it is just as painful as the day the abuse began. I can feel that my heart races and I am very aware of it. My head spins and I can sometimes get dizzy. This feeling can be triggered by seemingly, stupid little, insignificant things but the impact is always the same and often it can take me hours or even days to return to a normal equilibrium. I feel like I really need to cry when the physiological effects take over; a proper, deep, soulful cry, but as much as I want the tears to fall, and as much as I perceive the feeling will be released or lessened by them, they never come. I’ve never been able to cope with this feeling and it is this that has triggered all of the risky behaviours I used to indulge in, that I simply can’t do now I am a mother. But what is it? What is it that I am truly feeling?
I think the strongest of these trapped emotions if fear. It is scary facing the impact of abuse and unpicking the memories, while watching flashbacks play out. I have a fear of the pain I feel and a fear of releasing it also. I feel like if I let the emotion out, the pain won’t stop and it will then be uncontrollable. At the back of my mind I have a niggling critical voice that tells me, that I’m never going to be free from the pain, or the events in my life, so what is the point of feeling the pain and letting it out? Of course I know that I have to process all of the feelings I was not old enough to deal with at the time: the time that part of me became stuck as an eight year old child. I fear I will not be able to live a normal life and function properly if these emotions escape and I will not be able to be strong enough, for my children or be able to protect them from the affect these emotions will have on their mummy.
I fear completely breaking and falling apart and returning to the depths of depression I once visited. I feel that at least while the emotions are contained, they can only hurt me. Deep down in my rational brain I know that that is not accurate and that the people who support me and care about me the most, are of course affected, because they can see that I am hurting. I then have a fear of affecting those I care about the most, which is one of the reasons I started the process of moving towards recovery in the first place. I have a fear of being judged for not coping too.
I am angry. I’m angry that I continue to feel this feeling and nothing seems to make it go away or become more bearable. I’m angry that I was subjected to the abuse in the first place and I’m angry that nobody noticed what was going on, saved me or protected me. I’m angry because I didn’t do enough to stop it and I’m angry, that even as a child, I felt helpless to help myself. I’m angry at myself that despite my best efforts, trying various things to try and help myself now and in recent years, talking about and recalling all of the painful memories and asking for professional help, I feel no further forward. Of course I am much further forward than the position I started at, but I’m angry at myself because I’m still allowing what ‘he’ did to me, to continue hurting me. I’m angry because I cant move on. I wish I was one of those people who could just allow myself to be happy.
I feel desperately sad. Sad for the life I could have had and sad for how things did not have to be this way. I feel sad for the lost little kid that is inside me and the life and struggles she has had, as a result of the abuse. I feel sad for the loss of relationships with my mum and my siblings and all the times that I have needed them. I feel sad for the loneliness I’ve felt and all the times I’ve needed someone and there was nobody.
I feel dirty and worthless and broken with the shame of what has happened and what has been done to me. I have shame for my inability to just ‘let it go’ and the fact that I am still so affected by my past and my inability to block the power of the triggers, which transport me right back there. I am ashamed of not getting professional help sooner and wasting so much time hitting the self destruct button, which I know is programmed in to me. I can feel the pain of others, their stories and experiences, but I’m scared of my own pain and it causes me frustration. I am empathetic and sympathetic to others but I can’t tolerate others feeling these things for me, as it causes me to feel more shame and so I often do not divulge my own history.
I have never seen myself as a victim or as a survivor: I much prefer the term endurer. I have no regret with any of the events, memories or experiences I have endured and can now recall, because they have made me the person I am today. I have pride and belief in the fact that I am actually alright. I have compassion and can sustain real connections with people and the world desperately needs more people like this. I am caring and considerate and thoughtful because and in-spite of my history. I often misinterpret the looks of concerns, for pity, when I have started to disclose the abuse, which leads to a paranoia. A paranoia that tells me that this person’s view of me has now changed, or that they will start to somehow excuse my behaviour, or treat me differently as a result. I don’t need or want people to feel sorry for me. I have shame for the fact that I hid the real me behind the barriers, I put up, which has led to many misunderstandings about the person I am.
I felt brave at the start of the journey. Now I panic when it hurts this much and I panic there is a pressure to be OK. I no longer feel brave and I feel like I’m not strong enough to get through the recovery process and finally face these demons. I panic because there is no plan and because there is no right or wrong way to deal with the abuse and I feel like I am free-falling and that is, again, scary. I could not control what happened to me at the time and I can not control the process or how I feel now.
I am incredibly grateful to have met the people who have taken the time to get to know the real me and who have been so supportive. I’m grateful for them holding my hand and keeping me going, when it all seems too much to bear. I am grateful for being able to share the things that were so secret and personal to me even though it has taken a long time to get here. I’m grateful to myself for the trust I now have and the fact I can let my guard down and people in, but I do not trust in my own strength or my own ability to cope. But I am still here and I have somehow coped and it’s frustrating that this is not my first thought, when this feeling encompasses me. I don’t trust my own judgement and I often worry whether I am too damaged to see things clearly and accurately. I will ask close friends (often many) what they think about a situation, before I trust what I probably felt about it, originally. I feel like I need verification and reassurance from others all the time and this makes me feel needy.
I feel very uncomfortable allowing others to see, the vulnerability I feel. I put so my energy in to making sure everybody sees me as being OK that I hide the real feelings from myself and from others. I stick to a tight routine and maintain some element of control, over most aspects of my life. I make sure my children get to where they need to be and on time. Even if I am really tired or in the midst of a fibromyalgia flare, I never miss a gym class: I keep up the appearance. I don’t want anybody to view me as weak and I give off an attitude that there is no way anybody is going to hurt me now. I have created such a façade that the fear of being judged when the masks slips, keeps me fighting and motivates me to get up and carry on everyday. However, it is not very convincing and I am told that I wear my heart on my sleeve and my mood (or my busy head) is very easy to read in my facial expressions, by the people closest to me. It is tiring and I am a mess underneath, but what is the point anyway if I am not fooling anyone?
The feelings swim around and around and it is the intensity that is debilitating. I try so hard to sit with the feelings and to feel them because I know I have to, but the physical pain of them becomes too much and I have a fight or flight response. I get angry to the point I feel compelled to fight for justice, or I get so consumed by the fear that I try and shut it all away again. The anxiety levels increase and hopelessness takes over and so the circle goes on.
I’m not at the end of my journey yet, but I have hope that I will be able to release this feeling as I continue to move forward.