For a long time, there has been this small, tight, red hot ball of rage living inside me, that mostly I don’t go anywhere near. But, every so often, a person who knows exactly how to stoke it will come along with their stick and reduce me to an impotent, sweaty, seething puddle, helplessly burning for a reason I can’t quite pull free.
It’s primal. It’s about survival. It’s incredibly discriminating in its reactivity. It rears up only when, if I don’t rage, I fear I may die from the pain. Because, I’m fairly sure, that pain has nearly killed me before.
The other day, they came along with their stick, although this time they weren’t actually trying to prod me; it was accidental. And my son happened to be standing in front of me waving his hands, saying silly stuff, trying to get my attention, while my brain was frantically trying to process this accidental activation.
The moment my son broke through my stupor, I jumped up, shook my head and said “I’m sorry, I can’t…I can’t…I need a few minutes,” holding my hands up in despairing puzzlement and giving him a useless, apologetic look before walking away.
And as I walked away, gaining a safe distance, the rage ignited, and I stomped my feet as I raced to the bathroom, as far as I could get away from my son. And I closed the door and I banged my palms on the toilet seat a few times, and I collapsed into child’s pose on the cold tile floor.
My son followed not long after, and flung the door open laughing at me, and I said “stop!”, raising my hand as a pitiful stop sign and making firm yet pleading eye contact. And he stopped, mildly bemused.
After maybe ten seconds of my heavy breathing, in child’s pose, on the floor, he sensed the shift as much as I did, and deemed it time to enter. I apologised for my strange, abrupt behaviour, explaining I’d gotten a difficult message that I was struggling to figure out, and my brain had gotten overloaded by all the noise and waving. I was okay now though.
And then we got on with our day. And I can’t say I was at my best, but I’m pretty sure I was good enough.
In these moments, I’m inclined to feel like a failure, because surely I should be able to smile at that silly stick and wave it off. But maybe some barefoot stomping and accidental yoga in front of your 4 year old is what success looks like when you’re living with trauma.