I sat in my car, trembling head to toe. I’d just come from an uncomfortable coffee date. You may have heard of “fight, flight or freeze”? I’m a big-time fan of fleeing and freezing, rather like a small child closes their eyes and thinks we can’t see them if they can’t see us.
In my own small child days I would either duck my head and go to my closet and look at books or play with dolls, or when old enough, flee to the park on our block. When my parents were having one of their nobody-wins, all-out, angry, loud arguments, I would head anywhere to keep from feeling the rumbling emotions that grew from the out-of-control fear those arguments fed into me.
I remember my mother shoving the tall chest of drawers from the upstairs hallway into the opening at the top of the stairs, then returning to the yelling match. When questioned she would say it was to stop our father from coming upstairs where we children were in bed. But how, I wondered, would a chest of drawers that my mother could move keep my fireman father away? And what would happen if he did get upstairs? A constant underlying fear ran through me, a sense that I had no control permeated my being, following me through most of my adult years.
That day in the car I called two friends who are faithful to remind me of the Truth–the kind of friends one needs when recovering from a lifetime of freezing in fear. Suddenly I could see that small child part of me cowering in the corner, feeling raw and powerless. My heart softened toward her. It’s okay, I’m here for you now. I’m going to do my best to stop leaving you in front of oncoming trains. That’s my job, I told her. I’ll keep you safe.
Slowly I felt the pounding of my heart and the dizziness in my head abate. I’M in charge of my own safety. I turned the idea over in my head. I don’t have to be at the mercy of others any more.
When we come from early trauma–and even sometimes when we don’t–it’s easy to hand over the control to others. When we were children we may have felt at the mercy of the grown-ups in our lives. Maybe they didn’t protect us as they should have. It’s easy to carry this lie in our bones into adulthood. But now we have a choice. We can choose to stand passively on the tracks watching the oncoming train, or we can decide to choose actively for our own mental and physical health.
I will do this for myself today: keep a sharp lookout for oncoming large vehicles of all kinds. Sometimes these are people I know, and sometimes these are situations I know are unhealthy.
The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What places in your own life do you know you’re leaving yourself in the path of a train with unhealthy people or situations? How can you protect yourself?