Often, I find the themes I set for my workshops or circles bring in the exact right experiences for me the week before, to be able to offer an even deeper richness to the work.
Over my time of doing this work I’d had a lot of women both clients and friends reach put and speak to me about their numbness. Either in their genitals, another part of their body, or just not feeling anything from others touch and shutting down.
I had definitely experienced this in my younger years but not since I’d been through my own healing journey and offering this work with all the tools its given me.
I found I was watching a film and part of it was shocking and pretty traumatic. An attempted rape on a woman. It was a short part of a scene, and ended badly for the abuser, but I had a very physical reaction to watching it. I started by wriggling, my body responding by trying to get away. But then just stopped and gripped my partners hand. It was just a film; I felt a little foolish for being so affected.
Then a few moments later after turning the film off I realised I was frozen stuck, flat in bed where I’d been watching, now unable to move. Now physically I could have ignored the sensation and forced myself up and out, but emotionally inside there was some fear and terror which gripped me to the spot.
I was suddenly scared. I had no reason to be, nothing had changed environmentally. My door was locked, I was with my loving partner so my mind could rationalise myself out of this. But something in my nervous system had been sparked and I was in freeze mode. If I stay still and play dead, it’ll be safer. Don’t see me. Leave me alone.
I was able to reassure myself, observe the experience and feel my breath going into my body, but at no point did I try to get myself out of freeze mode. I just lay with it, witnessing. I told my partner I’d frozen when he tried to pull me up to brush my teeth, but I couldn’t give him more details. My voice had frozen too. After a while he noticed what I meant and just held me, asking me what I needed.
As trauma awareness is part of my work, I know how to be with clients through this, so was able to bring myself slowly out of it. But the slowness was the key. My body wasn’t going to budge, even if my mind was ready.
Slowly I started to come out of my internal process of reassuring myself I was safe, and started to explain to him the feeling of unsafety I felt as I looked around the room describing everything that was in place to keep me safe in my environment.
After some time of reassurance from my mind and from my partner I still wasn’t ready to move. If I moved I might be caught, seen, killed by this imaginary threat my nervous system had perceived. When we get triggered, we’re sent right back to traumatising memories and experiences without the logic that their not happening right now, I body responds as If the threat is current and real and live.
I started to thaw out by changing the subject and talking more, making eye contact with my partner, receiving holding from him, laughing – these are all part of our social engagement system which settles the nervous system into safety.
The mind had moved on, but the body was only just starting to come out of the freeze. So I stayed still and gave myself and my body that time to thaw a little more. I let my toes and ankles move a little whilst I spoke, just testing the ground. Letting me know I was safe to move.
When I was ready to move…. after about 15 minutes, but felt a lot longer….I started with some small wriggles and rolled onto my side, staying there for a length of time. Then I felt my way into some stretching and slowly rolled to sitting. I stayed with myself reassessing every time I moved a little bit, was I still safe? What did I need to make me feel safe? I identified that I needed a big cosy onesie to make me feel safe, even thought the room was very warm. So, I was able to identify my needs and being very practical with giving myself the safety I was seeking.
I was very careful with myself. Something inside had been opened up and pulled out to my consciousness. Some small scared part of me had come to the forefront to be seen. The part of me that knew as a woman I wasn’t always safe. So, I let myself be slow. I let my tears fall. I let myself behave a little abnormally. But ultimately, I knew what I needed to do in that moment to look after myself.
I didn’t judge myself in that moment for being triggered. I didn’t try to pull my socks up. I didn’t try to hide it from my partner. I didn’t ‘keep calm and carry on’. I kept calm through breath and stayed exactly where I was. I self-regulated. I practiced self-compassion. I didn’t run or shut down from the experience, I knew I was physically safe enough to feel my way slowly through it. I kept asking myself ‘what do I need to feel safe right now?’ I got curious about my individual needs in that moment.
I came out of it proud that I had been able to hold space for myself in amongst the uncomfortable feelings. I wasn’t trying to fix myself. I was just there with myself.
When clients talk to me about times they’ve frozen, numbed or been triggered into trauma mode, I work with them to figure out what it is they need to make them feel safe, how to reassure themselves, how to witness the experience, how they can ask for what they need and use self-regulation techniques. It’s never an intention of mine that we go into anything which triggers a para-sympathetic fight/flight/freeze response, but we are such delicate humans, who knows where or how we’ll react. I wasn’t expecting to be scared when I lay down to watch the mostly funny light-hearted film. That’s possibly why it was so shocking to me. It came out of nowhere. I was in a great place. I was happy. I’d had a great week. All was well. But the body keeps the score of experiences, no matter how subtle, and will let us know when we feel unsafe.