Survival mode…

A thousand years ago, or maybe only a few months ago, I wrote about how difficult it is to suddenly be out of survival mode. Suddenly, I was no longer living with that constant sense of threat, or churning volatility. I spent ten years knowing that the next innocent thing I said or did – the clearing of my throat, a mis-speak, the dropping of a DVD – could be the thing that sparked off the tirade of abusive vitriol, the slap, the beating. And that the next beating could be the one which went wrong: the human body is frighteningly fragile, and there’s only so much it can take. I lived in that constant vulnerability, and it was my day-to-day reality, and I coped with it because that was all I could do.

It changed once I left. Suddenly, no longer under threat, my body reacted with fear at every non-threat I came across: a hand flung out in the animation of conversation; raised voices; unexpected touch. Even today, two years after seizing my freedom, two years and more after the last beating I took, the sight of a clenched fist still makes me feel sick. In the immediate time after leaving, life became a struggle: the struggle to re-build, to keep myself well and safe, in the storms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even in freedom and safety, my emotional energy went into survival: not physical survival this time, but surviving panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, that constant crawling anxiety which made so many moments difficult. My new life became about getting through the next day, and the next, and in hindsight it was exhausting.

My last panic attack was only yesterday, and I’m still jumpy sometimes, and there are still some things – pieces of music, phrases, sights – towards which I cannot hold any sense of equanimity. Sometimes I still have nightmares, and I’m told I might experience flashbacks occasionally for the rest of my life. But that’s ok, because it’s better, and it’s all managable, mostly, and even when it’s not – like yesterday – I know what to expect and how to take care of myself and keep myself safe. Life is richer now, and it’s no longer about symptom-management.

Which is wonderful, and I’m grateful, but it presents another problem: now that, for a second time, I’m no longer in survival mode, there’s now space in my head to start to make room for what happened to me.

More about that tomorrow. For now though, I’m grateful, because nothing can bloom in survival mode.

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