All I have with me are my purse and the clothes I’m wearing. I open the Prazosin and take one, then crawl into bed beneath a tapestry of woodland creatures.
When I wake it is early morning, before my alarm. There is a sense of increased well-being waking up in Margy’s home. I have indeed been relieved of my nightmares and although my first thoughts are about Kevin* I have less anxiety. In its place is a simmering anger. I drag my ass out of bed; I have things to do.
First I get my spare yoga mat from my car, meditate and do a morning practice. My body is agonizingly painful, so tense and panicky that I give up trying to unwind it after a few minutes. I don’t bother with my run. I know I’m too depleted to be worth anything training. I get ready to teach, going off with my laptop and my handouts to talk neuroscience with trauma survivors.
We talk about the brutal paradox of the limbic brain together–how grateful we are that it allowed us to survive our ordeals, but how very frustrating it is to so often be ruled by it. “Why?” asks one of my students. “Why does our executive function go away? Why does our brain do that?” I explain about how it’s the best way our organism knows how to survive. I tear up. I feel the same pain.
In the safe container I am holding for this group, my own pain disintegrates at the edges. I feel the nuance of this abdominal tension and that soleus and pectoralis minor–my physiology unwraps itself for my soothing as I suggest how we might move and what we might attend to. They are relaxed and social at the end of class, and so am I. I am so grateful for my work and for these people.
Later, Margy and I get ready for her party. When we are in costume I’m pleased with my efforts. I’m not happy but I’m hanging in there with my friend. Kevin* calls moments before guests arrive. We argue; the call is brief. I hang up and double over with abdominal pain. I struggle for a few gasping breaths and then release a growling cry of frustration.
There’s a knock at the door, so I steel myself. I’m awkward and wooden at first, my stress response makes it very hard to connect with people–pesky limbic brain again. An early guest has been a student in some of my classes. We talk yoga and PTSD, EMDR and IFS. She knows different work than me. I’m fascinated and passionate. I feel like she’s holding some keys I haven’t tried yet. I tear up several times talking with her. She sees me and stays steady.
Eventually I get drawn into conversation with bearded Darth Vader. We talk about injuries and running, training volume, nutrient timing and recovery. After we’ve compared notes on sleep issues and I’ve admitted I have PTSD, some of our friends begin to play a game across the room. An early volley of activity prompts excited screaming and I startle, contracting and yelping. I shake a little and then exhale forcefully a few times and shyly return his eye contact, my face pinched.
“Is there anything you need to do to care for yourself while that’s happening?” he asks. I look around at the perfectly safe room that suddenly feels intense, and back at the man I’m talking to. He looks concerned, kind, comforting. He’s attuned to me, he feels safe, and I’m sitting about 8 feet away from him.
“I think if I sit closer to you that will help.” I position myself across from him so that his body is between me and the game. I pick up a throw pillow from the couch and hold it against myself. “Thanks.”
He nods and keeps talking to me. At some point it comes up that I’ll be staying here at Margy’s, and I don’t try to obfuscate the situation. “I’m having a conflict with my boyfriend. I’m really upset about it and I’m staying here this weekend because I need help keeping my shit together.”
We get into it and I tell him some of what’s happened, how Kevin* was supposed to be here with me tonight, about the call before the party. I tell him how the relationship felt so safe and how frightened I feel to be pushed away. I tell him about the evening panic, how I just needed to know Kevin* was there for me and don’t understand why he’s seeing this as an unsolvable problem. I tell him how hurt and disappointed I feel.
He looks into my eyes. His forehead creases a little and he tells me “Men really are terrible. I’ll just admit that to you. I’ve hurt women like that.” He’s admitting it, and his face looks open and caring. I search it and cry out passionately, my eyes filling with tears;
“Why? Why would you hurt someone who loved you like that? Why?”
His face contracts. He’s grave and deliberate, telling me, “I didn’t see things clearly. I didn’t feel like looking at my own issues.” He pauses a moment, pensive. “And because I could get away with it.”
I bite my lip and blink. It hurts. Because he could get away with it. I feel, improbably, like every man who’s ever hurt me is sitting behind this person. He returns my gaze. I get angry. He doesn’t turn away.
“Because you could get away with it?” I demand, my voice shrill and agonized.
“I told you, we’re terrible. I’m sorry.”
It is at that moment our friends dance closer, calling out to entice him to play the game. “Thanks,” he replies, “But I’m talking to Laura right now.” Their comic relief takes the edge off my intensity. His eyes come back to me, searching for a reaction. I smile thinly.
After the guests leave, I sit on Margy’s kitchen floor. While we talk I remove my shoes, my wig, my false eyelashes. It was a good party. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but I’m relieved to have made meaningful human connections. I pry off my fake nails one by one. I did it.
*Not his real name