Conscious Uncoupling – Jennifer Pettigrew

I do not jump out of bed in the morning. I do not rise gently, welcoming the sun with a wide grin and open heart. I do not quietly sip coffee and plan my day.

My husband gently wakes me by placing his hand on my shoulder. I slowly open my eyes and force myself to analyze the contents of my bedroom. My memory screams at me to find the danger. I fight the urge to run or kick or scream or bite my tongue. I meet his gaze. He smiles and I see in his eyes co-mingled love and sadness. Ever entwined, my trauma touches him too. I see his heart ache for me. I see him wanting to scoop me into his arms and hug away the sadness. I see the restraint. He knows I won’t fight him, but he knows I will shake if he tries to hug me before I allow it.

When I am at my best, I will spend five minutes cupping my palms over my eyes, progressively expanding the gaps in my fingers to allow morning light to filter into my focus. This is the technique I learned in yoga to acclimate myself to the room being lit after resting pose, savasana. While it is a restorative pose that aids in the reintroduction to the world from a vigorous physical practice, it is the first step in calming my nerves.

But, I don’t have strength to fight myself every morning. I still struggle with finding compassion for myself. I hate having to go through this. I hate fighting the urge to scream and cry over everything. So, I ask myself, if I tried to explain my experiences to myself as if I were talking to a friend, what would my reaction be to hearing these moments of terror?

I have no real words. Grief? Sorrow? Unease of the soul? Like ocean waves breaking upon the precipice of emotion, the entire experience overwhelms my body. If I let it, the anxiety of emotion and the physical tenderness where past harms left marks will manifest with such fierce magnitude as to leave me struggling for air.

But, within that conversation I find myself in awe of the survivor underneath. Under the weight of rape, abandonment, medical intervention for diseased organs and broken bones, there is this amazingly strong woman. I see a glimmer of hope.

I focus on grounding. I focus on shifting the breath around my body and giving my body the salve it needs. I rise and calmly repeat my daily intention. My digestive tract calms, my calves lengthen and my jaw loosens.

I fiercely hug my husband. He knows I have broken through the memories long enough to be free of them. I feel the core of his body radiating love. I pull it closer to me. I want to absorb it through my skin. I want to feel alive in the moments when the trauma anvil is not hanging around my heart. I run down the hall and hug my sleepy son.

He groggily smiles up at me says, “Mommy, you’re squeezing. I’m still here. I love you.”

I laugh.

I take a few breaths. I tell myself that this is not a day for fighting. This is not a day to guard against every interaction. This is a day for learning to be in the world. This is a day where I will be with people who will not hurt me.

I shuttle the child to school and negotiate downtown traffic to make it to work on time. As I walk into the building, I shift my gaze upward from the floor to the eyes of the people around me. I tell myself that I am part of this experience. Slowly, over the course of many years, I will become more comfortable. My place in the world is just as deserving of existence as every other person.

I find moments of the same breakthroughs during the day. Three days a week, I go to yoga. I have a teacher who started me on this journey to healing. She saw the survivor before she saw the trauma.  She saw the woman I want to see. She saw the person who forgave the grief and was not defined by it.

When my feet touch the mat, they feel safe. I am supported and I can open a dialogue with my body. It amazes me how much it has to say. From stiff muscles to slow moving organs, I allow all of the messages to wash over me without judgment. I don’t rush to address these messages. I listen with quiet compassion in my safe space. It usually takes the entire practice for my body to stop flooding me with information.  I start to find my own humanity.

By the end of the practice, I am mentally, physically and emotionally spent. It is in this exhaustion that I can lay safely in resting pose with my eyes closed. I have given my body respite for the precious few minutes at the end of class.

I find gratitude for those moments and I am compelled to hug my teacher. She has guided me and supported me through this process. She has allowed me to find myself again. She has allowed me to redefine myself as a survivor. I can see the joy in her eyes that I willingly want to touch her. She graciously accepts it. She knew me in a time where I could not stand within a few feet of someone without becoming agitated.

I have given myself the gift of space: space to breathe, space to step back from the immediacy of the feelings and memories, space to be my own luminous joy. I had forgotten that was an option. Time will tug the grief from the center of my heart. I will become sure of my place in this world. My place is not to be a victim. My place is not to battle constantly.

I will witness my experience. I will breathe through difficult situations. And, if necessary, I will fight back. Because I know I can survive.