Potential trigger warning…

I’m (finally) reading The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. One might wonder why it took me so long.

A dear friend, who is also a Moonie Second Gen, kept talking about the book. And then I mentioned it to my therapist, as in, “I wonder if I should read this,” and she said, “Um, yeah…” So, I picked it up. I’m realizing I should probably underline the parts that don’t resonate with me, because pretty much now I’m noting nearly every sentence (and paragraph).

I started my “parts work” in therapy before reading the book, but van der Kolk writes about it pretty extensively. “The sense of being inhabited by warring impulses or parts is common to all of us but particularly to traumatized people who had to resort to extreme measures in order to survive,” he explains. “Exploring—even befriending—those parts is an important component of healing.”

What I can tell you is this – I’ve identified various “parts” of me that I created, or that emerged, to protect me when I was young, as well as “parts” that are the encapsulation of me and what was happening at various ages. It’s been amazing, and it’s been hard. I’ll try and explain…in the hopes that it helps someone else with their process (and if it doesn’t make sense to you, thank you for your patience, and I’ll write about something less potentially triggering next week…)

I’ve discovered my rage – and named him Tasmanian Devil or TD for short – who storms in with power and fury when “necessary.” I’ve found my protector – who happens to be a Scottish sentry and whom I’ve named Gregor – they are literally there to stand guard to keep me from harm. I’ve called out “my editor” – my internal voice that used to step in to criticize and correct everything I thought, said, and did to keep me in line and from making any mistakes – although I’ve known about my editor for decades, and, thank god, now she intrudes much less often and much less loudly. I’m getting familiar with my hypervigilance and my self-revulsion, on understanding and working with those parts, on naming them and welcoming them as well. And I’ve found a ball of “trauma” and anguish, that I’ve mentally placed outside of my body, on a tether if you will, to separate it from me.

I’ve realized that all these parts (well, except that ball of trauma and anguish) evolved to keep me safe. And when they come storming in now, or overwhelm me with anxiety or shame, they still somehow think they’re protecting me.

I’ve found my infant/toddler, who lived through my parents fighting and splitting up. My 6- or 7-year-old who was most likely molested, who was terrified (and rightly so) of my mom’s boyfriend…and of my mom leaving. The 10/11-year-old who joined the Church (and found a haven of sorts) …oh, and then my mom left (and left me in charge of the house). The 13-year-old who moved in with my dad and was terrified again. The 15/16-year-old who was banished by the Messiah (for something I didn’t do). The 18-year-old, standing on the bridge at Cornell, wanting to jump because jumping and dying would be easier than leaving the Church.

I’m not meaning to highlight my various traumas, and, as always, I know that there are many, many, many people who have experienced way more and way worse trauma. But by recognizing my various parts and my various ages that are “frozen in time” (to quote van der Kolk again), I’m able to acknowledge them, soothe them, and heal.

van der Kolk writes, “Like traumatic memories that keep intruding until they are laid to rest, traumatic adaptations continue until the human organism feels safe and integrates all the parts of itself that are stuck in fighting or warding off the trauma.” By recognizing TD, Gregor, my editor, and the to-be-named hypervigilance and self-revulsion, I am able to thank them for keeping me safe over the years and to let them know that – contrary to their over-sensitized danger alerts – I am not in danger any more. It may feel that way to them, and to me honestly, but I am safe. I am an adult. I can’t be traumatized in the same way as I could when I was a child. By recognizing the various ages that are holding specific terrors and defensive mechanisms that helped me survive, I can comfort myself at that age. I can stand with that child part of me and let myself feel the feelings I guess I couldn’t feel then.

When I feel my heart racing or anxiety overtaking me, I call my parts all together. We stand in a circle, holding hands, breathing and doing our best, jointly, to relax. I remind Gregor to stand down. I hold my terrorized 6- or 13- or 15-year-old. I absorb TD’s power and use it as fuel for love in my heart. I remind myself, as I assure them, that I am safe. I am whole.

I am, as we all are, feckin spectacular.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!

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