Today could have been a relapse day, but it wasn’t.
The day started very much like the last one several years ago that nearly took my life.
I found myself in the midst of a debilitating panic attack, feeling myself disassociate, wanting something to take the edge off enough to look normal.
Instead, I went home. I got to my safe place and let myself feel not okay. I let myself look like I felt—like I was going to implode from the friction of contrasting feelings. Like a hot mess who couldn’t string two sentences together. Like my skin didn’t fit right. Rambling thoughts, extra energy. I was 100% flight/fight today and I let it be. I rode it out. There were safeties and supports in place and I did what I made plans to do. I talked it out with my partner, I called my doctor, and I poured myself a cup of tea. I made notes about how I was feeling—about how it really felt it. All the rage, anxiety, manic energy, fear, and adrenaline—all of it—for hours.
I asked for help, restricted my access to cash and keys to help reduce the risk of impulsivity I have been prone to in the past, and let myself say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.”
I didn’t apologize for being a burden to my partner when what I really meant was “thank you for helping me and showing me love even when I feel like I don’t deserve it.”
I enforced boundaries with people that I didn’t feel my best self with. When I’m like this, I overshare and feel the need to defend and explain every decision I make because I’m swimming in anxiety and insecurity about what to share. (I say things like, “I’ve not used. Look at how ‘clean’ I am! Want me to pee in a cup for you? I was on probation a long time so I’m used to peeing in cups! I’m in a crazy place right now, but I’m not on drugs. Anymore. I mean I used to be. But not now.”) And most of the time, to my horror, I keep talking, thinking I can somehow fix the social shitshow I just made with more words. To someone who isn’t familiar with that, it can be really awkward for both of us. To a trusted loved one, it’s just part of my process.
So when my friend called who I knew I could fully trust, I answered, even though I was afraid. I was afraid of her seeing me when I was “too much.” But I needed support. I needed my friend, so I trusted in that. I told her what was happening and she said, “Yep. Does it feel like your brain is on fire?”
I took a deep breath for the first time all day. It’s the first time all day I’d felt seen and heard.
Not only was I not too much, but she heard and accepted me. She wasn’t just tolerating me like this, she could meet me where I was. Setting that boundary for myself allowed me to give my energy and time to someone who cared deeply for me and didn’t take from me, either through emotional labor or judgment of my feelings, in a time when I had nothing to give. It was absolutely one of the most beautiful gifts anyone has ever given me. The gift of holding space.
I stayed off social media, silenced loud alarms, I dimmed lights when I needed to. I slathered myself in soothing essential oils and changed into comfy cotton clothes. I tried to care for myself in a way a would a friend I loved. I didn’t expect too much and tried to be gentle. I stuck to my routine as much as was possible and did the things I knew to do that were easy and didn’t require thought or decision making because that felt paralyzing.
When one’s body thinks it’s in mortal peril, there is no energy left for deciding if white towels can be washed with tan ones.
Trivial decision-making is out of the question when your senses are on high alert and your body is flooded with adrenaline to protect you from this unknown perceived threat. (It’s why impulsive risk-taking is so common during this time—I’m not going to think about it and it feels good. Check!) So automating and delegating decisions that don’t really matter is a must for me.
And tonight, I’m going to bed still fired up, still stuck in the “on” position. I am safe in my rural ranch house in the country with people I love but my brain is reliving totally different things and my body doesn’t recognize that, so it’s on high alert still. My body doesn’t recognize the years that have transpired between then and now. It’s still trying to protect me.
I’m afraid to cry because I’m afraid I won’t stop; afraid to scream, for fear it will go on forever. But I’m not afraid to feel this.
I’ve not numbed and I’ve not died from feeling. I’m going to bed tonight absolutely sober and fully alive. I hope tonight will bring peaceful sleep and tomorrow will be different. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. I am breathing in and out and I am proud of that.
I am thankful for the way I cared for myself months and years ago by setting up recovery safety plans that helped protect me today. I’m thankful for a partner and friends I could be honest with and ask for help. I’m thankful for the awareness to say “whoa, I’m NOOOOT ok.” And today, I’m proud to sit with that; to be aware that my adrenaline-fueled brain is struggling and tired, but it’s here and aware.