Let me first say that I know nothing about physics. Never took a class in it. What I think I understand from Einstein’s theory is that time and space are relative – if you’re driving your car at the same speed as the car next to you, it looks as if neither of you is moving. If you’re going in opposite directions, you’ll think you’re going faster. Something about velocity and space both being important.
There – that’s my limit. My daughter probably understands this much more clearly than I. She has a scientific mind. Always has and I suspect always will. My mind works differently – not scientifically at all. I am a very concrete person. Not theoretical. Give me a problem and let me solve it – as long as it’s of the real world, I can do it.
But I digress. Here’s what I’m thinking about today as I cogitate about my healing. Time is relative. Think about sitting through a really boring meeting, or class, or slogging through an assignment that threatens to put you to sleep. Or maybe a long car ride home, when you’re stuck in rush hour traffic. Doesn’t time seem to go painfully slowly?
Now think about getting together with your best friend, or catching up with your family after not seeing them for a long time (this assumes, of course, that catching up with your family is something you enjoy!). Or watching a great movie, where you’re riveted to the screen. Anything that you love doing. Doesn’t time seem to fly?
Ok – here’s the thing that blew me away when I was in the midst of so much pain in my healing journey. I knew that our understanding of time develops as our brains develop when we are kids. I began to understand it better as I watched my daughter as her brain began synthesizing the complex notion of time. What I didn’t know was that one’s sense of time could get stuck at a particular developmental stage if confronted with trauma.
It took a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of EMDR for me to begin to change this. I began to “get” that I was stuck in a child’s view of time when my trauma kicked in, when my amygdala went haywire on me, when I was fighting and flighting and fleeing from myself and everyone around me. When flashbacks flared on an almost daily basis. I thought my pain would never end. That I was stuck forever in a horrible, terrible, wretched moment. That breathing wouldn’t help. Nothing could help me.
Until EMDR, I felt trapped in time. Claustrophobic in its constraints. Panic would build onto panic, until I felt like fainting. Like I couldn’t survive. I would avoid things that might be even a little challenging. Going to the beach (terror of water), long plane rides, any situation where I wasn’t in control. I embarrassed myself and my family a lot, I think. Once, when my daughter was about eight, we went to a spectacular science museum in San Francisco – the Exploratorium. We were having a great time, until we visited the Tactile Dome. Huge mistake on my part.
The inside of the Tactile Dome is dark. As in no light. None. At all. We took my daughter in, and I was relieved to hear that if I panicked, I could just call out and the staff could come get me out quickly, via hidden doors. I tried. I really, really tried not to panic. But it was dark, I couldn’t see, and the idea of 10 or 15 minutes more before I could see again was forever. Truly. To me, it felt like I would be stuck in there forever. I yelled to the ceiling (well…what I imagined to be the ceiling), “Get me out of here – NOW!” They did. I left. Ignominiously defeated. Feeling like a failure. Knowing I had let my daughter down. As I waited for her and her other mom, I sat and cried. They came out, happy and laughing, and hugged me, telling me it was ok, that I had tried, and I shouldn’t feel bad. My daughter went through three more times, experiencing total joy. I was so proud of her, and so ashamed of myself.
I still haven’t quite mastered the time thing. I can recognize the panic as it’s coming. If I can see it before it hits, even by just a few seconds, I can beat it back. I can remind myself that I’m a grownup, and tell my kid part that we’re OK. That we can get through this. I can stand in relation to the more primitive parts of myself, and remind myself that I’m no longer three years old. If the panic starts, it takes longer to come back. I tap my feet, and go to my safe place. I do my breathing exercises. I think of my grandpa, and wait for time to catch up to me. Relatively.
Tomorrow is all about “Loving the Shades of Grey.” Tune in.