I dreamed about my mom again last night. She was chasing me. I screamed at her in the lobby of a theatre and pulled her hair. She screamed. Then I screamed. Then I ran away. Terrified.
I woke up feeling scared and unsettled. This was the second night in a row. Like I’m being haunted by the ghost of my mother. (except she’s alive).
I’m scared to go to sleep tonight. I feel like she’s there, in my dreams, waiting for me to drop my guard and fall asleep. Then she’ll pounce. She’s angry that I’m writing about her. Her anger still makes me very scared.
I don’t feel safe.
Safety is the first non-tangible thing a baby needs to feel in order to relax her survival instincts and allow her brain to give attention to developing into a complete person. Without safety, the baby is consumed by fear. We are wired that way. When fear leads the way, all thoughts are obviously focused on creating safety. When the fear gets out of the way, her brain is able to focus on thoughts, words, people, feelings. Life.
Fear has been leading the way in my brain for as long as I can remember. Anxiety is just another word for FEAR. I feel anxious = I am afraid. When the fear gets out of the way I can think. I can breath. I can be creative. I can be alive.
Long ago I learned that people are unpredictable, dangerous and will emotionally hurt you if you let them. At a young age, I developed two key coping mechanisms to assuage the fear. I either dissociated around others or found reasons to be alone. But the pain of being alone for too long also made me dissociate. I dissociated into depression and also into hypomania. In other words, I could only really feel safe when I hid my mind from my brain.
“There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.” ― Patrick Rothfuss
This strategy seemed to sort of work for me. It allowed me periods of time where I could be creative, intellectual and engage with others in what felt like an authentic way.
But… becoming a parent changes everything. When I became a mother, my fear for my baby’s safety was more powerful than my fear for my own. It led the way. I just couldn’t let myself fall into insanity and dissociate. I had to build for her a feeling of safety and predictability to ease her fears.
I assumed her fears were enormous like mine. I thought that safety was a very perilous thing that could be broken with ease. I had to focus all my energy on preventing my daughter from feeling always afraid like I was.
To create this safety for my daughter, I never put her down. I never let anyone hold her. I didn’t want her to think that she wasn’t seen. I wanted her to know that I would be there. That she didn’t owe me anything. She didn’t have to laugh and perform for me to keep me interested and engaged.
Like any new mother, I put my own fears onto my daughter. The problem was… I just have so so many fears.
When she was a newborn, I developed a new coping mechanism. I contained my fear by creating and following highly rigid routines. I found safety within my routines. I thought my daughter needed them to feel safe too.
I didn’t address the fear- I just replaced my frequent dissociation with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). (I’m brilliant.)
It’s time to address the fear.
These routines aren’t working anymore. They don’t make me feel good. They make me feel trapped. They have been suffocating me. So, I started dissociating a lot. This doesn’t feel good either. It’s not helping build relationships with those I love.
I need to figure out how to empower myself to conquer the fear – to find safety within myself. I need to trust that I can keep my mind inside my body.
My new therapist said that she will help me find that safety within myself. She will help me strengthen the other parts of my brain that have been pushed aside while fear led the charge. It’s called ‘integration therapy’.
There’s a very scared little girl inside of me and it’s time for her to stop running the show.