The alarm hissed through my whole bedroom. Still and lethargic on the bed, I hulled one heavy arm over to silence it. Face rotating from pink covers to lavender pillowcase, I noticed the clock read, “8:48 am”. Forty-eight minutes after I typically arrive in the office. I want to feel bad, but I don’t. I want to feel bad, but such a deep sleep is how my body exhales. It no longer rests beneath the albatross of stress. Relief washed me clean, and for the first time in almost a year, I slept. I deeply slept.
In my short and privileged life, there have been multiple sagas where I saw no way out. Through endless months, I crawled and winced and howled. I hoped. I prayed. I cried. I swore to the distant God I defied. Bodies aren’t our bodies in stress. They harden into fortresses. Adrenaline, cortisol, and our central nervous system lock into a biological security system. Comfort isn’t the point. Comfort is a fleeting luxury we cannot afford in this moment.
There’s something especially insidious about long-term sustained trauma. There’s something sickening about oppression that has viewership, where people know it’s happening and nothing is done. It never goes away. It never turns off. There’s no reprieve for scar tissue to develop. It’s disorienting when that trauma doesn’t look like trauma with a capital T. I doubt myself and my traumas that don’t look like my assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment– where the world prepared me to identify what it was. There are traumas and abuses we’re afraid to call that because it “isn’t that bad”. It feels dramatic and whiny, but I have to tell you that my brain feels broken right now.
It wasn’t that bad when I couldn’t sleep for months on end, when my face became braille from stress break outs. My shoulders petrify into granite shoulder pads, and my spine is more iron than bone. It wasn’t bad although my emotions ran wild. My weight ballooned and fell. Regulation is possible when our bodies feel safe. I haven’t felt safe in a while.
I don’t know that everything ends. I’m not confident enough to say that. What I do know is that my life isn’t written by other people’s damage. I refuse to allow it to be authored by the bs, the weakness, the issues of other people. For as long as I am breathing, I am the only person who determines the why of my existence. I will be damned if I sink without trying to swim. I don’t feel this way all the time. Empowerment is rooted in self-care. I learned to swim through nights alone and long cries and eating too much, working out too much, being an open wound of a woman.
The shore isn’t always in sight. Survival is an endurance challenge, and the only goal is to make it out in one piece. To hell with my ego. To hell with how people feel I should react. I just need to make it through. Making it demands self-care: brush my teeth, listen to good music, read deep books, only hang out with people who feel as amazing as that deep sleep, moving my body when I want to, eating nourishing foods. Because I don’t know that things will end, but I know it can’t end me.
Trauma turns into an avalanche when I try to overcompensate “SEE! LOOK! I’M GREAT! I AM SO GREAT AND THRIVING AND LIVING MY BEST LIFE”. I rip myself in two for not living my best life. I crucify myself for my imperfections and mistakes. I remind myself that under great stress, our brains don’t function like they normally do. This is how the human brain reminds our bodies that this isn’t normal.
It isn’t when I accomplish the big and glittering things that I know I’ve triumphed. It’s when I sleep longer than I should and awake feeling well-rested. I know I’ve made it through a saga when my body unravels, when it rejects the burdens it was never intended to carry, when it softens from iron to flesh once more. I know I’ve made it when I come home to myself, and like magic, I’ve been there all along. Because I’m not what I’ve been through. Those aren’t the most interesting parts of me. They inform parts of me. But I am the best me at 8:48 am, after a night of deep sleep when even a shrill alarm cannot quell my job.