Do you ever have days when things just won't go right? How often do we immediately assume it's because of something we did wrong, or something about us we need to fix? We can all struggle with this but if we've experienced complex trauma these challenges can swallow us whole. We can view our problems as something that's inherently wrong with us and wrong with who we are.
The other morning, I was swimming laps at our neighborhood pool. I LOVE water. I LOVE the rhythm of a consistent stroke. I feel calm and safe, and the world just seems to go away for a while. It’s also one of the only places I feel like my middle-aged body isn’t working against me :-)
As I swam, I struggled to stay in a straight line. I adjusted the effort I was exerting on one side of my body to correct the imbalance. The thing was, I would do fine and find a comfortable stride just to realize I had ended up in the middle of the pool. I couldn’t figure out why.
I began being very intentional about my form. Was my kick in rhythm? Was I extending and pulling through evenly with both arms? Was my head coming out of the water too far?
In working on improving my stroke I began to realize I wasn’t enjoying my swim anymore. I was frustrated. My thoughts were screaming at me! I started to think about what other people must be thinking (even though I was literally the only person at the pool.) I couldn't find the soothing rhythm I so enjoyed before. These thoughts defeated the very reason I swim. So, I stopped!
I stopped trying to correct all the things I thought I was doing wrong. I stopped trying to figure it all out. I started searching for the calm and quiet I experienced earlier. It helped, but I felt like I had “wasted” my swim.
I moved on to aqua jogging between the narrow sides of the pool. As I went back and forth the pool jet pressure was surprisingly strong. On one side of the pool, I could jog and stay in one place without moving forward due to the pressure of the water against me.
EUREKA! That’s it!! The jets throughout the pool were noticeably stronger than usual. THAT’S what was pushing me off course during my lap swim. It wasn’t anything I was doing wrong. It was something outside of me that required that I adjust to the current instead of needing to change my foundational swimming technique. I grinned and may have even laughed out loud. I felt relief and humor in yet another situation I’d chalked up to be all about something wrong with me.
Most of us can be self-focused to some degree, but it’s especially prevalent in trauma survivors. Feeling like things are “all about me” doesn’t come from a place of selfishness or arrogance. It comes from a lack of confidence in oneself. It comes from being criticized more than praised as a child. It comes from the need to constantly change oneself to stay safe in unpredictable, volatile environments. It comes from a child turning hurt and pain inward to both protect themselves from the abusive caregiver and at the same time appease the caregiver because the child is truly dependent on them for their very survival.
As I reflected, I recalled a variety of different ways I’d experienced water in pools, lakes, and the ocean. Sometimes the waves furiously crash down on the beach making swimming risky and dangerous. Sometimes the waves come in with a joy and childlike play that makes swimming fun and adventurous. And sometimes the water sleeps with small gentle waves rocking us with its breath.
This is what trauma can feel like. Day to day. Moment to moment. We have seasons of pure upheaval bravely fighting just to survive the crash of wave after wave. We have seasons that are calmer, but not without risk. So we stay on alert and exude hypervigilance, missing the opportunity to play. We have seasons that are like my experience of calm and quiet at the pool but often find discomfort and unfamiliarity in the silence as we wait for the next shoe to drop (or in this case, wave to come crashing in.) We assume the waves are a result of something that's wrong or bad about us. We believe we cause the waves.
As we build The Ranch of Wild Hope, we welcome you as you are no matter what season you are in. Our healing journeys are like the waves. We have fierce, tumultuous seasons we aren’t sure we’ll survive. And we have calm, softer seasons that feel good, but maybe just too good to be true.
Our hope is that we can help you build your own sturdy boat to feel safe and protected amid turbulent waters. That we can help you connect with play and adventure while also having the awareness of those annoying rogue waves that just happen sometimes. That we can help you see you are worthy of the calm, gentle feelings you experience and can support you in accepting and holding them close. That we have the honor of walking alongside you and bearing witness as you captain your own ship and crew out into the open waters of possibilities. And that you know you can come back to shore anytime you need rest or your ship needs repair.
This is our vision and hope for you and for The Ranch of Wild Hope!
Don't forget to RSVP for the Celebration at the Barn on November 4th!
We can't wait to meet you!