but we have been shaped by it. Case in point: Dead Girl.
That’s what I call this photo, my high school graduation picture. To my mind, there is no joy or aliveness in my face. There is image–who I was supposed to be. A mask. Was I happy to graduate? Sad? Full of pride? Fear? Truth is, I didn’t know how I felt, and no one else did either. Locked up, shut up, frightened, and in retreat, I’m holding my breath. If I move too quickly or spontaneously, I’ll break. There are many reasons for this, including what our society told girls about who they could be. But largely, I’m frozen due to unacknowledged PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, from infant surgery.
Next is my college graduation photo about twenty years later after a breakdown; a year living in a rehabilitation community; two years of a botched therapy relationship; four years working in therapy with a psychologist I loved; two years in couples’ counseling; a decade of living with my beloved partner Griffin; and twenty years of writing, drawing, and painting.
Ten years after my college graduation, I learned the words for what I had: PTSD. Because I can now identify my symptoms, I know that the fear, nightmares, startle responses, excessive cautiousness, frozen breath, rigid body, and panic attacks that I still cope with are not me; they are a result of PTSD. And I can transform them.
In fact, somatic and neural repatterning is happening as I write. I am literally making new connections all the time so that each day, my experience of life gets better and better. Yesterday, I floated anxiety-free on a lake under the blue bowl of sky. It was as if the sky were water and the white wisps of clouds waves radiating out from a center. When I found myself worrying about my wallet left behind in the canoe, I reassured myself, All is well. When I became concerned about my safety, constantly checking my surroundings, I told myself, You are safe. I was floating in harmony and trust with the world and the universe. I am not my PTSD. I am Alive Girl.