I gave a keynote address to over 100 people. I’m not bragging. It was an epic failure and an epic triumph.
And I’m still here which is something since I traveled alone, spoke in public, met new people and shared meal times with total strangers!
I tackled social anxiety, figured out flights, luggage and directions. I went in elevators and walked halls alone, without pepper spray. I searched in closets and under beds for monsters and then was able to fall asleep, and stay asleep, without drinking. Twice.
Huge. Enormous. Monumental.
There were years I wasn’t comfortable driving myself around the city at night, like at 6 p.m., or traveling alone or at all or using a map or trusting a cab driver – or myself – not to get lost.
There were times I tried to get out of vacations because that was just too much unstructured time with other people and nothing about that sounded fun -or worth spending money for. Working seemed better. Easier. More pleasant.
Going away was so anxiety provoking I wasn’t sure how it was even possible for others or desirable. My ex husband got a free trip to Hawaii and I tried to figure out ways to get out of it… There was so much fear that rainbows, lei’s and free travel even seemed overwhelming.
The years when I had to hide The Courage to Heal in my car so I could get through a work day. I’d go out to the car at lunch to read or cry or deep breathe and remind myself that healing was a real thing even if it seemed a lot like losing my shit or mind.
So, to GO TO a conference – at all – and to travel alone – and out of state are each amazing but to do them together… and to speak about parenting and trauma.
I feel almost amazing.
I stretched myself so far I had to ask for help. My friends who gave HOURS of time helping me and my ex husband stayed at my house to care for our daughter while my boyfriend helped care for the dog.
I’m so lucky and I needed help.
Speaking and socializing is HEAVY interpersonal lifting and I’m not even sure why I said yes because I was out of my depth.
I blame Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk for me even agreeing to do this thing. She’s big on showing up, that fake it to you make it – kind of stuff. Not, the deceptive bullshitting bravado but the doing stuff before you are totally 100% feeling ready as a way of becoming ready because some of us will never FEEL ready. It’s totally her fault. I thought some magic would happen and make me ready like she implied.
And it wasn’t all great or easy. In the absolute middle of a one-hour keynote about parenting after trauma, I froze.
I know I said it twice. It felt like five hours of silence.
I was alone. No one could help me out, spot me the next line.
150 people watched me go blank.
It was not a graceful moment of silence or maybe she’s being quiet to emphasize a point. Nope. I totally lost my train of thought, nerve and the knowledge that any part of me resides in the moving parts of my body, face or mouth.
I fell of the balance beam in the middle of the routine while it was being judged. And televised. I let the team down. That’s how it felt.
I could feel myself unraveling while unraveling but was not able to catch myself before it went bad.
It was a crash landing.
In the middle.
I couldn’t excuse myself.
I WISH I WAS KIDDING.
I might as well have burped and farted and tripped to make it more awkward.
I tried clicking my heels together and dissociating my way all the back to Massachusetts but that didn’t work either.
I told everyone to take two minutes. It was not a planned break or a natural stopping point.
The conference organizer walked over to me and asked if I was o.k.
I couldn’t pretend no one noticed….
I felt like saying, “Do I seem o.k?” or asking if she was second guessing her decision to have a traumatically stressed speaker who would both show and tell what it’s like to have PTSD in public.
Instead, I asked her for a hug like a child reaching for an “uppie” and reassured her I would be fine in a minute. I so hoped I wasn’t lying and could deliver on that.
I got overwhelmed.
People were looking and listening and making eye contact and nodding.
And I had told secrets and shown pictures and spoke from the heart about abuse and parenting and feelings. In public!
It was as brave as I’ve ever been and mid-stride I thought, “This was a mistake.” Unsay. Undo. Unsend.
I went blank.
It was a hot plate of spaghetti shame piled high for a moment. Strands of social anxiety and stage fright and a disclosure reveal led to panic. There was all the salt, pepper and cheese flavors of trauma served up.
I wince at the memory of that moment two weeks ago today.
But here’s the thing. It was not the only important thing that happened and after a two minute break I found my place, regained my center, returned to my notes and focused.
My body held me up and I stayed pretty close to present.
I admitted I was nervous.
I even said how this talking about trauma, outside of therapy is radical, urgent and important – but also uncomfortable for all. We don’t have a lot of practice doing the talking or the listening.
I used first-person stories and didn’t hide behind stats or data and it was scary to do that.
I get that vulnerability and authenticity make humans human but that doesn’t mean it’s not terrifying sometimes.
Or that in being vulnerable I got freaked out and did so visibly and in front of people.
Look, it’s been three decades since I was a child and I’m still working hard, every day, to stay present in my body and mind and company all at the same time. Because I’m a champ at the opposite which is what got me through the first two decades of life.
- Checking out.
- Tuning out.
- Numbing out.
- Zoning out.
Writing is much easier and feels safer. I do it from home, alone and with my dog Ella at my feet. If people read what I write I usually never know. It’s hard to pretend people you can see aren’t there when they are inches away.
Scary. Scary. Scary.
But I did it. I did it. I mostly did it for 58 minutes which is almost an hour. And I will write more about the brilliant people I met and the conference organizers and the innovative program in North Carolina and the people I met who I’ve stayed in touch with. But I have to process the personal part first.
I finished the talk and did so with more focus and clarity than I would have if I didn’t stop. I got through 75% of what I prepared so I didn’t have to give the speaker fee money back.
And people were so kind, supportive and gracious.
Was it what I hoped, prayed and visualized? Not exactly but it was o.k.
And people were so kind, gracious and supportive that they stood for me because it was clear that it was an accomplishment just to do it. And though it was hard, I’d do it again. Because:
- trauma and traumatic stress steal joy, happiness, health and sometimes the ability to function.
- people are drowning in shame and silence and not knowing that there are even lifeguards or rescue boats.
- people feel desperate and alone and invisible.
- healing can be grueling even when one is trying super hard and not all make it.
- there is room for improvement in prevention methods and recovery options by a-zillion-lot.
- abuse and neglect are not a thing that happened once a long time ago to some adults….they are happening now – to children still in danger – and for the adults still living with symptoms and aftermath.
- some people care and will listen to what trauma survivors want and need
- some people want to know what it feels like to an adult who was a kid living in complex trauma, AND THERE ARE….
I am going to figure out how to get through moments of fear and blanking out and being scared so I suck less hard or can recover more quickly.
Because, what we say, live and know as trauma survivors, matters. It’s important. And needed.
Programs to serve people with traumatic stress won’t help if those with traumatic stress don’t help create them. My motto is it’s not trauma informed if it’s not informed by trauma survivors. Our voices and experiences are required.
Plus, the kind of scared, nervous and stressed I am, as an adult, is nothing like the kind of scared or stressed I was as a kid.
Forgetting my words is not the same as having no voice and being silenced.
Taking a few moments is not the same as having years stolen.
Being heard and invited to speak about experiences at first not believed when spoken about… it’s world changing.
This kid couldn’t edit her feelings or revise her experiences.
This kid didn’t get to choose who was in charge.
She didn’t get to craft the major themes of her story.
I’m an adult.
While I may always prefer to hide behind glasses, bangs and paper and be a socially awkward introvert rather than a dazzling entertainer I can share openly and honestly as writer, mother, advocate and trauma survivor.
I am all those things every damn day.
Most years of my adult life I was fighting and in survival mode. I didn’t believe I’d EVER feel safe in my skin. Others haven’t made it. Some are hanging on by a thread. Our voices are needed.
Almost always I feel safe in myself and the world today. Almost always I am at peace with who I am even if not in a self-love happy pace. It’s astounding and miraculous.
Sometimes I’m even o.k. with being a human around other humans. AND STILL FEELING SAFE.
So, in the big picture:
Even though I didn’t stick the landing.
Because I felt the ground and knew it could be there when I returned. Eventually.
And it was.
Note: I made so many wonderful connections, had so many aha moments about trauma informed care, was inspired by the conference organizers and programs I learned about. I met people I will remain in touch with personally and professionally. And people were SO KIND and understanding about my nerves and pausing and breaking. I learned so much and grew so much. I will write about the professional parts and my own insights and admiration of people I learned from.
But I had to work through the personal stuff first and honor both how monumental this entire trip was for me from a totally personal perspective.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.