TRAUMA RESPONSES: ON F.L.I.G.H.T. Day 7. Pt. 2 (8/16).
I'm usually between fawning and freezing. When I started this blog, part of me wanted to use writing to remember what happened to me as a child. You see, I barely remember my childhood and often it feels like my life has been one big dream. I've spent so much time being out of touch with myself and the world hence, the deliberate effort to heal. As a result, the flight response wasn't something I paid so much attention to until my brother passed on. The grief forced me to recognize a pattern of a flight response from my childhood and in my relationship.
If you've been following me for a while, I mentioned in one introductory post that I lost my older brother. I don't talk much about it here because I have a separate blog that addresses my journey with grief. I lost him unexpectedly to a brief illness. He died before the results of his tests could come back to us and before the commencement of proper treatment. The night he died, I prayed as I'd never done before. We were all expectant trusting Jesus to raise him but he wasn't raised in the physical. When there was nothing left to do, we started making burial arrangements. There was a reset and I saw an inflow of people who were all dependant on my strength. They'd show up crying and it'd be my responsibility to comfort them. To help them process their emotions and meet their needs at the expense of mine. The more I did this, the more I became distant from my feelings and pain. I buried myself in daily activities and took care of my parents especially my mum. I started reading for my final bar examinations and I was "strong". One of those nights while I lay down to sleep after praying, God told me I had so much to unpack. I was in pain. I was disappointed in Jesus. I was angry at myself for not spending enough time with my brother which I now realized would never have been enough. I carried the burden of guilt that I could have done something to save him. Everything I was feeling was valid but I distant myself from it. I filled every waking moment with an activity to distract me instead of processing my grief. I can still hear that still voice saying "I already know what's in your heart, you can say it out loud so we can talk about it. I wouldn't mind". So, I started to talk to God directly in an imperfect manner rather than aiming for well-mannered and structured prayers. Some days, the only prayer on my lips will be " Jesus, help me. I'm in so much pain". On some days, I'd have so many questions for Him and trust Him to give me answers. Some of these prayers involved me challenging God if that makes any sense. And I'm so glad Jesus isn't a Saviour who's distant from my struggles. He comes down to my level so I can be lifted to His.
Like my spiritual relationship, a flight response can look like self-sabotaging by running away from conflict with a partner. I had a conflict with God and instead of drawing close to figure it out, I wanted to avoid it. I didn't stop praying or studying God's word but I didn't address the issues I was having. And if God hadn't intervened, it would have kept eating me up until it caused terrible damage. Thank God for being God! When I passed through that phase in my spiritual life, I noticed a pattern with my partner. Each time we had a conflict, my response was to flee and avoid. I started to prepare my mind for the breakup. Fortunately, for me, I have someone who isn't afraid of conflicts, at least not like me. He reaches out when it happens and brings to my notice that I'm avoiding instead of addressing the situation. Some days, I'd literally run out of the house to avoid talking to him. It was that bad. I've learned "you always have to sit with the uncomfortable and ugly situation to resolve it". It's a conflict because you're unable to see things from each other's perspectives. Being able to do so will require you to endure the discomfort. As long as there's not a trace of abuse in that relationship, it's your responsibility to work alongside your partner to find ways of resolving conflict together as a couple, not as an individual. It's not about how you resolve conflict individually anymore. It has to be something that works for you all. I entered into my relationship with a different way of resolving conflict. To be honest, I didn't even know conflict resolution required my input. I was previously trapped with a man who had the final say over me. Ordinarily, it felt like I was delaying the inevitable. Like you already know his will goes so why waste time doing anything? It's been a wonderful experience understanding my partner and I have to figure out our conflict as a unit. We're nowhere near perfect as we're still learning how each of us fights but every conflict we resolve brings us closer.
As a child, the flight response helped me feel the love of my parents. My brother struggled a lot and it became more pronounced when he started to abuse substances. My dad was always angry and my mum was always worried and sad. One time in school, when news reached them I had rebelled against a teacher, she called in tears telling me how I wanted to make her sad like my brother. To feel loved, I was the good child. The one who did everything I was told including accepting I was to be married as a child to an older man. I defended my worth by acting in ways that proved I deserved to be loved. I already witnessed how difficult it was for my brother to feel love because he didn't conform and I didn't want to be like that. A part of me still wishes I could have told him more how much I loved him even without those big achievements. How it never really mattered. If you're reading this, and the only love you've ever experienced is conditional, I want to tell you there's more to it. You don't have to be hypervigilant anymore. You don't have to fear abandonment. You're loved! Even if I can't account for the people in your life, I know Jesus loves you and I know if I met you in person, I'd love you recklessly without conditions attached.
Do me a favor, practice mindfulness, and rest. Create, play and do anything just for you. Reconnect with that young struggling child in you. You don't always have to be on the move. Take time to process the emotions. You can relax right here in the moment.
Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.
Psalm 62:1 NIV