Freeze and Thaw

Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

~*~

As someone who’s spent her life surviving the slings and arrows of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the point of almost burning out my adrenal glands, I suppose I could speak volumes on this subject.

To the overwhelmed nervous system almost anything can trigger the heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness of the adrenal rush … and not in a good way.

My adrenalin responses have rarely been justified, but when you grow up  feeling constantly under threat of something you lose sight of what constitutes an appropriate adrenal response. Not that you’re even in control of it. It just is, stimulated by whatever trigger pokes its way into a painful point of subconscious memory.

A life time of living in chronic survival mode is hard on the adrenal glands. (As is a life spent chugging down energy drinks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) They do burn out, and chronic anxiety is one of the results. Until I became aware of what was happening beneath the surface of my anxiety there was no way I could change it.

This awareness was finally raised during a trip to Sarajevo in March 2009, when the war-wounded city reflected the incredibly deep wounds of my own emotional trauma. Anxiety attacks in benign circumstances triggered three flight and freeze reactions during our one-week stay, reactions over which I had no control. Since we were travelling with a group of virtual strangers there was the added stress of shame attached to it.

Yes, you need to know that freezing is also a response to trauma.

In simple, primitive terms, this is when prey under pursuit will drop to the ground and play dead so the predator will lose interest and leave them alone.

My freeze ~ the clamp of anxiety. The desperate need to getaway without knowing where is safe to go. Stuck. Immovable. Traumatized. Invisible. On a continuous playback loop.

Since Sarajevo it’s taken years of therapy to get my frozen emotional core to finally thaw. The experience is a bit like the sensation of regaining feeling in your hands and feet after a bout of frost bite. Years of frozen feelings melt into a stinging liquid form. The pain all too present … but it must be felt to be acknowledged and, ultimately, released.

I’m reminded of the time I attended an NFL game in Buffalo with my ex-husband and his family, maybe 20 years ago. It was December, 15 below and snowing, and I was not dressed properly for the occasion. By the fourth quarter I was in the first aid room with thermal blankets wrapped around frozen feet (and a husband angered by the fact he’d had to miss that last quarter).

The agony of the thaw was indescribable. There were a few moments there where I felt like I’d rather die than endure the grief of feeling my limbs come back to life. However, once the worst of it had passed, and I could feel my feet and hands again, the pain of the experience became nothing more than a passing memory. I can recall the incident now as the source for a funny story or, for that matter, a teaching moment.

Feelings that come up while thawing are painful, but they must be felt in order for us to be completely free of them.

The first step, however, is awareness.

I learned ~ through psychotherapy, naturopathy, hormone therapy, equine therapy and other important sources ~ that the freeze response, which had become my go-to place when overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control (rooted in early childhood trauma), had created a debilitating life pattern affecting mind, body and spirit.

I learned that what we harbour in the way of resentment, fear, jealousy and the like becomes our master and we its slave, and that this plays out in our lives in unhappy and insidious ways. Panic/anxiety attacks, addiction, lashing out or anything else that numbs the mind, body and spirit are all manifestations of the freeze response triggered by overwhelming events.

As horrible as those anxiety-ridden moments in Sarajevo were for me, they taught me it was time to be honest with myself and seek help. The kind of help that would allow the thaw, the healing, to begin and bring to life again the parts of me that had been playing dead.

Freezing was how I’d made myself invisible. If I was invisible, no one could see me; no one would abandon, reject, abuse or hurt me ever again. In the process I had become stuck in the pattern of abandoning, rejecting, abusing and hurting myself. It had to stop.

It’s been almost six years since my rigorous, sometimes hellish and incredibly cleansing journey began. A veritable trip through the refiner’s fire. Still, if I had to choose between who I am now and who I was before the thaw began, there’s no doubt what I’d do. Even knowing how tough it’s been I’d go through it all again to unearth my truth and free myself of the pain that had frozen me in chaos.

My heart and mind are open; my adrenal glands are functioning more optimally and thus my nervous system is becoming more robust. I’m finally able to live my life more on my terms. I’ve learned to live in the moment; to leave the past behind and to allow the future to be what it will be.

Finally, I feel free to be me.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

Useful resources:
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping ~ Robert M. Sapolsky
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma ~ Peter A. Levine
Riding Between The Worlds: Expanding our Potential Through the Way of the Horse ~ Linda Kohanov
In An Unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness ~ Peter A. Levine
Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation ~ Dr. Dan Siegel
Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome ~ James L. Wilson

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

The Narrows of Divorce

Daily Prompt: Cut Off

When was the last time you felt really, truly lonely?

~*~

The narrows of divorce,

As listing ships passed

In dark of night

By treacherous shores,

And fog upon the weary heart

And mind prevailed.

Only the faint beacon of

An off-shore light

Guiding me to a safer shore.

I, the Captain of my foundering ship,

Abandoned by a fickle crew.

Yes loneliness, then, was

All I knew.

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Getaway

Daily Prompt: Tourist Trap

What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?

~*~

Hmmm … just when I’m day dreaming about getting away.

I have many dream vacations, and all involve places I’ve been or things I’ve done before.

Cariage trade in Vienna
Carriage trade in Vienna

I dream of returning to Prague and Vienna, and adding to that Budapest to complete that classic cultural triangle. My husband and I have discussed doing a river cruise and somehow integrating these three cities into such a trip. That would be awesome.

London and Paris are on my re-bucket list ~ I grew up in London so would like another chance to see it through adult eyes, and Paris needs more time. The week we spent there in 2008 simply wasn’t enough. I would also explore more of the English and French countryside.

The Villa
The villa we rented in Tuscany

Italy, of course, is high on my list. Last year we lived the dream of renting a villa in Tuscany for a week. I would do that again in a heart beat, but for a month this time. And I would return to Florence, Venice, Rome and Milan. I would love to see Lake Como.

View of Barcelona from the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
View of Barcelona from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Barcelona, of course, I would love to see again. Last time I was there I was under the weather with adrenal fatigue which made it really difficult to take it all in. I would love to experience it through clearer eyes. And explore the Spanish countryside as well, Perhaps find some Andalusian horses to photograph somewhere.

Ireland! Oh my goodness, I would love to return to the Emerald Isle. We were there three weeks in 2011 and it was amazing. Next time I want a month and to include Northern Ireland (we missed that last time) and more time on the Atlantic coast. And to stay in manor houses and castles again. That was fun.

Irish Pastoral
Emerald Isle

Scotland, too. Yes, that’s high on my list of vacation priorities. Inverness where much of my Scottish ancestry is to be found, in particular.

Warmer climates? Certainly. I’ve never been to Arizona or New Mexico. I think that would be fun. So many warm colours, and art; so much turquoise and cowboy culture. Wyoming, though not necessarily warmer has mountains. I’d like to see Jackson Hole.

Hawaii’s on the list, in spite of the fact there was a tsunami warning the last time we visited. That was special. But it’s so beautiful there so worth another go.

Beautiful America Bay in New South Wales, Australia
Beautiful America Bay in New South Wales, Australia

I’d return to Australia. Do more exploring than the last time when my experience was akin to that of Barcelona.

Mostly right now I just need to get away.

I think I hear an Ontario spa calling …

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Never The Twain Shall Meet

Daily Prompt: Use it or lose it

~*~

“I thought we’d never come back from that one.”

“What one?”

“You know, what just happened!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You were there! You saw it! Experienced it! Didn’t it have any impact on you at all?”

“Honestly, you make such mountains out of mole hills. If I had a clue what you were talking about this might make sense. But you’re always blowing things out of proportion. Making something out of nothing. I just don’t get what you’re on about. It was nothing.”

“It wasn’t nothing! It was definitely something! I felt it in my bones ~ a deep, burning agony of …”

“Of what? You’re fixated on something which, in the grand scheme of things, means nothing at all. Earth calling Charlie … let it go!”

“What are you? Have you no sense? No feeling?”

“Yes, I have feelings. I just don’t squander them on things beyond my control. Evidently you and I function differently. Tom-a-to v tom-aw-to ~ that sort of thing. We obviously look at the world through two completely separate filters and what looks like an incredible feat of escape to you is, well, of little import to me. Neither of us is wrong ~ we’re just different; respond differently based on our individual life experiences and programming.”

“But I don’t understand how you can be so cold.”

“Please, don’t judge me. I am not cold. Things, experiences, people don’t move me the same way they move you. Just as you are not fond of many of the things I adore. It just is what it is, and as long as no one gets hurt, what difference does it make? … I understand how this incident might have had an impact on you. I am familiar with your past and how your responses have been programmed, but that does not mean I feel the same way about them. I’m programmed differently, that’s all. Other things move me to the point of exhilaration. That’s all.”

“But I really feel like we barely made it out of there!”

“Okay… time for a cup of tea.”

~*~

I love a good free writing exercise.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Bittersweet

Daily Prompt: Five a Day

You’ve being exiled to a private island, and your captors will only supply you with five foods. What do you pick?

~*~

“I’m not playing their game. Not today … not any day,” Gertrude announced to the rather large strawberry she was dipping into a warm vat of melted dark chocolate. “All these restrictions … I’m really rather bored with it.”

She popped the chocolate-covered berry into her mouth and savoured its warm, bittersweet taste. To her left an array of fresh fruit awaited her pleasure. Banana, pineapple, mango … a food group ~ one of five she’d negotiated.

The health spa had offered to provide a basket of food for a picnic but would only include five foods.

“What do you mean only five foods?'” Gertrude wanted to know. “That’s simply ridiculous! I’m a guest on this private island, not a captive! Now, I’ve paid good money to get away from it all and I want a picnic basket with five food groups. Am I clear?”

“But madame, isn’t that the same thing?” the handsome spa concierge asked, bewildered.

“Not at all!” Gertrude’s fuse was shortening. “I want a selection of fresh fruit to dip in a vat of melted dark chocolate to be delivered to a location of my choice; a selection of fresh vegetables with a side of hummus; a triple-cream brie with a fresh French baguette; a good quality Argentinian Malbec, and a bottle of spring water. Is that too much to ask?”

“But that’s more than five food groups, madame.”

“It is? No matter. I never was any good at math.” Gertrude stood firm. “That’s what I want. If it isn’t included in my spa package, add it to my bill. That is all.”

Gertrude smiled at the memory of her little victory as she cast her gaze out to the warm, rippling ocean, and reached absently for a piece of fruit. She dipped it into the dark melted chocolate. It escaped.

“Damn and blast!” she cursed, and grabbed a silver fork from the wicker picnic basket to fish it out.

“Never trust pineapple … bad pineapple,” she sighed as she finally managed to jab the fork into its side. She allowed the excess chocolate to drip back into the vat before carefully slipping the errant fruit into her mouth. “Hmmmm … good pineapple ….” Gertrude swooned, dropping the fork and flopping into the blanket that covered the bit of beach under what had become her favourite shade palm.

Above her she noticed a bunch of coconuts hovering precariously.

“Oh, I forgot about you …” she smiled. “I’ll include you in tomorrow’s five food groups.”

Captive, indeed.

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

An Ode to My Love on Valentine’s Day

Daily Prompt: Cupid’s Arrow

~*~

Thou art the breath of fresh air I hardly

Knew to breathe when

First we met.

Healing of heart to my broken one;

True in nature, and kind.

My light revealed in thine eyes.

My voice awakened in thine ears.

My frozen feelings thawed by thy gentle warmth.

My truth, with thine, reflected in the nurturing world

Create we, now, together.

Cupid’s love-tipped arrow hath hit its target true.

~*~

Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.

Dorothy Chiotti

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

A Special Ring

Daily Prompt: Sliced Bread

Most of us have heard the saying, “That’s the best thing since sliced bread!” What do you think is actually the best thing since sliced bread?

~*~

“Sliced bread” doesn’t have the same special ring to it that it once had. At least, not to me.

I recently found out I have a sensitivity to wheat, whole wheat and rye, which more or less eliminates most forms of delicious bread accept those, perhaps, derived from the more exotic, healthier flour varieties of which I still have much to learn.

It wasn’t much consolation at the time, but my food sensitivity testing person assured me I would find another flour that works as a suitable replacement for the intolerable.

Naturally, I was skeptical, but mostly I was disappointed.

Believe it or not, the first thought that came to mind after the nutrition lady told me about my body’s aversion was “Oh no! No more sour dough!” No longer could I happily languish in the aromatic embrace of baking sour dough with the expectation of a nice slice dripping in butter after the timer finally pinged. Not that I’ve ever made it, you understand, that’s just my bread-deprived imagination going to town. Basically, the new reality means I shall have to plug my nose every time I walk past a bakery the next time I’m in San Francisco.

(Sigh …)

Still, enough about sour dough.

Since I’ve developed the habit of sitting down every day around 5 p.m. to unwind with a cup of healthy coffee (prescribed by my hormone therapist) and two small cookies (of a triple chocolate chip, locally-made boutique variety ~ self-prescribed) I needed to address this flouring issue, and pronto.

No more store-bought cookies for me!

So, I began experimenting with spelt flour which, I discovered, can be used in equivalent amounts for any recipe requiring white. And you know, I can’t tell the difference. They’re delicious and reasonably “good” for me.

Which leaves me wondering if spelt would be a good option for sour dough.

Hmmmm … now that has a special ring to it and would be the best thing since … well, whatever …

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015