Last night I ended up on the bathroom floor of a restaurant curled into a fetal position, crying. I cannot count the number of times I have found myself on the floor of some random bathroom across America over the last 5.5 years since my ex-husbands arrest. I have found refuge in these bathrooms at the times where I couldn’t breathe because fear was taking over my body or because I needed a sanctuary to feel safe before breaking into tears.
Early on in my recovery, it was all of the weddings that I said “yes” to attending or even planning (yes, I was a wedding planner and continued to plan weddings even week’s after the inciting incident). I wanted desperately to operate under the veil of business as usual – showing up for friends as I always had and celebrating their lives as I loved to do – pretending that the huge gap of not having my husband by my side would not cause the meltdowns that would creep up in secret bathrooms everywhere. I learned to buy waterproof mascara and time my tears perfectly to the tune of the vows that caused other attendees to tear up at the same time. As the couple exited the aisle at the end of the ceremony, I would make my exit to the closest bathroom where I could have my private moment where my tiny tears turned into meltdowns.
I had forgotten most of those experiences until I found myself on the bathroom floor last night. The exact reason for the tears was not the same. I am no longer mourning the loss of my marriage or the life I thought I would have by this present moment, but can still find myself surprised by the lasting impact those events have had on my life.
Small language choices by my boyfriend during our dinner conversation last night seemed to hint that his current transitional period in his life will result in a different version of himself. I know that humans evolve over time and life pretty much guarantees that the person I share dinners with today will shift during the duration of our relationship, but the part of my brain that stores my trauma wants to react now to build safety.
As my boyfriend’s excitement grew, I disconnected into an entirely different place. Every word coming from his mouth led my body to harden further into a frozen state. I stopped breathing. I began to repeat a mantra into my head that “he is not the person I think he is.” I pulled out a microscope and began to hunt for evidence to support the idea that he was just one sentence away from a big reveal that would alter my life. I can no longer hear what he is saying because I shift into a person with limitless questions digging to find certainty where certainty doesn’t exist.
What struck me the next day is that my way of confronting the pain – alone and behind a closed door – has not changed. It is the same as it was years ago. I am still resisting acceptance that I have been impacted by the repeated 10 year span of dishonesty by the person with whom I created an intimate life.
This resistance prohibits my healing. I am not honoring my story by ignoring its existence all together. The moment I feel my breath stop, I am given an opportunity to choose differently. I can see that I am in a triggered state of fear and ask for a pause in the conversation. I can choose a different mantra in that quiet moment that acknowledges my experience and the recovery work I’ve done over the past several years. I can pay attention to my surroundings and remember that I am in a present moment that is a far distance from the past. I can look my boyfriend in the eye and use that point of connection to see that he is not my ex-husband and I too am not the version of myself that existed years ago. I have recovery. I can take the pause to remind myself that I do trust myself and that foundation exists so I can take risks in trusting others. I can be gentle with myself and remember that I am worthy of love and loving if I love myself and give myself permission to love myself in that moment. And at a minimum, I can remember to breathe and let each inhale and exhale slow my brain and relax the frozen limbs of my body.