Image by Katie King
***Warning — Self Harm ***
A few days ago, I had a new, well not new, an old forgotten memory, pop into my head. This has actually happened a lot to me. Usually, I get signs that I’m remembering something before it happens. Often, I have bad dreams ahead of time, feel anxious and depressed. This time around, I was just kind of “down” for a few days. Being “down” or “having gray days” as I call them, isn’t uncommon for me, so without the other indicators, I wasn’t bracing for impact. And it hit me like a bus.
I’m not ready to talk about (read: type up) what came back to me. In some ways it wasn’t as bad as other things I’ve remembered, in others it was a doozy. It has me mixed up and conflicted, depressed, anxious, full to the brim with shame and self loathing.
Yet, I’m doing much better today than I was then. Over the last couple years, I’ve learned how to begin letting go of the negative feelings that come up with these hellish memories. But, before I get into the bigger process of how I started healing from all this, I want to talk about the more short term ways of coping with having one’s world rocked by the sudden retrieval of painful memories. I’m sure the list that I keep in my head would be good for other things too, but keeping myself from doing anything stupid right after I’m forced to relive moments of childhood trauma tends to be my reason for going to my list.
So, I shall talk about my short term coping methods in no particular order.
Make a cup of tea.
It’s a simple thing, easy to accomplish even during a panic attack, shaking body, what have you. DON’T put water on to boil. Use the microwave. I say this for several reasons. First off, the microwave can get a single cup of water hot about eight times faster than heating up a kettle of water. The sooner you can be sitting down with a cup of tea to sip, the better. Second, if you’re at all like me, it would be easy to forget about a kettle on the stove (unless you have a whistling kettle, which mine isn’t) because of the torrent of dark emotions passing through you. Third, a hot kettle is a really great way to hurt yourself if you aren’t paying attention. I accidentally steam burned the back of my left hand a year ago, and still don’t have the feeling in it back entirely. Fourth, a hot kettle might be a very convenient means of self injuring when in such a state. Stick to the microwave.
Make a ritual out of preparing your cup of tea. Focus on every aspect of what you’re doing. Dip the tea bag up and down while it’s steeping. Add milk and sugar (i.e. make it taste good. I like maple syrup in my tea). Watch the milk swirl into the tea. Focus on what’s happening with what you are doing in the present.Then sit and sip your tea. Try not to dwell on what’s freaked you out/triggered you/stressed you out. There will be plenty of time for that later when you’ve calmed down.
I usually use an herbal tea during times like this. It seems like a good idea not to add caffeine to a freaked out, shaking, hyperventilating body. That doesn’t mean you can’t make coffee or a stronger tea. This is just what I do. I suppose you could even pour yourself a glass of milk or juice, or even some water.
I recommend against alcohol. My grandfather always says that the minute you drink for the way it makes you feel rather than for the taste, you’re entering into alcoholism. This makes good sense to me, so I choose not to use alcohol for anything that smacks of coping or self medicating. When I drink a glass of wine, I want it to be because I enjoy a good Merlot and not because I’m hating myself.
I hope this helps!