If I See Myself in the Mirror

dissociation     If I really see my self in my mirror, I will see my pain. If I see my pain, I will feel my pain. If I feel my pain, I will cry. If I cry, I may never stop. If I never stop crying…
Can you see where this is going?

When I heard the children crying as I watched  the video a passenger recorded just after the airport bombing in Belgium, I dissociated. I turned away from my pain like the man in the mirror. It was all I could do.

Had I been in the airport that day and survived the bombing , I know I would have run to the crying children and gathered them up into my arms. That’s how I’m built – I run towards chaos rather than away. I’m not trying to brag; sometimes I wish it were not the case. Years ago,  when the logging truck we were following  overturned in front of us, I slammed on my brakes and was out of my car before I knew what I was doing. As I ran to the cab of the truck, my mind said, “Are you crazy? You have a wife and two small daughters in your car.”

Diesel fuel was cascading down from the tanks and the driver was trying to push up to open the driver’s door that was now sideways over 10 feet in the air. I started to scramble up the bottom of the truck over the tires as the driver pushed the door straight up and crawled out over the running board below the door. When he was halfway out, I grabbed onto his hands and helped him climb down towards me and the roadway below us. He jumped the last few feet to the ground and I pulled him away from the truck. He was in shock, and I was completely dissociated from my emotions. I was the man in the picture, disconnected from the man in the mirror.

As I ran back to my car to check on the family, I felt excitement and arousal. My wife and children were afraid and angry. Why had I put myself in danger? Why didn’t I think of them?

Dissociation allows us to perform in the face of danger. It is an autonomic response – the fight part of the fight or flight response. We hone dissociation to protect ourselves from the reality of trauma; 911, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Gabby Giffords, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Oklahoma City, Paris, Belgium…the sights and sounds of trauma overwhelms our nervous system and it learns to shut down in self defense. When we are exposed to danger and intense feelings on a chronic basis, we develop beloofs that maintain our dissociation. We stop feeling.

“Thank God its not us.”
“It must be God’s will.”
“Don’t be afraid…”
“It can’t happen here.”
“Maybe they didn’t suffer.”

But the cries of the children amid the bodies scattered on the floor of the Belgium airport were not to be denied. My heart exploded in pain. Sadness wracked my being. Rage welled up in arms and legs. Confusion filled my head. I will not dissociate! I will not dissociate!

Here is my mantra for times when we witness intense trauma:
“May I always remain conscious and present to the hurt, rage, and devastation of the innocent children of violence .”
“May I always remain conscious and present to the hurt, rage, and devastation of the innocent children of violence .”
“May I always remain conscious and present to the hurt, rage, and devastation of the innocent children of violence .”

“And may we always teach Peace.”


You’re Not the Boss of Me!

QuestionAuthority-640x199Driving home from work the other day, I looked up to see flashing police lights in my rear view mirror. I thought I had seen the dark shadow of one of those new urban assault style police SUV’s lurking down the street when I made my stop at the four way intersection a few blocks from my office. I knew quite well that I had made a “legal” stop at the corner. There had been no other cars at any of the other stop signs, and after stopping I proceeded through the intersection in a completely safe manner. At 66 years of age, I drive much more like the old man that I am rather than the Mario Andretti shadow of my youth, so I was sure the young officer approaching my car was stopping me for my broken turn signal that I had not fixed yet.

Of course, his opening gambit was, “Do you know why I am stopping you sir?” His attitude and energy was cold and disinterested.  “I have no idea, officer” I replied. “Why don’t you tell me”.

“You made a rolling stop at the four-way” he informed me. My stomach turned. I knew I had made a perfectly adequate stop at the intersection. “How do you determine that is was a ‘rolling stop’?” I queried. “I keep looking at the front wheel of your car.” he replied. ” If it moves even a half-inch during your stop, it is a rolling stop. I can show you on the dash-cam if you like.”

I was sure the video replay would show that my front wheel travelled the requisite one-half inch requirement to qualify as a “rolling stop”, and that I was screwed. As he handed me a ticket for $136, I knew he was one ticket closer to his quota for the day. I think I said something like, “I feel so much better knowing that officers like you are keeping me safe from scofflaws like me.” As I said it, I knew I had descended into my own shadow of authority represented by the cartoon above.

I drove away feeling angry and defiant and began planning my response. I would contest the ticket pulling the offending officer into the courtroom to explain his overreaching behavior. I was an outraged victim turned persecutor looking for judge to rescue me from an obvious abuse of power. My beloofs about my relationship to authorities were raging – I was both 2 and 16 years old again.

“You’re not the boss of me!”
“Don’t tell me what to do!”
“I’ll do anything I want!”
“Who says so?”
“Why me?”

As I drove on continuing to create my story of police abuse, the energy in my body was nauseating me…until I remembered to breathe. I took several slow deep breaths and felt my body relax. And as I started to come out of shock, I suddenly remembered that I had decided years ago that the police issue unnecessary tickets as a way to raise additional income for the city – not just to correct my bad driving behavior or to protect the citizens of our community from me. It’s simply a mechanism for the city to reduce its deficit and has nothing to do with me as an individual. Understanding it this way reduces my reactivity (and stomach acid) and allows me to be happy about helping out our city as a responsible citizen or the community. I decided to pay the ticket as soon as I got home with the city’s convenient online ticket payment system. It was already posted on the court site by the time I arrived.

But what about “real” abuses of authority; a 13 year old student sexually abused by a trusted teacher; a young black male shot in the back after shoplifting cigars, a woman stoned to death for being raped; these are real and outrageous abuses that must be confronted and stopped by the laws of humans and nature. Victims must take responsibility for recovering from abuses in a healthy way, and those who abuse authority must be held accountable and take responsibility for their actions. Confronting abuse of authority is the responsibility of every member of a society. But that’s not what this article is about.

What about the struggle for authority that rages inside of me – the battle deep inside my psyche that no one ever sees – who will prevail? The part of me that resists authority and rebels? Or the part of me that surrenders to authority and accepts its teaching.

The universe sent me that cop as a teacher, just as the universe sends everything my way with an important teaching. Whether I like it or not is my choice. I can listen consciously and learn an important universal lesson, or let the battle rage on and chew up antacids.

So here is my mantra that brings me peace and safety when I experience the bite of authority, even when I judge it to be abusive:

“I remain conscious of, and surrender to the teachings of the universe while I maintain peace and love in my heart.”
“I remain conscious of, and surrender to the teachings of the universe while I maintain peace and love in my heart.”
“I remain conscious of, and surrender to the teachings of the universe while I maintain peace and love in my heart.”

I send peace and love to you especially in times when authority battles rage within.