Bonus 2: Wordless Feelings, Certainty, & Survival

david dietz and lindsey lockett standing in a forest under a birch tree holding each other

david dietz and lindsey lockett standing in a forest under a birch tree holding each other

This episode is just me, sharing part of my journey and the struggles and realizations I’ve had while healing trauma in my most important relationship: my partner. David is the most amazing husband and partner. He is my best friend and my person. Our relationship has endured many trials, including leaving Christianity, cross-country moves, raising teenagers, and my own mental and physical illness. He has been an ever-loving, faithful, and supportive person.

And yet, we’ve also had difficulties which have been hard for me to verbalize. For about a year, I’ve been present to physical sensations of blockages or disconnection from my husband, but I was unable to verbalize these physical feelings until recently. When I realized why my nervous system was behaving in this way, causing me to experience the physical sensations of activation in my nervous system, I was finally able to give these feelings a voice.

This bonus episode is simply me sharing this with you by reading to you a very real and raw journal entry. I hope it helps you as you learn to lean into discomfort and give your emotions movement and a voice.

david dietz and lindsey lockett

Links: none

The Journal Entry

I didn’t have the words — only the feelings which I could not describe verbally to save my life. I’ve never been at a loss for words. Until now.

His words had hurt me. Deeper than any wound I’ve ever experienced, his words cut through my skin and sliced my heart open. Did he really mean what he said? He had chosen his words so carefully before, his soft voice delivering comfort and peace even as it delivered bad news or a confrontation. He was admittedly lacking in communication, slow, clunky at times — but never cruel. And this felt so cruel.

Yet, those words spoken, so heartless and hurtful to my soul, had been the water that finally broke through the dam for him. He had used his voice, unapologetically, to speak his deepest truth. How do you argue with someone’s truth? God, it hurt. Even when it cuts, how do you tell them that their truth can’t be true because how could the truth hurt so much? Surely he couldn’t mean it. But he did.

My life and my agency, all my power and freedom hung like a dangling carrot in front of me. He held the stick that dangled that carrot. I felt myself reaching for it, and I saw him pull the stick so that the carrot was out of my reach. All I could do was wait for him to make his decision — a choice that decided my future too. My entire life course was changing — in a fucking weekend.

All at once, I was holding on to him more tightly than I ever had, clinging to him and to us with every ounce of strength I had while I pushed him away with all the force a animal can muster when it’s wounded and near death. But the survival instinct is strong and it doesn’t turn off until the heart beats for the last time. In holding him tight and close — unwilling to let go of nearly 20 years of us-ness — I was simultaneously pushing him away, unwilling to let him close for fear he would wound me again. I played tug ‘o war with my actual soul.

He didn’t end it that weekend. He decided, once more, to stay. He assured me that he loved me and was committed to me and to us, but for the first time ever, he was also committed to himself and to using his voice more. We came to an understanding, though I felt and still feel that all of the truth he shared that day was, in the words of Resmaa Menakim, “too much, too fast, too soon”.

We agreed that we would remain in our committed partnership, each of us promising to do the personal work needed, to give our best, to deconstruct co-dependency, to establish boundaries, to speak our truth, to be intentional with our time and words. Normally, after such a soul ruckus, I’d breathe deep and exhale a huge sigh of relief. The threat of separation and divorce had passed. The crisis of figuring out how to separate two lives joined together so tightly there wasn’t even a seam, averted.

But, I would not take that cleansing breath. I would not have my sigh of relief.

It’s been a year since those events. And for a full year, although I have experienced massive personal growth and transformation, although I have become a better communicator and re-connected with my body and emotions, although I have experienced the much welcomed return of my sleep and the equally welcomed departure of chronic anxiety, I have not lived one day without replaying the movie of that terrifying weekend.

I can vividly recall where we stood, see the threatening neutral expression on his face, feel the constriction and disbelief in my body, remember every racing thought that zoomed through my mind, my fearful thoughts conjuring questions so quickly I couldn’t answer them.

Most of the traumas of my life are fragments of memories: the quick flash of my stepfather holding me against the dining room wall by my throat when I was 10, the way my skin crawled when he touched himself in front of me, the fragment of the time I was taking a bath and he commented on my pubic hair.

Because of the nervous system’s miraculous ability to protect me from that which it perceives is “too much, too fast, too soon”, because the survival response occurs in the part of the brain that doesn’t store memories, the nervous system does us the great service of preventing our remembrance. This is the miracle of disassociation. Disassociation hides our eyes from the scary monster when our parents aren’t there to protect us. Disassociation prevents us from carrying the memories of the “too much, too fast, too soon”. For all the talk therapy and hypnosis and somatic experiencing to get us to re-associate and integrate and connect with our bodies during stress, disassociation has a bad rap. I think we can be grateful to our nervous systems for disassociating, especially during childhood, while also acknowledging how checking out as adults doesn’t serve us very well.

The personal healing work I had done prior to this exchange with my husband had brought me to the point of awareness and feeling my feelings and presence. I knew how to not check out. But I was not yet equipped to handle THIS — the very real possibility, no, probability, of losing
the safest, securest place I had ever known: my relationship with David. The detail with which I am able to recall the words, feelings, and facial expressions makes me long for disassociation. If I couldn’t remember, would I still be living it today like it was still happening? And worse, why could I remember in such precise detail the sensations in my body but could not express anything verbally other than confusion?

Because confused is all my body felt that day and everyday after. Holding his hand used to feel good; now it feels good with a hefty dose of insecurity. That’s confusing as hell. Going on dates used to be fun; now it was hard to have fun because I had questions which I was unable to ask. My body asked them; my mind had no words. That’s confusing. Making love used to be a magical connection; now, sure, it felt good, but I was lost inside my mind. That’s confusing.

For a year, I have wrestled with this — trying to hold space for it, believing that it would pass in time, and at the same time, not being able to communicate what I felt. What do you do when you can’t give your feelings a name?

My partner is still here, still expressing his love, commitment, want, and need of me, but there is some invisible barrier around me. I know it’s there because I can feel it, but I don’t know how to describe it. If I could just communicate this, I think, maybe it will get better. But the words don’t come, and the feelings don’t go.

The last year with my husband — for all its growth and development — has been the most confusing year of my life. I could plainly see that things were “fine”; even better than fine, actually. We communicated better than ever. We each had a voice. I wasn’t being a control freak anymore and had intentionally worked on being more positive. He was less stubborn. Everything was “fine”, except it wasn’t.

Despite all our individual and collective work, I felt more disconnected than ever. And our connection, that certainty of US, had been my safe zone. Inside that zone, I could handle anything. Now, the lines are blurry. I wasn’t even sure I was allowed to say I still wanted that zone for fear that I would be perceived by my partner as needy or co-dependent or not “woke” enough.

After that weekend, I became hyper vigilant about my words and behavior. To be clear, he never held my words or behavior over me as a threat. This was all my doing. I became afraid of voicing a complaint out of fear that he’d see that as a step backward and that would give him the excuse he must surely be looking for to say, “See? This is what I told you I couldn’t handle. This isn’t working for me anymore.” It feels like we’ve cultivated an excellent partnership over the last year. We communicate like champs, we are honest, we use our voices, we read and learn things together. Each of us is fully committed to becoming the best versions of ourselves, and we recognize our relationship as a container to hold that growth. On paper, it looks like a healthy, functional partnership. And it is.

But, we spend our evenings watching Netflix instead of engaging each other. We talk about business and kids and the dogs, but not about our dreams. The butterflies have long since flown off. He’s still my best friend, my person. The growth is there. The love is most definitely there. But I don’t know how we merge that love and growth with passion. Do you?

Until yesterday, I felt the block but it didn’t have a description. I want him close, for him to hold me and me to hold him. I yearn for the physical evidence of our deep connection. More than anything, though, what I miss is the certainty.

I finally realize what left me that weekend a year ago — certainty. The certainty that we’d always be together. The certainty that it would only ever be the two of us. The certainty that our connection would always be tangible. The certainty that our commitment was unconditional and forever.

I recently interviewed someone for my podcast, Holistic Trauma Healing, and she said one of those really powerful, profound one-liners that we love to share on Instagram so much. “A traumatized nervous system is a binary nervous system”.

Read that again. And again.

The whole function of our nervous system is our survival. And survival is perhaps the most binary concept there is. Life or death. In microseconds, our nervous systems have to communicate a perceived threat from our bodies to our brains and then mobilize all of our energy to fight or flee or freeze to survive. A life or death situation doesn’t have time for nuance and complexity. Life or death situations don’t even give us time to verbalize what we feel; often, we’re reacting before we even realize what’s happening. We can’t even access the logical, reasoning, cognitive prefrontal cortex when we are in life or death situations. We go straight into our brainstem, the most primitive part of our brain that is only wired to keep us alive at all costs. Our nervous systems are certain about one thing only: our survival.

Black or white. Slave or free. Yes or no. In or out. Hot or cold.

Certain or uncertain.

This is the language of a traumatized nervous system.

With this knowledge — that a traumatized nervous system is a binary nervous system — the words finally came. I finally had the vocabulary for the push and pull in my body and mind over my partner.

The certainty was gone. My nervous system was freaking out because there is no nuance with certainty. It’s either there, or it isn’t. No one is ever partially certain about anything. With certainty, we have reliability and safety.

Without the buffer of certainty, my body was feeling things I could only describe with words as “confusing”. It didn’t make sense to know how deeply my partner and I are connected but not feel that connection, that certainty in my body any longer. With certainty unrestored, my body couldn’t discern that it was “over”, that the situation had actually passed and I was safe again.

When we are certain of someone’s commitment to us, honesty is a lot easier. When we are certain of someone’s unconditional love for us, vulnerability is a lot easier. When we are certain of someone’s connection to us, intimacy is a lot easier. Certainty makes it safe to be fully human and fully present inside your relationships.

I recognize that many people have no idea that this type of certainty and safety in relationships is possible. But it is, and I count myself one of the fortunate few to have experienced it. And yet, part of me wishes I had never known this certainty because I know what I’m missing. Being so uncertain today of the thing that was the most certain part of your life yesterday is insanely unsettling.

My partner was and is a resource for me and my nervous system. I am certain that I would not be the person I am today if I had not been able to grow and change inside the container of his love and commitment to me. When I was certain it would only ever be the two of us and that he was unwaveringly committed, I felt like I had space and freedom to grow. Without that certainty, it seemed like I had space for growth in my personal life, but no longer in my relationship. Do you understand how confusing this is?

As individuals, I believe my partner and I are in the healthiest place we’ve ever been in this lifetime. Even as a partnership without certainty, I am extremely proud of the work we’ve done. I have no regrets. Still, I must hold space for the fact that I haven’t felt the safety of certainty in my most important relationship in a long time. Too long. I grow weary of this feeling, yet I am also grateful that these feelings have now been given words. Now that the feelings have a voice, it feels like they might have a little more room to expand instead of being so constricted by confusion. Confusion is constricting.

Though I have built much flexibility and resiliency in my nervous system, I cannot discount the survival instinct. Survival depends on certainty — certainty that our physical needs for food, water, shelter, safety, human connection, and love are met.

I believe we can be completely in our awareness — meaning, present and not reactive to our current circumstances — and still feel insanely uncomfortable dissonance of that presence next to an insatiable desire and need for certainty. We will never stop needing safety.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have that certainty in my relationship again. I most definitely hope I do. David and I have been through a lot together, and that gives me confidence to believe that we’ll get through this too. I know I’m definitely not going anywhere. But, I also know that I’ve survived, grown, and even thrived in that uncomfortable space of uncertainty for a while now — so I’ve proven that it’s possible. Still, I unapologetically admit that I long for the day when I can lie again in my husband’s arms without questioning it, without the racing thoughts, without fearing that he has one foot out the imaginary door, knowing that I am unconditionally loved, desired, and accepted, completely at ease in my nervous system. I’ll finally exhale that long sigh of relief that cleanses, releases, and allows me to know for certain that this storm has passed and I survived.