Back To The Drawing Board

I’ve been journaling more consistently, lately. I used to journal nearly daily from about fourth grade until I graduated high school. Somewhere over the last twenty years, I had forgotten just how calming this moment of self-care really feels. 

This month marks one year of Pandemic. When I look back on the past year, I remember moments of grief, fear, frustration, and sadness. At the same time, I see moments of great peace, growth, and determination. March is also a month of rebirth, new beginnings, and new goals.

I started to wonder…. When you have spent most of your life in survival mode, and then start to heal to the point of no longer needing that mode, how do you tackle a new reset without falling back into old habits, when your environment forces you to reset?

Let me explain.

I would sum up 2020 as a year of tremendous growth, clarity, and truths. In that year of growth, I worked with both therapy and art to shed myself of my survival skin. I started to plan for the best, prepare for the worst, accept the outcome at the end of the day, and be flexible to try again tomorrow. I can tell you with complete honesty, this was a major jump in growth and healing for me.

Out goes 2020, and in comes 2021. And boy did she come in with a bang. Besides the world events, she decided to work with the universe and push me outside my limits. 

In the early hours of January 24, 2021, the apartment below mine caught fire. The fire raged out of control and made its way up into my daughter’s room. Luckily, we were not home, but our cats were. I was notified about the fire nearly twelve hours later. In a fit of panic and adrenaline, my partner managed to rip a very nailed board off of the door frame to my apartment. We managed to rescue both kitties and get them out to safety. 

After they were saved, my partner turned to me and asked:

“What do you want to take with you? What do you need?”

I wandered aimlessly throughout the apartment, both surveying the damage and trying to think clearly about what to grab. The apartment obviously was no longer inhabitable. 

As I circled around, I kept asking myself: “What do you need? What do you need?” What does one grab when they have only a moment to do so and leave their home indefinitely? I grabbed my work and personal hard drives, my laptop, and my vitamins. As I collected these items, I thought…. All and none of this is important anymore. 

What would YOU grab with seconds to think, if you had to leave your home?

After we left, my mind started racing. 

What now? Where do we go from here?

I jumped into survival mode, and began making calls. Insurance, internet, electricity, work, apartment manager, friends, family, etc. After two days of survival mode, my body rejected it. I had a breakdown, where I just gathered my daughter and my cats, and we piled into my car and took a drive. I wouldn’t answer my phone. I simultaneously pushed loved ones away and complained when they gave me space. When therapy rolled around that week, I knew we had to cover this. If ever there was a best session, this was it. 

My therapist and I discussed my survival question and came to this conclusion:

When you’ve experienced trauma, your body kicks into survival mode to protect you. Then, let’s say you’ve healed yourself out of survival mode, your body no longer needs that layer of protection. When a new trauma happens to the healed you, the healed/adult you tells the survival/childhood trauma you: “Let me take over. I can handle this now.”

It was an “aha” moment, one that circles my brain daily ever since. Like an intentional action to remember my healed self can handle trauma now. 

So how does one take care of the trauma that forces them to reset without jumping into survival mode again?

First, you laugh.

Sometimes the most traumatic moments need a good laugh just as much as they need a good cry. Whatever you believe…. The universe is trying to tell you that what you are doing is not working and you are not listening to the other messages, so now the universe is forcing you to make the right moves. The question is… Are you going to listen?

My second step (shortly after my laugh) is to say “yes.” 

Yes, I am listening. Yes, I am ready. Yes, I deserve it. There are some people who figured this out at a young age. They’re lucky. For the rest of us who have struggled to stand on solid ground, instead of always just keeping head above water, this is clarity. Saying yes is opening myself up to vulnerability. But healed Monica embraces vulnerability, now.

Third step is possibly the most exciting and important step: Make a new plan.

Make a new plan, but give yourself room and space to take your time to pick the right steps, while also accepting that some steps will change. Starting over is nothing new to me, but taking my time to choose the right steps? To choose what I will and won’t accept based on how it fits into my plan and my long term goals? Never has this been a concept that crossed my mind.

And how do you do that?

Start with the medium that works for you. I prefer to write things down. I keep my journal with me at all times, and as thoughts float around, I write them down and come back to them later. 

Set goals for each step. I like to make to-do lists in my planner. Today, I am researching homes. Tomorrow, I am researching jobs. Friday, I am applying. Break up the steps, but also allow flexibility for days you might not accomplish all you set out to do. 

Prioritize. What is needed right now versus what you want but can wait? It’s not that your wants don’t matter. They do. You just might need to move the wants to later in the week/month/year, depending on your needs that require attention right now. But don’t lose sight of the wants. You deserve those, too.

Set Boundaries. For yourself, for others, for your goals. When you determine what you will and won’t accept for your goals, you weed out the extra noise distracting you from accomplishing your plans. Know your worth, and set boundaries that align with it.

Accept setbacks. Sometimes things take extra time or don’t work out. Sometimes they are outside our control. And that’s okay. If you analyze like I do, analyze and then figure out another move. It’s okay to mourn when something does not work out, but don’t live there. Remind yourself, you still deserve your needs and wants, and then figure out a new path to that need/want. There is no one way, and sometimes there are new paths carved along the way. 

Celebrate the successes, no matter how small. Each success is one step closer to your ultimate goal, and that is enough to celebrate. It is so easy to freeze and obsess over the stumbles, but when you see life in successes, your goals not only seem closer, but you also celebrate this moment right now, in real time. When you focus on right now, it is easier to stay connected to your plan, your goals, and yourself. 

As I write this, I have yet to be allowed back in my apartment. I spend mornings reflecting on the day, and what I want to accomplish while keeping in mind what I have energy to accomplish. Each day is different, but at the end of the day, I am grateful to be breathing, and for my daughter and our cats to be breathing. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I do know that today…. I will do my best and keep evolving. 

“We can do hard things.” – Glennon Doyle, Untamed

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