No wonder that I hadn’t slept well! No wonder I had diarrhea! As soon as I walked down the corridor in the court house it all became clear. It wasn’t because I find the justice system troubling. It wasn’t even my past experience on jury duty. I had been in corridors like this too often – waiting on a judge to decide whether I could keep my child, whether they would help me protect my child from his father. These were agonizing times and contributed to why I’ve lost faith in the justice system because it seemed more likely to uphold arbitrary rights that make decisions in the best interest of the child.
So there I was again, walking down one of those corridors. A part of me was amazed how similar these corridors look. Most of me was busy calming myself down as my body was flooded with embodied memories. When I checked in to the jury room, I told the clerk about my previous experience and that I was concerned I might get retraumatized again. Only when I sat down in the jury room did I realize that I was already getting triggered. No wonder the rape case had impacted me so much: I had already been hypervigilant for danger just by being in a court house.
I was so glad I had brought a book on trauma-sensitive yoga. Somehow it became my anchor, my reminder that this was okay. I was triggered. That doesn’t mean I am out of control. It’s like a runner aggravating her knee injury while running. Except that I had no control. I had to be there or face a fine or even time in jail.
Distress tolerance is one skill that is developed through the use of yoga. This means that students are able to tolerate some minor discomfort without becoming triggered or overwhelmed. (132)
I kept focusing on my breath. I kept putting my left hand on the area below at my neckline where I could touch skin without it being too obvious. Calming myself.
An important aspect of distress tolerance is having a sense of time. For many survivors, discomfort becomes intolerable because of thoughts such as, “This will never end” or “I can’t stand it.” (132)
There I was sitting in the jury room without any idea of how long I would be there, whether I’d end up in the jury pool for another rape case, whether I would be able to get out of that one. I had no control, I had no idea when things would end or how they’d end. Complex trauma meets cultural trauma: Being forced to do something that is not enjoyable for most people – being on jury duty – is a form of cultural trauma (the cultural idea that we should not object to being forced to do something). In my case, this was exasperated because of my experience of relationship abuse: My need for autonomy is probably much larger than for people who haven’t had similar experiences.
I totally lucked out. Less than an hour after I got there, we were told that there had been enough jurors selected and we could leave. I guess that’s the benefit of being called on a Friday! I watched myself as I was leaving the court house. A woman asked for clarification about what just happened. I assured her that we were free to go – and then I wanted to escape to the bathroom. Seeing a line, I left. “I don’t really have to go anyways.” Getting to the elevators, I noticed the relief when I saw a sign to the stairs. “Stairs!” I said out loud. I felt safer already. I rushed out of the court house, found a space to sit, and soaked up the sun. I was safe again. Then the tears of relief came. I don’t usually cry in public. I didn’t care.
When I was walking to the train home, I had the impulse to ask people to give me a hug. I wanted reassurance that my experience was okay, that I was okay, that there was nothing disgusting about having had such a strong emotional reaction just from by being in a court house. Later, I understood that this was shame flaring up: “I should be healed by now! What’s wrong with me that I can’t handle being in a court house?!?”
I suspect, though, that I was so much more aware of what was going on within myself because I am working on embodied healing, not despite of it. At least, I hope that’s the reason! In the past, I did not experience these things because I was not as much in touch with myself. Instead of noticing them, I pushed the sensations of discomfort away (rationalizing them away with thoughts like “Everybody feels uncomfortable in a court house! There are no windows!” – if I even noticed my discomfort). This time it was different. I allowed myself to feel, even though my interpretation of why I was feeling what I felt didn’t become clear until I was in the triggering situation.
Healing Learning: As we heal, our self-awareness increases because we are reconnecting to ourselves, including our body. So, we notice emotions and sensations more, which can get quite intense when we are triggered. Instead of questioning ourselves, we can celebrate this as a big step toward healing!