Putting On The Brakes

When I was a kid, I was a bit of a tomboy. There weren’t a lot of girls in the neighborhood I grew up in, but the few girlfriends I hung out with all had brothers. We knew how to hike through the woods, backflip off the wood raft at the lake, skin ourselves up skidding our bikes on the pavement. One particular time, I remember grabbing a bike that belonged to one of my brothers; I thought it was a cool bike (a chopper with a banana seat!) and he hadn’t been riding it, so I took off pedaling it like a speed demon. I picked up speed going down a long hill in our neighborhood. And at the bottom, I discovered why he hadn’t been riding it.

No brakes!

Needless to say, I’ve crashed and had lots of scabs since my childhood, and I’ve also done the impatient thing and picked at them, just to discover — once that hard shell of dried whatever was peeled off — that it wasn’t completely healed underneath. Maybe it doesn’t take quite as long to heal the next time, but the process has to scab over and start, again.

Yeah, it looked LOTS like this one.

Mental scabs aren’t a lot different, except there’s really no time limit. And frankly, those scabs aren’t always obvious, especially when people just learn to live with whatever it is that hurts them instead of healing. They might go through life, never really knowing there’s even a scab until someone picks at it and lays it bare.

That happened to me recently. I’ve admittedly been vulnerable, dealing with more than the normal amount of stress. That included someone who had previously been a bit of a scab picker, but that had been ages ago and while wary, I let him in. When he yanked a scab off that I didn’t realize was still there, it laid me open to instant pain. I found a place where I hadn’t completely healed — and thought I had.

My adult reaction was at least different than when I was young. Instead of reacting and feeding into a toxic situation, I chose to step away. It wasn’t easy in the least, and it’s still not. It’s not so much the shock of the ripped scab that surprises me, as much as the realization that I am not quite as healed as I thought I was.

Over the course of the past week, I’ve worked on getting back in control. It’s come with the recognition that I still have healing to do, as well as the understanding that I would need to work through a process to promote healing. That’s quite similar to a physical wound: understanding I’ve been hurt, assessing the injury, figuring out how to treat and protect the injury so it can get better. My mental health has depended on controlling my reaction, understanding why I wanted to react with anger, analyzing why someone would choose to act the way they did to harm me, what I needed to do to stop continued harm, and what it will take to move forward.

But when the hurt first happens, the instant reaction is to stop the pain. For emotional pain, I turned to food, but I also know that’s a symptom of a problem I need to fix. Once I was able to grab some quiet time without interruption, I started working on fixing the root cause and getting back in control. The result is that I’ve gained some weight back, but I’ve stopped the self-destruction and I know what I need to do to allow myself to fully heal. I used to hide behind my weight because it was my protection from a painful world, but I don’t need that, anymore.

It’s not just about putting on the brakes; it’s making sure they work before jumping on that bike.

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