Our wedding anniversary came and went. Although my husband and I love each other very much, I felt empty, cold, and distant. We are attempting to conquer the dark places in our story, rewrite the narrative, and break out of past bondage; however, on our anniversary, I longed to barricade myself away from feeling or thinking. Remaining embodied in that moment was an incredible battle. I was soul weary.
We had a terrible, emotional night—the kind that might send one of us to the couch. I was emotionally catatonic. Frozen. My limbs felt limp, and I was firmly locked inside my mind’s protection. I did not want to be around my husband. I wanted silence and sleep. This all felt familiar. ‘
Years ago as my therapist and I excavated my past traumas, she noticed my tendency to “leave my body.” I had never heard that phrase, but it needed no explanation. When I face moments too difficult to handle, my eyes glaze over, I stop listening, and my mind closes the door to the outside world. It is a sheltering-in-place mechanism, and I am an expert.
My earliest memories involve the shame heaped on me by a neglectful, shaming, and distant mother and an angry, calculating, and mean father. Home was not a nurturing environment.
Here, the first bricks were laid, forming the foundation of my mind’s fortress, where my voice (emotions, opinions, sense of self, and imaginings) could feel safe, accepted, and loved. I did not understand this then, but now I know this was the coping mechanism of an emotionally and verbally abused child. However, it was also the work of my Heavenly Father—His way of sheltering and preserving my spirit despite the abuse.
Pulling back the layers, I noticed mundane life experiences when I would leave my body—not out of present-day trauma, but out of habit. It became glaringly apparent in my daily trips to and from my children’s school. I remembered getting in the car, but I would mentally “black out” on the drives back and forth. I “woke up” one day after returning home from school pick-up and did not remember the drive. My children had ridden in the car with a mentally absent mom. I would never allow them in a car with someone like that, which terrified me.
Something had to change.
So I began intentionally noticing the simplest details along our route: stop sign, stop light, red van, dog, the classic car in someone’s garage, grocery on the left, school bus ahead. I forced my mind to engage what was happening in the present as I drove my children around. This may sound simple, but it was a monumental, unorthodox task for this mentally disengaged, 30-something-year-old mom.
Slowly, the exercise of focusing my brain on the present allowed me to begin inhabiting my body and forging new mental pathways. This was all foreign, and it continues to be a daily wrestling match to find unique ways of plugging myself into life.
My earthly parents are no longer an actively destructive force in my life. During those years of noticing stop signs and joggers and blue houses, I finally broke my connection with them. This is when my Heavenly Father became a truly palpable presence. He actually became my Father—the kind of Dad I can cry to and complain to and who delights to give me good gifts—the perfect Father. This has rocked my world. I talk to Him about my worries, anxieties, fears, and injuries, and He shows up and provides in unexpected ways.
These memories flooded me as I battled to remain embodied on my anniversary. I was crumbling under the weight of a heavy discussion with my husband, and the comfort of my inner fortress was beckoning. I felt alone. As I began walking that well-worn path to my heart-mind gate, He stepped in.
My true Father showed up, and His warmth overtook me. I sobbed on His stable shoulder as I poured out my grief and anger. He listened and loved me as I complained about my lot in life and asked Him to reason with my husband. He sheltered me and gently demonstrated truths about Himself that I easily forgot in the panic of withdrawal: He is my guard and my fortress, and He has changed my path.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7 ESV
This Red Tent woman has requested to remain anonymous. We applaud her courage to risk sharing this part of her story with our community. It is our privilege to honor and protect her identity.