Triage for the Soul: When Positive Thinking Fails

Yesterday I found myself in the shadows – again. Verging on despair, I saw lack and pain everywhere I looked. For a few hours, I was living on the Dark Side.

I kept trying to switch to positive thoughts. But it wasn’t working. I felt like someone had flash frozen my outsides, while my insides were spinning and agitated. Happy thoughts were failing me.

An old tub washer made of ice, set on heavy duty, working on a tub full of mud. That was me.

The issues were 1) two fractured neck vertebrae (4 weeks ago now) and the rigid neck brace I wear day and night; 2) poor sleeping because of the neck brace; 3) worsening sleep apnea because of the neck brace; 4) chronic borderline hypertension and possible medication coming up, and 5) ten days of our beautiful tomcat Mr. Kitty gone missing.

Kitty Love. Triage for the Soul
Kitty Love. Triage for the Soul

My efforts at meditation felt meaningless. My biofeedback practice gave me lackluster results (I can’t get this stuff to work!). Our posters for Mr. Kitty yielded no results. And my positive thinking efforts were met by my inner cynic. I won’t tell you what she said.

Worst of all, trying to go to sleep at night resulted in finally getting drowsy, then as eyes closed, my throat closed as well and I choked. And woke up of course, repeatedly. Until I didn’t even want to try to sleep anymore. My blood pressure was high in the morning because of the sleep apnea.

Yesterday was crappy.

Traumas and Sorrows, to Joy and Resources

I finally set up a phone appointment with my brother, a Somatic Experience Psychotherapist*, for evening.

By the end of the session with him I realized that I had been blocking the real sense of loss and grief I had over the fractures, my immobility, what “could have happened,” and then, the loss of our kitty as well. Lots of tears. But by the end of the tears and the end of the session, I felt thawed out and peaceful inside.

I also was reminded of the many resources I have, and that I don’t have to stay in that frozen mud place. I can move in and out. Even during the ambulance ride to the ER for the fractures, I knew I would be okay. I can go back to that knowing now.

My brother described an infinity sign, like a figure 8 laid on its side, with one of the loops containing the traumas and sorrows, and the other, all the resources I have in my life. We all want the happy side. But the pain and the shadows are also part of us and cannot be long ignored, or we become frozen and joyless.

I can acknowledge, feel, and cry over the traumas – which are real, but not the only thing in my life. Then I can move myself, thawed out, to the Resources. There I find my husband, my friends, my large and loving community, my children, my prayers, my books, my spiritual practice, my songs, nature, and more.

Maybe most important, my own sense of trust and empowerment.

Pain Wants to Change Me

I forget so readily this easy move back and forth, from pain to peace. Each time I try to avoid the pain and just think happy!  Sometimes that works.

But other times, the pain is deep enough it can’t be brushed off like a fly. It must be acknowledged and incorporated.  It wants to change me, and if I refuse to admit it’s there, it spins faster, freezes harder, and I grow more frantic. (Sounds like hypertension doesn’t it?)

Triage is the intake area in battle or disaster situations, where a quick evaluation is made of the wounded, and patients are then moved into areas based on their traumas and needs.

When things go sour for me, when I am wounded by something, I have to remember to do triage for my soul. How bad am I hurt? Will a little positive thinking lift my spirits?

Or do I need “surgery?”  Do I need the deep care that acknowledges and cleanses the hurt before the stitching back together and the TLC?

Gifts from the Dark Side

Kitty Love TLC
Kitty Love TLC

Both are important. But if you find yourself with a deepening sense of despair and hopelessness, or an inner anxiety that won’t let go unless you self-medicate, then I encourage you to take a Guide with you and visit that frozen mud, that monster inside.

Visit the Dark Side within and cry your tears. Feel your grief, your regrets. Bring the Light of your love into your own shadows.  It is Positively Okay to feel sadness now and then.

Then come out into the Sunshine, remind yourself of Light, and call upon your Resources.  Make a note not to be afraid to check out the Dark Side now and again. There may be gifts waiting for you there.


* Paul Chubbuck is a counselor in Fort Collins CO who also does online work.  You can find him at Releasing the Past  .

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