I feel like I can speak for many of us when I say that days of the week don't carry meaning right now. Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, what's the difference? Yes, this is a bit oversimplified, but I think you understand what I'm saying here.
You will probably see why I was shocked this morning as I drank my coffee and journaled to recognize that it felt like a Sunday. What I mean is that sitting in the stillness of the apartment, drinking coffee, and journaling felt comfortable and calming—aspects that I think many of us can agree we would like regularly. For a moment, I felt like I had returned to "normal."
The problem with that word is that normal for many of us describes a state of profound nervous system activation, oppression, and stress. When the word first came to mind, I realized that it was not what I had intended, but this was one moment where the English language felt particularly limiting—or at least my level of ability to use it.
As I've mentioned several times before, I suppose it bears repeating because I spend a fair amount of time thinking about complex trauma and learning about it. In my research, I have come across time and again the autonomic nervous system's role, specifically the vagus nerve, and how important it is in the trauma response itself, our healing from trauma, and even our ability to experience traumatic events without employing a trauma response. I'll try to explain what I'm talking about here.
When I refer to the trauma response, I'm talking about the body's adaptive response in shutting down parts of the brain when we experience overwhelming events. This response may result in symptoms described as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex PTSD if we have experienced multiple traumatic events. While we may want to label it or write it off as bad or maladaptive, the body's response keeps us alive in those moments when we are overwhelmed, and fight or flight are insufficient options to help us escape the experience.
Many of us, I'm certainly talking about myself, have lived in a consistent state of arousal, where if we're honest with ourselves, we find the state of fight or flight comfortable. Some heightened level of stress, at home, in our jobs, and most aspects of our daily lives, is where we spend much of our lives. Over time, our bodies develop an addiction to the plentiful stress chemicals—adrenaline being one of them—continuously present.
I realize that this consistent sympathetic arousal—fight or flight—has been my normal. I think that's the case for many of you, too. It may sound trivial to take such an issue with the word normal, but there is so little of that former baseline, if you will, that it's essential in this case to employ a different word to underscore my intention.
This morning felt comfortable, calming, relaxing. These are words that I want to describe my usual, typical state of being. I am seeking a consistent state of being where my body isn't bombarding my brain with reasons why I should fight or flee. I choose an existence moving forward more characterized by peace, unity, hope, and expansiveness. None of these describe the state of activation I described earlier.
However, I am not naive. Our entire society, certainly the economy, is built upon the very nervous system activation against which I am fighting. Those in power carefully tune the advertising and societal messages to target our very humanity—our insecurities, fears, and uncertainties. These are potent weapons, sinister in the subtle ways they sell us bit by bit without our awareness. Deactivation doesn't have these weapons of mass activation.
Finding a state of relaxation and peace is hard-fought, and it takes time. It involves mindfulness, meditation, eating well, sleeping, a complete lifestyle change. For some of us, it may even require a change of religion. Indeed, the latter has been necessary for me. Living in the constant eternal tension of being evil, needing to rely on the goodness of another, and trying not to do too much wrong, which would be evidence that I was eternally damned, was unsustainable.
I'm still trying to figure out what a healthy spirituality looks like moving forward. Maybe healthy is the word I'm looking for overall. What is my "healthy?" What regular rhythms facilitate and return me to healthy in a holistic sense—mind, body, and spirit?
In my mind, it's obvious we need more than a new normal.