Human beings have three primary responses to perceived threats. Most of us recognize the first two: fight or flight. But when my therapist described the third--freeze--my stomach flipped and I instinctively started nodding my head. Freeze, yes. I'm very familiar with that one.
To freeze in the face of a threat means to make no discernible movements, no sounds, avoid eye contact. It means holding your breath, hoping not to attract any attention, and praying as hard as you can for the threat to go away. It means to be outwardly still while you're inwardly churning. To be the proverbial duck, cool and calm on the surface but paddling like hell underneath. It means keeping quiet, keeping your head down, keeping your cool while the Titanic sinks or Rome burns around you.
Fighting makes me squeamish, so in the last years of my marriage, I froze. Rather than jump into the fray, my strategy for getting through the worst moments was to keep things from escalating and wait it out. I spent more and more time in that frozen place, until I started to sense that it was a real possibility I would stay there--numb, cold, and disconnected from reality and people I cared about.
I didn't want that life. And freezing wasn't helping anyway. Things escalated no matter how I contained my reactions. Conflict lasted longer or burned more intensely than I could withstand.
So I shifted into flight mode.
The momentum of flight swept me into an avalanche of next steps and to-do lists. Get divorced; find a new job; sell the house; move across the country; enroll the kids in new schools; start the work of making new friends, finding new favorite places, figuring out how to be a family in this new landscape. Find new coping strategies, new answers to the old questions about purpose and values, what we are worth and where we look to find out.
When things went sideways--new job(s) presented challenging people and situations, kids floundered and took awhile to find their footing--I just kept running. I tried to muscle through confusion and on to the next step, to check the next box on the to-do list, convinced if I stopped moving I would sink beneath the weight of our anxiety and grief and all the changes. I ran as fast and as far as I could until I felt myself starting to veer off the rails. I couldn't keep going like that. I was headed for an even harder fall if I tried.
So I decided to pivot.
It was the hardest and best thing I've ever done for myself.
It took a lot longer than just the months I was between jobs, but not one second was wasted.
It meant poring over my life and choices and taking ownership of things I'd been trying to put off on someone else. It meant taking apart unstable structures I had thrown together out of expediency and replacing them with a foundation that can lead to wholeness. It meant asking hard questions and making difficult changes when I didn't like the answers.
All of it was important. None of it was easy. I'm still working on it.
Most of all, it meant learning to stop running. It meant learning to stop freezing. It meant unlearning old patterns and adopting new ones. It meant learning to see that not everything uncomfortable or uncertain is a threat. It meant learning to tease out the real threats and address those in healthy, productive ways.
It meant learning what it is to stay.
To stay in healthy relationships when they bend and stretch you and refuse to follow a script. To practice forgiveness, acceptance, and patience. To love a little better every day. To put down roots that will produce growth for the person you are now, not the person you were before or the person you thought you had to become.
To stand on your own two feet, in a place you choose, warm and present instead of frozen or looking for the closest exit. To make improvements where you are instead of constantly searching for somewhere else.
To stay, to remain, to abide. It feels like a whole new world.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.