Halloween, Part I
Halloween is a notoriously difficult time for me every year. Two years ago I wrote about how this time of year accompanies extreme activation so much of me that deals with conflicts like life vs. death and good vs. evil. And every year my internal reactions feel so off scale.
Over the past few years I have learned to prepare myself more for what to expect. I have become much more vigilant. I make every attempt to stay as grounded as I can so that when I am eventually triggered, I deal with it from a more stable place.
It is difficult for me to really know what is going on during this time. There are some rather unique qualities to Halloween: like people dressing in costume and pretending to be some one or thing they are not, like kids venturing out into the night in masses going from house to house asking for candy from people they have never met, and the endless scary imagery.
One way I look at it is that I have had to deal with a good number of scary situations in my life. While scary situations in fun create an exhilarating adrenaline rush in some, for me scaring for fun is often a trigger to the past. Of course this was not always true. I used to relish haunted houses and the sort, but that was before I had a broader awareness of "all of me."
This year was on target to be managed better than most. I ramped up the reliance on my supports, and I took other measures. But, just like last year, a freak ice storm lead to the postponement of "trick or treating" in our town until today. So, that meant, like last year, we effectively had two Halloween holidays. I did not handle this all that well.
Halloween is more complex for me than simply the imagery. There are very specific internal responses and internal activations, and a corresponding assault of off-scale "memories." As I have said many times before, I do not think it is helpful to validate every memory as historical fact. In the past when these memories came up I would say something like: "Oh no! I can't believe that happened! I can't live anymore!" I had such a black and white way of approaching them that never really helped.
Because I have a psyche that can be massively compartmentalized, over time I have learned to accept that there are "realities" of parts of me that are very real through their own lenses. So, when I get bombarded by all that comes up, I try to be committed to a non-confrontational stance, an open-minded stance, a down-the-middle stance. This is never easy because we are, by nature, biased and judgmental. I strive to be mindful nowadays, precisely because I know what the stakes are for me.
Every self-harm event or past suicide attempt or mental breakdown (if we can use that term) or maybe even a dissociative switch is about a falling into a vortex, or a polarized position, and away from a more centered mindful position. Conversely, every success in healing has been about finding my way back to a more centered and mindful place. It seems so simple, but in many ways it is not.
The good news is that by repeating this over and over again, in word and in practice, as I have done now for years, it has stuck as a skill and has become enormously helpful.
I knew that such an approach presented an opportunity for getting through Halloween, but it also presented some rather significant risks. Every opportunity has associated risks. This is universally true. Artists take creative risks, athletes take sports risks, politicians take political risks, businessmen take financial risks.
Halloween, for me, represents a period of significant safety risk. Safety is not simply about the perceived external threat. It is not just in my head. The threat becomes so overwhelming that an expected "solution" is to turn it inward.
It quickly becomes a battle to just hold on. To not hurt myself. To not do something drastic. All the while there is an attempt at reality checking: I have kids, a wife, a job, people care about me.
But severe stress, especially in certain contexts, does crazy things to people. If one is pushed hard enough and far enough and long enough, you can get to a place where it is nearly impossible to reality check.
That is where the real risk lies.
I took that risk this year. I knew that was going to be my experience. I knew there was a very fine line between being able to hold on and stay safe and not.
Tomorrow, in Part II, I will post about my experience on Halloween day and evening.