Turning Down the Dial on Anxiety

A street superimposed over someones head, Lorraine Pentello, Somatic Sex Therapy, Melbourne
Photo by Masha Raymers

Stumbling from the brightly lit train platform and into the dingy side-street; my eyes took time to adjust. With a shiver I pulled my coat tightly around my body bracing against the cold night air.

Heavy footsteps echoed behind me and a tall figure brushed past. They stopped abruptly several metres ahead and turned to face me. My heart jumped into my mouth and I froze to the spot. I wanted to run, but my feet wouldn’t move.

From the illumination of his phone I could see the shadow of his beard and assumed it was a man. He was staring right in my direction!

What did he want from me?

He trudged back towards me and I frantically fumbled around in my pocket for some sort of weapon. After shredding through a soggy tissue, my thumb rubbed up against the teeth of my house key and I gripped it tightly.

What was he going to do?

But when he reached me, he just kept on going. Headed back to the station, hunched over his phone, not even giving me a passing glance. At first I felt confusion, then relief.

He wasn’t a crazy killer after all, he was just lost!

He probably got off at the wrong train stop!

I took a deep breath and exhaled my worry out into the cold Melbourne air. I felt it leave my body and a sense of peace moved through me. If there had been more light I felt it would have been cold enough to witness.

The chatter in my mind quietened. I felt safe. Invisible. The obscurity swirled around me like a soft comforting blanket, protecting and sheltering me from danger.

A twig snapped behind me piercing my thoughts. I sharply turned my head.

Was I wrong?

Was he stalking me?

But he was nowhere to be seen.

Instead I could make out another figure. In the darkness, my mind filled in the blanks and I saw granny walking her tiny white pooch. The little creature was almost glowing in the murky light along with their companion’s bright pink coat. Neither were interested in me.

With another glorious exhale I returned to my velvet cloak of calm, feeling strong and invincible. I marvelled at the novelty of this feeling and the ability to bounce in and out of it; scanning for danger and then melting into the security of my assessment.

That night was the first time I’d experienced an immediate sense of calm after having such a fright. In the past my danger dial had been chronically set as high as it could go for as long as I could remember. Any perception of threat, real or imagined, would tip me into panic; unable to calm until I crawled into a bottle of wine at the end of the day.

Everything changed when I started EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing) treatment. I have this amazing therapy to thank for my new ability to confidently calm myself after a shock.

Strangely enough, my first round of treatment that led to this wonderful train station discovery a few years ago, didn’t have anything to do with being jumped by a stranger in the dark, but it helped me just the same.

In a situation where there might be danger, like being alone with a shadowy figure in a dark street, a dysregulated system will still see danger long after the risk has passed, even if it turns out to be a sweet old granny walking her dog!

Working through one type of trauma in therapy can calm the nervous system in general. This can have a knock-on effect and we can see improvements in other areas of our lives. Areas that we never even imagined that it could be related to.

I see this often with my clients too. Healing sexual trauma can bring so much ease and joy to life. Not only because we’re feeling calmer, but because we can safely access more pleasure too; the numbness and pain melting into contentment. Life just tastes that little bit sweeter when you can access sensations in your whole body and feel good inside it.

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