I want to fall asleep to the beat of you breathing

Edit: name redacted at request of subject

So you know why they want to sleep with me, but let me tell you another reason people flock to me. It is my calming effect. I didn’t always have it. And I’m not sure it’s innate to me. I’d say it came from having an overwhelming mother.

My mom had the ability to create beauty. She decorated an entire Christmas tree from ornaments she made out of loaves of white bread, glue, red food dye, markers and paper clips. Really, she was brilliant. But she could flip the script in a split second and lose her shit. And, because I was so little, the earth seemed like it could shift under my feet and the ground was never solid.

She lost it at home, of course. Usually after something my father said. But she lost it in public, too. If we were shopping…God, that could take hours and hours…she would lose her credit card or wallet or whatever she’d bought. I think she was ADHD and never diagnosed. This happened all the time. And every time it did, she’d have a meltdown and suddenly I’d feel very unsafe.

I was little little little and I’d have to watch her run around a store like a maniac. And then I’d see the look on the faces of clerks trying to help her or dismissing her or getting flustered or angry. If they didn’t react in just the right way, she’d get more worked up. It could snowball. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it. It was the worst feeling in the world. My stomach would tighten and the back of my throat would get salty with tears that never seemed to run down the front of my face. How was there room for me to feel anything when my mother was sucking the oxygen out of the room?

Like the child who learns not to squirm when being tickled against their will (I learned this too, as well as how not to react when I was being hurt physically), I learned not to react when she started yelling or screaming. I felt everything. I felt the panic and fear and shame. But I never showed it. No one was going to respond to it, and it just made things worse. So my face stopped reacting. And I’d get very still and observe. I learned, without a conserted effort, to look for the first signs of panic. If I could predict it, I could get out of the way quicker. If I could stop it from happening, maybe my world would be a little more predictable. This quality, if p then q, is a way of systematizing people, and the essence of autistic reasoning.

I learned to bring my voice down in pitch and speak slowly. To slow my breath. To stop and think and reason. I learned to put up barriers to panic so it didn’t overwhelm me and pull me out to sea to drown. It had to happen around my mother or disastrous things could happen. She could sweep me into panic with her. This led to a midnight, alcohol-fueled fight when I was 17 wherein I put a knife to her throat and then ran away. This led to a fight when I was 32 wherein I had to push her off me and she broke her wrist and ran down the hill screaming at the top her lungs. It’s a nasty and terrible part of my past that I don’t talk about with most people because that trauma never really leaves you, no matter how much work you do on yourself. I can revisit those memories without leaving the safety of my life now, but the feelings come back full force, the adrenaline starts to pump and it can take a while to return to stasis.

Long after I’d left home, I still had moments of panic betray me. They were triggered by witnessing people who were supposed to make me feel safe lose their composure. It happened once on my honeymoon to disastrous effects.

D couldn’t figure out how to buy train tickets from the airport to Amsterdam. It was late at night and he was worried the train would leave us and we’d be stuck. He got angry at the automatic machine. Whatever he said or did, I tried to stay calm. But I felt unsafe and the clock began to tick to zero, when I would explode, seemingly out of nowhere. Zero struck the next morning, and I picked a fight about the shitty hotel he’d chosen. It had common bathrooms. I screamed at him for three hours. The fight quelled for a few days but resumed in Paris, where I had a breakdown in the hotel room because D abandoned me there. It was a shame. One should never spend a day in Paris crying hysterically in a tiny hotel room and looking for things to cut themselves with.

So yes, this is how bad things could get. This is why I had to be fixed. This is why I attempted suicide twice. This is why things could go from zero to 100 very quickly. This is why I had to cope. This is why things had to change. And thank God they did.

It took a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy with Michael Vickroy (therapist not BFF) to recognize the patterns and change the outcome. Years of therapy. But it started showing results. And then I didn’t just act calm, I was calm.

Example: last Spring I went on a road trip with three comedians. I don’t drive long distance because of what turned out to be a dyslexia/visual processing issue, but I volunteered my car. Steena drove.

Everything went fine until we were in the city on surface streets. In the middle of an intersection, the car stopped moving and Steena freaked. Instead of freaking out with her, I put the hazard lights on from the passenger seat, told her everything was going to be ok, and asked her if the car was in neutral. It was. She’d shifted the car by accident. Totally understandable. I had her shift the car into drive, go through the intersection and pull over into a parking lot.

She was hyperventilating and apologizing. In my calmest voice, I reassured her that everything was going to be ok. We were safe. Nothing bad had happened. We got through it together. We were all here for her and none of us would judge her for it.

No one taught me to do it, but because I learned empathy and crisis management, I could soothe her very quickly. She had a comedy show to do in a few minutes and the last thing she needed was to be freaked out. The words I used helped in the situation and she was fine pretty soon thereafter.

I’m very good at problem solving in a crisis now. I’m the person you want on a shuttle to Mars. But since no one will send me, I’m the person who brings calm to stressful situations here on earth. First, I tell people to breathe. I assess the situation. I triage. I absorb the panic of the situation and apply the energy to solutions. I reassure the person that we’re in it together. And then, together we solve the problem.

I don’t get upset or explode two days later. I can take on others’ frenetic energy without succumbing to it or becoming codependent. This is what people recognize in me and, accordingly, come to me looking for stability and groundedness. All because I never felt that as a child and I learned to create it for myself. People see this in me, it ingratiates me to them, and they want to be part of this mystique I have. To them it radiates as positive energy.

My mother didn’t make herself whole cloth. Someone, most likely her parents, made her this way. She wasn’t able to make sense of it, and this is what resulted from her trauma. I was fortunate enough to recognize it and fix it in my life time. This is generational healing. This is karmic healing. I tried for years to help my mother get better, but I can’t make it happen without her participation. And so the the trauma carry over ends with me. I will never have children of my own, but I will share what I have learned with you so that together we can multiply the effects of my struggles and those of my mother and her mother and back until the initial trauma occurred.

XXXX is asleep next to me. He is very sensitive to anxiety. And something happened today that would have previously thrown him into a panic. I know because I have seen him panic. It can appear very frightening to the casual observer. But what he has come to discover, as so many others have, is that I will calm him from a very rational and grounded place and that nothing is too big to be manageable if we just breathe and tackle it together. He can fall asleep to the beat of me breathing. He has asked me if I am an angel or if I am just in league with them.

What is this thing if we do not call it the gift of hope? I am so grateful to be able to give it away so freely without losing any part of myself. It means the suffering I endured did not go to waste.

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