Adverse Childhood Experiences and the path towards healing. You are not alone.
I share my trials, my victories, and my stories with you in hopes that if any of you were ever touched by childhood abuse or neglect, as I was, you will see yourselves in my experiences and feel strengthened to voice what you had not been able to before. I hope we can learn together why we respond to life through a particular lens, and that there are ways to climb out of this prison of pain, silence, and shame.
My name is Bess Hilpert

Leap and Go Forward

Learned Responses to Danger or Neglect…

I have a daily ritual of walking to the mailbox. It gets me out of the house and into the elements. It is quieting and relaxing for me. It also presents a possibility of seeing my grandchildren outside playing and laughing. If I am graced with this interaction, it fills my soul and I hold it for 15 seconds or 15 minutes or an hour 😊.

On a recent walk to the mailbox, I was in my calm and connected response system breathing and enjoying the silenced cacophony of my mind. It was an unusually warm winter afternoon that did not require multiple levels of clothing to maintain an inner warmth. I felt the sunshine on my face which seeped into my body and spirit. All was right with the world. My key opened the small mailbox and I filled my hands with the letters and endless catalogs that occupied that small space. I locked the little box and began leafing through the mail as I began my return home. Among the many bills there was a letter addressed to me from the Department of Public Safety. I stared at the letter and the return address while feeling my heart begin to race. My breathing became shallow and my body clenched. My cadence picked up to meet the pounding in my chest. Surely, I had done something wrong. I was caught going straight across FM 620 at 5:00 am on the way to swim practice instead of heeding the detour and turning right. Surely, a camera caught me running a light, a stop sign, turning from the wrong lane. I was caught. I was at fault. I was bad. I was full on in fight or flight stress mode.

At some point in that hurried walk home to open the letter in private and sit in my shame, I heard a voice deep inside of me calling forth. “Perhaps there is not bad news in the envelope. Maybe it has something to do with your license. Maybe, just maybe, it is not bad.”

That moment of clarity was a victory, my friends. It did not stick, but it showed up. Victory, indeed.

Not every incident has to have a monster hiding just beneath the surface. That monster/trigger is the past playing out in this moment. That monster drives the fear. Fear that you are wrong. Fear that you are not safe. Fear that you are not worthy.

Shaking I walked through the front door, locked it securely, and ripped the envelope open in the privacy of our home expecting the worst.

It was just time to renew my license!

How often do you jump to the negative, as I did over a letter? How often do you think someone can do it better than you, like I do when I go swim? Standing back on the deck before jumping into a lane or always going last in the lane assuming everyone is faster than I am. Someone is smarter than you, like I do? Surely, I cannot figure this problem out. I need so and so to help me. Someone is stronger than you, like I do? She handles difficult situations so much better than me. I will step back and let her take the lead on this project.

All of these leaving you hiding in the wings, or wanting to.

These are thoughts and feelings that we have become comfortable with, whether we like them or not. Comfortable with insecurity, with uncertainty, with groundlessness. They are our learned responses to danger or neglect. It is a theme that continues to come up – how we get torn between wanting to leap and go forward and at the same time wanting to hold onto the suffering because it is familiar. We know it is ruining our life, but we just want to go back to the familiar.

That is why practicing our 15 seconds of positive holding and the other techniques we are filling our toolbox with can, over time, teach us to be comfortable in an unfamiliar place. It is trusting that this is the chance of a lifetime where anything can happen if we keep moving forward. Leap and go forward.

There is a term called “bardo”. Have you heard of it? It is the period between dying and being reborn. Bardo is the gap. It is the in-between state. That is where we are, friends. In the gap. Longing to be released from the bondage holding us hostage and the journey towards healing. The fact that I could have those moments of compassion and clarity while returning from the mailbox demonstrates that the hard work does pay off. It just requires perseverance. Compassion for self.

Dr. Alane Daugherty, in her article “Change without Shame” explains that the science behind change suggests that a self-compassionate approach to change sets us up for success. She says, “self-compassion is an emotion grounded in our calm and connections system. When we approach change from a place of self-compassion and understanding, we are more likely to see solutions and opportunities instead of only seeing the problem. As a result, we will cope better, exhibit creativity and optimism, be more resilient, and problem solve better.”

It can be overwhelming to imagine changing our entire way of life. Where do we begin? How do we take down a wall that took twenty-five or fifty years to erect? Breath by breath. Little death by little death. Dropping all we carry instance by instance.

So often we make a commitment to change our ways, but stall in the face of old reflexes as new situations arise. When gripped with fear or anxiety, the reflex is to hold on, speed up or remove oneself. These are the moments we are called to hold on, slow down or is an opportunity to face ourselves. Opening our toolbox and taking a deep meditative breath can often break the momentum of anxiety and put our psyches in neutral.

Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening teaches us “Breathing is the fundamental unit of risk, the atom of inner courage that leads us into authentic living. With each breath, we practice opening, taking in and releasing. When anxious, we simply must remember to breathe.” He further explains, “I am not talking about external moments of anxiety, but moments of truth. I’m talking about fear of love and truth and God, fear of change and the unknown. I’m talking about how we all grip too tightly to what we know, even if we hurt ourselves in the process.”

Franciscan monk, Father Richard Rohr has been known to say, “The best way out is if we have first gone in. You can only reform things long-term by unlocking them from the inside.”

I believe that in every wound there is an opportunity for healing and hope. Don’t you?

So, let us keep graciously holding onto our 15 seconds of heartfelt positivity. Hold onto our toolbox. And, slowly with time, begin dropping what has become our shields.

Large ask, I know; but we are on this journey together. Hold hands with me. Breathe into the negative and hold the love of the promise of the positive. I am going to keep leaping and believing and moving forward with stumbles along the way. Will you do the same?

I will leave you with this one final thought from Bishop Barron, Word On Fire: “Do not be afraid to do small things. Plant the seed, make the move, take the risk. Take even the smallest step. Sow the seed and leave the rest to mercy.” We will talk about what small steps we took this week when we meet again.

Until next time, friends.

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