The Calm In The Crash
I was 20 years old, I had a surfer dude boyfriend, an active social life, supportive, loving friends, and I was a bit of a daredevil. I had been bungee jumping at the age of 18 and by the time I was 20, I thought I was pretty invincible... Boy did I get a rude awakening!
One night I was driving from my boyfriends house to go meet some girlfriends for dinner. I was singing along to my Britney Spears CD, smoking a cigarette, grooving along. As I approached one of the biggest intersections in Melbourne, with 5 lanes merging into each other from several directions, I casually flicked my cigarette out the window (I know, ew!) and turned right.
Suddenly a car came out of nowhere in the opposite direction, speeding directly toward my car… the last thing I remember thinking is… “I don’t have time to break”…
They warn us about 3 things when it comes to car accidents, and all three were true for me:
1. Accidents often happen five minutes from home - always wear your seatbelt!
I was five minutes away from my boyfriends house, so if I didn’t have my seatbelt on, I would be dead.
2. Don’t let the sun set on an argument, you never know when it could be your last day!
My boyfriend and I had been arguing the night before.
My boyfriend and I had been arguing the night before.
3. Make sure you’re always wearing nice underwear!
And, well... I wasn’t wearing embarrassing underwear, it was much worse! I was wearing... NO underwear!
|Now calm in the car with underwear on!|
I’m here to tell you how this experience lead me to discover a technique that allowed me to literally become the Calm in The Crash (AKA the calm in the storm), and I'm going to share that technique with you.
But first, there was the CRASH!...
After the car hit me, it was just like in a movie… everything went into slow motion. Peoples voices and sirens echoed and blurred in the distance - each sound separating from each other and becoming it's own entity.
A paramedic climbed into the passenger seat and asked me questions. I told her I had a warm burning sensation in my belly, that I felt like I was internally bleeding, and that I couldn’t feel my legs. She put a neck brace on me and at that moment I thought “Am I not going to be able to walk again?”
I was fading out and she kept telling me “Stay with me”... “stay with me”. And the way she was saying it kind of worried me, so I thought I'd better ask... “Am I going to die?”
And she said... “Not at this stage”.
…Not at this stage?? Was she saying, “Weeeell, you’re not going to die, at this stage… buuuut… maybe later…. “
Well that really kicked me into gear - I was not planning on dying at that stage… or later!
As they cut my clothes, revealing my embarrassing non-underwear situation, cut me out of the car and lowered me onto a stretcher, I rambled on to any paramedic who would listen about how I was NOT going to die!... And I didn't!
I had a laparotomy, which is stomach surgery. I had a tear in my small intestine and it was a long healing process. But it was the emotional trauma that took a lot longer to heal. However, this trauma was also the gold that allowed me to transform my life…
But first… it shut me down.
I ran away from the trauma, I repressed it. This is often a common response to trauma.
I took my healing into my own hands, I went for the Travel Bandaid and I decided to move to London. But right before I was scheduled to leave, I had severe panic attacks. I went to see a therapist who warned me that I needed to deal with my mental health first.
I told him to deal with his mental health. And off I flew to London.
And honestly in that time… I had a lot of fun! I partied hard, I backpacked around Europe, lived in London with friends and had an absolute ball! I was unconsciously numbing my pain with alcohol and partying. And it worked like a charm!
Finally when I got tired of the merry go round, I decided to move back to Sydney to pursue my dream of going to acting school. Which is when the trauma hit me again. Literally...
My wake up call consisted of a succession of five car accidents in a short space of time... FIVE! None of them were my fault. At least three times my car was stationary and twice my car was actually turned off. I was like: "Really? How is this happening???"
I was convinced I must've had a big neon sign on the top of my car that said, "Hit me!"
By the final accident I was so shaken up and had such high anxiety that a friend had to drive me home and I fell apart.
The anxiety that came up was my repressed trauma trying to get my attention. And I finally listened. I had therapy and was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I did life coaching, self development courses, yoga, meditation, hypnosis, I did everything I could to work through the trauma so that I could move through it and stop the crash cycle I seemed to be repeating.
And then, something remarkable happened…
Five years later, I had someone run into the back of my car on the way to work. And instead of panic, high anxiety and breaking down… I was completely calm!
When the guy who hit me pulled up next to me at the lights, he looked terrified and mouthed “I’m so sorry!”
I smiled and said... “Meh, don’t worry about it!”
I’ll never forget the look on his face, he was so relieved, grateful and shocked!
He said “THANK YOUUU!”
I said “Have a good day!”... and I drove to work feeling really good.
This is an unusual reaction even for the general public, let alone someone who had severe car accident trauma and PTSD. How did this happen?
Throughout this time, I was doing consistent yoga, meditation, exercise and eating healthy, so I created an environment where my body was so relaxed that my mind responded accordingly.
And I was also practicing The Party Time Technique (AKA pivoting) which changed my life. Here it is...
Think of something that you have a fearful or triggering reaction to, that you would like to change. It could be as simple as frustration over slow internet connection or road rage.
When a practiced reaction flares up:
- Stop: Become aware of it. Just by observing it, that creates a space between the reaction and ourselves. We are not our reactions.
- Laugh: We don’t beat ourselves up, we congratulate ourselves for catching it. Laugh out loud, it helps to not take it so seriously.
- Love: Love the reaction. Don't judge it as good or bad, don't repress it, just allow it to pass through with love.
- Breathe: Take a deep breath
- Party Time: Pivot and choose a different response
It doesn't necessarily have to be in that order, as long as you have a general sense of the feeling that those steps generate, you've got it!
Sometimes it can be tricky if the response is strong, but keep with the exercise. It will eventually shift. Neurons in our brain fire in their ingrained patterns until we create new neural pathways that, over time, become more dominant.
It’s like exercising a muscle. We can’t expect to go to the gym once a month and build a particular muscle. It’s in the consistency and the repetition.
Most of us avoid facing our trauma because we’re conditioned to avoid pain. Society encourages us to numb it with medication, alcohol, and junk food. But facing our trauma is what allows us to move through it and to find a deeper love, joy and fulfillment than we ever thought possible.
Facing this trauma and using this technique is how I'm able to recount this story today, as an Australian living her dreams in LA, a once shy introvert sharing her stories publicly, a car accident survivor alive to tell her story.
So whatever your trauma is, no matter how big or how small, face it with love, compassion and patience, and get ready to become who you truly are... who you were born to be!