My friend reached for her wallet.
It wasn’t there.
That meant all her credit cards, driver’s license, everything (well, thank goodness, since we were overseas her passport was at the hotel in the room safe).
In seconds my friend was sobbing on the street, horrified, distressed.
Having known this person for many years I grabbed her by the shoulders and in a firm, calm voice said, “Stay here with us. Nothing bad is happening right here with us!”
I could see she was going down memory lane.
In her mind she was somewhere else in some other time, not here with us, on this street, in this country.
At the same time, other people were saying, “She needs to have her feelings!”
I knew that if she kept spinning in this emotionally distress that she would be carving an old way of being into more concretized emotional and nervous system “reality.”
I knew she was caught in a re-enactment.
Re-enactments are trance states, full of reactivity, usually out of proportion to the circumstance.
In their affective bigness they give us a doorway into non-narrative patterns laid down earlier in life.
We all are molded by previous experiences and attachments. That early pattern (which John Bowlby called the Internal Working Model) is how we experience and perceive the world.
Learning to remap those fundamental patterns is key to breaking free of the core beliefs in which we feel stuck, hopeless, and despairing.
Back to the scenario….
I knew if my friend got lost in this physiological distress it would take a lot longer to drain out of her body.
So, I stayed right there with her, using a calm voice and getting her to look around her, look at me, look at other people to see that here in this moment, in this reality, nothing bad was happening. She was here, with people who care for her, will provide for her, make sure she was safe physically, financially, emotionally.
In this moment nothing bad was happening.
What she told us later is that at other moments in her past (when the template was being formed) she wasn’t allowed to make mistakes, nor were others around her allowed to do things imperfectly. There were always consequences, all of a painful variety. She learned to adapt.
But the past fear had buried itself buried in her nervous system.
Now, when mistakes happen a switch opens up the old, hidden cavern in her mind and out comes this horrifying distress that she’s going to be all alone, ashamed, abandoned……
When these re-enactments happen (and they do) there is a task: to stay in the present moment, this very moment.
Check out reality.
Create a distinction between this moment and the past moments that are trying to come to the surface.
The good thing is those moments provide us opportunity to do, to be in the situation in a different way.
But that requires that our minds and bodies aren’t hijacked by the emotional distress.
We need to keep one toe/foot in the upcoming distress while at the same time hold onto our capacity to witness, observe, stay present. (All these key components of mindfulness and concentration meditation practices are skills I teach in any of my online courses.)
Back on the street, we watched our friend’s body ease out of the tense hold it had on her as she left the state of pain that came alive in her body.
Re-enactments, in there wretched encapsulated state, come not to make a mess of our lives but to help us link together the past, integrate it into the present, to create inner solid ground.
When we’re stuck in the pain of it we feel we have no recourse to do anything.
Grounded again, my friend did what everyone does in those situations: call the credit card companies to cancel and reissue cards.
Get a little settled and then head back out into the Grand Adventure of Life.