A tree without leaves to the right of a snowy path.
Embodied Heart

On (and Off) the Surface

Cross-posted on my SageWoman blog.

Many trauma survivors are familiar with the concept of grounding. From a psychological perspective, it involves (re)connecting with one’s body and (re)turning to the present moment. As of late, I’ve found myself encountering it in a new and visceral way.

I experienced the coldest weather of my life thus far in recent weeks, with wind chills approaching -50 Fahrenheit. The ground was already coated in several inches of snow, which became “extra” frozen in these temperatures. Every step meant sinking into crunch, almost as if the snow had been freeze-dried. There was no moment to pause as I scuttled along with my dog for his bathroom breaks. My breathing itself had to be filtered through a cloth mask, lest I frostbite my lungs. Earth was there in sharpness and fury, present to me but without comfort. I found myself feeling oxygen-starved as I inhaled parched, brittle air. The ground crystallized itself inaccessible.

In less than a week, the temperatures soared upwards and all the snow melted. I suddenly felt held and met by the soggy grip of the muddy, raw-exposed grass. Air and land poured moisture in abundance. My breath met and melded with the fog that extended in every direction. All was soft and settled in respite. My dog and I meandered slowly, sipping in the warmth and the smells the hints of green engendered.

At the back of my mind, a simple fact lingered. Four feet below the surface, give or take some inches, it’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit. All year round. There’s liquid water mixed with soil, clay, rock and sand. Chaotic shifts, heart of winter to mild spring in a week, are happening above, but, at the right depth, there’s balance. In parallel, the sun is always shining if one’s high enough in the sky and over the right location.

I am running to rest and resting to run, but when am I pausing? Where is my depth or height at which stability and brightness come through? To what roots and risings am I entwined? Part of my experience of PTSD has gotten mixed up with the actual meteorological conditions, so my anxiety breaks loose any time there is a major shift or a threat of bad weather. I am not always capable of digging deeply enough or soaring above to meet a moment of simple being amidst the chaos, but I am now fitted with an image of it that I hope will be a returning, a reconnection. Always, somewhere not surface, Earth is sun-kissed rocky warmth.

3 thoughts on “On (and Off) the Surface”

  1. Wow. Thank you for writing and posting this! I also struggle to stay grounded and in the here-and-now during severe weather. I’ve been a walking mess of anxiety for the last 3 weeks. Here in Michigan, it’s one snowstorm and icestorm after another throughout the winter months. January is especially intense. Last week’s Polar Vortex weather with the air temps as you describe are both dangerous and deadly for the average person to breath in. For an asthma sufferer like me, “deadly” is an accurate description.

    I was forced to stay indoors for 5 to 6 days at a stretch, missing a lot of work and doctor appointments. The isolation made my anxiety worse. I felt guilty about cancelling my appointments (even in the name of self care), and I suffered financial setbacks from not being able to work. On the few occassions I did venture outside for necessary tasks such as to shovel snow, take the garbage out and start my car (to warm it up each day so the battery wouldn’t freeze and die), it felt like the air and ground were my enemies. I wasn’t able to fill my lungs with air, and the ground was covered with 5″ of snow covered by ice. Each step was made slowly and carefully while I fought my terror of falling. If I fell and broke a leg, I might also lose fingers or toes to frostbite before being rescued, that’s if I didn’t lose my life to the asthma.

    What got me through it? Deep, meditative breathing, cuddling with my cat, warm beverages, covering myself with a soft, heavy afghan, extra sleep, and repeating this mantra – “This is only temporary. In a few months this danger will have passed. I’ve survived hard winters for 46 years. I will continue to survive them.”

    Sorry for the inappropriately long comment. lol. I started out with the intention of thanking you for reminding me I’m not alone. It got away from me. Love and light to you, Suzanne. 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I can imagine that having a health condition that is exacerbated by the weather would make it even more triggering. I am slightly comforted by the idea that no matter how cold it gets in the future, I now have -50 as a reference point!

    2. For some reason, I thought you lived in Florida. lol! Thanks again for writing about your experience, it prompted me to turn my comment into a full fledged blog posting of my own. That lead to more writing. This is good.

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