Choking on the Brake Pedal

gaspedalI have been feeling intensely lately that I constantly have one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake simultaneously. Like I am always pressing down on both and preventing myself from moving forward (or moving at all). Continuously forcing myself to stay in one place while wanting change.

In the past couple of days I experienced an acceleration of thoughts – picking up speed, intensity and volume. I had a pain in the right side of my neck and shoulder and my attention focused primarily on my discomfort, consistently returning there with anger and sadness at the pain. As I watched the thoughts they seemed to be all focused on past romantic relationships, past best friends, people moving away, upcoming anniversaries of loss, current friends I’m missing, other people who seem to have close groups around them, and my sense of belonging (or lack there of) started to take hold of the wheel of my reality. I scanned through the past and present for “evidence” supporting the belief that I was always as alone as I was starting to feel (and had felt strongly at times before).

It swelled up as if overnight and I could feel the corners of depression while everything was spinning around as if on the wind. I felt like the energy needed to ground. I needed help so I reached out to a friend and went for a massage and healing session.

Every time she worked on the pain in my neck and shoulder my brain would have a flurry of intense thoughts. The thoughts now were about things that “needed” to get “done” either at work or administrative thoughts about a new program or class offering a new business or getting so and so to do such and such for this or that.

The flurry that exploded with each release of the neck and shoulder were completely different in content and would dissipate to silence in between strokes. I realized the thoughts were there trying to make me do something to not feel the pain. To get away from the pain.

Was I trying to get away from the pain in my neck or the pain the pain of not belonging or the pain of loss of relationships (by preventing them from starting or deepening, or by them ending) or all of the above? Either way the refusal to acknowledge the pain and to try to smooth over it with activity was evident.

“Just be with it,” I told myself. “Just be with the pain right now. You are safe. Let it happen.”

This helped me to settle into the experience of what was happening right now and not anything else. As I moved into just feeling the pain, trusting that nothing was wrong and that I was in good hands, the thoughts stopped. My breath settled. I relaxed and let go. The pain even lessened as I softened around it and just let the pain be there with my full attention acknowledging it.

I could quickly see how this is something I’ve always done. As a teenager I adamantly refused to have emotions. I flat out decided to stop. They weren’t “useful” and I didn’t really like having them. Of course it doesn’t work that way but I didn’t know that then. One of the ways to work around having them was to stay busy. To work. To take on three or four part-time jobs as well as school. That way I wouldn’t have to deal with them and I’d also be too busy to figure out that whole relationships being important thing. Work I could do and it conveniently made me prioritize being busy over having time to be with other people too much. I did, of course, also have friendships and relationships – many of them quite close – though I never allowed them to satisfy this belief that I belonged. I was “too busy” to have been included so it’s okay that they didn’t ask me (even though it felt painful) or I had to work so I wouldn’t be able to make that party. I didn’t have to look at the pain or beliefs that I felt around not belonging. I could conveniently avoid them all. Every time the thoughts or pain came up if I wasn’t invited out or felt like I’d never be in a relationship, I’d feel the pain and it would push me to isolate myself further.

The pain in my neck and shoulders linked the fourth and fifth chakras. The fourth chakra governs our relationships (with ourselves and others) and the fifth chakra governs communication (including communicating needs, emotions, desires). While both the feeling of belonging and work are related to the first chakra – that was the energy catching the wind and trying to leave my feet, move up and out through my head in a long-held escape pattern, only to get stuck on its way.

In romantic relationships in particular I would often put on the brakes in communicating what I needed or wanted. I’d press down that foot in order to not have to fully express myself and to keep my emotions in check. Relationships did evolve, of course, though with one foot constantly on the brake connection was also limited. The heart chakra often also closed off or moving frantically between the gas and the brake (with a bit more heft on the brake). When an interaction let me press further down on the brake it pressed down significantly and became really hard to let go of or bounce back from (if at all). If I could keep the brakes on then I could keep the person at a distance. My inner resistance satisfied and my fears of not belonging and internal convictions of being alone confirmed every time a relationship inevitably ended.

As I explored after the massage I also saw that this is a trauma response of mine, which became further engrained several years ago in a different way. While going through a significant traumatic experience I put the brakes on at the same time I moved forward and through. Resisting internally every step of the way while the external world seemed to push me forward. Not to mention many complex relationship dynamics at play.

Now I can see that I’m still doing it all the time with pretty much everything. The foot that’s on the brake pedal is still much heavier than that on the gas. Why? To protect myself? To not want to go through with it? To make it stop? In that moment, yes perhaps. What about now?

I realized that I’m still holding on to the belief that to release my foot from the brake means stepping into intense pain and having to feel it. It has meant (until now) that all those painful thoughts and beliefs of not belonging are true. It has meant not having the relationships I want and not expressing what I need in them. It carries with it the memory of (and subconsciously reliving) traumatic events maybe even playing out in the background without me knowing every time I do this (which feels like all the time). It’s potentially loaded and yet I continue to sit poised, one foot pressing more on the brake than the gas.

Except I didn’t release my foot from the brake before and there was still so much pain. So clearly that doesn’t work. There’s no avoiding pain. Just like there’s no avoiding emotions. I’m learning now that to be with the pain just like being with emotions and not trying to get away from it lets it pass. I don’t need to put up all these mechanisms of inner resistance and avoidance. I can step into the pain, know how much I can tolerate, and move through it. Not around. Not above or below. Not trying to move up and out in escape. Not to stop and avoid it and try to go only when it feels safe (it’s too convenient to believe it never will feel safe) but to keep moving. To keep everything moving no matter what it brings.

I can use both pedals with skill and fluidity. So that I can keep moving and not suffocate and choke (as it has started to feel) by limiting myself in this way. By starting to lift my foot from the brake and allow myself to live, love and be loved.

As I sat with it all again today to investigate further, I noticed a subtle clenching in my womb. The pain in my neck and shoulder also present again though not as strong. Thoughts continued to spring up about what I wanted to do. What I wanted to start. How I wanted to live. How I wasn’t living. What work I wanted to do. How I’m starting to want my work to have a different meaning. And wondering, why can’t I just move forward with any of it?

And I felt a small blip of fear. Wait – let’s look at that and let it be there.


I felt myself try to turn away from it and gently turned back. I went further into it.

“What am I afraid of?”

“Of not having the life I want.”

I’m afraid of not having the life I want to have.

Tears released in resonance.

And immediately another thought tried to take me down, “you don’t even know what you want.”

I dropped down into the fear and felt it more fully.

Moments passed in silence.

Yes, I do. I’ve always known.

And I smiled as the fear released.