About ten years ago, I was in a car accident. I was on a divided highway, going close to 100 km an hour, when I was cut off by someone who had missed their exit. I slammed on the breaks, which locked, and my ’93 Camry did a 180 and continued to skid along the highway, backwards, the traffic that had been behind me now coming toward me. I was completely out of control. I only remember a few things—the headlights of the cars coming towards me on the highway, the music blaring angrily from the radio, the powerlessness around whether I should be pressing the breaks or the gas, and the strangely emotionally-detached thought of “I am going to die,” which was met with more confusion than terror. The next thing I knew, I had settled in a shallow ditch between two light-poles, physically unharmed but emotionally traumatized.
Apparently the officer who analyzed the scene and wrote up the report for ICBC said I had “done all the right things” (save the speeding part). This was somewhat comforting but also irrelevant to me, given I was struggling with fresh symptoms of PTSD at the time and was perplexed at the idea of having “done” anything. I had felt totally powerless in the moment. Later, when I asked what it had meant, they said I had “turned into the skid,” thereby gaining more control. It was probably more luck than anything if I had done the right thing. I can assure you there was no conscious decision or cool-headed choice to do so.
Nowadays, I talk about “turning into the skid” with clients. But not literally, particularly as it’s (fortunately) usually quite irrelevant due to Vancouver’s mild winters and antilock brakes being the norm. Rather, we discuss “turning into the skid” emotionally.
When we experience difficult emotions—grief, fear, rejection, defeat, pain, anger, frustration, worthlessness (you get the idea), our natural tendency is to turn away, just as we instinctively turn the steering wheel the opposite direction of the skid. We instinctively suppress, avoid, distract, deny, and run. It’s natural—we’re human. Most of us don’t like pain. But similar to turning into the literal skid, turning into the emotional skid can help us eventually regain a sense of control and calm. By making space for those difficult emotions, we not only learn to better tolerate them, but we are able to be curious about them and listen to what they are trying to tell us.
So the next time you feel the urge to steer away from uncomfortable feelings, try to go towards them with kindness and patience. Try to make space for them. Don’t push them away or distract yourself with your go-to vice. Stay with them, even for a moment. Be curious. Be compassionate. Take them with you to class, and let them be there, without judgment, as you go through your practice. When it feels too much, focus on your breath. Breathe into the emotional discomfort, just as you breathe into your physical discomfort during your “favourite” hip-opener. “Turning into the skid” changed my life on many more occasions than just that Friday night. Try turning into some in your life, and see what it does for you.
Megan Bruneau (M.A, R.C.C.) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, former Yoga Advisor, and avid yoga practitioner. She draws upon her personal and professional experience to inspire people towards healthy balanced living. See more posts by Megan at http://www.oneshrinksperspective.com/.
typo - breaks should be brakes.