Halloween is usually a fun, laughter-filled event for our family. We eat way too much chocolate and listening to jokes told by kids never get old, no matter how many times I’ve heard them. This was our first Trick-or-Treating experience at our new-to-us house, and one we’ll never forget, not for the good, unfortunately. Days prior, neighbors told us that our neighborhood gets inundated with people from the nearby areas, to the point that it gets a little chaotic. I was both intrigued and a little anxious at how this whole two-hour period was going to shake out on our usually pretty quiet area.
It was after 6pm already and the kids and I were waiting in the front yard for Tim to join us on our journey around the hood. Evelyn was giddy and saw her friends two doors down and wanted to say hi. I had to go inside and get a hat and gloves for everyone. I told her, “Go say hi and come right back.” What she actually heard, with her one-track, 5-year-old mind was, “Go off by yourself and have your way with the neighborhood.” I came back out from the house and she was nowhere to be found. She usually minds me very well, and has always been my Velcro baby, so I knew something wasn’t right…insert Mommy’s gut feeling. I headed to our neighbor’s house where I thought she was…only two doors down. His kids had already gone off with their grandma and he mistakenly pointed us in the opposite direction they actually went.
This whole thing was probably a matter of minutes, I’m guessing 15-20…but it felt like an agonizing eternity. I had an overwhelming sinking feeling, nausea, vertigo, panic, tunnel vision…you name it. Torrential thoughts rushed in like a tsunami that someone had taken her…and it was getting darker by the minute. I fought my mind like hell to stop it from getting the better of me. Tim and I literally sprinted in opposite directions with our heads on a swivel for her. News spread like wildfire to friends and neighbors, thanks to technology, that we couldn’t find her. I finally spotted her in a small cul-de-sac, happy as a clam, skipping from house to house with her friends and their grandmother. Completely oblivious of the giant swirl of activity that was happening yards away. I wanted to scream and yell at her and fall apart on the sidewalk in front of total strangers. She had NO idea what had just happened and why we so frantic. I admit I yelled at her, and don’t remember a single word I said. Later, at bedtime, I apologized to her for getting mad and told her that anger was covering up my pent-up terror and anxiety.
Looking back, I noticed I was utilizing an acronym “RAIN” I learned a while back when strong emotions come crashing down. (Great article about it here.) While I did not go about this perfectly by any means, I was able to maintain more stability in the moment, without letting it completely overpower me. It also reminded me of this quote by Bruce Lee:
“Under duress, we don’t rise to our expectations, we fall to our level of training.”
R – Recognize. Identify what feelings, emotions and thoughts are present. Remembering that they’re transient; they come and go. This is what’s going on right now, at this moment. This sucks right now, but what needs to be done?
A – Acknowledge: (or Allow) Which isn’t the same as accepting. I wasn’t accepting the thoughts that she had been taken. I was noticing that catastrophic rumination was present, but wasn’t getting carried away by it. (I was holding on by the skin of my teeth.)
I – Investigate: (with kindness and curiosity) Adding in self-compassion with this one. Treating yourself as you would a dear friend. “I know this is horrible, and you’re ready to jump off the deep end, but you just can’t right now. You will stay present and focus, mind and body in the same place…feet pounding on the pavement, heart racing, lump in throat, stomach in knots, breathing in, breathing out…”
N – Non-Identification or Noting: By identifying with the experience, believing the horrifying stories my mind was throwing up, it was only making things worse. By attempting to observe the torrent of thoughts and emotions, I was able to keep a clearer head on what needed to be done.
We were lucky. Our neighbors are amazing – within minutes they had 30+ people looking for her. Later that night, I took this as a sign to have a booster “stranger danger” talk to both my kids and have a real, honest conversation with them. Yes, there are amazing people out there that we can trust, but there are also not-so-great ones as well, sadly. As I type, the same emotions have a vice grip on my stomach and nausea is creeping up my esophagus, even as I bring this experience to mind. However, I’m thankful for these growing abilities I’m cultivating to respond a little more wisely than I would have without them.