I woke up at 4 am this morning to the sound of rain...at first, I thought
“Is that a light rain? How wonderful!”
Then I panicked. This is my now natural reaction to weather....windy, feel unsettled. Rainy, feel upset and unnerved.
I realized that my meditation cushions got soaked because I didn’t bring them in because I didn’t know it was going to rain...in May, in Ojai! I quickly got over that - they will dry eventually and they are old...the last vestiges of Lane that are still present in my daily life...matching meditation cushions for time spent in meditation that never really happened...why should I care that they get wet or ruined?
What struck me thing morning is that I still, despite years of working on myself, have this feeling that the other shoe is about to fall. That is what I feel like when there is weather. Rain brings down trees and hillsides and people die. Wind fans the flames of fire and devastates communities in an instant. I wasn’t upset about it ruining my hiking plans...I was upset about the possibility that something bad was going to happen. Because something bad has happened in the past and because I fear it now.
My grandmother who spent the bulk of her life in Indiana and later Florida used to freak out when it came to thunder storms. She was a nut about them. She would try to get everyone to go to the basement in case there was a spin off tornado. She was so neurotic about them that she made our dog also terrified of thunder storms...This was just a known fact in our family. Grandma was a nut job about storms...but until just now I never thought about why...
She lost her first husband in a storm...he was an electrician who was called out in a storm and was killed on the job. She had two small children and widowed at a young age. Of course she was a wing nut about storms...people actually died in them and left you to raise two children on your own! My grandmother was not just neurotic, she had PTSD. She was triggered every time a storm came. And how could she have been otherwise...she knew with certainty that bad things happened with storms...people died and never returned home.
How is it that I reached 50 years of age and never saw this before? The family story that Grandma was just a little nutty is all dramatically changed when I see her reaction as unprocessed trauma. She was reliving probably one of the worst nights of her life every time a storm came which was often in Indiana and Florida.
In the last few years, I have relived my grandmother’s fears about weather. I cannot really enjoy a campfire because the smell triggers me to the Thomas fire and all of that attendant heartbreak. I cannot hear the falling rain and not think about the day the hillside came raging down and killed people. These things happened and are part of my experience. I cannot change them. But I can reprocess them so that I am not a neurotic mess every time it rains or my kids want to build a fire in the fire pit. I have opportunities that my grandmother didn’t have. I know new and different things about trauma that she didn’t know.
So this morning, with some work I was able to return to bed and listen to the rain with a wistfulness. I was able to hear the soft pattering of drops on my roof and deck and find some comfort in them. I was able to hear the collective sigh of the flowers, plants and grass as they greeted Monday with relief at being watered so lightly and well in this unexpected downpour. I was able to attend to my own internal conflict of trauma reaction and see it for what it was: PTSD. I have survived and lived through an ordeal that now is forever stored within my body and is triggered. The difference this morning was that I was able to hold myself and my reaction in place. I was able to see its arrival, manifestations and its departure. It lost some power this morning because I realized that in that moment nothing bad was happening except to my meditation cushions which I didn’t even really care about...I would welcome the need to get new ones to remove the past taint that still exists in them.
My mental state improved even though the rain continued to come. I was able to lie in bed and listen and not fear the next moment. I laid here for awhile just listening and being content to process my traumatic reaction in a new way.
I also was able to reframe the life of my grandmother...from neurotic weather freak to a person whose life was lived-in a constant panic and trauma reaction. That made me so sad and then it made me laugh. All the time spent adjusting and accommodating her fears that ruled her life all because she needed help that never came. As I lie in my bed, safe from rain and harm with no husband to lose in a storm, I smiled to myself at my own neurotic messiness. I felt compassion for myself and that I have allowed the past to ruin the present. I was able to lie snug in my bed and reprocess my trauma so that I was able to enjoy today’s light rain shower and be grateful for all that it brought with it.
Life is like weather after all. Constantly changing and not always for the better. Being fearful and terrified about what happens next is one way to go through it. But there is another way, a way in which I can hold myself and my past in a kind of suspended examination. Where I can see that all that I survived and all that I have learned along the way have held me well. I have a choice, always, about what to do with my reactions to life’s ever changing weather. I can become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety or I can embrace the changing landscape and use it as an opportunity to wake me up to all that has happened and how I can always see it differently if I choose to. Sometimes, rain is just rain and that is all. And sometimes rain is the precursor to destruction. My being upset about it does nothing to alter rain’s ultimate end. Only my reaction and reality is altered.
This morning I did my own therapy and reprocessed my weather trauma and wished that my grandmother could have done so as well. Wherever she is now long gone from this world, I hope she enjoyed the rain this morning, fear free and with the easygoing freedom to lie in bed and just hear the pitter patter of raindrops on the landscape....nothing more.