The When of Trauma
It can happen anytime. We are kind of sitting ducks for it. Trauma is part of living. As much as that sucks, it is an ultimate truth. I am pretty sure the Buddha meant this when he said that the First Noble Truth is that we all suffer.
Trauma envelopes suffering and hones it into a life time struggle...if we let it. We are not in charge of the things that befall us, most of the time. We are just living our lives and then all of a sudden WHAM someone else’s karma spills over onto us and we are forever changed. Sometimes it is nature: hurricane, wildfire, tornado, tsunami, downed power line or tree. Anything can and likely will cause trauma...
I will never forget after being evacuated from my home four years ago for the Thomas Fire, returning home and sitting in my bed meditating. I couldn’t do it in my normal outside venue because the smoke and ash was too bad to be outside. I had these battery operated candles out there and so I was sitting in my bed and gazing forward eyes downcast but open. I saw the flame flickering out of the corner of my eye and I immediately panicked. The wildfire was still etching its fiery scar into the landscape and I thought, for a minute, it had come for me. I felt ridiculous when I realized it was only the non threatening and totally safe battery operated candle.
But for those few moments before I realized it was not the fire coming to burn down my home and life, I reacted like it was. My pulse and heart raced, my palms sweated, my mind was desperately trying to find out what the hell was going on so that I could prevent this awfulness from happening. My body did not know that we were not in peril. It reacted like the fire was real and the threat eminent.
It took awhile for me to be able to enjoy candles again. I avoided them because of fire and all its reminders. And because I was traumatized by the event of surviving a wildfire. If I am honest, I am still dealing with this as are many people who live in my town. I did not suffer like they did, their trauma so intense and great, but all of us having our lives altered...and in need of healing.
My healing took not so much effort. I talked about what happened and I processed it. I am mostly permanently unaffected; unless I see or smell smoke, then my body goes right back to that experience and it throws my nervous system into chaos.
Trauma happens all the time. There is no way to avoid it. So it would seem to me that we would all develop a better way to manage and deal with it. But we don’t seem to. We seem to instead, insist that trauma can be avoided, attempt to avoid it and then be shocked and further injured when it impacts our lives. Then we do the most damaging thing of all: we do not realize how much healing will be required or we think that we can just “get over it” and move the fuck on. Well, we can and we can’t. That is thing about trauma...it belongs to someone or something else, then it intersects with our life and it is now ours forever. And the less quickly we deal with it the harder and more long lasting the effects will be.
It isn’t fair or right, it is just reality. Trauma happens...to all of us. And the worst thing we can do is stay silent. Trauma needs to be spoken about, addressed and moved through. It has to be processed otherwise it wrecks lives and ruins relationships.
The best news ever is that it is never took late to heal. It may take longer depending on the depth and breadth of the trauma but healing is possible. For me, trauma caused me to seek help. Lots of help. And it caused me to pick up some pretty destructive coping strategies along the way. The trauma caused me to shut down, numb out and disconnect from my body and mind. Drinking became the solace that I needed. And I am so very grateful for it because I do not know that I would have survived adolescence without it. But then drinking was my only solution. It was my everything. And that created far more trauma for me and everyone who cared about me.
I am going to be dealing with this original trauma until I die. And that is ok with me because every day that I move toward it, I heal it a little more. I move closer to myself and come to know and see how this trauma is still actively fucking up my life. It is news I can use to heal and grow and change. I am not my trauma but only to the degree I remain willing to deal with it. It is mine which I can rail against and pound my fist on the table emphasizing how unfair it all is or I can accept that others have theirs and this one is mine.
Life is traumatic. I know people whose lives are just one trauma after another. Like a trauma chain. But they are functional happy people because they have given trauma a place in their life instead of refusing to deal with it and thereby allowing trauma to dictate all their life’s terms.
For me, I have found a home for it. I have grown up around it and through it. I have become open to seeing it manifest new and interesting fucked up ways that I deal with (or not) my shit. Today it resides within my body so I go and meet it there. I do EMDR, I talk about it, I write about it, I share it because I am not alone. I am not the only one. I am not my trauma. But it is a part of who I am. It made me harder and tougher but it also made me softer and more tender. I love a broken person with a compassionate heart and a passion that is almost too intense sometimes. I would not have the life I have today without the trauma or the recovery. And I have found a way to be grateful for both. They shaped me and gave me this life right here. And for that I am grateful...and I know what to do when new trauma comes a calling...for me and others. I know what to do because I have done the hard work, I have worked and toiled and cried and cryked and been oh so very broken.
And today I know that trauma comes for us all, it is only a matter of time. What matters most is what we do with it when it arrives.