you said if i left him
to call you if i needed anything
that you cared
that you’d help me
you said when i left him
that i’d start
to feel like myself again
in a matter of weeks
but you didn’t understand me
or know what you were saying
because it turned out to be
it is many months later
and i am nothing like myself
and when i needed you most
you turned away from me
Are we defined by trauma or by how we respond to it? No, I will never again be the same. I am much, much better. However, I have learned that most people are made quite uncomfortable by seeing trauma in others. We have a collective fear of anything less than fun, of pain that isn’t confined to a TV screen.
I never thought I would be able to say this but I am thankful for that torment that landed me in therapy young, for the trauma of an abusive relationship, for the experience of drug addiction. Thankful to have had my heart broken and to have buried loved ones. Thankful to have held my baby while he struggled to keep breathing. I have learned resilience and compassion.
It seems people either love me or hate me for my ability to get up, brush off, and go again. It isn’t nearly that simple and easy. Perhaps the biggest key is having learned that whatever I feel is OK, it doesn’t have to be repressed. I was fortunate to have had a great therapist who got to me when I still had an easily formed brain. Feel it. Express it. Learn from it. Grow from it.
Sometimes it looks insane. When I brought that baby home form the hospital I sterilized everything. I knew, logically, it made no sense. But I did it anyways, aware that it was far saner for me and him both just to feel that fear, to express it, to be done with it. After three days with Lysol and Clorox it was through my system. Or I could have spent three years pretending nothing was wrong. I still smell hospital soap and remember every hospital stay or visit. Memory is like that. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant. But it is only a memory. No different than smelling lilacs and remembering summer evenings counting stars, barefoot with my little brother in the soft grass while Mom nursed our sister to sleep. Or smelling coal smoke and remembering icy Colorado mornings, heading off to school with a cup of hot tea between my cold hands.
Part of living in the present is acknowledging the past, being unafraid of it, willing to take those memories as they come. Pushing them away only prolongs the hold they have.
If there’s one thing I want to teach my children it is resilience. I’ve seen too many people trapped and broken by trauma. And a surprising number of people who weren’t. Everyone will experience some form of trauma at some point. We will all find ourselves in frightening situations. We will all lose people we love. Some people become broken and bitter, some people become kinder and gentler, some people change the world when they’ve seen enough.
I’m not the friend who quits calling when calamity strikes. Cry on my shoulder. I’ll make you a cup of tea. And I might write you a poem. Hopefully it will make people uncomfortable.