At this point in my life, when the “reminders” come they don’t take my breath or presence of mind like they once did. I automatically look around whatever room I’m in and notice who I am with. I pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells and breathe deeply. After a couple of decades of practice, keeping myself “here and now” instead of “then and there” has become habit. I am no longer terrified of the memories. With so much distance and practice I can even talk about them. I am not the hurting, lost, terrified and traumatized person I once was. Gratefully so.
Yet, it does still hurt, and even with time, space, and distance, sometimes I am triggered to these old and ugly places. Truthfully, nothing takes me “there” more often or forcefully than parenting.
“No, I will not!”
I’m sorry, you just said what? Excuse me? Want to try again? Her defiance reminds me of my own, that ONE time.
Then there’s the feisty spirit that I admire so much. As I silently congratulate her I tear up, remembering how I held to my fight, my “endurance” as if it was all that kept me clinging to hope.
It’s one thing to know really dark times. It’s another thing all together to revisit them. Living through them once feels unfair. The second time to face them and heal feels like penance for crimes I didn’t commit. But then to see it again, my own rawness served up on a silver platter, cooked up by my children’s growth and development, its ugliness shining through every unrefined part of me: that feels uselessly cruel. I don’t want to lose a single second of my present moments in my amazing and complete life thinking about “then and there.” Yet, from time to time I do, somehow it seems I must. Kick and scream as I may, I can’t purge myself of my old haunts, not completely.
There’s a myth that somehow those who’ve been victimized, if we face it and feel it, we can be done with it. I think we further perpetuate the myth ourselves out of our own wish to feel we’ve completed this “healing thing” and that what once was doesn’t have to hurt anymore. When I find myself face to face with that young and hurting part of me that still remembers, I resent it. I want to be bigger and better than the sum of what hurts, and so being affected, still, from time to time, is akin to “healing wrong,” or “failing.”
I lay this out so openly because I am one in three. One in three readers know exactly what I am talking about. Perhaps you wonder too how you go from perfect harmony to hearing your mother’s voice screeching out of your mouth in .2 seconds. You feel shame, perhaps anger, uncertainty, maybe some dread.
Perhaps you’ve wondered if your mucky past might ever leave you in peace. Even though I am more at peace today than I’ve ever known, the moment peace is interrupted, I panic:
Here we go again. I don’t want to think about this! Does it have to hurt? Still?
I’ve been told, and on my good days I know it to be true, that there’s an alternative to fighting my own emotional leftovers. The alternative is the embrace: That wash of acceptance; the sweetness of surrender; the sinking into what is in front of you just because it is. My wife would add, “let’s not judge it”. A mentor might add “trust this too will pass, it always does.”
We are more than our past, but as it shaped us, and is in us, it visits. When I am brave, I can embrace it, offer a smidgen of welcome, and honor the raw and vulnerable places. They are as worthy of love and belonging as any.