I’ve been stewing all day. Heck, actually, I’ve been stewing all week. It was at some point in the day when the snow outside began softly falling that I grinned, ear to ear, amused that I had been granted my little wish. Something as simple as a snowflake would provide the shift needed to escape my cage and cause me to contemplate taking a new path. Admittedly, I’ve been too tired and exhausted to push forward. I’ve been halfway hoping that someone would just carry me to the place I long to be.
The cold, dark days of dreary drizzle had blended together, blurry and boring. Restless, I sought stimulation and solace in the darkest of places where the sun doesn’t shine. I ran back to an unhealthy preoccupation where I clung tightly to the familiar misery of desperately trying to win a rush. Ah, how the simple act of gambling serves as the perfect parallel of my life, always waiting and wishing for the crumbs of love to fall, like waiting for the buzzer sound that means I’ve won a few free spins. I’m so starved that I was nearly picking crumbs off of the dirty floor, devouring them, and scouring the surface for more. If only I could get a bonus or two, I reassured myself, I’d be sure to be back on top! It comes and goes and I am never satiated. But, every now and again, I win just enough to distract me from the love that’s leaving me, always leaving me, as time slips away and I make no move to seize it. Looking back, perhaps the one who is leaving me the least of the crumbs, is myself.
As the snow continues to fall today and the ground became completely covered, I’m struck by its stark beauty. This blanket of white is accompanied by a bitterly cold wind and still, it seems so peaceful and serene. It is soft and new, changing the entire landscape with millions of snowflakes stacking up and sticking together, altering the reality of those experiencing it. We rarely get much lowland snow here in the Puget Sound region. A snow can lift you into anther realm, one of childlike joy, intrigue, and playfulness. My spirit easily becomes light, like the snowflakes drifting sweetly and slowly to the ground.
Those who have struggled with a trauma disorder know that life can be anything but light or carefree. Often, trauma binds you to maladaptive ways of coping that continue to keep you trapped. It’s difficult to let go of these coping mechanisms because in times of trauma, they have made you feel safe, so much so that releasing them feels an impossible and incomprehensible feat. At one time, these maladaptive ways meant our survival and therefore it makes sense that we struggle to let them go. Often, they are ingrained in us so deeply that we forget they are only a mechanisms, not a personality characteristics. These old patterns have little power over us except for the power we gave to them long ago.
On a personal level, I have been unwilling to “give up” my obsessive thoughts and compulsions relating to my trauma because it feels unsafe to do so, as if I were “letting down my guard”. What if I stopped fighting? I often have felt no one would care & in some cases this has been proven true, and yet, I’m slowly realizing that when I never leave the battle, the battle never leaves me. I have been sincerely trying to escape, but I often chain myself more tightly in the process, perpetuating a false sense of security that inevitably leads to my demise again and again. This downward spiral is going to take quite a bit of strength and perseverance to totally break free. I’m still not sure it will ever entirely happen, we’ll see.
Unfortunately, the maladaptive ways of coping will further trap you and re-traumatize you. It’s a cyclic beast that can render you depressed, anxious, exhausted, and even in physical chronic pain. And it does this so cunningly, without your awareness or permission. The cycle continues while you operate in very limited ways that “promise” you protection and safety. Some stay stuck and stagnate, others become increasingly more sick and will even be re-traumatized by engaging in patterns that unknowingly welcomes the trauma back into their lives.
Over the past couple of years, my trauma was recently triggered and intertwined with the trauma that my niece endured. I felt guilty during the times I remained silent when I could see her suffering so. Her trauma lead me to compulsively engage in desperate behaviors of continually checking up on her with the insistence that she receive the opportunity to get the help she needs. She now is nearly disabled from drug use, suffering from a mental illness, and is potentially facing time in jail. I spent the last two years trying to “save her” and it only resulted in me becoming more isolated from her and my family. Her nuclear family is very dysfunctional, and to be realistic, she probably does not have the best chance for recovery.
In the last two years, I sat with my hands tied behind my back, shouting from the sidelines, as others neglected to help her. I watched while the system failed her. The last few years have been particularly tough on me, watching a young individual whom I love struggle in so many ways knowing I could do little to help her. The invalidation and neglect she was receiving, painfully reminded me of the times I have felt invisible and abandoned. The fight to “save her” metaphorically became the fight to “save myself”. I launched war in my family and it was brutal and messy. At the end of the day, the dysfunction continued and little has truly changed in the family.
Through the chaos and drama, I came to identify myself as the scapegoat and certain historical patterns finally made more sense to me. I stepped back, not really wanting to see the unhealthy patterns of others, but determined to accept the brutal truth, even if it was painful. This process left me alone and abandoned in the storm, clinging to any semblance of sanity as I watched the devastation before me ensue and the denial others practiced in order to avoid the truth. In reality, certain members of my family had already abandoned themselves years ago by surrendering to an aggressive and ugly addiction that robbed them of so much. They’ve been tightly bound to their negative coping mechanisms of addiction and chaos to numb the pain away. Their lives are going in fast forward, often in a blur, without truly smelling, tasting, or seeing much of anything. I’ve been angry and ugly in my relentless quest to help them, but in my heart I know it’s time to truly ‘let go” and forgive. I’m searching for softness to return to me. I long to feel light, like the snowflakes floating freely to the ground.
Healing from trauma appears to come in waves. It seems that I get swept out to sea over and over again. Perhaps this desolate see is just too alluring, pulling me in over and over again, crashing upon the shore, leaving me weary. I know I am nearly ready to shed the lifeguard vest and let go. Perhaps, I’ll find a cliff high above the ocean where I can sit far away from the shore and listen to the waves crash in the distance. Feeling this vast and foreign space around me, I will be able to scan the horizon for incoming storms and will shelter myself, avoiding another shipwreck. And in time, I’d love to morph into a lighthouse, solid and full of hope. One that stands in strength, peacefully warning sailors of perilous waters, with its penetrating light, piercing the darkest of night.