Strength in Story, Trauma, Trauma recovery, Violence

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I am young. In my very early twenties. Long, blonde locks cascade down my back flowing toward earth in gravitational pull. My natural hair color swinging back and forth as I walk. Covering up a bit of my curvy spine when let loose. Creating messes in my hair brush and shower drain.

Garnering me attention. Not wanted. Hurtful. Whistles, cat calls, and sexualized verbiage making my body tense up, harden like a brick. Avoiding certain streets at certain times of the day. Approaching working construction sites with stomach churning. Embracing winter. Muscles finally free within my wrappings. Years and years before I learn phrases describing my almost daily experience then:  Sexual harassment. Specifically street harassment.

Yesterday my friend from long ago days texts me. Asks me if I’d seen the article in a well-known newspaper. The one naming famous classical music people as sexual abusers. Reminding me of one. A guest opera director in our opera prep program at one of the top ten music schools in the country. A man who openly bragged about the thousand women he slept with. Taunting student listeners with his sexual promiscuity as the AIDS epidemic ramped up, eventually killing beloved friends involved in our program.

This man singles me out. Me, a chorister in La Boheme. Begging for a dinner.  Eating alone on the road so very lonely he said. Me, finally saying yes for the adventure of it. Being propositioned at the table. Turning him down. His retort delivered in French accent. Words meant to cut deep. “You know, you are not so very beautiful.”

Soon after this dinner maybe a day later in front of a crew of stage hands, he slams me against the brick wall of the theater’s backstage. Grabs my chin. Forces his lips on mine. Pins me with his body. Between solid brick and anger.

No one helps me.

At first stunned. Body shutting down. Mind not comprehending. Then frantic. Wiggling. Somehow pushing him away. Screaming something at him. Walking into the hallway. Wringing with adrenaline, anger, disgust, and contempt.

Later, maybe that day. Maybe the next. I call him out of rehearsal. Something not done. Ever. Not by a mere chorus girl.  Demanding a moment with a big director taking up his precious and well-paid time. But in the wide corridor of the performing arts complex I say, “What did you think you were doing?” My words echoing off the walls. Words I have not been taught but somehow absorbed into my sense of right and wrong. “You ask first. You ask and then I either say yes or I say no. BUT YOU ASK FIRST!”

It helps in this moment that I am taller than he is. But the power differential is not lost on me. I play now with fire. His strength is not in his height or physical prowess. It is in his ability to make or break my future career. We both know this fact. The incensed anger within me however pushes out into the atmosphere. This time, I scare him. He leaves me alone from then on.

Like most women, I grew up eating, sleeping, and breathing this communal disinterest in how often our bodies are commented on and attacked. As if our bodies are fully extracted from our hearts, souls, and minds. Not of our doing. But of others. A right of unasked for cultural passage. No matter how wonderful our homes were, are and our fathers, friends, and partners.

Culture teaches. It molds. Keeps the harassed and abused silent. Then and now. As victims push memories away. Forced into our stomach aches, migraines, depressions, and autoimmune disorders. Into our bodies because until recently there has been no place for these facts to be embraced in the air around us. Lifted up as truths to be told. Unless we are blessed with incredible therapists who understand what sexual trauma does to our bodies over time. If not healed. If ignored like the greater culture minimizes and ignores our pains, no matter the extent of the abuse.

Hearing the news about this man of long ago, brought from the depths of my sinews what it felt like to be pinned against that hard, rough, brick wall. The panic of my breath when forcibly shoved. The being alone or on my own in front of a slew of witnesses. The tightness of my jaw. The pain radiating in the back of my head. The many times since when stressed or angry feeling someone or something pinning me down. Pressing in on my capture. Escape not insured. Sensations whose origins I could not fully place ricocheting within me. Creating emotional and bodily havoc. Until now.

That’s what naming these wrongs out loud in any form of the public square allows us. The many of us. The more of us than others. No matter our birth sex, preferred pronoun, race, ethnicity, religion, neighborhood, town, state, region, income, education. No matter what. Except our category as human beings. Naming begins healing. Allowing us to feel, recognize, remember in our bodies once again these unasked for and unwanted sensations. Connecting sensations with emotions. Realizing how sensation and emotion work together, either for us or against us. But in doing healing work, freeing us from the perpetuated evil of what first occurred. Saying “no” to this ongoing, unasked for payment living in our bodies.

Healing builds strength. An upholding and embracing of inner and outer resources. Mine, my words. Even then before I knew I was a writer. My words providing safety. Breaking me free. Now joining the words of others. Making known to all the narrative of our tragically universal experience wrapped in story, verbal exchange, essay, and in communion with one another. Words tearing down this sexual harassment, abuse, and violence wall. Destroying its silence with language brick by brick by brick by brick.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

For more information on how the human body absorbs trauma see the following books I found on Tony’s shelves after his death:

Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grief, Trauma recovery, Uncategorized

Feeling Good Feeling Guilty

 

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My friend, a pastor of many years and talents, told me something. Wisdom strongly spoken in soft words. Repeated a minimum of three times. Three times I remember in the intense aftermath of Tony’s death. Each time sitting on our front stoop in widow’s black. Away from despair’s chaos. Smashing the phone against my right ear. As if I cannot hear.

My friend said I will experience both sorrow and joy during grief’s extended stay.  Capable of two contrary moods even in this condition. Frozen sensations in emotion and body holding court in my shallow breath. Sorrow and joy breaking free from time to time. Occurring in oscillation within seconds of each other. My feelings running a curving, switch back mountain path. Driving lost on a series of one-ways. Playing one of my sons’ video games. Grief holding sorrow and joy close in a paradox of extremes.

He was right. In the beginning sorrow dug deep. Joy jumped high. To the outer limits of these internal experiences. As if using mind altering substances. A more intense version of the coffee-caffeine-red-wine cycle of my twenties.

Glimmers of joy or a wave of feeling good or even slightly good hit. I felt relief. Sort of like having a really bad headache, finding pain reliever, popping two in my mouth. Fifteen minutes later sensing an easing of contracting muscles.

In grief not lasting. A few minutes later, maybe even seconds, spinning down again. Accelerating back toward the starting point. Returning to a frozen dark hole. Believing I couldn’t feel good right now. Or ever again. Tony gone. Soul pining. Sons’ in pain.  Extended family gasping. Who was I to feel good even for a few stolen moments?

Guilt sprouting from a flash of transient relief. A flash unrecognizable at first. Relief already foreign in just a few days’ time. A stranger in pain’s palette. Joy’s occasional visit yo-yoing my heart through an old-fashioned clothes wringer. Squeezed back and forth. Cranked up and down. Wrung in and out.

Fleeting waves occurring while driving. Bringing harmful distraction to a new height. Alone always. My inner self allowed out in the closeness of my car. With only the music blaring. The same song over and over again for months. From a CD found in Tony’s car. Cranked the moment Paul pealed out the door on school days. Squashed seconds before he climbed back in hungry and tired.

Guilt in living. Not saving. Not dying. Here loving two precious children. Closer to men than boys. Finding flashes of our family’s future hidden here and there. Momentary smiles. A shared laugh. Whispered, I love you’s. 

Me, often walking wooded paths alone. Step by step. Accepting crunchy, fallen leaves sweeping across my sauntering feet. Fall’s sunshine spilling on my upturned, searching face. Listening to the gurgle of a running stream heading toward winter.

A myth, my guilt was. One of trauma’s many. A way of making sense of an incomprehensible day. My brain getting it wrong. Needing a new draft of the story. Or two or three. Rewrites occurring weekly in my therapist’s office. Sitting on her sagging, puffy, brown couch. The tick-buzz of the EMDR machine keeping time with my slowly, healing heart.

Acknowledging after a time I need fleeting moments of relief. If I am to survive Tony’s sudden, trauma-laced, death. Allowing tenacity’s strength to return. Reemerge. Live into widowhood with love from before and now. Choosing life as Moses tells the Israelites. For my children’s sake. For mine as well. Finding strength to continue. Rebuild. Thrive.

Certain my late, EMDR-trained, husband approves. Pushing me to do so through mountains of molecules separating life from death. Grief’s guilt for me, an evil. Like all evils, not easily eradicated. Exorcised out again and again in the light of God’s new day. Sorrow, in time, becoming momentary.  Bowing to the light. Night passing into morning. Joy strengthening. Joy exchanging places with sorrow. Joy here to stay.

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EMDR: Short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. A healing technique trained clinicians use with survivors of life’s many traumas.

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Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live (NRSV).”

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Faith, Grief, Thanksgiving, Trauma recovery

Invitation Home

 

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You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

The mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

-Isaiah 55: 12 (NIV)


Isaiah 55 contains an invitation home.  The prophet speaks for God to a dispersed people in exile longing for their homeland, way of life, loved ones, peace, and God. God’s invitation for a redemptive journey from forced exile includes a celebration so great that all of nature waits to erupt in praise and thanksgiving.

My sons and I live in an exile of sorts. It’s called trauma. Its name is grief. Sudden loss catapulted us into a heart-ripping wilderness, a vast and unfamiliar terrain. We found ourselves transported into this emotional and physiological desert, far from our previous internal identities and the externally tangible home we once knew.

Day by day I accept God’s invitation out of this exile for myself and for my sons. We travel home together along a path toward healing, joy, and peace. Our map however, like any human trauma course, shows a lengthy journey with many forced stops along the way. Yet countless people pray for us, feed us, teach us how to survive panic attacks, and heal our minds’ need to flash back to the first moments of our banishment. These many loving acts are like shouts along the race route of our marathon. Cheers for each milestone we conquer. Songs of support when we want to give up. Sounds which lead us, through others’ innate human joy and accumulated peace, back to our own. All raised up for us by a multitude of modern prophets repeating God’s invitation whether they themselves believe in God or not.

This Thanksgiving I give quiet thanks for all our figurative mountains, hills, and trees. They have surrounded us in our unasked for expedition these last fifteen months.  We call our varied and beautiful landscape not mountain, hill, or tree but family, friend, pastor, therapist, teacher, classmate, school, doctor, stranger, faith community, colleague, and neighbor. Their collective energy to me now is as glorious a view as the sight of any majestic mountain bursting into song.

 

*Photo courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com