I was meeting a client a few weeks back and I found myself saying, “Trauma is messy in that way. There’s not always a clear beginning and certainly not a clear end. I think if we hold out for that definitive end we might be holding our breath for a long time. Maybe instead of wishing for that moment where all the painful memories and associations disappear, we work for more good days than bad and a greater acceptance for just how hard being a human is at times”.
Maybe we work for more good days than bad and a greater acceptance for just how hard being a human is at times.
As soon as I said the words I felt them resonate, why is it easier to speak truth than to accept it? Why are things easier said than done? Rewind some 7 years ago to my first go with eating disorder treatment and the trauma I had experienced was not part of my narrative. Not that it hadn’t yet happened, it very much had, but in the sense that I believed it was over the day that man went to jail.
I believed it was over the day that man went to jail.
I believed so strongly that my life was made up of compartments and that just like a storage bin I could snap the lid shut and shove that sucker on the top shelf of the garage. Compartments made things feel organized and manageable. Trauma in one, eating disorder in the other, no fucks given that none of them were even remotely contained. The jokes on me to think the lids would ever snap shut.
Somewhere around day 3 of treatment, physically and emotionally stuffed I plopped down on my therapists couch. She wanted to know how I felt the sexual assault was impacting my life and my experiences today. “It’s not” I said. “I want to talk about my meal plan, about when I can get the hell out of here”. At that time she didn’t press it, I figured I was off the hook, she was just brilliant enough to know I would walk through the doors of treatment again, maybe with more willingness to confront my demons.
We can’t change what we aren’t willing to confront. It wasn’t that my junior year of high school was too glorious or operating so smoothly that I didn’t want to infect it with trauma’s poison, in fact it was the opposite. It was a horrible year made substantially worse by what had happened and I couldn’t imagine trying to make sense or peace with it all at that point in my life. Instead of processing it, I contained it.
We can’t change what we aren’t willing to confront.
I think containment, this idea of closing something off for a certain amount of time is essential to survival, at least my own. I do it every day when I leave work. I contain that days happenings so that I can drive home and be a half decent wife. I contain the mental break down I had over a bowl of soup at Panera so that I can genuinely hear and help a friend struggling over coffee later that day. Containment when done right can be healthy, containment for the sake of “I never want to fucking think about this horrible thing again”, not so much. And that’s exactly where I found myself for years.
I’ve talked about trauma before, I will certainly talk about it again, but here’s what I’m processing these days. There’s never been in my experience a definitive end, as much as I would love for there to be so. There are days, even weeks, where I don’t think about that year of my life or the events that took place. I rarely feel “triggered” and more often feel inspired to create dialogue and serve others with what I now know (which sometimes isn’t much of anything).
And just like an eating disorder, just like infertility, or anxiety, depression, or any other struggle sexual assault and trauma is more common than we know. So insert whatever statistic here that is going be eye catching but most importantly, how do work to be better friends, better family members, better human beings so that the person sitting next to us at work, at coffee, at yoga, doesn’t have to have more bad days than good.
Trauma is more common than we know. So… work to be better friends, better family members, better human beings so that the person sitting next to us at work, at coffee, at yoga, doesn’t have to have more bad days than good.