Awareness of how trauma has affected my life seems to come slowly. I’ve had some major awarenesses and shifts over the past 20-plus years, but there are still dark corners where I’ll find large, scary monsters. The cool thing is that they turn into shining light once I’m able to look at them with clear sight and compassion.
This clarity happened for me this morning, the situations that presented the awareness though, happened over the past three months or so, and the trigger is over 60 years old. It’s not, unsurprisingly, a short story. So settle in… Months ago, a person I thought I could trust – even though we’ve had some pretty intense issues over time, betrayed me majorly. I swore “Never again.” I would not be swayed, I would not believe because I wanted to believe. I was done.
Then this person contacted me. I ignored it. That is also part of the dance we’ve done over the years. He contacted me again. I ignored it for several days, but I was still angry and really, most of all, hurt, so I responded with a musical message – the song Too Late by Zucchero, one of my favorite singer songwriters from Italy. His reaction was one word. “Exactly!” Well, yes.
His reaction was targeted to hurt me, just as my Too Late was targeted to hurt him. And I was hurt. I felt the Zing. But I also recognized that I’d opened that door. As I found acceptance with this last bit of venom between us, I got another email. For those of you familiar with the 12 Steps and the process of amends, you’ll understand what happened next. This email was a very thoughtful and open-hearted letter of amends, something that in all our history had never happened before. He’d said things in the past like, “that was wrong of me,” but it wasn’t amends. There was no awareness expressed or apology for harm caused or a recognition of the actual hurt I felt. This was different and I knew it was.
I didn’t know at first, whether it was enough to open the doors again between us, but I knew that I felt lighter, more comfortable in my own skin. The harm had been acknowledged and he was no longer a monster in my eyes. He was a human man, capable of making mistakes, AND capable of acknowledging them.
So, to end this piece of the story, he and I are now talking a lot. We’re long distance, but reconnected and working on keeping communications open between us.
One of the things that happened during the past few weeks is that he got ‘needy and moody again’ and my immediate response was to distance myself. But instead of clamming up and running away because I’d become emotionally distant, he expressed his hurt and his feelings of abandonment. It allowed me to see how my fear of being hurt was hurting him, too. It isn’t about who did what first. It’s about trust and love and keeping the heart open, being willing to forgive. Can I believe that as I am growing and opening he could as well? Yes. I saw it. I wasn’t wrong about my observations. And then he opened up once again in a text. He called himself a Moody Bitch. He recognized that his behavior had pushed my buttons. And my experience is, this is a common thread in relationships between trauma survivors.
How do we move past that? How do we accomplish healing in the face of your triggers, my triggers and a fickle Universe? I think, by continuing to keep our hearts open, by continuing to do the work, by continuing to trust that Something Greater has a plan even when our viewpoint is too small and narrow to see it. This is not a flaw in us, by the way.
It’s just the reality of perspective. There are things so much larger, so much grander in scale that we are incapable of perceiving the entirety. And they don’t have to be the size of the ocean. We are tasked with Keeping Our Feet Firmly Planted In Mid-Air! If we stand still long enough, the Way will become clear. But, we, survivors of childhood trauma, WE see something that triggers a memory from our childhood of something scary and unmanageable, and we either run, fight, freeze or fawn. We react rather than standing still until we can respond intelligently. The amygdala has taken control and we believe we have to fix it. NOW. Moody Bitch.
So, onto more on my reprocessing of trauma history (I warned you this wasn’t a short story). I have a roommate in my place now. She’s a woman with awareness of her own history and willingness to see her part in challenging situations. A couple of days ago, she’d had some situations here in Panama that triggered Her. She’s working on getting her Residency and the government has recently instituted some additional hoops to jump through which has caused her to get moving and get her work done BEFORE those changes go into place.
I had had a long, challenging day. It was 9 at night and I was just eating dinner and watching tv, trying to regulate and relax. She came into the room full of excess negative energy and fear, and proceeded to loudly explain all the things that could go wrong and blaming people who weren’t present to defend themselves. Moody Bitch. MY response wasn’t exactly welcoming. I tried to give her options, things she could do. She wanted to blow off steam. I am not a good person to blow off steam at – I don’t have a lot of tolerance for others strong emotions, in the best of times. That night wasn’t the best. At all. However, after several failed attempts to calm her and lower the intensity, I finally said, “Ok look, I worked all day. It’s 9 at night and I’m just eating dinner. I am watching a show that I want to enjoy. I don’t have the bandwidth for this!” Moody Bitch.
That was all I needed to say. She got it and left the room. Not happy, of course, but at least I was able to watch my show and eat in peace. There was still some hangover energy though, which didn’t go away the next day either, but I felt pleased and a bit smug about my response to her and how I had ‘handled it.’ Moody Bitch This morning we talked about it. She acknowledged that what I witnessed was a part of her process when she feels scared or powerless and doesn’t understand how things work. I acknowledged that her raised voice and looming presence (she’s 6”, I’m 5’1 and I’d been seated) was a trigger for me. I’d felt ambushed by her, and, as I started my journaling today, I realized how this tracked with my history as a child of loud, angry adults and feeling powerless. Fifty eight years later, I am witnessing healing in myself and in my relationships with others.
I was six. My Mom and Dad were in the living room. I was in bed. Suddenly my dog jumped into my bed and hid under the covers, waking me up to the loud voice of my father in the other room. I was startled, and then scared. I know my Mom was trying to placate him, but he wasn’t having any. I got out of bed, and ran to the step down to the living room. I was hysterical, crying, telling them to stop it. What I told myself was that he was scaring my puppy. What my adult self knows today is that I was scared. I couldn’t even get the words out between the sobs. My Mom took me back to bed, tucked me in and promised they weren’t going to talk like that anymore.
But they did. He started yelling again. This time I got out of bed, got a sharp knife from the kitchen and again stood on the step. But I wasn’t crying this time. This time, in a very clear and loud voice I told my Dad, “If you don’t stop yelling at my Mommy I’m going to kill myself!” For years I’ve taken ‘credit’ for being cold and calculating about that. Saying that I knew that threatening myself would stop him because I knew they both loved me, even if they didn’t love each other.
Regardless, when my roommate and I spoke this morning, what I realized is that the history, that memory of conflict from childhood had determined my reaction to loud, big people for the rest of my life. I would try learned helplessness first, hoping they would see how they were hurting me and stop. When that didn’t work, I removed myself. Often permanently. The relationship was over. I would “color them gone.” This time, with my roommate, I found my voice and a way to say what I meant without saying it mean. Today, she and I can mend fences, just as my other friend and I were able to mend a much larger rift.
Is he still “a moody bitch?” Yes, sometimes he is.
The difference is that he acknowledges it. The other day he was depressed and irritable as he was packing up, preparing to go and stay with someone else for a bit because he’d sold his place and hasn’t yet figured out where he wants to settle. He hated having to pack Again. He hated having to put things back in storage Again, etc., etc. Another friend, upon hearing his litany of complaints said, “Isn’t it interesting. Many people would be thrilled to be so footloose and fancy free, able to travel wherever they want, having the time and money to do as they please. You’re depressed and angry.” Hmmmm. Wise woman. He acknowledged, once, again, to being a Moody Bitch. Bless his heart.