Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Stages of Trauma in the Flowers of Spring: Daffodils Forgotten

I grew up in a house that stood at the edge of a small plateau on the incline of a mountain. It was bordered by unoccupied wooded acreage that sloped down behind it. In the spring, the forsythia and the azaleas bloomed in our yard, but we had no daffodils. Down in the woods behind the house however, daffodils poked their heads above the crisp, brown leaves that had covered them all winter. Nineteen plants grew there within twenty feet of the edge of our land on the hill as it rolled downward toward the city.

I don't know how they came to grow there in no particular pattern, but I looked forward to the appearance of the daffodils every year. I can only imagine that someone bought and forgot about them and just threw their remains into the woods. Maybe some naughty children used them to see how far they could throw them. I never harvested them to replant around our house because they weren't mine to take. I would wait for the first bloom to wilt first before I picked the ones that remained, just in case the owner came by, for he did occasionally used our driveway to gain easier access to that edge of his land. He may not have even known that those plants existed. I knew every single one of them.

Daffodils Forgotten

A friend of mine phoned me a few days ago, frustrated about gossip that came to her from the spiritually abusive church she'd left years earlier. A woman that she once knew was dying from cancer that probably could have been treated, possibly preventing her untimely, impending death. She parted ways with this woman from that old church under unpleasant circumstances many years ago, said her goodbyes then, and she grieved the loss of the friendship. Instead of expressing concern about whether this woman had neglected self-care, old friends that seemed like Job's friends questions instead whether the woman's behavior had brought about her illness.

While driving around town later that day with the misfortune of the woman on her mind, my friend noticed some stray daffodils growing alone on a vacant lot. She could only reason that it once had a home on it, but all that remained of the life lived there were the few flowers. How sad it is to think of the people who move in and out of our lives like this friend had done. She wondered if the stray yellow blooms were all that really remained of the people who must have planted them. While the story was melancholy, I saw yet another side of my friend's own compassion and lovingkindness.

Revisiting the Cycle of the Stages of Healing

My experience over the past month brought about what now feels like the buds of Spring heralding a new season of warmth and growth. It did not start out feeling that way at all.

Some cruel gossip about me found its way to my ears about a month ago, and I was so distressed by its bizarre nature that it knocked me off balance. I found myself revisiting old trauma mingled with this new one, and I was grateful for having recently revisited the idea of the stages of healing. Though I know that emotional healing is like peeling an onion with the predictable work of tearing away a new layer, a new sensation of burning eyes, healing tears, I didn't expect a refresher course in real life, too. Though what was said of me borders on ridiculous, it tore at my heart, and I did what seemed like far too much weeping for the good part of a week.

But I think that perhaps like the onion bulbs that hide their fruit under the earth, I was greeted with another type of bulb – that of many sunny daffodils.

I went back to the feelings that I knew well from Stage One of healing. I felt unsafe and unstable, and I had to first recognize that feeling. I'd been maligned, and that reminded me that there are so many things outside of my control. There are no guarantees of safety and security in this life. We are subject to an environment that is often outside of our control. We make mistakes, and people respond or react to those mistakes. Not everyone is forgiving when we make them, and it's especially painful when those who we expect to be safe for us don't seem to understand or choose not to forgive us. When I reaffirmed my dedication to the work of self-care and self-worth, the confusion and sadness morphed into rage. The rage expressed my sense of helplessness, the injustice of it all, and the pain of knowing that I was just one of many previous causalities that had suffered. Under that pain, I would soon find the grief of loss, too. It seemed to be a bulb in the dirt, void of beauty.

As soon as I saw the pattern and stopped long enough to recognize what was happening, something wonderful happened. I was able to put into practice all of the skills that I learned in the hard, long trenches of my previous recovery experience. What a gift to have already set my mind on healing from trauma through blogging before I was surprised by a new, painful one experience. It was a great help to me. I made use of the Stage Two process of remembrance and grieved the loss of what I wished was true. I adjusted to the new information about the unpleasant reality of how this corner of my world really is. I recognized that I'd fallen back into some wishful thinking of fantasy that could only set me up for disappointment.

Stage Three of reintegration, reconnection and moving on has begun, and it came quickly, almost as a surprise. The gossip that affected me set me thinking about the facts of my own past – a past which I resisted. When I separated from my parents' condemnation, I also separated from the people we shared in common as well as from the potential people who might recognize and mention news about me to my parents. I strive to protect them from others stirring up their own grief, so contacting anyone from those old, common circles poses a risk to them. At least that was my fear. I also realized that it opened me up to potential rejection, too – and protection from that emerged as a secondary benefit of hiding myself away from others.

But I remembered my own words that I'd written in a post not long ago: We cannot fully heal if we are isolated from others. We heal from trauma in community as we find our place in the world again.

The next post will talk about the gifts that I received as I embraced the process. Understanding the roadmap helped me trust the process so that I could move forward.