When trauma occurs we look straight ahead. We cannot see left or right. Time seems to stop and our bodies hold our breath. In this myopic, shut down place we often miss the people who were there, who did see our pain, who tried to help. We carry this narrative forward in our psyches and in our bodies ¬– we were all alone, no one understood. This is the story we tell ourselves for the rest of our lives.
This narrative holds us in a grip of expectations of what life has to offer us and we repeat the story over and over again with slightly altered scripts and new characters.
Until…… we go back to the moment of the trauma and ask; what happened next? We move the narrative forward now and look around to see what we might have missed.
For me going back meant revisiting the day my mother died. It was April 30th 1968 — A long time ago, the loneliest, most pain, and most confused day of my life. It was a time of family loyalty and secrecy. There was not Child Protective Services or Hospice or Counseling like today. People minded their own business. When tragedy struck well meaning people said inane, meaningless things to each other.
I have spent the rest of my life since age 15 trying to dig deep and find meaning and uncover secrets. A discontentment followed me everywhere. Where was everyone? Was anything real?
Until…..I began to retrace my steps that day. After my mother died, my father and I went for a walk. My father told me about the secret of my mom’s cancer and all the lies he had told. He was proud. He had protected me. I did not feel protected – not one bit.
But then what happened next is that we went to Bernice Green’s House. She was my mother’s best friend. They shared a lot things including daughters the same age and the same first name Bernice.
When we got to Bernice’s house I remembered for the first time in 38 years that Bernice gave me a big hug. I could now actually feel her arms around me, and hear her voice (she had a slight stutter) although I do not think she said much. She also made us some dinner. We were not alone. I was not alone.
Soon after I ‘remembered’ Bernice Green and what happened next I called my friend Gail Green. We have been friends since we were 5. I told her I would love to visit her mom. I had visited her parents a few times throughout the years. We made arrangements for last September. Gail came down from New York and we met in Alexandria and spent a day and evening together. I told her why I wanted to see her mom now. I told her about my memories. When we met her mom the next day at the Assisted Living Facility, Gail told her my story. We all cried together and relived that day. Bernice Green recalled it like it was yesterday, every detail, small and large. Again I was not alone.
It has been over a year now and my life is filled with so many more meaningful, deep and reliable relationships. I work hard at it. I know it is possible now. I am not alone.
Recently we worked with lost resources in a workshop I co-lead. The stories were amazing. A math teacher who knew their student’s home was violent but could not intervene. Instead gave the student special tutoring and passing grades – in her mind helping her avoid the outbursts of her father. A music teacher who helped her student love music and reflected her tremendous talent hoping this would be healing. A person who went beyond the scope of their job and without question took an infant out of the arms of a grieving mother and brought them to their own home.
Recovering resources changes the shape and textures of our worlds. We can expect help, we can expect love — it is right there like Bernice Green’s hug — for us touch.