Where exactly is the line?
We are all products of all that we have experienced, had happen to us, the beauty and the pain. Life breaks us down and build us up, all the fucking time. Why is it that we so often allow our own pain and suffering to define who we are? Why is it that we allow others’ trauma to do the same?
Everyone has trauma. Animals too. We all are shaped and altered by our past, the things that happen to us. The experiences we survive. Some of us, are lucky to live beyond the survival. We find a way out of the trauma response of surviving…and we find a way to live. A way to assimilate the suffering we have endured, and in fact survived and use that as a catalyst for change. An alchemy of soul. A place where our hearts, minds, bodies and spirit move from a place of constant high alert, to a place where we live our lives not in hyper reactive trauma trigger all the time, we find a channel for our pain that doesn’t completely shut down the channels for joy and living.
It takes a lot of fucking work. Forever.
I will admit that I am arrogant about trauma. If you haven’t lived and survived some shit, I tend not to let you in. I need you to have survived your own so that you and I have a prayer of relating to each other. I have to know that you know where I am coming from. I have to see that you not only survived your past, but also that you have some perspective on it. Not just for my own benefit but also for your own. It is why alcoholics can only really hear the truth from another drunk. You who are not similarly addicted may be throwing down gospel but so long as you haven’t walked through similar shit, I will always and forever have an out with you…”Well, you don’t know…” And I will be right every single time.
So given this perspective, I have spent a lot of time relating and orienting towards the trauma of others. Mistaking forever that your experience of trauma would relate to my own. That you somehow surviving your own tragic past would lead us to a place of compassion, understanding and mutual respect. What I failed to see for many decades was that most people’s unwillingness to really deal with their trauma just produced more trauma, for me and them. I didn’t realize until very late in life that my willingness to testify to your pain, did not engender in you a similar response. I could feel your pain, but that did not mean that you could or would…
So seeing someone’s past and their pain, has brought me closer to them, and it has also sent me high tailing it outta there. I have been caught forever in the extremes. Moving toward you because of your pain, and running away from you for the same reason. Looking at this more closely, I would be remiss not to tell you that I probably also did this because of my own pain. I move toward you to heal you so that I could be healed and when you refused the help, the service, the love, I ran because I saw that I was never, ever going to get back what I needed.
And so it went for decades.
So on this dreary Sunday morning, I feel a bit confused about what to do when I am not doing either one of those things. I am not moving toward you because of your past and I am not running away from you because of it either. And I am wary that perhaps all this time, it has never really been about your trauma that is dictating my behavior…it perhaps, has always been about my own. I have just been super successful in encapsulating your trauma and making it my own.
Where I find myself this morning is feeling unsettled, it is raining and I am tired. I am not sleeping well these days and in this new place of emotional balance, I feel foreign and weird. Like I am walking down the center line of a freeway, peril on each side. And despite all I can say and feel about that, I feel safe and secure on my center line. I feel no pull to move toward and I feel no compulsion to run away. For now, I am content to just walk the middle and wait.
Ok, well maybe I want to move toward and run a little. Old habits die hard and are assimilated into a new way of living even harder.
I am not my trauma. You are not your trauma. We are more than that and yet, I know that mine still defines me. It alters me, and causes me to behave the way I do. Always. It will always be there no matter what I do and how much work I do, it is in my DNA and it is driving so much that I don’t even see.
What I have learned is that for better or worse, I have to be willing to see myself and others for their more complete personage. Who they are, what they have done to deal with their pain and anguish and sadness. And I can do that more objectively because I have dealt with my own. If I haven’t dealt with my own, then the line gets blurry and I am off running through your traffic in your lane. I am over there trying to deal with you, when I really need to be dealing with myself.
We are more than what happened to us while living. If we work hard at it. Life is not just a collection of events that we endure and then move on. They come at us and hit us, and often bring us to our knees. But after we are leveled, what do we do then? Do we allow the past to keep us stuck? Or do we find a way to take it all in, allow it to permeate our souls and make it just another facet of who we are?
Seems like a lot of work. And it is. But I think that, and I am not really completely sure, but I think that if we do the work, if we make the effort, someday we will be delivered from that perilous freeway of reactionary trauma response and we will begin to choose for ourselves how we shall react, when and with whom. The past becomes an ally instead of a rapacious creditor.
I am not my trauma. But I will be if I do not find a place for it to live within my flesh. I have to own it, and incorporate it into who and what I am. I have to see how it will run my life if I let it. I have to be willing to deal with it again and again and again or I will find myself surviving my life instead of living it. And, I am learning, that finding another person walking this earth that is willing to do the same, is actually quite hard. So many people surviving life each day instead of living. It is not easy to get really clear about who and how you want to be. It may even be harder to ever find another who can do it also. And that feels lonely.
The ruinous past has killed many who still walk the earth. And every day that I am still here, my soul can be claimed if I do not remain vigilant to the beating of my own wounded heart.