We have this ‘thing’ that lives in our house. We don’t talk about it, or acknowledge it. It is invisible, though huge and very much present. We have an unspoken agreement with it; we keep our distance from it, it keeps its distance from us. This ‘thing’ is what happened to us, what happened here, what ended here.
We move around it as though we are just the same as the family across the road, or like our friends. Though all of us are in therapy, neither our individual nor our cumulative experiences are ever discussed between us. It is amazing how we three chose to ignore it. We are all reluctant to disrupt the peace in our home and remember this is where chaos, anarchy, and chronic tension used to rule.
As we try our best to have uneventful lives when it does come up well-meaning people constantly offer “Don’t let it define you.” Five simple words offered as a solution to a problem they can neither fix or make sense of. Five simple words that seem preposterous the more I contemplate them. Invisible or not, it cannot be erased and most certainly has defined us, as every interaction in our lives defines us; who we are, what we become, how we navigate through the rest of our lives. How is it proposed, then, that a traumatic event will not, should not, somehow define us?
We have lived to tell about something defying most imaginations. We were immediately and forever defined. It would be impossible not to be. Whether a result of war, an accident, within an intentional crime or from a natural tragedy; trauma leaves the person who has experienced it changed. There is no going back, no way to extricate the event and go on as though it did not happen and to just be who you once were.
I believe there are only two types of trauma survivors. Those who speak about it. Those who do not. Make no mistake that the silent survivors have somehow mastered their trauma, or that vocal survivors can’t let it go. Neither is better or worse, they are simply using two different ways to process what has happened to them. Those who share their stories often provide a means for those suffering silently to deal with their own feelings. One becomes a voice for the other. Whether someone speaks about their experiences or not, it is ever-present. Appearances alone deceive.
Trauma takes a natural course to some degree of healing if allowed to and there is no one proven way to move through it. It takes the time it takes and goes through the stages it goes through, much like grief. Given much medical research points to internalized unprocessed trauma and grief as leading causes predisposing us to autoimmune diseases, substance abuse and other chronic health maladies, it may be that those who do speak openly, externalizing their experiences, fare better over the long haul.
The way I see it if I am defined by what happened, that is the best possible outcome of going through something so frightening and tragic. Only by accepting our lives are changed and redefined can we use our knowledge to help someone else. We certainly can’t help others silently or by maintaining our secrets.
So then I am challenged with how to expose and discuss the elephant in our room that everyone just wants to go away. This remains to be explored.