I did it. I mowed my own damn lawn, thanks to my son for giving me the mower on his way out west where he wouldn't need it, and my brother for hauling it over to me. For about an hour it was touch and go, though, since I couldn't get it to start, but a youtube vid got me enough knowledge to get it going, at last.
I'm going to say a few words here. I don't really like to talk about myself on a personal level much any more, except to those I'm very close to, and my therapist. Doing so just hasn't gone well, overall, I've found. Maybe I'm just not very good at it. I don't know. So I save my vulnerability for where I know it's welcomed. But once in a while I'm moved to do so, a little bit.
It may seem like a small thing, this successful mowing of a tiny, city yard. But a lot swept through me while I was working through the not starting problem, including how, when you're on your own and have limited resources, moments like these can cause old traumas and neglects to reactivate deep in the autonomic nervous system, and the bones, and the heart, and the aloneness suddenly, out of nowhere, can feel huge and neverending and the problem way bigger than your logical, thinking self knows it is. Important point: It's not every little thing that causes this. It's unpredictable what will cause it. There are too many factors in any one event to track them all. I have pinpointed some things. For instance, I can't speak in public or at meetings about my personal traumas. That makes me get ill. But could I predict which little setback will cause me pain? Nope. Not predictable. Another important point: Evolutionarily, we're designed to look around for help when we hit a snag. We didn't evolve as leopards in the jungle, stalking around alone. We evolved in cooperative groups. So there's a certain part of such feelings of aloneness that have a function, even for us introverts/recluses-by-choice.
People who haven't had to claw their way through barricades of pain and bullshit to get a modicum of stability, financial and emotional, would do well right now to take a minute to stop, step out of their recreations, and take a look around.
Try to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, as my grandmother used to say. Maybe see if someone in your family, or a neighbor, or a friend has a look on their face that might be a little less than congruent with the cheerful things they're trying to say so that you won't be burdened by them, maybe see if they could use a hand. They'll probably say no the first time you ask. Ask again.
Not too long ago someone said to me that they thought my job must be hard because I have to listen to people whining about their problems all day. Well, that couldn't be further from what people are actually doing. Trauma survivors don't whine. Trauma survivors -- and let's be clear, that's the majority of people on the planet right now -- mostly, they're blaming themselves. Mostly, people spend a whole hell of a lot of time just relentlessly blaming themselves. Keep in mind, they're doing this even while they're trying to explain to you how you hurt them, or how someone else did and they need you to understand it. Even as they're explaining it, inside, they're blaming themselves. Blaming themselves for everything. For what happened to them (war, car wrecks, rapes, beatings, tornadoes, deaths, abusive parents, street harassment, everything), their anxiety, their sadness, anything that they find difficult. Trauma recovery is a long, long road, full of pits and curves and hills, and there's something in the system (probably part of the dorsal vagal response) that makes feelings of shame and self-blame velcro right on to all the rest of it. So no, trauma survivors aren't spending their time in therapy whining. The people the world blames most for their own pain: women, people in poverty, people of color, people without homes, people not "straight," people not part of the current dominant religion, they do the most self-blaming. Hell, people are lucky if their loved ones will even acknowledge that what happened to them actually happened. Imagine the twist that throws into your trying to make sense of the world.
The first step to healing is often discovering that the meteor falling on your head wasn't either "just your imagination" or somehow summoned by you because you weren't "thinking about things right" or "projecting enough positivity" or "manifesting abundance" enough (for God's sake make that harmful load of crap saying/philosophy go away) or whatever other crapfuckerylies the world is telling us this decade. And listen, it's a privilege to sit with people and witness them coming back to themselves and remembering how to love themselves again and put the blame where it belongs: on the mfing meteor.
And yes, it is hard to watch people be their own victim blamers. That's the blood sacrifice one makes for the world.
We open our hearts and witness. Then we watch as the episodes of pain or re-experiencing get farther and father apart in time, and less and less intense, mostly. What we work toward is faster and faster recovery from those moments. My little episode today lasted a few minutes. Just a few years ago it might have lasted much longer. So it's important to celebrate even that -- the shorter duration of the pain. The bounce-back is easier when there's someone nearby who gives a care. Always. And not everybody has that. That's what this whole rant is about, in the end, I guess: What can we each do, each day to help one person be less alone in their process and their life? Even when the process maybe takes a lifetime.
Because the world is unjust and dangerous every day for so many people, there are going to be times when it all comes crashing down again. And make no mistake: economic instability is relentless. It hounds you in your sleep. There is no rest from it.
And that's what's going on in the world right now. Those nasty powers want to take away even the smallest supports those with nothing and almost nothing and sort of finally getting something depend on to survive. The field is tilting all the time more against them/us. It's hard to take each slap with a grain of salt. It's really, really hard. All the turning away. All the denial. All the callousness. All the relentless exploitation and selfishness.
It's important, though, to stop and feel the triumphs, even the tiny ones. This, too, is part of trauma healing: Where do you feel that triumph? of working through that problem and getting it done on your own? Where do you feel it in your body? What might it be like to take a moment and just let that feeling grow, let it infuse every cell? Doing that, we lay down new neural networks, in the brain, in the body, connections to the muscles and organs and bones where feeling good is possible. It's very important stuff. To know when we're doing it. To know we're surviving.
Margaret Howard, MFA, LCSW
I am a psychotherapist, gardener, writer, mother, grandmother, and dreamer.
Cover image: Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Queen of the Night, from the stage set for Mozart's Magic Flute