What lives on, from the body’s perspective
I don’t know where I’d be without writing.
When I left my last full-time position, writing filled that void.
In the last fourteen months, I’ve written 155 blogs; I suppose you could summarize and say 2019 has been nothing if not generous in things to write about.
I wrote a piece in early November for a dear friend of mine, full of practical information about living with new trauma.
I included seventeen aggregated tools personal to me.
When a mentor of mine read it, she conveyed kindly — do you know you can say this slowly?
As the best friends do, she encouraged me to share more of what I had to offer, and less at a time.
Going into December I had planned to return to “Square One”, and write about each of those tools separately.
And I couldn’t.
For all of December, I could not write.
It was as though my body knew I wasn’t ready to write what I wanted to say, and it wouldn’t let me say anything else.
Today, on the last day of 2019 I re-read my words.
What does this moment that I’m caught in feel like to those watching me slip away?
What tools do I draw on to help me emerge?
When is it ok to modulate between triggers and a rest from what triggers me?
What can I not yet move past, or invite someone to experience with me?
What is different since “square one”?
I laughed when I re-read the first tool, breathing out shakily.
At least these things, listed below.
From day one, to day I stopped counting.
1) Nervous system
The nervous system is always the last word. Whatever it says is the most relevant to hear.
I had a memory of sitting in an auditorium seven years ago at George Washington University for a TEDX event.
Its theme was illuminate.
I finished a workshop across the street to 40 high school students, and came to support my new boss included as one of the featured speakers.
She quoted that social change theories tell us that when an idea is adopted by four generations, culture shifts. Behavior change happens intergenerationally.
My grandparents didn’t live long enough to join me in the last decade, so my parents are the oldest living generation. My siblings and I are the second. My niblings, and my cousins’ children are the third.
And as of last month, my great niece is now the fourth.
For the first time in ten years, four generations of my family are alive at one time, in the backdrop of a lineage that includes a tremendous amount of death.
When I was closing out a five-year therapy relationship, I asked my therapist what she thought my next leg of emotional work would be in the future.
Grief, she answered coyly.
My twenties have been used to lay a foundation of trauma therapy as the floor of my adulthood.
Uncoiling the trauma memories captured in my nervous system has changed my DNA. It’s changed my disposition, my profession, my relational habits. It’s changed my responses to memories, how I talk and how I write. It’s changed how silence feels. It’s changed my relationship to my family. It’s changed my experience of the holy. It’s changed how I have sex, and how and when I show love. It’s changed how I have fun, and what brings me to tears.
What it hasn’t changed is my family.
As my trauma responses have thawed, my grief ones have stayed in the shadows.
Most of the time, something has to wait while another issue is addressed or noticed.
December 2019 has been the beginning of my trauma responses leaving room for waves of grief.
Rage has caught up to me, and a version of loving that I haven’t personified until now.
I shake my head when I wake up at night and confess, I didn’t know that I could love and miss and swim in anger towards the same people all at the same time and with the same intensity.
I’m grieving for the trust I don’t feel.
I’m grieving the abandonment I didn’t choose.
I’m grieving the effects of parenting I don’t condone.
I’m grieving my perfect memory.
I’m grieving my body’s efficacy.
I’m grieving the cruelty of siblings.
I’m grieving the aloofness of adults.
Trauma and grief stories can’t be erased after they’ve been lived, and our bodies will tell them to those who are born next.
I caught myself in that thought yesterday as my one-month old great niece kept reaching to hold my hand in hers.
Within her smaller being is a soul more knowing than I can even sense, whose body like mine doesn’t relate strictly to things in time.
She is an observer of her world, and an observer of me as a part of the stories and the storytellers that surround her.
The first skill babies learn is called coregulation.
Coincidentally, all regulation and dysregulation are experienced in our nervous systems.
Our memories travel as nerves and messengers between our brains and our bodies, and as these signals are shared our energies are synced to each other.
We literally feel with others before we can feel just by ourselves.
We absorb before we know independently.
We are comforted before we can self soothe.
Grief and trauma communicate through the same channels that trust and safety will, resulting constantly in a more regulated or unregulated nervous system.
In the middle of generations older and younger than mine, holding the hand of the youngest member of my family, I concentrate on only one question.
In this moment where your body is reading mine, what story are you learning?
How, and when, and why do we learn trust and safety, across bodies and times, and our ongoing grieving?
Can just one cell learn trust, so that voice is represented, and just maybe, the message strengthened and made realer in you.