I stared at the vanilla latte on the table in front of me. My friend Linda asked questions about what I had shared, and I searched for something sure and concrete to hold on to. The small red table between us reminded me we were at Target and not in the privacy of a home. But that no longer mattered. I felt lost. It didn’t matter who knew.
My chest began to ache as I answered some of her questions, and I moved the cup toward me in what looked like a desire to keep my body warm. But I needed comfort, not warmth. I was scared. That’s why we were there together.
It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving week. I was 4 months into a new job and terrified. My trauma was resurfacing and new trauma was being formed. This time I was aware of it, and it was happening like the quick burn of a sparkler rather than the slow burn of a candle.
“The body keeps score” is a phrase I’ve learned this year. I haven’t studied trauma much, despite having been through a couple of small ones myself. I’m trying to be more focused on the healing rather than the details how trauma manifests itself. That is a new concept for me, as I previously believed that if I knew all the whys and whos and whens that it would all be solved, understood. And I would heal.
But the true path to healing is much messier. More hues of grey rather than the crisp certainty of black and white. Healing feels like your eyes are partially closed while walking through a dimly lit room, stepping over legos and pillows; you find your way in the dark by experiencing both pain and safe places to land.
My safe place to land was in the eyes of my friend who sat across from me that day and very logically said, “Well, you have options. You are not trapped.” The freedom of this statement caused me to exhale sharply, and I realized I’d been holding my breath for many, many months. Maybe even years.
It’s been three years since I exhaled. And every year around this time I remember exhaling. I remember the mountains, the job, the drive to work, the stops at Panera to bring breakfast to my staff each Sunday. I remember the co-workers, who were eventually able to exhale two years later, too. I think about driving around Tucson, longing and hoping. Healing and crying. Feeling this sense of being taken up into a tornado where all I could do was react to all that was happening around me.
I remember being released, thankful that I was one of the few in a trauma who have options. I remember that part of the trauma was in my stubbornness to stay, where each step into the job meant stepping on a lego. I couldn’t remain in that job, that system, that was eroding my heart with the fast burn of a sparkler.
The body keeps score of seasons, moments, traumas. That’s why I remember this each year. I wish the score would settle because revisiting that season of my life is hard. But as I revisit I am reminded that hues of grey are often more beautiful to look at the simple black and white. These hues reveal the reality of the human heart and the sinfulness of our actions towards each other. They help keep me grounded in what’s real rather than what I wish was true so that I can make my way through the dimly lit room with my eyes more open than they were before.