Getting On Up That Trail!

I learned a difficult lesson two weeks ago about the impact of our past upon our present. In an attempt to live in the now, many of us actively ignore or suppress old, painful events. Why wouldn’t we?
In all innocence last week, I wrote to a friend who is a self professed “Foodie.” Not knowing that many Foodies, I thought he would be excited about my new Instant Pot and the world of fun which it has opened up to me. My new Instant Pot Facebook friends have welcomed me into their “IP” community as a fellow “Foodie.” I knew my friend would appreciate my newly discovered passion. He also happens to be a rabbi as well as an experienced marriage and family therapist. I dashed off a detailed Instant Pot email, and as a P.S., I confessed that I had suffered a meltdown and an unexpected return of my PTSD symptoms during the horrifying insurrection at the Capitol two weeks earlier. I admitted that I was still a bit shaken by my unexpected reaction to the violence.
He immediately emailed me back, skipping past the Instant Pot message, saying, “Such a strange time. Every therapist I know has been totally overwhelmed. These times have unmasked formerly dormant and, for many, unrecognized traumatic stressors. It reminds us that these wounds never really resolve, but sit beneath the surface waiting to be triggered.”
Oh ugh I thought as I read this. I had hoped, believed even, that my peaceful, secure life filled with creative work, loving people, dogs and horses, had cemented over my ancient childhood agonies. Of course I understood that the dark side of my growing up years, suffering profound abuse at my father’s hands, had left scars. However, as time has passed since the trial thirty years ago, that sent him to prison for his crimes, I have tended to white-wash the enormity of the trauma. Hence, I was ill prepared for what unfolded on January 6th as I sat down on the couch with a fresh cup of tea in hand to witness the certification of the Electoral College vote.
As I watched angry aggressors scale the walls of the Capitol, beat Capitol police officers with flag poles, use stun guns on the necks of others, and throw a heavy fire extinguisher into a crowd of defenders while chanting “Get Pence,” I felt my composure begin to slip. The camera scanned to the gallows that had been erected and showed plastic handcuff ties hanging from violent assailants’ pockets. Glass was broken, a fatal shooting occurred, and the inner sanctum was breached. Violent mayhem was playing out before me. Helplessness washed over me as tears filled my eyes. They rolled down my cheeks. Old feelings of despair overwhelmed me. I could not stop a personally devastating situation. Was our country falling before me?
Before long, Ken, my husband, who had been working at his computer, entered the room. Seeing that I was overcome, he turned off the news, and tried to understand what was wrong. It took him about one second to realize that I had been catapulted back into deep-rooted feelings of my past horror. He got me out of the house, onto my horse, and up the trail. He walked beside my horse. Before long I felt better, and could finally talk about it.
I was stunned to learn that those archaic, helpless feelings were lurking beneath the surface of my happiness. I had no idea that our democracy was so fragile, that such a breach was even possible. I had no clue that I could be rendered defenseless against an attack on our way of life. In the last few days, I have learned that others experienced similar reactions. One woman we know awoke at 5 a.m. the day after the terrorists’ attack, and was repeatedly physically sick to her stomach. Other friends have confided that they cried all day on January 6th. It seems to me that we need to more fully recognize what lies beneath our surface; that we need to respect our pain that has gone before.
The temperature on our national political stage has turned down some, and perhaps as a country we are getting back toward something more acceptable to most. I know that a whole lot of fun is going on in social media with the Bernie Sanders memes, and that millions of us are still celebrating our young poet Amanda Gorman. I think one of my takeaways from all of this is that dramatic events on the national and international stage can profoundly affect us. Being human, we do not have to pretend we are okay when we are not. We can admit to real feelings. We can understand that perhaps there is no such thing as “cementing over them.”
We have been through a lot. Isolation alone is hard on our spirit. Sheltering in place, not seeing or hugging our loved ones, unable to gather and celebrate with each other, or worship together have been incredibly traumatic. Mixing in rising death rates, the weakening economy, and extreme political unrest adds up to a recipe for astronomical stress levels.
More than ever it is important that we take extra special care of ourselves, that we find new ways to engage our minds. Probably no one would have imagined that I would go crazy playing with my new Instant Pot, but I have. It is an adventure! Even my children are sharing their favorite recipes with me. I’m making dishes I only dreamed about, and learning new techniques. It’s exciting!
The future cannot help but hold events that can trigger our old feelings, but we can acknowledge those feelings, and use our tools for mindfulness and maintaining our resilience. We can focus on the positive in things, celebrate our daily victories, and nourish our bodies. These actions are key to feeling better. We know that daily exercise and interacting with positive others (and finding fun where we can!) are ways to keep ourselves moving forward. Perhaps we need to find time to leave the Instant Pot to do its thing and get on up the trail! I enjoy hearing how you are holding up and what you are doing to stay okay. My best, donna