“Hindsight is 20/20”
“Perspective is everything”, they say. I have to agree. Just this morning, I was talking with an old friend. We were discussing her daughter’s anxiety and inability to be flexible in times of change. This mother is intense, caring and nurturing. She has sacrificed so much to be available and have the resources to help her children. It has been beautiful to watch over the years.
A story from my life seems to pop up when a change in perspective is necessary; when I know a friend or child is struggling to see something that might help in the moment. When I have needed to feel loved, held, and seen, I know the 30,000-foot view becomes essential.
At age 38, I sat in an office with a therapist; a therapist who treated PTSD. After decades of worsening anxiety, failed adrenals, and a neurological system that was fed up, I was desperate and scared. I had friends who were therapists. They never saw the signs. I had family who had seen me struggle for all of those years with little compassion or understanding. This isn’t to say they didn’t do their best. They did. I had a husband who, as much as he might have wanted to help, did nothing but make me feel guilty for costing him so much money and shamed me for my anxiety, even blaming the dog’s anxiety on me. To say the very least, it was not helpful.
My anxiety was based in a singular moment of childhood trauma, then snowballed as my needs were not met as a married woman, mother, and caregiver. No one person was to blame for this, but I learned that I certainly wasn’t. My job, as a human being, is to take care of myself and I did my very best to do that, regardless of what was offered freely. But we cannot always meet our own basic needs.
Sitting with that therapist might have been one of the most life-altering experiences of my life. The way we visited hard times in the past, talked about them, and found “variations on a theme” emerge from them was a gift. What I see now was nothing like what I saw before that pivotal ten weeks with her.
One instance stands out. We had worked through the trauma of my youth. I understood it, my body understood it, and my brain had reprocessed it. I was no longer confused or angry. She wanted more weeks with me because she saw the apparent abuse I was experiencing in my marriage. But the money was gone. At my last appointment, she had me work through one last experience.
I was 20 years old, pregnant and oversees, working as a nanny. According to the calculator, I was 14 weeks along. But according to the doctor, the baby had died at least a week earlier. Devastated, I left the hospital to grieve, scared to death of what was going to happen to my body as it did what it was meant to do; clean up the sad mess.
That night, I began to bleed. It was not just bleeding, however. I was hemorrhaging. I hurriedly got dressed and the sweet woman who employed me drove me to the women’s clinic in the nearby town. My husband at the time, who was with me oversees, came as well. We arrived, but I don’t remember anything but laying on the operating table for just a split second, the doctor yelling to my boss, and then everything going dark.
I awoke in a bed next to a beautiful African woman, in a room with two others as well. I never knew why they were there; what their health issues had been. I don’t remember how I passed the time. I know they fed me well, I cried a lot, and they took a lot of blood for testing. I was there for several days until my counts were where they wanted them.
My husband at the time, came to pick me up in my boss’s car. He drove my very weak body home, my spirit not quite engaged. I walked down to the basement where he got me settled and told me he had to leave and go to a meeting. The house was empty. My boss was at work, the children had been farmed out to friends for the school day. I was going to be alone and that was not okay in any world I could imagine in that moment. He ran out, late for his meeting, and left me. I saw the car drive away as I reached the top of the stairs and collapsed in a heap, sobbing.
As I sat on the couch at the therapist, that’s all I remembered. I remembered being left alone and abandoned in the hardest moment of my life thus far. I had lost a baby, something that I had been told was the most wonderful thing in the world and was expected of me in every facet of my culture. I had fallen in love with that little being, as strange as that may be.
Instead of staying in that place of pain and sadness, she asked me a risky question. “What happened next?” I told her I didn’t know. A minute later, I saw a vision of myself on my bed in the basement, crying. I was not alone, however. I was being cuddled by my neighbor woman. She had crawled into bed with me and was holding me as my body convulsed in sobs. This was not a strange thing, though. She was my “adopted Austrian mom”. She had been my mentor and friend for months. I knew she loved and cared about me. And that’s all I needed.
In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, our basic needs-safety and bodily-are at the foundation level. When those basic needs are not met, we can experience trauma. My body and mind had processed that memory as a lack of basic needs. There was no safety in that moment. What if I started to hemorrhage again and no one found me? What if I could not get to the bathroom, or get a drink? When would anyone be home? These were the days before cell phones. And I was not strong enough to go anywhere.
But when she asked that question, I took the time to remember, and the space was safe and trusting, everything shifted. I saw that my needs had been met. I saw that they always had been, but the abandonment I had experienced had won out in the way my traumatized mind processed information. In that moment, the actions of my ex were not redeemed, but the moment was. The way that God showed up for me in the form of a woman was no surprise. God often shows up in the form of woman.
So, it may have been the worst of times. But it was also a time that opened up my eyes to see how loved I was. It was a time that provided perspective into who would show up for me. It was liberating and revelatory. These are the times we learn what we are made of and find gratitude for good people and we can see the other beings of the earth convene to our benefit. We see the wisdom in the trees, the clarity in the skies, the relaxing flow of the mountain stream. And they teach us how to live. We see love in a friend’s touch, kindness in a stranger’s smile, or find safety in the arms of a lover.
These…these are the best of times, my friends.