Experiencing A Trauma Anniversary Monday, March 29th, 2021
Really challenging day yesterday. Sundays….always triggering (still not sure why, but very reliably so.) Add in a failed attempt at a hike with my kids and friends (as we got ready to go, my eldest suddenly had feet too big for his shoes (?!) ensuing drama and delay and plans aborted) and a Passover sexual assault anniversary.
Anniversaries like these? Not so fun. I’m slowly learning that these times go better if I can be a bit emotionally readied for them. I have yet to do this, but as I’m writing, I think I might make a sort of map of the year with my biggest trauma anniversaries marked out, so I can be giving myself some extra care as they approach. Much like getting one’s period each month…(sorry guys, a minute) these times are extremely predictable, but involve a certain amount of amnesiac wonder every time they arrive: WHAT?! AGAIN?!
It feels like: my body remembers even if my head doesn’t. I often feel a sense of dread, despair, a heartache that has a kind of familiar fatalism to it. Like: yup, here it is again, never get away from this, never be loved right, never feel safe.
SO, in a general way: I’ve found whatever I can do in the Flashback state to remind myself: I AM safe, I am NOT helpless, vulnerable the way a child is, etc. the better.
Sometimes I literally say out loud to myself: I am 53 years old, the year is 2021, I live in Iowa City, I have 3 amazing, healthy kids, supportive friends who really know me and love me, a music career, I have my own safe beautiful little house, I’m strong, I’m not helpless, NO ONE has power over me now, no one is manipulating and confusing me now. I’m ok now. I’m ok. It’s amazing how this can make a subtle but noticeable shift in my sense of being, inside a flashback.
So, the assault. No details, don’t worry, friend.
Seder with 2 other families. The Patriarch of the Wiener family (yeah. right?) insisted all the kids over a certain age take the ritual sip of wine every time the read-through in the seder service said so. Result: my first sleepy-drunk experience, at 9. And his motive: be able to laugh at having made children of other people’s families drunk, I guess? But probably ulterior motive: get the girl children more helpless so he could sexually victimize them. What.
I used to love being a Jewish girl. Growing up, being Jewish was a part of my identity, who I knew myself to be, till I was about 14 or so. My dad raped me at the weekend away for my eldest cousin’s Bat Mitzvah in Pittsburgh (she was 13, I was 12 that April.) Someone else’s grandfather fingered me in a bathroom at a Passover seder when I was 9 and drunk on Manischewitz. Think I’m now a lot clearer on why I distanced myself from my Jewishness… Jules was a cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking loud-mouth. My father was a more sensitive, nebbishy Jewish man, funny, lovable, a little bit foolish. Both were sick, and both were sexual abuse perpetrators. All shapes and sizes, folks.
Back to now.
Parenting my boys yesterday was hard. As the day went on, I felt snappier with them and that pressure in my heart (my little Deb saying “comfort me!” “pay attention to me, i hurt!”) got stronger and more demanding. When I realized that past seder assault was haunting my day, I shared the info w my boys—no details, just: sexual assault when I was 9, someone’s grandfather, Passover seder. And my goal was not to make them feel responsible for doing anything about it, but to say: “This is affecting how I am today. If I seem more easily cross, it’s not because of something you’re doing.” Saying it out loud helped me a little. Hopefully helped my kids get some perspective. Helped me feel more present. A little.
Then around 3pm, I took myself out into nature for a run. That also helped. A little. In the beginning of the jog, I felt really freezy, nervous-system-wise: foggy-headed, and like at least half of me was navigating some other dimension, while the earthly part of me moved my body through the woods. By the end I felt less stuck out in space, but still haunted.
Later, I texted a couple friends that I was wrestling with this emotional flashback all day. I cried and shook in an isle at Hyvee grocery store, overwhelmed with grief, releasing fear, being with myself inside that old helplessness and pain.
These are the healthy bits. Here come the maybe less-healthy bits. But relax the judgement muscle for a sec.
After I showered from my jog, I went to the kitchen and had a SMALL drink (a delicious Cosmo-in-a-bottle from the local liquor store, on ice!) while I made a lasagna for dinner.
NOTE: I’ve found the temptation to fully numb-out with alcohol is real on Flashback days like this. I’ve overdone it a handful of times in the past 15 years of healing: puking in the kitchen sink one evening while my young kids played in the living room happened. Not a proud moment. But also, no real harm done, and I forgive myself. Lesson learned: homemade mini-martinis on a day of continuous emotional flashbacks=not a great choice.
The drink itself, the alcohol, was a little relief valve for sure, as was CREATING the lasagna for me and my boys. The lovely pink Cosmo mix is something I’ve shared across a firepit with a dear friend several times this past covid winter, with laughter and good conversation too. So, I was bringing in that energy. While the lasagna was cooking, I answered a phone call from this same friend, and had a grounding, connective conversation with her. I almost didn’t answer, feeling really low and still pretty crappy post-flashback day. But my head said: “just answer, and if you feel like NOT talking, say you are keeping it short, but wanted to hear her voice.” BOUNDARIES have made reaching out and receiving support easier. I’m less afraid of being flooded by someone else’s energy when mine feels so weird and overwhelming already. Because now: I can say NO for myself in lots of ways, gently, or fiercely if I need to.
By late evening, I felt mostly freed of the Flashback. Had a pretty easy and sweet bedtime with my boys. We had some silliness, reading Lord of the Rings aloud, snuggles, and sharing an amazing History-of-life-on-Earth cartoon with my night-owl teen.
I read a bit before I fell asleep, an actual paper-and-print book. And I felt into the safe, cozy feeling of being in my comfortable, big bed, by myself. Ahhh. I made it.
This morning I feel like present-day me again, returned to myself.
Some days, just this, feels like a grateful miracle.
The above nicely wrapped-up end sentence aside….later same day: I still feel a hint of flashback residue. I can tell because an old trigger is flaring up: my kids making growly monster voices while playing imaginatively…ugh, it used to flip me out (the predator/prey dynamic triggers my inner abused littles who WERE preyed upon.) Now I can get a grip and not lash out at them, but I still hate how it makes me feel in my body. But even this, while annoying, is VERY tolerable, and not demanding in the same way as yesterday. Also, I’m not feeling dire or despondent.
PPS: Whilst re-reading this entry, my 8 year-old was quietly sucking on his headphones cord (online school.) Sucking sounds=VERY triggering, always. In truth, I snapped at him. My kid being my kid (low shame-load, thank gods,) was unphased.
Just wanted to be REAL. None of us is in competition for who can heal-up and act “normal” the fastest after a Flashback. Or ever!
In safety and love,