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Recovering Your Joy as You Heal From Trauma

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The little girl that wore pink dresses and loved ballet had a filthy mouth. That girl was me.

• What is PTSD?

The glow of the Christmas show was long gone. Nothing to look forward to until Valentine’s Day. On the kid calendar, the only thing left was kickball, red rover and the hot Florida sun.

I was always put in the outfield position for kickball and that really pissed me off. In fact, I was usually in the last three or four kids picked to be on a team for any game. Why?

I had my father’s mouth.

I remember the day my parents called me into the living room to ask me about the phone call from the school. Mrs. Combs and Principal Standstill had requested a meeting. My parents wanted to know why.

I honestly had no idea.

When they returned home from the meeting, I could sense I was in trouble immediately. My stomach began to burn as I sat on the living room floor, awaiting my fate.

Apparently, the school frowned upon a 9-year-old girl cursing like a sailor on the kickball field.

Who knew that shouting out words like a- hole and mother effer would get you into trouble?

Not me.

However, that was not my most heinous offense.

My parents were embarrassed by their words coming out of my mouth.

Anticipating the beating to come, I began to disassociate. My father’s talking head floated above. The blows to my face shook me out of my reverie. The isolation that followed became a welcome refuge.

“Triggers can happen when you least expect them. When you think all the emotional wounds are healed, something can happen that reminds you there is still a scar.” — Alexandra Eva May

It’s the last day of 2020 and I am sitting in my bathrobe in the garden, thinking about yesterday. It was a rough day.

My plan was to continue working on my garden fence, painting colorful flowers. It’s part of my new show idea. As I I got my supplies together, I smiled in anticipation. This is exactly the kind of joy I want to cultivate and share with others. I thought, maybe we should film some of the process to include in the show? After all, my husband is home on vacation. He is an award-winning radio show producer. What better time to take advantage of his expertise? Then, C-PTSD reared its ugly head. After two years of EMDR therapy and working through 26 adverse childhood memories, one would think I had worked through everything I needed to work through to be mentally healthy. Apparently not. All it took to send me into a tailspin was a single question posed to me by my unsuspecting husband.

“Have you written an outline?”

After 23 years of marriage, Jack has done nothing but support and love me. To the casual observer there is absolutely no reason why I should feel threatened by this question. My over the top response made absolutely no sense to me or my bewildered husband. In the end, it took me several hours to figure out why I had a temper tantrum and became an emotionally reactive 9-year-old after being asked an innocent question.

Whenever my meltdowns happen, I am just as surprised as everyone else. Without warning I am crying. Pulling at my hair, throwing myself on the floor. Heart racing, stomach burning, I begin to sweat.

Before retreating to my safe space, I declare the project dead. What was I thinking anyway? He knows everything! I know nothing.

“The important question in mental health shouldn’t be, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ But rather, ‘What happened to you.'” — Eleanor Longdon

Besides my grandparents and Aunt and Uncle’s house, school was still one of my safe places. In contrast, life at home was becoming increasingly unsafe. My brothers and I had spent three months in foster care while our stepmother received mental health treatment for her bipolar manic episode. Initially, after our return, our family experienced a honeymoon period. We were permitted to talk about our separation and referred to the places that each of us lived as our “past residence.” Until one day we were not allowed to talk about it anymore.

Maybe that’s why I started acting out.

Eventually, even chorus class became tainted by my disruption.

On one particular day, for some reason I thought it was an excellent idea to grab a few of my friends and jump up to the front of the classroom to sing a special song. I was itching to share it. I could barely contain myself. I’m sure my friends thought we would be singing the traditional version of God Bless America. They were with me for the first few words.

I kept singing alone, completely oblivious to the shocked look on the teacher’s face or the fact that my companions had stopped singing and were staring at their feet.

“God bless my underwear, my only pair, stand beside them and guide them, through the washer, to the dryer, to my butt!” Fully pleased with myself, I continued with gusto until the big finish, “GOD BLESS MY UNDERWEAR!“ MY UN- DER- WEAR!!!” I was still waiting for the thunderous applause to wash over me, as I walked down to the principal’s office alone, again.

“Healing from trauma can also mean strength and joy. The goal of healing is not a papering over of changes in order to preserve or present things as normal. It is to acknowledge and wear your new life- warts, wisdom, and all- with courage.” — Catherine Woodiwiss

Tonight for the first time in 32 years I will be asleep in my bed at midnight when the ball drops in Times Square. I’m OK with that. When I wasn’t psychologically torturing myself, I did have some fun playing make-believe rockstar. Honestly, I would not have survived if it weren’t for my singing persona. She brought me to where I am today. I’m not mad at her. In March, when I first learned of all the gig cancellations, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was lost. What little self-esteem I had was connected to the success of whatever band I was playing in at the time. Sobriety and forced unemployment had left a void. Without anything to be tethered to, I was free to be the real me. That’s when I began writing my story and found my true voice.

Now I know there is nothing wrong with me. Something happened to me. Understanding that has made such a difference in my life. Slowly but surely, I am beginning to see the new me. I am more than just a one trick pony.

What’s next?

I want to search for the joy hiding in our daily lives and collect it for all of us to share. For those times we can’t find it on our own. My one stop joy shop. Recover Your Joy. Dipping my paint brush into red paint, I paint a pretty flower and smile as I dream of all the joy just waiting to be recovered in 2021.

Lead image provided by Naome

Originally published: February 18, 2021
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