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How Trauma Is Like a Bad House Party

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Pretend you live in a house. A party is thrown that you did not plan and didn’t ask to have happen, but happens just the same.

It’s a horrible party. People are tearing things up, throwing things in your pool, getting sick all over your carpet and not cleaning it up, clogging your toilets, police are called over and over, they show up, don’t do anything, and no one actually leaves, and the party and the damage continue for years. Finally, after hiding under your bed from the noise for years on end, it’s silent, and you emerge.

The house is completely trashed and should probably be condemned. But it’s your house, you own it outright, and if you allow it to be condemned, where else will you have to live? Nowhere.

So you stay.

You step over the missing stairs and hunks of pulled back carpet. You drink from the same dirty glass and eat from the same dirty plate over and over and over again. You can’t drink water from the tap since the water’s been turned off due to someone breaking the pipes, so bottled water it is. The fridge and stove are broken and there’s a raccoon living in the microwave, so you eat out. The bed is missing a leg, but it’s yours so it’ll work, right?

I mean, you didn’t make this mess, you sure as heck aren’t gonna clean this mess up, right? I’m talking feces smeared on the ceiling and urine in the bathtub; you aren’t cleaning any of that mess up, right?

But no one else is cleaning it up. No one else is offering to clean it for you, and it’s your house, they can’t spend as long as it would take to clean your house, now can they? You don’t have the power to twitch your nose and have it be all clean by itself, so… now what?

One day, you decide to talk to someone about the state of your house. You talk about the couch in three pieces and recliner with no back. You describe the mice and ants and creatures with the gift of flight you have been living with for years. You describe it all!

And this person listens to it all. And that feels good. And so you talk about it some more. And you tell the details more and more.

And then this person has the audacity to ask if you want some ideas on how to clean it up!!


Clean it up? Uh, you didn’t make the mess, you aren’t going to clean it up. So you live with it for a while longer, but this person keeps offering ways to make things a bit neater.

Things like picking up the overturned end table and setting it next to the broken down bed again. And pulling a few weeds from between the floorboards. And next thing you know, you start to think how nice it would be if your house was all cleaned up.

But, you didn’t make the mess, you shouldn’t have to clean it up.

So you yell, and you scream, and you cry and complain about how you shouldn’t have to clean up the mess. Because, after all, you shouldn’t.

And the mess stays right where it is.

And sometimes you can’t remember what the house even looked like more put together, in the days before that party really got going. Or maybe when you bought it and it was already a mess. So why should you have to clean up someone else’s mess?

Because the mess isn’t going to clean itself.

It’s your house. You can clean or not. You can accept a mess was made that you have to clean up or not. You can cry and scream it isn’t fair and either decide, “Fine, I’ll clean up the damn mess!” or you can live in that sty for as long as you like.

But the mess isn’t going to clean itself.

Getty image by Jacob Boomsma

Originally published: January 23, 2022
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