If you are a trauma survivor, this may be triggering. Please take care as you read.
Several years ago an image came to my mind. It was one of being at the bottom of a dry well. It was dark, dank, and hopeless. I realized that I was familiar with the despair of that image: the aloneness, the thirst, the distant memory of having a drink, the dustiness of dry dirt where there should be plenty of water, and a tiny far away light above me.
I was also aware that the aloneness was opaque, meaning, no one who knew me would be able to see this inside of me. I had created a visage of peace, strength and prosperity.
My aloneness at the bottom of a dark, empty well happened because of a profound sense of helplessness and exploitation. I didn't have someone to help me understand the story of what got me there and to feel the agony and grief of my story with me. It’s an image of someone -me- who has experienced violence.
Maybe you can relate.
One of the ways I learned to survive was to offer myself out, necessarily believing that was the same as love and connection. I adapted into the good girl - agreeable at just about any cost; the tough girl, the resilient woman, the helper, the lover, the compassionate witness, the shame bearer, the nurse, the mourner, the mother, the midwife, whatever the moment called for. I learned to adapt so frequently that I forgot not only who I really was but THAT I was at all. A long time ago, I forgot I had a self of my own.
I came to the instinctive conclusion that I would no longer trust others. I learned how to carefully, quietly and with a sweet look on my face, slap my own wrist whenever I desired or hoped for more. Honestly? Honestly....it was enough. It worked. Systems are set up for agreeableness. I am grateful for the brilliant system my young soul and self were able to rig together. In many ways, I'm actually proud of myself for it.
At some point, the circumstances of which are still something of a mystery, the disconnection of what was true inside (I was dying at the bottom of the dry well) and what was seen outside (I was a strong, resilient woman) became unbearable. In an internal act of survival driven desperation, I cried out from that place in my mind, and I felt something truly new emerge where it had been only dry and dusty. It was the sense of a small trickle of water. I could hear its steady flow, yet I couldn't get to it. It really wasn’t enough for what I needed, but it was enough to take the edge off of the feeling of insanity of the dark well of trauma and grief with which this image brought me in contact. It was more than I'd had before.
Over the years, I experienced the image of the well at the times when I felt the pressing in of a familiar tortured feeling of aloneness. Over and over again, it served to give me just enough to keep going until mercifully, that little bit didn't work anymore.
And then another mysterious thing happened. I became angry.
It was a strange and surprising transition to find myself no longer satisfied by the mere trickle of water. It started with a small internal rebellious thought that grew into a deep wail until I felt everything in me crying out for more. I wanted enough. Even more than that, I wanted abundance! I wanted to know that I could experience humongous gulps of life-sustaining water; that I didn’t have to live in a constant fearful contraction that a distant sound of water was all that would ever be mine.
How do we heal from something that is so obscure and covert that we have to work to believe it's real?
We need community. People who believe us. People who will hold us accountable to telling what is most true and even pushing back with kind curiosity when we insist we're at our limits. We need soul care. We need spiritual care. We need skilled coaching and counseling and perhaps most importantly, we need to learn to trust ourselves.
I don't how this can or will come for you. I can tell you something of how it has come for me. I had to decide something. A small something, but something nonetheless. A drop of hope came through a tiny willingness to repent of the ways of survival I had conjured; a distant, discontent, righteously angry young voice within me that started yelling, "I AM NOT OKAY!" And, I had to pause and listen.
With that came a terrifying gap between what has worked and what I want. One single millimeter forward at a time, I have paused, listened, learned bit by bit to receive the idea that "for me" thoughts about me are in the minds of those who have done their work, too. It comes from hoping when it feels that there is absolutely no data to support such foolishness.
My heart has learned to tolerate tiny sips of care that at first, I simply regurgitated. Trying and vomiting; trying and nausea; trying and exhausted; trying and finally able to keep a sip down. This happened in a practical setting with people who see me and will wait for me to learn to tolerate full drinks of life-giving water. People who are themselves trying to learn how to be patient because their own hearts have gone through the re-learning process of how to tolerate the water of life-giving, reciprocal friendship.
Hell itself wants the gates of our hearts to slam closed with a resounding clang of metal, but we can mercifully stand against that onslaught and even soften as we realize we're not alone and that all of hell's clanging and loud belches are merely distractions from what is most true. It's "the deeper magic," in the words of C.S. Lewis.
The deeper truth is that we are loved. We can actually learn to let the powerful strains of music or the sparkling frozen limbs of an icy, wintry tree pour into our broken hearts and heal it. We can learn to trust that a kind word doesn't always come with an agenda. Although it is much, much more difficult, we can even learn to trust the gentle insistence of a friend as they refuse to look away from our suffering, eyes full of tears, with us in our sorrow.
My tiny, distant, foreign demand for more is such a gift. When I think about that little demanding part of me, my whole being reverberates with a thank you!
When I paused, listened, and let myself desire more, I found a living, breathing little face, frozen in time, looking for me looking for her and I see her and I love her.
There is no way we are meant to be satisfied with a faint trickle of distant water when we are gushing blood, broken, bruised and panting in pain.
If this stirs longing in you and you wish to talk with someone about ways you can find help, we have a whole team of women who are here to offer assistance and hope. You can reach out to any of us to schedule a free consultation as a first step or another millimeter forward.