It was the next meeting that I finally woke up and realized that God was setting up little appointments and working on healing the wounds inflicted during the trauma and recovery. But before that meeting, came a few small ones.
I met up with a lady who used to be our member care person. We ate lunch surrounded by her kids - one of them being a boy with ADHD. So fun. Thankfully, as a mom with slightly ADD boys of my own and having tutored ADHD kids, I am not too phased by them and managed to carry on two totally different conversations at once. We didn't talk too much, but she encouraged me to talk to one man. Yeah, right. I just don't go up to strangers, especially ones who ... well... who are sort of well known people, and talk. It just isn't me.
That evening, we went to a banquet at our organization. We ended up at a table with two other couples who are half as crazy as we are and someone started telling jokes. We were tired and the jokes were funny, and we ended up belly-laughing for most of the evenings. Seriously, we were so loud I thought we were going to get kicked out!
Laughter is good for the soul.
Then I met a woman I had met back in May of this year and had dumped a lot of questions and anger on her. She was thrilled to see me and gave me a big hug. I was happy to see her too. We didn't talk, but a hug communicates love. It also communicates that she hadn't forgotten me. She said, "I was so hoping I'd get to see you!"
But the evening ended and the next day we went to a service on Sunday morning. Interestingly, the speaker was a leader who was talking about how something happened in his life and he realized that he needed to change how he was behaving because he was going to be causing wounding to those under him. I needed to hear that that day - that there are leaders who become aware of that and care to change. He also laughed about an incident where he was in the hospital and the indignity of having to undress in front of a nurse. I smiled at that.... later I told him that we see things differently. We do not see lack of dignity at all. We have already set honor on them for being a person, and when we are invited into their embarrassment, pain, and suffering, it is intimate and a privilege. We never see a naked person, we only see a person clothed with honor, no matter what they are going through, no matter what they are or are not wearing. But I know people can be embarrassed when I have to do some things. I feel for them, but I have already decided that they have dignity and honor. It is what allows me to treat people the way I do.
But that was not the best that the day had. Later that afternoon, in the middle of a very boring wrap-up lunch, the man who my friend had suggested I talk to came and sat at our table. I had not even known he had been aware of our situation or what had happened at all. But he knew people who knew us and he sat and talked. Then most people left, and he was talking with one man. When that man left, he turned back to the table to get his things and I decided I would take a chance. I said, "Can I ask you two questions?"
I asked, "How do you recover from trauma, as in how long does it take? And the other question is, did our group take care of you afterwards?" He looked at me and said, "Groups are made of people, and people all do different things." I am not easily distracted or brushed off, so I repeated my last question again. He sat down.
Then we talked - probably for only five minutes, but we talked and it was good. I will not blog about that because it was a private conversation. Then he said he had to run. Someone was coming to pick him up to catch his plane.
I sat at the table for a few minutes thinking about what he said. There was a sense of relief and of being understood. He had told me a little of his journey through trauma, and heard some of ours. He validated some of the feelings and gave me a map.... remember I said so often going through this that I had no idea which way the path led. No one had been able to tell me. This man did. And he also heard my disappointment with what he had been offered in the way of help and said that it was not right. But he gave me most of all hope. Understanding and hope.
After a few minutes, I left the boring wrap-up meeting and went to pace in the foyer. I did not see this man, but he saw me and came back. We talked for a few more minutes while waiting for his car. When it arrived, he said, "I need to give you a hug." So he gave me a hug, held me, and talked some more. Then he let me go, and began to load his suitcases. When he was done, he came back to me and said, "I need to just give you another hug." He held me again and told me to keep going. He told me about some things that were still hard for him, and that he still cried. We both were inches away from crying, just little tears and sniffles. I said that I will survive, but he said no, you were made for more than surviving. You were made to be beautiful and to thrive... don't settle for surviving. I chuckled and said, "Well, this year we survived, this coming year, I'll work on thriving." He laughed and said that he knows what that is like. It was ok to just survive in the beginning. He had let me go, and put more stuff in the car, but then he he came back, reached out, and pulled me close again and just held me, my head resting on his shoulder. He held me until the little shuddering sniffles quit and I drew a deep relaxed breath. Then he ran to catch his flight.
I walked back in the building, sat for two minutes, but then told my husband I was going to go nap. I walked back to our housing, and on the way, I began to smile while tears fell. I got to my bed, crawled in, and sobbed myself to a deep, peaceful sleep. Something had changed. I wasn't jittery any more.
I thought about it when I woke. I pondered over it while I got cleaned up to go for supper. There was nothing major said, no big secret, no great wisdom. What had happened was that someone, while listening, had pulled me close and held me.
I just needed to be held. Heard and held.
See some things had happened in the trauma and recovery that had made it more difficult for me. My two best friends were out of town. My team never came. No one was there in the rough days to wrap their arms around me. Now my son's teacher did those first hours when he came to get my daughter. His hug calmed me enough to think and be able to pull myself together initially and care for my kids. Then I went an entire 24 hours entirely alone. No arms to hold me. No comforting person with me. I ached to be held. But I was alone.
One other time, on the Sunday, a friend came over. She only stayed two minutes since she had to go back and dress her kids, but she came only to give me a hug. I needed that hug that day to calm my nerves and give me enough strength to make it through going to church.
The next day, at midnight, my neighbor found out and he came over in the dark at midnight because he said, "I just needed to give you a hug." I needed it then to focus my attention on the getting everyone ready for me to fly out and meet my husband. Being held is a powerful way to calm me down and let me process my emotions and get on track.
Then came the week we spent with the men right when they got out. This is where things began to go really wrong. There are lots of reasons for all of that, and I won't list them all here. But nerves were on edge, and we were not given peace by our director. That first night, something happened, and I ended up sobbing. No one came... well someone did, but she just looked at me, said something, and walked away. I ended up crying alone until I ran out of tears. Earlier in the day, when my husband had arrived before I did, a friend of mine was there to give him a huge hug and let him cry on his shoulder. While I wished I could have gotten there in time to meet his plane, I was so happy that someone held him. But when I needed to be held, no one did. Later they told me that, "well, it might have been inappropriate" and "we thought you didn't like hugs".
I went the whole time, desperately needing a hug... needing arms wrapped around me so I felt safe again, so I could stop shuddering, and draw a breath and relax. But no one held me. That hurt. It hurt then. It hurt day after day. It hurt when I saw my husband being hugged by both of this couple. It hurt when no one held me. I felt like I had leprosy. How can it be inappropriate to hug someone in that situation?! It wasn't inappropriate for my friend to hug my husband. It wasn't inappropriate for others to be held. Just not me. So I never cried after that first night when I sobbed and no one even so much as put a comforting hand on my shoulder. I bottled my feelings because I wasn't allowed to be held and comforted. I felt dirty, like no one held me because of my past, and that hurt.
When we got home, it was chaos and more pain. When we went to church, people grabbed my husband and hugged him, happy to see him. I stood back and watched, smiling. I was happy to see him, too. I understood that people needed to hug him, to feel him, to know that he was really real and there. No one ever thought if it is appropriate or not to hug him - that would have been silly! They all wanted to just touch him and hold him. It was wonderful.
Except that no one held me. Not then, not later.
I can't really cry and process that load of emotions without being held. Especially after they got bottled up because of the conflict that happened during the week of recovery and the horrible, botched team "debriefing" that happened as soon as we got back.
Then life went on. Day after day, week after week, month after month. I could not unpack the pain of those bottled up emotions. I couldn't cry, but I wanted to. But time had gone by, and everyone was happy for us. We were happy for us, too. But part of my healing process got paused way back when people chose not to comfort me.... back when no one came, back when no one held me, back when no one stopped the attacks on me in the team "debriefing". And I couldn't cry. I felt abandoned, rejected, and uncared for. Dirty. Too dirty to hug.
Then came this odd meeting with this one man who understood trauma. He had lived through it himself. And he did the most interesting thing. He did not say much, like I said, there was no gem of wisdom there. He not only heard and understood the feelings of pain, confusion, abandonment that are all tied up in trauma, but he reached out and held me. He didn't just give me a quick hug, but he held me, standing there holding me and talking quietly to me. He cried with me and held me. (I still wonder what the poor guy picking him up thought!)
A hug is never inappropriate in trauma. I needed to be held. A year and a half of feeling jittery and antsy fell away as someone took time to hold me. And I slept after that, deeply.
I don't know what this post will sound like, but I am simply sorting my way through the changes that have come in the last weeks, the quiet turn of the corner towards peace. I am tracing God's hand in these strange meetings. He wasn't done yet, but this was a critical one. I had needed to be held, and I hadn't been. It was an unusual choice, but God sent someone to do just that.
Interestingly, he did not just hold me, but he talked, and what he said countered some of those awful lies that were hard to get rid of in the aftermath of the pain of people not responding when I was hurting. Instead of dealing with the crisis and any secrets to coping, he just told me that God had made me beautiful, that I was valued, and meant to be cherished. Interesting things, but what he said stood in stark contrast to the lies that the wounds of being left alone had given a place to grow.
I told my husband about the meeting, and his response was, "I'm so glad he was able to hug you!" He was so glad even that later having coffee with friends of both that man and ours, he mentioned it to them. "It was really special that he got to meet us and to give my wife a hug." It mirrored his response when I told him that my son's teacher and my neighbor had come over to hug me. "I am so glad they did! I am so glad someone gave you a hug when I couldn't."
Laughter is good for the soul, being held and being heard are critical in being healed. That is what I learned that weekend.
It was late, but late is better than never!
Still God wasn't done. He had two more chance meetings up His sleeve. But I had finally stopped carrying my bucket of tears and was more at rest.