First you have to listen to Florence’s Long and Lost which you can find here. Read the lyrics here. It’s what was playing in my head when we were so disconnected last year and it comes up again when I feel that way now.
As I sit down to write this I feel the familiar tightness in my belly that is raw fear and panic. I’m ready for you to see it now so let me paint you a picture.
Driving home from work last week I had a long musing about wanting to share all the secret places inside me and the thought sent me into a panic. I really do feel like sharing but what if you don’t want to see? What if it stays with you and you carry the weight I know so well; the one that makes the world even darker still and haunts you as you walk through the moments of your life?
That’s what I brought to my therapist to work on last week. It seemed a strange road into the trauma but it triggered so much that I had to trust it would take me where I needed to go. So I sat in the chair where I do the active work of EMDR, closed my eyes, heard my therapist’s voice saying “one foot here, one foot in the past”, and felt the tappers on my shoulders start their back and forth buzzing.
I could hear the words of Florence’s song echoing around me, coming through the fog and the darkness. I was at the edge of the bridge but I couldn’t step onto it. I know better than to get caught up in frustration or try and direct the process so I opened myself to what needed to happen next. I turned around and in the darkness behind me was a massacre of blood and rape and violence. As I looked at each incident I was back there again for a moment.
feeling the weight of my father on me
being alone and afraid in my childhood bed in the dark
feeling my hands tied behind a tree, naked from the waist down, blood on my thighs from having been raked on the inside by the fingernails of a 16 year old boy
being kicked and punched because I was pregnant at 15
“One foot in the past, one foot here with me,” I hear my therapist say.
All the while my body shook in a way I could never consciously make myself shake. It was like a vibration of fear and shock. My hands twitched and grabbed,
I see my mother, with the long, long hair of her early twenties, and she looks so sad. I want to tell her, I want for her to hold me and keep me safe. But she’s already so sad and I feel I don’t have the ability to open my mouth and tell her about the terrible things that have happened to me.
My left hand reaches out, begins to grasp at something and pull.
I’m reaching for my mother’s dress. It’s thin and there are so many colors. I tug at it somewhere near her knees. I must be small.
“Mama, Mama, Mama,” I cry and the sobs come. My therapist is telling me to take a deep breath. I do and I open my eyes to see her there in front of me.
“Name 5 things you see in the room,” she says in her soft and even voice.
“A picture of water, a blue bottle, a pine cone,” I laugh because our marriage counselor has a pine cone too, “a buddha, a plant.”
“What came up for you?”
I tell her about the darkness on my side of the bridge and wanting to tell my mom. I tell my therapist that if such horrible things had happened to one of my children, I would want to know so I could help them. I want my mom to hold me and keep me safe.
“Stay with that. Are you ready to go back in?”
I nod, close my eyes and the tappers start.
I reach out to my mom but she turns away. I am alone in this darkness. I stand on the edge of the bridge and I see Ilan on the other side. I want to take a step onto the bridge but my feet won’t move. I say, “Will you meet me in the middle?” He says “yes”.
I see Ilan coming towards me over that old, stone bridge. I pick up my right foot and take a tiny step. It’s almost like simply putting my foot back down but it’s now slightly more on the bridge. I can feel the darkness behind me, the fog covering everything. I take a deep breath, feel more centered, and I’m in the middle of the bridge with Ilan. I want to take him back with me, show him the devastation. Then I realize that once he sees it, he won’t ever be able to unsee it. I don’t want him to live with that. He’s too good and too kind to walk around with all of that forever.
I’m shaking again, hands and legs and head twitching. Tears are sliding freely down my face.
I hear my therapist tell me to take a deep breath and open my eyes.
“What did you notice?”
“Being on the bridge with Ilan. Wanting to show him all the terrible things but feeling deep sadness.”
“Let’s go with that.”
I close my eyes and feel the tappers start up again.
Will you come back with me? Ilan indicates that he will. We get to the edge of the bridge and the tiger from last week is there. Pacing and angry.
“I’ve already killed you once.”
The tiger will not move. It is my father.
I kill the tiger again.
I walk towards the very edge of the bridge and look out across the carnage. This time I feel Ilan’s hands on my shoulders, his chest against my back. It is reassuring. I see all the places I was hurt. For an instant I’m in each experience again. I know Ilan sees them too. He doesn’t move away from me.
I’m in Joe’s basement bathroom. It’s cold and filthy and my hands are tied to exposed pipes. I’m wearing something flimsy and sheer. I’m terrified of what he’ll do if I tell him to untie me.
In my house as a little girl. There’s no place I can go where I am safe. Where I am free.
But when I look out over it all with Ilan seeing it too, I see the violence and the fear but I also see and feel sadness. I see the young versions of myself and they have done nothing, could do nothing, to deserve any of these experiences.
I turn and look back across the bridge and see Life there. My life now. Joy and laughter. Hardship and pain. Just a plain and regular life. I want to go back there but I can’t leave the younger mes behind. My animals and I gather them all up. Wolf, bear, crow herding children towards the bridge.
I stand on the bridge just beyond the edge and I can’t make myself move towards the other side. I see my children on the bridge. I know they cannot see what is behind me or even the younger ones who are waiting to cross over. Ilan stands beside me and Aster walks right up to me. My helpful female ancestors are all around me as Aster puts their hands on my shoulders and tells me I don’t have to stay in that place beyond the bridge. It’s ok for me to move forward. They walk backwards, leading me towards the boys.
We all cross the bridge together.
This next part is going to sound a little confusing. I’ll try to get it right.
I realize you weren’t there to see all of this and so for you I’m only now sharing this with you. I also realize there’s no way for me to show you everything but I’m not sure that’s necessary. For me, you were there. You saw what’s on the other side of the bridge, the secrets that have kept me from being with you. I still have to figure out how to be more open and present with you but this is a start. I always thought I could decide to be open with you because I know you’re safe and kind and you love me. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I think we need to show my body and all those younger mes that it is truly safe. I don’t know exactly what that means yet but I think it begins with creating spaces in which my body feels safe. Spaces where consent is valued. Spaces where I can feel whatever is coming up for me and you’ll stay because you are kind and you love me and because I know you know where and what I come from. I’ve been hiding to keep myself safe but also to protect you. I think together we establish for my body that I am safe. It’s also possible that I can accept that you can handle knowing where and what I come from.
Now I’m going to go read some Harry Potter to our youngest because as Neil Gaiman says:
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”