Trauma Response and Trying to Find Joy

Trauma Response and Trying to Find Joy February 17, 2021

I am in a weird place emotionally right now, and in many ways I am struggling.  I am wrestling with the demons of old trauma response as I try to find joy, hope, and brevity in my life.  Like any time I struggle with trauma response, it is ugly, painful, messy, and difficult.  I have done enough shadow work over the years to know where it is coming from, but understanding it does not alleviate the work that goes into it or necessarily make it go as fast as I might like.

I am struggling right now.
I am struggling right now. Image by valentina florez from Pixabay

I very much wanted to find a cheerful or hopeful topic to write about for all of you this week, but my mind and my heart are not in that place.  My mind and my heart are heavy and serious with the weight of my own life and reflections of current events.

Toys and Childish Play

A few days ago, Irene Glasse posted The Spirituality of Play: Divine Silliness in Hard Times over at Nature’s Sacred Journey.  I went to it hoping for some inspiration to get out of the rut I am in.  Although her ritual is lovingly crafted, and I expect would work for most people, the old trauma from childhood I am dealing with currently meant that instead of finding much needed brevity, I found myself crying.  I found another layer of old trauma to process in honor of a child who had so very little reason to ever be happy, whose toys became desperate diversions and a reflection of their misery.

Just the thought of seeking out one toy or trivial childish thing that would have brought joy to me as a child was overwhelming in its heartbreak, because it was not toys or trivial things that I needed most.  It was love that I needed.  It was sincere demonstration of caring.  It was more support than empty platitudes and hollow excuses to hide selfish priorities.  The toys I received as a child were gifted in place of love, performative “proof” bestowed on birthdays or on certain holidays to support gaslighting and prove to friends and strangers and even to my parents themselves that they loved their children.  After all, why would they spend their meager money on toys if they did not love their children?

I took almost all of my toys with me when I left home.  Initially they fit in three or four boxes.  I neurotically held onto them for the better part of two decades, despite intending to sell some of them to collectors, before finally donating all but one box worth to a thrift store.  I am never going to have children, and I have no interest in playing with them again, and yet there some of them are, still in that one box, taking up space, too precious to let go of because they were the closest thing to happiness that I had, playing with them alone in my room, like the battered remnants of a dream.

My childhood toys remind me of my misery, not my joy.
My childhood toys remind me of my misery, not my joy. Image by succo from Pixabay

All of my truly joyful play I have found as an adult, and that includes things like comics and costuming that were perceived as “just for kids” when I was young, and yet were too expensive or required too much parental support to ever happen at the time.  I do not buy into the idea that anyone is “too old” or “too young” for anything.  If they love it, they love it, no matter the age.  When I was a child, I knew other children who absolutely reveled in horror movies, even the R rated ones they were “too young” to watch.  As a full adult, I promise you that horror is not a genre I enjoy, or ever will, but that is just my personal taste.  Humans like things, and they dislike things, and joy is deeply personal.

And we all NEED joy in our lives.  We need brevity, or we will collapse under the weight of life.

The Weight of Life

I am feeling the weight of life particularly hard right now.  The last four years were increasingly traumatic, as many of the abuse dynamics playing out on the national stage in the USA, especially the incessant lying and gaslighting, mirrored dynamics I experienced from my parents until I ceased all contact with them in 2016.  I shudder to think how much worse I would be feeling if I had not taken that step, and had also been experiencing psychological manipulation from my parents during those years.

National politics were more than sufficient to fan the flames of trauma response, especially as things escalated towards a coup attempt at the end of Trump’s term in office.  In the past couple years, I actively avoided anything where I would hear his voice or see his tweets, because of the trauma response it would trigger.  I kept abreast of the news and current events through other channels, channels that were going to at least be closer to the truth than the hate which emanated constantly from Trump’s lying lips and fingers.

Many of my friends immediately felt relief the day of the inauguration.  Many of them, like me, did not.  We were stuck in limbo, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the carrot to be yanked away and replaced with more hatred, exalted oppression, and utter lack of empathy for fellow human beings.  I am still watching those dynamics play out in Congress, as Trump was acquitted via blatant falsehoods regardless of the overwhelming mountain of evidence against him, and the GOP continues to obstruct and undermine efforts that might help to turn things around and a portion of the Democrats stick their heads in the sand.  I am watching as so many seated politicians continue to fan the flames of conspiracy, and spout more blatant lies to vilify anything which could benefit a majority or the country and planet instead of lining the pockets of a privileged few.

It is hard to watch the news, but I cannot disconnect from it completely.
It is hard to watch the news, but I cannot disconnect from it completely. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

It is hard to watch the news, but I cannot disconnect from it completely, because it affects me along with everyone else in this country.  Besides, the uncertainty of ignorance is far more frightening to me than the uncertainty of a future that is not yet determined, and there are some good things happening as well.  Even if I cannot see very far ahead, I am far less likely to get bashed against the rocks if I keep my eyes open.

The Weight of Memory

I have been writing a memoir about the abuses and traumas I endured as a child through adulthood, mostly from my immediate family.  It describes how I found myself despite the actions of my family, and provides a critical examination of how their behaviors and words affected me.  Writing it has been intensely healing, but I would not describe it as fun.  In fact, there is precious little brevity, because I find no humor in trauma, neglect, and abuse, and attempting to make it laughable would diminish the seriousness of the topic and potentially turn it into a slapstick punchline from a Dysfunctional American Family “comedy” movie.

Still, the intensity of the subject matter and the internal work it has inspired are heavy on me right now.  I am reflecting and reprocessing and reclarifying a lifetime of experiences as I finish final edits and write a solid publishing proposal, because in order to write about these topics in a clear and compelling way, I need to have an even clearer understanding of them in my own heart and mind.

It is profoundly important work to me, but it is not fun.  It weighs heavy.

The Weight of Isolation

As a disabled person who has been mostly housebound for years, I am far more used to the isolation of being home all the time than most people.  However, I still need socialization in order to be happy and emotionally satisfied, and with COVID-19 still running rampant, my old means of socializing are mostly unavailable.  I may not have been able to go on outings frequently for many years, but I still went out to events or social gatherings at least once every couple months, and at times I have managed weekly crafting meetups.

The weight of isolation is getting to me.
The weight of isolation is getting to me. Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

As we are quickly rushing towards one full year since COVID-19 lockdowns started where I live, I realize how poorly I am actually doing.  It is finally hitting me, how much I miss hugs and nudges and laughs over food and drink and craft with friends and acquaintances.  Zoom meetings are certainly better than nothing, but they are not the same.  Platonic human touch among friends is important to me, to my overall wellbeing.

I miss going to the movie theater.  I miss dropping in with friends for tea and chatter.  I miss eating out at restaurants instead of grabbing the food and coming back home.  I miss dressing up in costumes and showing off and being silly with friends.  I miss sharing art and crafting with fellow enthusiasts.  I miss creating art.  I miss leading public rituals.  I miss teaching workshops, and I feel overwhelmed at figuring out how to do them remotely because so much of how I teach and present is based on participation and feedback from those in attendance.

I wish I could take my own advice and grieve those things, but I am not feeling grief because I know they are not gone forever.  There are a great many things I hope will permanently change about the world around me, but those things, those social things will resume in some form, and it will be wonderful.  At least, they will eventually.

So, I cannot grieve them, because that would mean letting them go forever into memory.  Instead, I miss them, like a hole in my heart that aches for their promised return.

No Clear Solution

I do not have a clear solution.  Witchcraft is a huge part of how I stay balanced and orient myself in my life, but I have no ritual or spell that can fix this, any of this.  I feel like I am doing everything I can just to stay afloat.  I am keeping myself busy with writing as much as possible so I have an outlet for my thoughts and the solace of being productive in some fashion, but joy and brevity are far more rare than they should be.  True satisfaction is even rarer.

I do have hope, though, even if it is accompanied by a nagging fear that that hope might be false.

Nothing lasts forever, even the COVID-19 lockdowns.  Things will improve and gatherings will resume after the vaccines have been fully distributed, however long that takes.  Eventually we will all have in person socializing back again, not just those who choose to be plague rats and potentially spread disease, disability, and death to friends, family, and strangers alike.

As for the political stuff, how that falls out has yet to be determined.  It is likely to take a great many years to resolve, especially if things genuinely move in the direction of equality instead of fascism.

There is no clear solution, so I must focus on what is in front of me right now.
There is no clear solution, so I must focus on what is in front of me right now. Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

The family and childhood trauma will be with me for the rest of my life, no matter how much I heal.  It is too pervasive and too deep to become a footnote in my history.  It will always affect me in profound ways, but the more I heal the easier that is to navigate.  It becomes less trauma and coping mechanisms, and more melancholy and acceptance and inner forgiveness.  That is nothing new, and I know from experience that I am capable of being happy and satisfied despite the traumatic events of my life, even if they feel a bit overwhelming right now.

So, I will continue to work magic, write for this blog, work on getting my book published, watch television with my partner, attempt to create art, socialize with friends remotely, and try to sort out remote teaching.  Those things are already far more than I can manage on a typical day, and I have no idea what I could add that could even remotely fix the ache in my heart, so for now I will continue as I have been.

I am not sure where to go from here, so I will end on this note.  If you are in a similar situation, know that you are not alone, no matter how isolated you feel.  It is not easy, and there is no one good answer to the problem of finding joy and alleviating the trauma of life in the best of times, but especially right now.  Be compassionate with yourself, with your ups and downs, and especially your difficult days.  Things are so uncertain and troubling right now that it is a wonder there are any good days at all, so celebrate those when they happen.  Seize your joys when you can, however you can, no matter how silly or “immature”.

Joy is too precious to waste, and we need far more of it in the world.

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