I was reflecting in my garden, as reflections of the shadows of leaves waving in the breeze, being tossed lazily around fell before me, about how important nature is to me, and about how I see my recovery from addiction and the pain I carried as a way of seeking to come back into step with the natural cycle and order of things.
When I got sober in 1993 it was the beginning of summer here in the southern hemisphere. Winter brought a new relationship into my life, and by spring, we were married. By early summer I was in so much pain I around my alcohol abuse that I entered the rooms of AA and found sobriety. Now that I look back I know there was something not quite conscious about the speed with which my husband and I committed, and yet our marriage and coming together was all part of the path, of what was meant to happen in my life in order for me to grow.
Ever since that time, spring represents me a coming to birth and light out of a deep heavy fog of darkness. The loneliness that had dogged me ever since my father’s death and all through adolescence really lifted in the light of new love when my husband and I met. The love of my husband gave me enough support to allow me to make the decision to deal with the impact of my binge drinking. His love gave me a window and insight into the hurting in my heart and the support to heal. For the rest of my life I will be so grateful to him, even though he is not now in my life. In four days we would have been married 21 years.
I do believe that even when relationships end in real life, the relationship that you had and continue to have with that person lives on inside you. People can remain like ghosts, leaving you haunted or, through a process of healing, you find a way eventually to come to peace and transform the relationship. I feel that peace around me in my heart at the moment despite the ending that came in early 2001 when we left England and the promise of a new life there.
Home brought me back to a sense of deep loss and trauma and our relationship only survived another three years. With so much trauma still undealt with and unprocessed over here in Australia with my remaining family; with my sister incapacitated and stuck in an abusive relationship which was ending; with my mother having sustained a major injury; with the burden of the promise I had made to my dying father to take care of my mother weighing heavily on my heart, I could not live in peace without coming home. But a part of me was rebelling so deeply against this. It didn’t seem entirely fair. Exactly how was it my responsibility? And yet, on some level I thought it was. The astrologically attuned may understand if they saw all the conjunctions to the South Node in my seventh house of relationships, while the North Node in Leo roars out alone in the first house.
I now see that although I gave myself such a hard time for leaving what was unfolding in the UK for me during 2001, it was necessary for me to come home to deal with the past. I chose to remain somewhat removed from home and yet got stuck in a place so associated to the past and trauma. It was the house my father built in the final years of his life, those difficult years of trauma, 1979 – 1985.
These days I know the impact of unresolved trauma, of feelings we have no permission or avenue to process can and do often keep us in a freeze state : an inner purgatory or liminal space with is like a cocoon or alembic, a receptacle in which death processes are going on that are not accessible to thought but live like echoes or intimations buried deep. The entire body psyche is bound and regurgitating on an unconscious level, that which was too huge to process and which is needing to be worked through.
Giving a name to our traumatic imprints, finding words is essential to find the freedom, to loosen the tenacious grip that unconscious trauma can leave on the soul. We unravel from it and uncoil, slowly in the presence of acceptance, understanding and love which are difficult for a traumatised person to find amongst even the most familiar to them. In their absence we remain bound and imprisoned until enough failures lead us to no longer abandon ourselves, encourage us to find the love needed inside as well as the courage to make our way through unleashing the necessary feelings.
I was chatting to a friend of mine who is sober like me, has been sober and in recovery for over 20 years and she was saying how difficult it is in her family to find understanding and recognition. “I realise” she said to me (echoing my own recent experience, “when I can have my feelings and find help to feel them I move through them. When I don’t get this I stay stuck.”
Later that day I was making my way through Judith Herman’s chapter on safety in her book Trauma and Recovery where I read the following :
The traumatised person is often relieved simply to learn the true name of her condition. By ascertaining her diagnosis, she begins the process of mastery. No longer imprisoned in the wordlessness of the trauma, she soon discovers that she is not alone; others have suffered in similar ways. She discovers further that she is not crazy; the traumatic syndromes are a normal human response to extreme circumstances. And she discovers finally, that she is not doomed to suffer this condition indefinitely; she can expect to recover as others have recovered.”
Such recognition, understanding and healing is only possible when we can feel and give a name, true name to what we have experienced. We may have to live the realisation over and over to come to acceptance in a long and drawn out process of healing, but once we can understand and express our complex feelings we are closer to acceptance and freedom.
Judith Herman notes that people with the complex disorder of post traumatic stress (those who have been impacted severely or by several traumas stacked on each other, or those whose PTSD has been worsened by a lack of empathy around them) often feel they have lost themselves.
“The question of what is wrong with them has often become hopelessly muddled and ridden with moral judgement. A conceptual framework that relates the person’s problems with identity and relationships to the trauma history provides a useful framework for formation of a therapeutic alliance.(which) recognises the harmful nature of the abuse (or trauma) and provides an explanation of… persistent difficulties.”
It seems to me that in giving our traumas words we are recognising the truth of their impact too, recognising this truth may necessitate a period of suffering and or mourning. That profound period and stage of healing takes the time it takes to work through. Once negotiated it can and does lead us to re-integration and once we choose it, re-engagement with life.
Tied up with healing may be experiences where we replay unresolved traumas or issues by what is known as repetition compulsion. Before the traumas or losses we have been through can be named we may need to re-experience then in differing guises. Anniversaries can bring new traumas or events that echo earlier ones.
It has been recognised that unresolved trauma does tend to magnetise to it other traumas which are attempts of the trauma to make itself known (see Peter Levine’s work : Taming the Tiger). I certainly experienced this in my own life. The end of my relationship with my husband brought up not only all the unfelt grief and unnamed trauma of my father’s death and eldest sisters’ illness and breakdown to the surface, but pain of three other major relationships ending.
In the absence of support and recognition as well as the down right hostility of my family and friends to the deeper layers of trauma and grief I was literally driven away, scapegoated and set up to repeat not only those traumas but the very profound trauma of my earlier accident of 1979. These repeats occurred following the end of my marriage as I had made the choice to return to the scene of earlier “crimes” because their true impact remained unconscious and unprocessed.
The pain of my relationship ending, led me to repeat old traumas over a period of six years. It led me into a relationship in which I would be abandoned in nearly exactly the same way as I was in the month following my father’s death 26 years later. This pattern was not conscious as it was unfolding, only as I worked through the pain, did the repetition elements reveal themselves and in so doing helped me to heal and make sense of how the compulsion to repeat had replayed in my own life.
On an astrological note the true integration of all of that pain took an entire Saturn cycle to play out. In the last two years, Saturn’s transit through Scorpio has crossed over my natal Neptune and returned to the place it occupied when my father died in 1985 and I took flight over to the land of my ancestors.
When I began this blog earlier it was with the idea in mind of how we can fall out of step with natural cycles or of the profound power of natural cycles to play and replay sometimes in a spiral pattern. The point I was hoping to make was that when I found sobriety in 1993, eight years following my father’s cancer diagnosis and death it was to nature and to a tree that I turned for solace and healing. (This makes great sense to me as I read the blog back, humans around me often were not safe and could not be trusted to be true witnesses to my grief as nature can.) This may seem strange but in 12 step groups we are encouraged to find a sense of higher power or strength in any avenue that is fitting for us. The word God is used but many people have difficulty with God due to the abuse of certain religions.
For me in the summer of 1993 it was to the roots of a huge fig tree in McKell Park in the eastern suburbs of Sydney that I turned for refuge. It absorbed the tears of mine which fell to the ground when following my first AA meeting I had an experience of coming home, of opening up, of letting go and of being held and comforted by unseen forces, of knowing I was in the right place. It was under this tree that I could sit and feel my way into the heart centre that I closed down over all those years, years during which I felt myself to be driven so far from my own body into addiction and painful relationships. These were all necessary but misguided attempts to run from a pain I was not able yet, to fully feel my way through to the dark centre of, while replaying an unconscious pattern.
As I sit and type this today these words appear on top of a background of reflected green : the shimmering leaves of the beautiful tulip tree which graces my back yard. As spring birds call out in the distance I find myself at home and at peace. Through all of this unfolding nature and the unfolding of cycles, the turning of wheels within wheels, has carried me through. Nature bids me these days to find rest when I am overtaxed, it lets me know by its slower natural rhythms when I am out of step or overtaxing myself. When relationships got stripped away or fell apart because and grief and anger I carried seemed to tax every single relationship, apart from the one with myself, trees and nature like my little dog have waited patiently giving me something deep and soothing that is in the absence of words a lot like love, that reaches a far deeper place than words could.
Not all humans have failed me and god knows I have failed people too, at times. There have been those, particularly in later years, in person in and online who have been willing to listen and to help me name my true experience, just as there have been those who have been so damned uncomfortable with this that they have sidelined me or tried to shut me up.
Was it that in my addiction I fell out of step with the natural cycle? In trauma something gets ripped open or torn apart. The natural cycle is interrupted or shattered for a time and such shattering leaves a legacy of symptoms which speak of dis-order. There is, on the astrological side, something profoundly Uranian to this, in that often Uranus disrupts the natural order, perhaps to bring to birth something individual that could not come to birth out of that natural, unbroken order.
And yet in the living of a life that has balance I know I have needed to seek for the order within that disorder, to seek for connection even in the midst of disconnection. To make of the torn apart threads a new garment that has an individual beauty and complexity that rests on the disordered skeins being woven into a new pattern.
So perhaps what happened was this, things fell out of order to find a new order. It is said that it is through the cracks that open from these kind of things that light enters what was previously opaque and impenetrable. Traumatic events can bring about amazing healing and reconnections between people who might never have met or never experienced connection nor come to outgrowths of new understanding.
And so trauma has its place and things do get torn apart, fall apart and break. Perhaps in the end much depends on the perspective we take and the perspective we reach. Often that change in or re-framing of perspective rests on having travelled a little further down the road. I certainly find this to be true.
Sometimes our healing and resolutions demands of us a patience with that which, as yet has not fully come to birth or form. Life itself and our understandings, too are ceaselessly evolving. It is good that this is true. That we stay open, that we don’t seek to fix things into place too soon. That we expand our minds eye just a little wider and with the benefit of that expanded aperture find a perspective that reveals to us more of wholeness, of truth of life.