A post, without pictures

This post comes with a disclaimer and warning.  If you have experienced trauma, it is probably best you don’t read the post.  If you choose to read it and feel distressed, please talk to someone who can support you.  (This is also a very long post).

This is a reflection on something that happened years ago.

I was taken aback by my feelings about the Me Too movement.  I went through periods of anger, hopelessness and even unnecessary bravado until I talked to someone who helped me join the dots.  

I was in my twenties. I had a job.  I had my own place.  I was in love with Dr T.  Life was sweet.  My unit was a short 10 minute walk to the main street to catch my bus to work.  I would walk past a small building site where young tradies would be loud, jostle each other and vie for attention. On a summer’s day and around 7 am, people were out in their garden watering plants, no different than any other day when I heard a jogger behind me.

I moved to the side to let him go by when he hit me from behind.  The force sent me flying sideways into the lane way between homes.  Out of sight from others we tussled and somehow I whacked him under his nose.  He flew to his feet in pain, I got to my feet, and dusted myself off, absolutely furious.  I thought he was being dared by his mates and warned him, “I know where you work, I’m going to report you”.  He backed off and said, “I know where you live” and then proceeded to tell me his intent.  I didn’t process his threat.  I was angry at the indignity of what had just happened.  On reflection, shock made me process things differently.  I went through the lesser priorities of the moment.  He had torn my blouse and left a zig zag tear.  “He ruined my top!”,  “I need to go home and change my clothes”, “Damn! I’ve missed my bus”.   He jogged off.  A neighbour came to my aid.  I waited at home for the police.  No fear, still fuming.  The police interviewed the tradies and no one could recall seeing the man.  I have no memory for the rest of the day.

Later that night I waited for Dr T to arrive for dinner.  My unit’s big glass sliding door opened on to the front lawn.  The entrance door was at the back of the building.  I saw a tall man lean over my mailbox.  Dr T!  I opened the sliding door.  The figure straightened up and walked towards me.  The walk was unfamiliar.  In an instance I remembered the threat made earlier that day.  Fear nearly paralysed me.  I stepped back into the unit, locked the door and switched off the lights.  I had the advantage of darkness.  I heard him check the bedroom window, the two bathroom windows, the front door, then the kitchen window.  Then back to the front door and tried to jimmy the lock.  I dragged the landline to the door.  In panic I dialled random numbers.  I knew he was listening.  I pretended to talk to the police as if they were down the street, waiting for him.  When I stopped talking, there was silence.  I knew he was gone.  Dr T came over.  I moved out of the unit that night.

Four years later the police arrested him.  He had attacked 13 women around the city, four laid charges.  He was not one of the workmen at the building site but was working across the road from my unit.  He had seen me leave that morning.  He told his workmates he was going to the toilet, stepped out of his overalls when he jogged up behind me.  Then calmly came back and got dressed in his overalls.  No one remembered the clothing I described.

He got a $100 fine for each of the four charges.

Life went on.  I did not give the incident any thought.

I lived a life like most others.  Love, marriage, children, divorce, career. On the surface it would suggest the incident did not have any impact on me.  My professional self has been safe and clear thinking.  I am trained to deal with the unexpected and I have encountered it more times than I care to remember.  I worked in high risk environments before I started my own practice.  I travel alone on lonely country roads most of the time for my work.  I enjoy a solitary walk in the bush where I am warier of encountering a snake, than a human being.  Every time I hear a tragic incident of someone being attacked, I consider myself lucky.  After all, I wasn’t harmed.

Or so I thought.

On a personal level this impacted me on a fundamental level.  I was trapped in my own home, my safe place.  I have lived with triggers without knowing this until I had a light bulb moment in a small town.  Maybe I was overly tired to react the way I did and I’m glad I was.

It was a Sunday.  The sesh was on at the pub when I saw two men get thrown out.  They pushed and shoved as the altercation spilled on to the street, a few feet from me.  There was swearing and laughter from observers.  I crossed over the road but then abandoned my walk and returned to the car.  I was trembling.  I went back to the hotel and lay in bed, reflected on why I felt the way I did.  I phoned a friend and in talking we realised I was triggered by the loud laughter.  I also realised why I am so careful about giving out my home address.  (“I know where you live”).  Both these triggers were scorched into memory just before and after the incident.

This incident shaped the way I lived without me knowing it.  I was fearful in my home for decades but felt safer in the community by day.  The incongruity of my functioning puzzled Dr T.  When he went to a meeting at night, I went to bed with the children and lay awake in the dark until he came home.  On his return, I’d hear him say in irritation, “Why are the bloody lights off!”.  I had no answer because I didn’t know why.  It drove him nuts!

When divorced I was studying late at night on New Year’s Eve.  Our home was within a short walk to the local pub.  I could hear revellers and music.  I felt safe.  The children were asleep.  I typed on.  Then I heard the neighbour’s dog bark, the gate behind my window creaked.  I immediately went to the laundry where the children’s bedrooms were and watched in darkness as a young man walked across the path, the other side of the glass door.  I called the police.  They checked the property and he was gone.  I wasn’t afraid, my maternal instinct sharp.  Life continued on.

Four years ago I moved into my current home.  The real estate agent stuffed up the whole process and left me in a monumental mess.  The first night I sat on the sofa and wept.  I had bought the house as an investment but hadn’t thought this through.  In a large, dark home I felt vulnerable.  I slept on the sofa for the next year with unpacked boxes strewn about.  The renovations started, more mess of course and now most of the major work has been done.  When I moved in I was comfortable (read safe) but not happy living in mess.  The home was ‘booby trapped’ with stuff in corridors.  It gave me a sense of safety.  It impacted me in other ways, too.  I did not wear bright coloured clothing until my son mentioned this a few years ago, commenting I dressed like I want to be invisible.  How perceptive of him!

There are some positives to this.  I always lock my home and windows by day and night.  I do the same in hotels.  This has kept me safe on more than one occasion and I’ve written about it in a previous post.  I’m more empathic towards those who have suffered trauma.  From feedback I’ve received I know I have been able to help them on their journey to healing.  I’ve come to realise, one can live a full life, but triggers can be very subjective.  The benign can be terrifying for the person who experienced trauma, and dormant, this can surface unexpectedly.  I never drink when I’m on my own.  Nor do I take medications.  I’ve reframed hypervigilance to mindful living.  I listen to small sounds and label them accurately.  I know the feeling of fear is one from the distant past.  This, too, will pass.  This is now.  I am safe.  This process of thinking integrates me.

The old saying, knowledge is power, is true.  Meditation and counselling alone did not fix fears.  Understanding the triggers and confronting them, has.  Who would have thought, despite my work history and my solitary bush walks, I could be reduced to a state of utter panic in a main street, middle of the day and with people around me.  I also realised when my children lived at home, I was their fearless protector.  When I’m alone, I feel vulnerable.

There is still some lasting impact of that brief encounter.  I am still wary giving out my home address and experience irritation when people ask for this.  I can’t sleep upstairs if I’m alone at home.  I’m uncomfortable with the feeling of being trapped, not claustrophobia, but feeling trapped.  (Like I was in my unit with him outside).  I dislike underground car parks, preferring the roof, even in intensely hot days.

Once the pieces fell into place I started working towards regaining what I had lost.  I live life.  I experience life.  I help others experience it.  I wear bright colours!  I often have to return home from trips later at night when all is quiet and dark in the neighbourhood.

I am well on the road to full recovery but this post took over a year to write.  I wasn’t sure whether my narrative would raise understanding and awareness of the experience of trauma, but I thought I’d share, just in case it does.

I finished this post at an airport.  My flight was delayed.  I was sitting in the middle of a sea of loud miners who were drinking and happy to be going home.  I was calm as a monk.

I boarded the flight and got to my seat.  In a row of three the middle was empty. The man at the window was deep into his screen device.  I glanced at it.  He was watching a documentary on Ted Bundy.  True!

I returned home later that night.  The taxi drove away.  I was unafraid.  I was home.  My smile lit up the dark house.  I knew I would post this one day.

Until next time

As always

a dawn bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Healer Sea

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The tide arrived at night

It swirled around my head

It found the vault, where memories are kept

As the tide reached that sacrosanct shore

Bringing storms, spinning truth, distorting reality

What was once mine, was no longer mine to keep

So I opened the vault, and threw away the key

Swept off my feet, the tide carried me last night

Leaving only sea prints in the sand

I woke this morning, free, adrift, whole

the sea, my healer, found a tide

that brought me home, to love again.

a dawn bird

 

 

 

Stars

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It is difficult to comprehend it is over a year since my holiday in the north to a remote outback cattle station in the East Kimberley region.  The thought of a very ‘rustic’ environment where crocodiles, lizards and snakes are prolific was easily overcome because I know the landscape.   It is awe inspiring.  I joined a group of writers.  All strangers.  I hadn’t written and shared my work face to face with an audience for over 17 years, following the loss of my writing buddy.  So I didn’t expect to write anything.  Why would I, I reasoned.  The anonymity of blogging was satisfying a deeper need in me.  But I looked forward to the experience of the East Kimberley.  And, I, who flinches at the sight of a tiny gecko, wanted to test my mettle in this harsh environment.

One night I lay in the ‘rustic’ cabin listening to the sounds of the outback.  Something in me came alive.  I allowed the previous days of writing with strangers, now intimate strangers, to flood my senses.  I wrote this after sleeping in a tent in a very remote area, on the banks of the King River, where the eyes of a crocodile glowed at dusk.  The brolgas called in the distance.  I knew they danced under the stars.  My heart heard their music.  The feeling of oneness with strangers in a stranger environment was complete for the city me.  I opened up.

 

As the moon brightened the night,

I walked along the celestial bitumen

I saw stars there, signposts for travellers lost.

I saw stars in other places too, that only I could see.

Have I been lost?  Did you leave them there for me?

As dawn unveiled the granite ridge

I saw a kapok tree, aglow, with yellow flowers on bare, brown branches

And at my door, emu and wallaby.

Child-like I spied on nature

clutching seedpods in my hand

held my breath watching blue dragonflies land

And, while passing travellers warned,

I experienced life at a billabong.

I walked down a dusty path, visible to you, not me

to Mother Boab tree

and at my feet, I found stars twinkling

where light and shadow meet.

I have been on a silent journey

This time, the million steps became one,

when I headed out in someone else’s footsteps

and returned in mine.

My fellow travellers, you were not to know

long ago, yet, like yesterday

Grief silenced me.

But in the barren night, alone, not alone

I found something glowed in the Kimberley

It was the stars

The ones you left for me.

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Until next time

As always

a dawn bird

 

 

 

 

Heaven, helps us all

via Daily Prompt: Deplete

Winter had hit Esperance it seemed.  It was windy, cold and wet when I arrived. Having caught a throat bug on the flight, I headed straight to the supermarket and bought a sachet of chicken soup (ugh!).  Wet cement, would have been more palatable.  Why chicken soup?  For me, it is synonymous with nurturing.  Before I was married I rented a room in a large home that belonged to a Polish widow who spoiled me thoroughly!  A mere cough would galvanize her into action.  I learnt to make chicken soup from her.  Chicken frames, beef bones, root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips), celery including leaves, brown onions with skin, bay leaf and whole peppercorns, all placed in a large pot of cold water and then brought up to the boil.  Simmer, skimming the top, for several hours.  Strain, season, leave in the fridge, skim any residue fat, add freshly chopped carrots and celery, broken up angel hair pasta and bring to the boil again.  You’ve got a delicious, clear broth with vegetables and noodles.  The young adults call it “Mum’s witches brew”.  I swear by it.  It cures everything, for me.  I could hardly wait to get home and get the cauldron out.

The three days in Esperance were torturous.  I struggled into work for a few hours and then returned to bed, my energy deplete.  The boss, concerned at the way I looked, booked me in to see his doctor.  Country folks have big hearts!  Yes, I was too sick to work but not sick enough to crave being outside with my camera.  So it was torture and I was feeling stir crazy.  On the day of my return flight, I headed out to Woody Lake, new camera in hand.

DSCN6719.jpgI watched dawn break and fretted about the clouds.  The small plane would have to punch through these, the thought making me feel sicker than I had been.DSCN6738.jpgAs the sun broke through, I saw a line of birds above.DSCN6707.jpgOn one side were the Cape Barren Geese, large, ungainly birds on ground, but graceful in flight.DSCN6735.jpgDozens on ibis, untidy in formation, also headed somewhere else.  (I obviously need more practice with my new camera!).DSCN6739.jpgFar across the Lake, on my right, was a flotilla of pelicans, dozens of them.  On my left, a solitary white heron, posture perfect, even when alone.DSCN6745.jpgThinking that was my quota for the day, I started to drive out of the reserve slowly when I saw it, sitting all plumped up, large as a hen, a common bronze wing pigeon.DSCN6751.jpgPreening, pretty as a peacock, in an unguarded moment, challenging the notion of “common”.DSCN6682.jpgNear my car, a silver eye feeding.  Usually they swarm in small groups but this one was alone.DSCN6678.jpgEye to eye.  For a moment, it was heaven, right here on earth.

I’ve always found it difficult to explain my faith to my children.  I was raised to follow it, not question it.  I raised my children differently.  I have raised them to question authority.  So when they ask questions, I really don’t know the answers, other than having a faith base, works for me.

But I’ve been reflecting on the concept of heaven and hell.  What if I was taught incorrectly.  What if the message was, this was heaven.  If we recognize it as such, it can be.  Be it suburbia, city or outdoors.  I’ve found it just takes a moment of stillness, a moment of peace to achieve this.  A moment I found heals me, no matter what life throws my way.

My belief has shifted somewhat from my early childhood.  I now believe, if we practice this awareness, whether you are a believer or not, heaven helps us all.

In a world of unrest, this Sunday, my prayer is one of peace.

Until next time

As always

a dawn bird

 

 

In shells, a memory …

When in Geraldton, in the Midwest of Western Australia, I often find myself grabbing a quick lunch at St Georges Beach while seated in my car.  I angle myself comfortably, to watch the distinctive trees.  In the still of the moment, they look like they are responding to a sea breeze.  They are poised, but do not break.

During the last trip, the trees took me where I’ve wanted to be each time I visit this sea city.  Just beyond the beige.

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Is white a different shade of beige?  I’m not sure but the difference is remarkable.

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I zoomed in for a closer look, and saw so much more.  In a cup of a shell, there were smaller, tinier shells.

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Some fused with coral.

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My first blue shell!

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A sea sponge, as distinctive as a hairdo.

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Thousands of broken and whole shells, pieces of coral too.

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A translucent shell, agape.

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I missed the details on the countless trips I’ve made.

Moving from the beige to beyond, I returned home and read up on shells.  There is so much about them I do not know and have yet to learn.

What I did learn is, shells once belonged to living creatures.  They are remnants of what was and become footprints in the sand.

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Just like memories.

Until next time

As always

a dawn bird

 

 

 

The healing

One of my favourite quotes by Harville Hendrix is framed and visible on my work desk, for all those who walk in to see.  “We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship.”

I was introduced to this type of thinking over twenty years ago.  Times have changed.  People have changed.  Perceptions have changed.  I have changed.  This was brought home to me recently.

I was visiting someone who has dogs.  For hours the rescue dog was outdoors and I watched him intermittently.  Then, someone opened the door.  He came in and went straight to my feet and settled himself.  Ordinarily, I would be wary.  I have been bitten by dogs on two occasions.  Even though these events happened in the distant past, the anxiety around dogs remained.  At a delicious lunch at a seaside cafe, my colleague mentioned casually.  She observed I was no longer nervous around dogs.  Usually, she is protective of me, but did not have to step in to redirect this time.  I reflected on her observation.

A few years ago my daughter bought M.  It took months before I could stay alone at home with M.  As the days became weeks, her bond with me strengthened each day.  She would give me a baleful, disapproving look each time she watched me pack my suitcase.  She knew I didn’t like her jumping on me.  Desperate to eat her dinner, she would whimper but sit outside the glass door until I allowed her in.  She learned and obeyed my hand command for ‘stop’ almost like it was instinct in her.  While working at home, the silences between the frenetic keystrokes would prompt her to tap, tap, tap her tail, to let me know she was still there.  All communicated without a word, trust grew between us.

My daughter and her partner bought another dog, a companion, they thought for M.  A purebred puppy.  I was disapproving and wary.  No, I tell a lie.  I was scared.  The words, “dominant”, “needs firm training”, “protective of family” did nothing to ease the anxiety.  My daughter wanted him for protection, her partner being FIFO (fly in fly out worker).  I knew he wasn’t the right breed for the family, especially as he was an aloof puppy when only a few weeks old.  I was proved right.  A few months later, his aggression nearly killed M.  There was nothing the young adults could do, but return the puppy to the breeder.  Then, they bought another puppy.

We all fell in love instantly.  She smiles!  All day!  At anything!  And, anyone!  For her, everything is love at first sight.  She shares the love with thousands.  Her social media presence and following, is strong!

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M was wary of Em from the very start.  Walked away from her on approach.  M’s memory of being attacked still fresh.  She watched from a distance as Em became beloved and in turn, loved others.  Em did not give up.  She loved M and was never far from her.  Soon M started to respond to Em when she brought toys to her, barking insistently for play time.  M would sigh, a big old sigh of exasperation, climb off the sofa, and indulge Em for a while.

Em is now 11 months old and 45 kg.  M and Em are inseparable.

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Harville got it right.

Until next time

As always,

a dawn bird