Early on a recent Saturday morning, Facebook alerted me that I had 6 events to attend with 30 of my friends. Such is life in Columbia, South Carolina. I aimed for the free Forest Acres Festival at A.C. Flora.
On the way back to my car, my other mom friend and I saw a school friend of my child. Introductions were made, and pleasantries exchanged. As we got back in my car, my mom friend remarked of the other child’s mother, “She is absolutely stunning. It’s like no trauma has ever happened to her.”
I had never thought of that.
I think we, as human creatures, recognize it in others.
This scares me.
In our society, women are treated as objects. When the object is broken, we as a society discard it for the newer, less mangled version. I remember reading a study about the most “admired” of female-shaped bodies, and the outcome of the study was that men preferred women who had the shape that lead them to know that she would bear them many offspring.
I have no hips and a bit of a belly. I can’t change my genetics. If I did the DNA swab, I would guess it would reveal that Iveys are descendants of hobbit people. Complete with square feet and hairy toes. How was I, a straight woman, to recouple? Or (gasp) procreate?
Slippery mind slope there. Leads me to want buy those tummy wraps and be obsessive about gluten.
I saw my grandmother after I was separated some years ago, and she, in her candid manner, gave me this advice, “Wear skirts and heels. You have good legs. Men like that. And grow out your hair. Lipstick and blush will give your face some color.”
My heart broke.
Here was the matriarch of my family telling me, a college professor with a two-year-old, that I was not enough as I am. That, in order to be a successful woman, I needed to quickly recouple (“you’re not getting any younger, and men are visual creatures”). In order for recoupling to occur, I had to costume myself.
About a year ago, at a social gathering of my friends, I realized that all of the women in the room had one thing in common other than a vagina: we were all trauma survivors. I also realized that I felt comfortable with them because, whether it was conscious or not, this group had been through something.
One of my mom friends, who has been through her share of trauma, has recently taken up running. She has taken off 60 pounds, and, like many runners, seems to have turned back the clock on aging. She looks toned and athletic. I admire this determination, but she attributes it to a healthy coping mechanism, one that society condones, and, from her estimation, one that receives more public accolades than any of her other amazing accomplishments, including degrees from prestigious universities.
Trauma is a sneaky thing, especially for women. As little girls, many of us are taught that emotion, especially anger, is not appropriate to express. Sadness is a weakness, so we internalize.
Same is true for grown women. I was taught to be a good hostess in all situations, making sure that my “guests” are comfortable and well fed. Expressing culturally stigmatized emotions can make people uncomfortable, which is not in line with my southern training.
So, we learn to hide it, to suppress it. It will come out, in some way…and for many of us, it comes out in culturally appropriate ways.
Let me introduce to you the game that I made up to unearth those coping mechanisms. You begin with a disclosure that is comfortable to you. My friend offered that she “runs it off.” I added, “I yoga it off.” Then, she began to make a list. Here is a smattering of all of the things she and I have done in our respective 40 years of life:
Eat it off.
Diet it off.
Date it off.
Move it off.
Certify it off.
Higher ed it off.
Drink it off.
Smoke it off.
Busy it off.
Drive it off.
Talk it off.
Distract it off.
Netflix it off.
Sleep it off.
Shop it off.
Coffee it off.
Essential oil it off.
And yet, it’s still here. The trauma. A crack in our personal foundations.
I realized that I was doing it again while both obsessing over a purse I wanted to buy, worrying about buying a house, and whether or not to buy a new couch.
It can be anything, really. The discomfort manifests in many ways. depending on the person. As a society, we frown on substance abuse, physical violence, rape, hoarding, smoking, and
overeating. But, we miss the cry for help in over-scheduling ourselves to the point of illness. We miss the cry for help in the dieting until emaciated. We miss it in the isolated person who can’t sleep.
I’m learning through a process to have empathy. First, for myself. It’s terribly hard though, to root out what is a response to past trauma, and what is a positive choice for my future.
Another Master’s degree? A PhD?
Buy a house?
Start training for a marathon?
None of these are “bad things”. But, for me, they may be signs that I need to rest, give myself a freaking break, and turn around to face the trauma that has haunted me for 23 years.
Which I did. Which I am doing.
That, my friends, takes monumental courage. Courage I didn’t know I had until I made the phone call to the experts that could help. Five months later, I am filled with gratitude and empathy and humility that, although the crack may always be there, I can fill it with gold and share it with you.