A clean-cut young man wearing khakis and a polo shirt rolls up my driveway on a motorized scooter. He appears to be twenty-three or a maximum of twenty-five, and the shirt has a pest-control logo. My gut reaction is a gruff, “No. Turn around. The highway is a half mile. Be sure to find it.” Instead, I stopped and took a deep breath.
When he came near he said, “Hi! How are you today?”
“What do you want?”
“Who do you use for pest control? We can save you…”
“I like mine. Bye.”, I cut him off.
Now I am emotionally exhausted. Why? This seems like a benign encounter with a door-to-door salesman. It’s just some kid with no work experience trying to make some money. He happens to be Caleb’s age. Caleb was trying to get a job. Was I harsh because of this? No. I was drained because of his age and how he tried to pull me into his pitch. I think if he was older I would have pointed and said, “Are you lost? The highway is that way!” How do I know? Because I have said it to others a few times before.
Trauma compromises our ability to engage with others by replacing patterns of connection with patterns of protection. – Stephen Porges
No where feels safe.
What is safer than the church you have attended for seven years? Hopefully, you go to a great church with friends like I do. Some days I stealthily enter to avoid questions. I want people to ask, I really do, but some days I can’t talk. A few Sundays ago, I practically ran outside after service. I spent the entire service quietly crying, not really visible except the watery eyes, because I miss Caleb. I have to be constantly looking for an escape in case I need to step away.
No one feels safe.
It takes incredible energy to build relationships. I need them and want them, but so many are a flash in the pan. I haven’t given up yet, but I’ve started pulling back. It is super hard to find people who are all-in. Many will say they are, but actions say otherwise. Being close to a survivor of suicide can be challenging. I get it.
Patterns of protection are not only about how to protect yourself from the outside. I spend most of my time protecting myself from my own thoughts.
No trip feels safe.
Donna went to the store a few days ago. I called to ask something and no answer. Okay, maybe she has no service. I wait 5 minutes and try again. No answer. Weird because the store is near and we never have service issues there. Now I expect she is dead. I just know the doorbell will ring with cops standing on the other side. The last time I could not contact her, the doorbell did ring, and I almost had a panic attack. It was a neighborhood child looking for my daughter.
No memory is safe.
Some memories bring happiness. Some bring sadness. Forgotten memories are the problem. I remember only a few things. Most of my childhood escapes me. I recall little pieces of my early years of marriage. After Caleb’s birth, the next thing clearly remembered is him playing soccer. It is not just older things. Newer memories suffer the same fate; they quickly fade. I forget tasks I need to do. Yesterday, I should have done something for Donna and run an errand for myself. Both were not done. This is a common occurrence, and it is frustrating. A friend calls it grief-brain.
No word feels safe.
All three of us have suffered the same massive trauma. However, since we are all individuals, we have different things which provoke our trauma to flare. One day I might say something playfully and they receive it as intended. The next day it might cause anxiety or it hurts them thinking I am serious. I do the same thing. We over-react to what our brain thinks is an attack. It is the trauma which changes our reactions. I second guess what I say and sometimes I am silent, which also causes friction.
Trauma causes our body to go into fight-or-flight mode. The body is continually under stress, trying to protect itself from a perceived danger. We all have PTSD, anxieties, and varying degrees of depression. I hope someday I can feel safe, have normal relationships, and get my brain back, but I have my doubts.