Trauma happens in everyone’s life. Even in the best of situations, childhood is complicated. Just like us, our parents were doing the best they could with what they had at the time. We’ve all developed coping mechanisms to keep going. Some of them are causing more problems than they solve.
I used to have a ’69 Chevy C20 pickup truck.
When I say that people think I mean one of the carefully restored ones, but they’re way off. I started to search my files for a photo of it but got distracted by adorable videos of my children, so the above “stock photo” will have to do.
It was a work truck, white and rusted. The headliner had long been torn out and my husband had glued some eggshell foam to the ceiling to cut down the noise inside. The floor was rusted a bit. The bench seat had an old woven cover. It smelled like an old truck, a combination of metal and exhaust. I loved it.
I love telling the story of the time the brakes went out suddenly on my to work. I was driving along, slowly, along side streets on my way to work. The traffic signal turned yellow and I braked, but the pedal softly lowered to floor and had little effect. I was moving slow and the truck was heavy, so the brakes worked well enough to stop me before I rolled into the intersection. I shifted into park and thought quickly while I waited for the green light.
I couldn’t just pull over. I needed to get to work. This was before cell phones, so if I left the truck in the intersection, or someone kindly helped me roll the behemoth to the side of the road or the next parking lot, I’d still have to find a phone and call for help. The brakes weren’t completely gone, I thought, and shifting into park does stop the roll. I was only a block from work. I can do this.
The light turned green and I began to accelerate. I put my emergency blinkers on so people would know I wasn’t driving five miles an hour to irritate them, but it didn’t seem to help. Drivers have always been in a bit of a hurry. They’re only trying to get to work on time too. At the next light, I shifted into neutral and let gravity slow the truck down, shifting into park just as it stopped.
I can do it! Only one more light to stop at and then I can make the right turn into my company parking lot and I’m home free. It got done, no problem, and it made a great story about why I was five minutes late for work. I called my husband to tell him about the problem. It was his day off, so he came by while I was at work to see if there was anything he could do to temporarily fix it and get the truck back home.
I didn’t stand there screaming, looking for someone to blame for the problem. I didn’t continue to drive the same way, crash into people, and then tell them I couldn’t help it because my brakes were bad. Something was broken on my vehicle, the lack of stopping alerted me to it, and I found a way to struggle a bit and then get it fixed.
What if we lived our emotional lives the same way?
Identifying trauma is not an excuse for poor behavior. Things happen in our lives and we develop ways to cope with them. Depending on our personalities, our age, our culture, and a myriad of other things, we all learn to cope with trauma in different ways. Some of those ways do not serve us well. Some of those ways hurt the ones we love.
What I’ve learned (way too late for my taste) is that identifying trauma is an invitation to repair it. Noticing the behavior is the first step. I noticed a long time ago. I’m still learning to behave better. It’s a lifetime process.
No one was evil in my life. No one deliberately hurt me. No one is to blame. Not even myself. We all learn at different rates, with different experiences. Good teachers come and go at different times in everyone’s lives. Any growth is progress.
I don’t have any how-to advice. I’m still learning. But I do have encouragement.
Live. Love. Forgive. Accept. Be kind. We’re all simply tourists here.