Validating Our Experience ofTrauma

Acknowledging our feelings to be able to move through them and beyond

Th9iPhoto by Gary Meulemans on Unsplash

This weekend was tough. 

I hesitate to even write about it, as it can be easy for me to invalidate my own experiences and feelings when I compare them to what others are suffering in this world. There is so much trauma and destruction and deep wounding in this world.

Who am I to talk about what seem like trivial experiences in comparison?

Who am I feel anything but gratitude?

That, I believe, is a trap that is easy to fall into. To compare our own issues or problems to the very real and major pain of others. And belittle ourselves for even daring to complain or speak about it with anything but gratitude for all that we have.

I am grateful. For life. For each day. Especially as, in continuing on this journey of aging, I become aware of the number of those days ahead of me dwindling. Mortality becomes more real. Priorities shift.

And yet, life happens to us all.

So this past weekend, a huge oak across the small private road from me fell and crashed down toward my house.

I was home at the time, heard the loud sound, and felt a bit of shaking in my house. That can’t be good, I said to myself. (Living alone affords me the luxury of having conversations with myself all the time.) 

I walked around the back of the house, and looked up at the slope behind me. This is where, years ago, two 125 foot tall Monterey pines had toppled down on top of each other during a heavy winter storm. I felt so grateful at that time that they had miraculously fallen down onto each other and then onto a fence between my house and my neighbor’s and not onto anyone or any house. No damage was done except to the fence. It was unbelievable to think of what could have happened in that middle of the night when all were sleeping in their homes , relaxed with the illusion of safety.

Remembering that night as I kept walking around, I saw that no trees looked like they had fallen on the slope. I dared to breathe a sigh of relief as I continued my path around the house. 

I came back in and opened the front door to see if there was anything that I could see from there. 

I could not walk out of the front door except for a few steps. There, lying at the entrance to my house was the huge oak tree that had fallen victim to the storm and muddy hill (after being dry from years of drought). And, as I looked around, I noticed that there were several live wires that had been taken down by the tree on its path to my front door. And I, for a few moments, simply stared at this tree. At what had happened. Trying to take it all in. 

I think it sometimes takes our brains a few seconds to let in something bad that has happened, to process the reality of the situation around us. 

I was able to connect with a neighbor up the hill. They had called 9–1–1. The fire department very quickly showed up, and stayed and stood guard to make sure that everyone stayed indoors until the power had been disconnected and the live wires would then be harmless. 

The power company ( PG & E in California) soon were there. PG & E , after shutting down the source of power, called in their tree crew, who showed up several hours later and proceeded to begin the process of removing this huge oak from our road. They kept working until the road was cleared, well into the night. 

Once the road was cleared, the PG & E crews who deal with the electricity came back to work on getting our power restored. Not an easy task, especially in the pouring rain. They did not stop until about 3am the next morning, until a new pole was installed, the lines were replaced, and the power was restored. 

I appreciate them so much for their nonstop tireless work to help us out. I am humbled by how hard people work. How much we depend on others. How vulnerable we all really are at any given moment in time.

We, the neighbors and I, are still recovering from this. Crews still come up from PG & E to look at the lines, at what may still need to be replaced or repaired. Cable companies, internet companies are frequently here, blocking access to the road as they do their work.

How fortunate to be able to live where the repairs can happen quickly, where the response time is as soon as it can be. Where we are paid attention to and cared for. Where there are systems in place to handle such emergencies. 

And now that I find myself dealing with the details of what the work to be done is that follows such an incident, I notice inside myself that I am feeling some trauma from the whole experience. To see this tree and how close it came to landing on my house. While I was in there. To realize that others might have been walking on that road at the time. 

There were two small trees that I loved that were in the front of my house. Trees that others had suggested that I have removed. I had refused. 

These two beloved trees were badly damaged from the huge oak that fell.

Those two trees, as the roofer (that I had requested to come out to inspect the roof) told me, are what saved my roof and my house from much worse damage. Cushioning the landing and falling of the huge tree. Catching its fallen limbs at the expense of their own.

I am so grateful to those trees. Indeed, I have scheduled an arborist to come out and see if they have any chance of being saved. I pray so.

We never know who or what may save us. 

My neighbor had parked his truck close to where the tree came down and the tree completely covered the truck. Amazingly, the truck came out with only a minor dent. Unbelievable. This neighbor, that day, had traveled to Las Vegas, where his father had just died. 

He is convinced that his father was watching out for him. I believe in things like that.

I have not left the house since this happened on Saturday. I need to go somewhere this evening. A holiday gathering. Although I am tempted to cancel, I think that I will go and give myself permission to leave early if it feels like too much for me to handle. 

It occurs to me that we need to validate the traumas in our lives. We all have traumas. And they are real. And we react on many levels to that trauma, in our bodies and our souls. Becoming perhaps hypervigilant. Anxious. More fearful. 

And becoming more aware. Of how we cannot take one moment for granted. That things can, and do, happen in the blink of an eye. Your life, as you know it, can change instantaneously. The outcome of this tree story could have been very different. And these stories can come in and enter our lives at any moment. 

I feel the shock of what happened. The shock of what might have happened. The reminder, once again, to cherish each moment. 

 I am reminded to treat myself gently these days. It’s ok to have been scared. It’s ok to get shaken up. It’s ok to feel the after effects of experiences like this. It’s ok to treat myself with compassion. It’s ok to take the time that I may need to fully re-enter my life. 

It’s ok.

It’s ok to allow myself to be human, to feel all that this involves, to validate my visceral reactions to things that happen. To cry if I need to. To cocoon for a bit if I need to. To get under the covers and comfort myself. To stop the world for a minute as needed. This is how I get through things. This is how I grow. By stopping for a bit and acknowledging what happened. Feeling it, moving through it. To the next step. 

And to be so grateful for it all. 

There were such gifts in this trauma. Neighbors coming together to help each other. Emergency crews there to help. Friends reaching out by text to check in. The miracle of no one getting hurt. Caring and connection strengthened. Life, and love, affirmed. 

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