When the waves crest
Sometimes you can see dolphins
Or other fish
Backlit by the sun
Suspended in the clarity of water.
That moment of perfect balance
Before the wave crashes
Leaves scant traces of shells
Which will be brought back into the ocean
This image appeared in a recent session as a client was describing the sense of despair after a wonderful vacation with family. Why, after such a good time, were the memories of beach, tides, and laughter tinged with the dark blue of depression, sadness and melancholy? The feeling was palpable in the room, drawing me into that world where destruction follows any experience that has the potential to be good and stay good.
You have to wonder what can consistently crash our hopes, dreams and desires for a full and good life, especially when we are living it. Those of us working in the field of trauma and healing know the power of the past to shape the experience of the present. And indeed, the stories poured out: every time something good happened in my client’s life, there was a family drama, betrayal of trust, betrayal of safety and security. Life was predictable: don’t believe you can have anything, and if you do, make sure it doesn’t last or better yet, destroy it before it is taken away.
It’s difficult to talk about trauma when the stories don’t involve marks on the body, when there are no police reports of violence or sexual abuse, no neglect of basic needs, but the traces are there nonetheless. We are, after all, always looking for direct casual links, to understand what happened and lay out the consequences. So if there is no ‘evidence’ it can’t have been that bad. I hear this all the time: “other people have it much worse, all you have to do is read the paper and see the real horrors perpetrated on the innocent. Nothing that bad happened to me.”
Without minimizing other people’s suffering, comparisons like this are after one thing only, defending against the assaults to the soul. Covert destruction of one’s sense of worth, security and safety are insidiously damaging exactly because they are not easily named. So much harm is done under the rubric of love, care and protection, so much confusion about what it means to be loved when what you have is taken from you for the good of the family, or the mother or the father or the sibling who has so little. The soul gives itself up, steals the good or gives it away.
So don’t enjoy the dolphins suspended in water like air because the crash will come. And in some ways, that is right. The crash does come, it is inevitable, life is both joy and suffering. What matters, however, is to fully and deeply drink in the beauty of the good moments, the miracle of a good life knowing that disappointment and hurt may follow. Healing is possible when we embrace both possibilities without destroying the one for the sake of the other.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor