One Way

The life of a trauma survivor doesn’t feel like a straight line, but rather like those geometric shapes I used to draw as a child with a spirograph. You’d put the tip of your pen in a hole inside a small clear plastic gear, which sat inside of a ring gear on a sheet of paper. You’d loop the pen around and around with the line surfing away from a central point, but always, eventually looping back to that same starting point now matter how much you’d loop and swirl.

Examples of spirograph drawings

It would look like maybe you were going someplace new, but however interesting the path, you always looped back through that same groove to the starting point. It’s pretty to look at, but you don’t really get anywhere.

Going through life with childhood trauma mirrors that looping experience. You start heading away from the trauma, getting on with your life. Until something happens which reminds you. Something big, like the death of an abuser, or something small like unexpected the smell of bleach.

Congratulations, you’ve hit the apex of your arc, no longer soaring through the blankness of possibility, looping away from your past. Inexorably the gravity of trauma pulls you — back down crashing into the singularity. After a while in the black hole, you gather yourself, breathe and start to move away again. Over, and over and over the cycle runs.

Lately I’ve been wondering if the point of trauma therapy is about making those loops taller and taller, about expanding the ring gear which keeps you cycling through the same past. And maybe, just maybe that ring expands so much that it thins out to the breaking point. Instead of constraining the arc the ring fractures, and suddenly you are free. Having reached escape velocity, you can make a one way departure from your past. The original trauma isn’t erased, you’re just no longer doomed to spend your life circling it.

But you’re not constantly looping back, down into the darkness, where do we go from here? There is only one way to go. Forward. Before the past can pull you back in again.

And so I turn my face into the wind and start moving into my future. I choose to live my life, for me. I’ve lost so much to trauma in the early years, and then decades more trapped in the after effects, unaware trauma was keeping me stuck, unable to live. So now when I feel free of the pull of darkness, I choose to do hard things just to prove I can, to remind me how strong I really am. To push myself to stretch that loop to the breaking point, and finally beyond. I choose to tell my story because it needs to be told, and maybe it will help somebody somewhere make sense of their their own story.