“It was a gift he gave to you wasn’t it?”
I looked at my therapist dumbfounded.
A gift? How could she say that? There is no silver lining in someone that I love being murdered. I don’t understand how she thinks I could have possibly benefitted in any way from this tragedy.
A month before my cousin was murdered, I started therapy again with a woman who is very skilled in trauma-informed recovery, to help me work through an increase in PTSD symptoms. With feet that are always bare, she radiated peace. She taught me how to breath through anxiety and frustration. She reminded me that I am safe now, each time my body responded to a memory with tension.
About a month in to our work, we began digging in to the trauma that was my childhood using EFT tapping, also known as psychological acupressure. It was awkward at first but halfway through the session I started to sink in to the motions.
When I returned the next week, my therapist had an unusual posture and air about her. She said, “I have to be honest with you. I have been doing trauma work for many, many years and I have never seen anyone respond to EFT the way you did.” I thought Oh that must mean I did something right!
She continued on to say, “I watched you going through the motions, but there was no emotion or reaction at all. You didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just trying to understand your response and what is blocking you. You show incredible insight and resilience with what you say, but I’m feeling like despite that, I am getting very little to no emotion or feeling from you.”
Immediately, I responded with “Well, I think…”
“Stop right there” she said. “I’m asking you to feel, not think. How do you feel right now and where in your body do you feel it?”
I became frustrated right away. What does she mean?
I told her that it’s very difficult for me to hear her say I have no emotion. I am a very emotional person. I pride myself on my sensitivity and ability to empathize. I’ve built a life and career out of these strengths and I’m not sure where she is coming from.
“Dawn, you rationalize instead of feel when it comes to you. You keep yourself safe by staying in your brain. You learned at a very young age to disassociate from what you’re feeling in order to survive. You knew how to protect yourself and that is a miracle. But you don’t have to do that anymore. This coping mechanism has allowed you to tap in to helping others heal, just not yourself. You empathize for others, but not yourself. In order for you to work through the trauma, you are going to have to give yourself permission to feel.”
Her comment left me confused, angry, sad and defeated. I knew she was right. And it was a physical feeling that assured me of that–the tightness of my muscles, the hotness in my chest and shoulders, my short breathing pattern. Anxiety–the high alertness that I function on. It’s the one feeling I recognize within myself as confirmation of something–vulnerability. And I felt incredibly vulnerable in that moment.
It was less than a week after that session when I got the call that my cousin was maliciously and methodically murdered. I walked around that evening in a complete fucking haze. I didn’t cry and I could barely talk. I eventually took something to help me sleep.
As the sun began to beam through the window above my bed, tears began to pour from my barely opened eyes. The realization of what I was told yesterday hit me like a direct blow to my chest. I sobbed. I knew I had to travel back to my home town for his funeral, even though that meant coming face to face with my childhood traumas, including my abuser.
As I started to see the Georgia red clay out the airplane window, the pins and needles started to race up my arms. I began mentally preparing to barricade my tears. I had to be strong for the those who are hurting, unaware of what I was denying myself of in the process.
Stepping inside the funeral home, I saw more familiar faces than I ever cared to see. It’s not that I don’t care about these people, it’s just easier to live my life across the country from them because to no fault of their own, they trigger me. I’ve stayed away from this place and these people because my mental stability has depended on it.
Despite that, I passed out hugs and offered my shoulder to catch tears because I wanted to help others hurt less. When I spotted my abuser across the room, I froze. I fled to the bathroom and tried to ward off the burning in my chest with deep breathes and an internal pep talk.
Don’t lose it, Dawn! You need to stay strong.
I walked out of the bathroom as they were inviting family in to a private room to view the body. There he was. Lying there so still. I held his sister and father as sorrow seeped out of their every pore. My body shook as I tried to hold it together. All the memories became an avalanche on my heart and my mind began to release it’s grip.
The pain and grief I felt in that moment extended from my heart to my entire body. I could feel myself losing it. The childhood memories, the only good ones I have, involve the young man that is now lying lifeless in front of me. I wanted to run out of there. I wanted to run as fast as I could away from the vulnerability bubbling to the surface.
I don’t know what my uncle was thinking when he reached for me in that moment. He looked into what I imagine were hollow eyes. Being the only positive male role model in my life, I felt security and protection as he hugged me. He said, “It’s ok to cry.” A stubborn fear of feeling was shattered by his permission to grieve, and I came undone.
It’s been almost seven months since my cousin’s passing and my journey back to my roots. Many, many tears have fallen since that time. Tears for his life, and mine. Anger has crept in and out. Sorrow has brought me to my knees. Memories have at times flooded me with emotion; I have accepted them, unapologetically.
There is truth in my therapists observation. My cousin did give me a gift. The loss of his life has left a gaping hole in my heart, but in his passing, he gifted my spirit with permission to feel – the pain, the love, the angst, the truth.
So now, when I recognize my old patterns creeping in, and I find myself fighting to feel, I give in. I strip off the emotional armor and embrace the moment — good, bad or ugly. Randall had a way of always making me feel safe. As I carry heavy grief with me on this day, the day he would have turned 34 yrs old, I will not let myself check-out any longer. In his honor, I will feel — without fear.