A perfect storm is an event in which a rare combination of circumstances drastically aggravates the event.
It was Friday afternoon. Preoccupied and off balance by difficult news about my injured eye, I sought equilibrium in small things. John brought a photo I had ordered in from the mailbox, and left to do a short errand run. No problem. I took a frame from the wall, mounted the new photo, and carefully rehung it. I stepped back to see if it was level, and had my first, and hopefully last, sight related accident. Because I have no peripheral vision I did not see the chair. As I stepped back, my heel caught the curved-out leg of the chair. I fell over backward and hit the floor hard.
Instantly immobilized by pain, the fear hit. The fall most certainly jolted my fragile retina. My husband wouldn’t be back for half an hour. I didn’t have my cell phone on me. The house phone was down two steps and across the room. I couldn’t move.
I completely lost it. I didn’t shout ‘noooooo’ to the universe, like I did when the accident damaged my eye. I didn’t weep tears of loss and discouragement, like I did when I knew I needed a second surgery. I screamed. And screamed. And screamed. I was as enraged, as confrontive, as out of control emotionally as I’ve ever been. It was as if I was David facing Goliath slinging rocks back at the universe with my voice. When I figuratively stood up and roared, I was Athena. I was Lioness. Maybe even Joan of Arc. I was also done being tiny. Finished with it. Done. Being. Tiny.
That’s what the perfect storm wrought. An ant on the elephant’s foot. Old voices, old teachings of retribution, even Karma, brought a convergence of events that reduced this healed healer to infinitesimal.
In my TED Talk I say one can use one’s brain for change. I talk about how our trauma informs and transforms us, if we’re willing to do the work of healing, into someone more substantive than our good selves already were. I believe it. I poured a pretty solid foundation on the vestiges of trauma. I wove new neuro-pathways hopscotching over less useful ones. I recognized vulnerabilities, with strategies to minimize bumping up against them. But this particular knockdown I didn’t see coming.
When I underwent my second major eye surgery in less than two months, anesthesia put me to sleep, but it also unlocked the cage where the old voices were imprisoned, and they raced screaming into my head. Once well positioned, they saluted smartly and started in – insidiously.
They began in post-op once my brain rose out of its pain-induced fugue. I apologized to the nurse for needing pain meds, then for needing more. I apologized for being unable to stand. I apologized for my shaking hands. I couldn’t see, of course, but she took those trembling hands, and gently said, “You’re doing great. Please don’t apologize. You’re being really hard on yourself.” Of course I was. But that’s where the old voices started. I was expendable, remember? (The Fifth Sister) Mom could make another better than me, she’d said often, if I wasn’t careful. Get it right, or else.
Home again, in bed again, sightless again, their “what did you do to deserve this?” slid through my ribs into my heart. Karma? Retribution? Good works – the devil wants you sidelined? Don’t put anything negative out to the universe – it’ll come back and bite you? But at the core of every one of those thoughts was the oldest voice of all. You’re not worth health, or safety, or love, or perhaps even life. So I got small. Small enough none of that ‘out there’ energy could find me. Small enough so as to be invisible. Out of harm’s way.
I was carried by the good will, energy, love, light and prayers of others while I floated in this existential morass. The holidays came and went, gentle and sweet. Birthdays were celebrated. I enjoyed evening fires with my husband without consciously acknowledging my headlong plunge into yesteryear.
And then I sustained the fall. A perfect storm.
Here’s what I discovered. The skill set I spent years developing into competency returned with my roar. It might have been C+ at first, but that’s another lesson I learned. There is no 4.0 in life. Transcending trauma powers you up for the unexpected. It just might take a moment or nine for you to sort out you’ve been blindsided. The good news is that when you do, you’ll tap into those worthy practices quickly. I know my post traumatic stress triggers, I know my vulnerabilities, and how to maximize my strengths, and circumnavigate my weaknesses. Just when I think I’m ‘straight and level’ life surprises. Still, the ‘old voices’ are locked back in their cage, out of my way. I am no longer tiny.
You were all part of the village that surrounded and undergirded me. Thank you. I have no idea what I would have done without you.