Carrying an Unshared Trauma Together

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That was the first step in healing. The telling of the truth. Naming it. Saying it out loud.

There is something hauntingly intimate when you hold a secret between two people. Something that only the two of you know. A sacred knowing.

What is it called, though, when the same secret is carried by millions?

In 2012, I arrived through the gates of O’Hare International Airport.

Home.

My feet had landed on US soil.

I could rest.

I could tell the story.

The thousands of words of what had happened the months prior.

Why I was not allowed to depart the country that held the birthrights of my child.

And held us both.

Until the moment we walked through those glass doors.

I thought then

The story could be shared.

C.S. Lewis said that we read to know we are not alone. I believe our lives are walking stories and we ache for the connection that someone would understand the story we are telling. The story we have told. The story we have written.

When I returned that winter before the lights were hung and presents were put under the tree, I knew that the story that had been written the months before, was a story no one wanted to hear. I could see it in their faces as soon as I started to talk. The story wasn’t theirs to hold or comprehend. What I had witnessed would dismantle everything the American church had taught us about our calling to “those countries.”

I would be asked to carry this story on my own.

For days and months and years I did.

I still do.

It was a Sunday afternoon in an emergency room when a doctor leaned over my blue paper gown and softly whispered the word that told me he was there to help carry my story.

He said,
Trauma.

The skin crawling.
The raging.
The crying.
The exhaustion.
The racing thoughts.
The fear.
The ache.
The not eating.
The over eating.
The numbing.
The wanting to run away.
The wanting to hide.
The loneliness.

Trauma.

That Sunday afternoon when the doctor reached out to carry my story and name what was really going on, was the first step in healing. The telling of the truth. Naming it. Saying it out loud.

Weeks prior, I was told I needed to pray it all away. To confess my sins and anything I’d been holding secret. In desperation I sat at my dining room table trying to remember, trying to think of anything I had done while alone in another country that would equal this kind of punishment. It quickly brought me back to my Catholic School girl days when, in my plaid skirt, I kneeled in the confessional, praying the Hail Marys would erase any evil I might have done the week prior.

But this was a new kind of hell.

Then someone tells you the truth.
Awakens the knowing.
The story you knew needed to be told.
Perhaps it required someone else to say it first.

Eve was our first story teller.
In the garden.
The first truth teller.

She was the one who made others’ skin crawl.

The one who raged.
The one who cried.

The one who exhausted others.
The one with racing thoughts.
The one who was feared.
The one they tried to hide.
The one who was lonely.
The one who ate for us all.

She showed us from the very beginning that we are never alone in our story. Eve was a mirror, not of shame and disobedience, but of an unshared trauma. A story no one wanted to hear or carry.  She quickly learned she would never be the narrator of her own story.

Until …
Until women started to pay attention.
Until we realized that ¨Eve was never meant to be our warning.¨-Glennon Doyle

She was our sacred knowing.
She was our whispering in the garden.

Weeks ago, I noticed my skin begin to crawl again. A familiar knowing I couldn’t escape.

Immediately I thought, Numb this. I needed to make the feeling go away. It triggered memories of shame, carrying a story alone.

But then I sat in the knowing.
I let the waves of anxiety move through me.
I let my skin crawl.
Knowing this was nothing I had done or deserved.
This was trauma.

A collective trauma.
A collective grief.
A collective mourning.
A collective anxiety.
A collective rage.
A collective undoing.
A collective loneliness.
A collective story.

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Sheli Massie

Sheli Massie

Sheli Massie is a story keeper, seeker of justice, healing and hope in a broken world. She believes in longer tables, unlocked doors and living a barefoot life. She is currently working with her community to create an inclusive place for all to gather and be fed under the direction of OWEE called @thegoldfinchcafe. A "pay what you can" cafe where dignity is restored and communities can be healed. She and her husband live outside of Chicago with their five children and one grandlove. You can find her over on Instagram @shelimassie_, Redbud Writers, HopeWriters, and her website.
Sheli Massie

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