Every few weeks in Sacramento, I lead a ReStory Your Life – Freedom After Trauma Meetup and meet up with a small group of awesome people. Meetup is an incredible network of groups, each of which begins its journey online, serving as a way to initiate get-togethers of folks who share similar interests, such as playing the ukulele, singing folk songs, meeting other public speakers, conversing in French, or networking in a certain business area. The number of Meetup groups is well over a hundred, I’m sure. It’s a place to meet potential members of your particular tribe and, for the most part, Meetups are free.
In our ReStory Meetups, we begin by introducing ourselves and sharing why we came. I provide writing prompts and we spend about an hour and a quarter writing and, if we choose, reading our writing aloud. We follow some rules, for example, Natalie Goldberg’s instructions on freewriting. Another rule is, in sharing afterward, we refrain from commenting. We are witnesses, not editors or an audience to be entertained. We hear each other’s words in empathetic listening and move on to the next reader without praise, applause, questions, or editing suggestions. In this way, we are free to simply be with that reader as he or she shares his/her soul.
One of the prompts was to bring in an item symbolic of your journey as a survivor who lives with post-traumatic stress or, to look at it another way, as a person who has come so far despite some big challenges. I brought a small blue and red bag, in which were about ten items that I deemed significant by virtue of the fact that they’ve sat either on my desk or dresser for at least two years. I reached in and chose a replica of a sea shell–one half of a bivalve–cast in metal with the word LOVE cut onto the inside of the shell. Here are the words that emerged:
When I was a little girl, I was someone very special. I was a girl of the sea, the ocean, the waves, the wet. I was a July girl, my birthday the first day of the month. I was a beach girl, sun-freckled, sand on my legs and feet. I was a girl of the gulls and horseshoe crabs. Each morning during our summer vacations at the New Jersey shore, I bound out the door to see what the sea had laid onto the beach–the festoons of sea weed, purple mussel shells, crab legs. It was a special alone time. Wendy of the wind, of the waves–small waves making a soft chew, chew, chew sound as they reached the beach.
At the time, I did not know that it was odd for a little girl to spend so much time alone. I did not know that some other children could tell family or friends what they felt or what they liked or what they wanted. They could share their favorite color. They could tell another a scary secret. I was alone girl. My mother always said, after I recovered from my infant surgery at one month old, that I was a good girl playing alone in my crib and cooing. I could entertain myself for hours as a toddler in my playpen, turning the pages of books she’d left for me. I could spend countless hours on the beach, walking and discovering without another soul in sight. Sandy Hook is a long spit of land jutting out into the Atlantic near the mouth of New York Harbor and the coves and dunes called me.
When LOVE broke me open in my early twenties, I had no idea how to handle it. A person had captured my heart. How to respond? When asked my favorite color, I hesitated. I honestly had never thought about it. Inside the shell before me is written the word LOVE. I’d been cared for by my parents, but it seemed the truest love I’d known was that of sea creatures: horseshoe crabs and flounder, dolphins and manatees. By love, I mean an openness or a willingness to engage WITH me–to KNOW me. I felt communion with horseshoe crabs, ancient-looking armored animals, ugly like me with my ragged belly scar. I felt seen by the eyes of Sidra, the dolphin I cared for at the Seaquarium, eyes that penetrated my self-consciousness and validated my soul’s special presence. Flounder and manatees made me laugh.
It seemed the real LOVE that I’d known was that of the sea and the light of the lighthouse reflected across the night water. Love was not in the house. Love was not in the solitary rooms–drone of the radio, canned laughter of the TV. Love was not in the walls or the kitchen though I knew my parents loved me because of all the things they did for me. Love was not in the living room. A feeling of separateness pervaded the house.
Early on, LOVE was in nature and in the sea, and I devoted myself to them. I became a woman of the sea and the sand. A woman of the waves. Wendy of the wind and wet.
Here I am with my pastel of one of my friends: