A year after Phil and I were married, we solemnized our vows again for his parents in Vermont.
Last week, the death of my ex-husband caused me to re-live a traumatic event in my life, as if it had just happened. For several days, it felt completely normal to me to grieve, deny, get angry, feel sorrow and to mourn, as if the love I felt for him for eight years, and the trauma I experienced when he evaporated one day--was as recent as yesterday.
When I began to come out of it--it all seemed very, very strange to me. I haven't been married to, or hurt by this person for more than two decades!
Researchers on brain science tell us this isn't surprising. Sudden, traumatic events--over which we have no control--actually can cause physiological changes in areas of the brain impacting memory and emotion. It is not unusual for people who have lived through such trauma to have certain triggers that will cause it to come back as vividly as if it had just happened.
I remember when my husband left--I was unable to eat. That means your brain wants your body to shut down, and is a sign of severe trauma.
The story a cameraman once told me about a friend of his returning from Vietnam is illustrative. He said every time this guy heard the sound of a helicopter, even though he was back safely home in the US, he threw himself on the ground. Sounds funny--until you realize this was a response he had learned in a traumatic situation that had once helped him stay alive.
Trauma's impact can linger. I was scheduled to go to an event a few months ago, and I knew I was going to see a man there who wanted to see me. He and I had dated some years ago and he had contacted me saying how much he was looking forward to seeing me again.
I was beyond anxious about it. I felt actual fear. That's odd, I said to myself: what can he do to you that would be injurious? Kiss you?! Tell you he cares? I actually think he may have just wanted to talk about a recent illness!
At the party, he asked me to step outside for a minute and my anxiety became almost paralyzing. Whatever it was he wanted to talk to me about--I never did find out! As I stepped outside, the fear rose into my throat and I started babbling aimlessly, talking about anything I could think of until I could find an excuse to back away from him and go back inside. And I actually like this guy!
I don't want to be like Miss Havisham, sitting in the old house with the cobwebs and the decaying wedding cake. These wonderful literary images linger, because they represent real truth. People really can get stuck.
In my life, I finally noticed that old wedding cake. And it really is smelling up my house! Don't want to catch fire like old Miss Havisham. Time to let the fire consume the old gown. But not the lady.
Subscribe to Robin Chapman News