Thoughts: Trauma Lessons

One day, about a decade ago, I was visiting my parents. My mom asked me to help her go through some stuff in the house. I didn’t mind, but I was curious. “Why me?” I asked.

“Because you are good at throwing things out.”

I AM good at throwing things out. I am a minimalist at heart, though I have never seemed to achieve the ideal of what I would like. I save things for the kids, towards the day they have homes big enough to carry some of the furniture. Half of my attic is piled high with boxes of their things. I remarried a few years ago and anyone who has married in midlife to someone else in midlife knows that is a recipe for overcrowding as you merge two lifetimes into a single home.

But that doesn’t change what sings to me. I love authentic Colonial Homes. Simple. Not a lot of stuff. Plenty of space and that makes the few things that are there “pop”. I also love the modern home aesthetic with space and windows and again, less stuff. Both styles leave room, space and that empty space sings to me. Some people think it austere. Maybe so, but if so, I like austere.

I didn’t come to this place until I was in my fifties, after separating and divorcing, I moved out so the kids could stay in the family home. I took a small apartment and brought just a few things with me. The initial emotion was “how sad to have worked all my life to build things up, only to end up with so little.”

That feeling didn’t last long. I found l liked less. And as I began to heal, I came to thrive with the less. It has become not just the way I like things, but the way I like life. I have reduced life to four basic things – family, work, creativity and faith.

Life of course, conspires to complicate things. That is especially true in today’s world where so much is interconnected. Change happens, and it’s rare change makes things simpler as we sort through it. Simplifying is it’s own kind of work. As much as the Marie Kondo’s of the world say you can do it with a few weeks mini-course, I think it takes longer. It’s a mindset more than project. Either you are wired that way, or you are not.

I find it strange that it was at age fifty that I came to it, this basic part of my makeup. I’ve wondered often where it was buried all those years before, and why. Surely it didn’t just appear. After all, by mid life, most of us are who we are. Statistics and studies say we won’t change much after fifty. In fact, those same statistics and studies say we will resist change after fifty.

There have other fundamental changes since then. Moving to Vermont changed a lot about me. Meeting the woman I love has brought huge changes in me. Good changes, but far more than I would have expected at fifty.

It gives me hope. People in my family are good at living into their eighties and even nineties. Some of them were stuck where they were as people in those last few decades. Other (my mother was one.) evolved and grew as people in those years. I have hope I will be one of those, like my mother.

In our lives, I have learned, it is often trauma that forces change. Not always, but often. It was, for instance, the trauma of divorce that led me to my minimalist aesthetic of life. A bad thing ending up well. A good thing that would never had arrived without the trauma.

I am not minimizing trauma. I have experienced it on a few fronts in my life and from time to time it still, decades later, raises it’s ugly painful head and leaves me feeling I am in exactly the same place, with exactly the same traumatized emotions as if it just happened. That occurred this week and I have had a rough couple of days with heart pounding and stomach sick as the trauma response rolled over me like a tidal wave. I get through it. Most of us do. I have good tools and exercises my therapist gave me that work. But still, it’s rough.

Part of that getting through it is looking at the good things that happened since. And there are a lot of them, and a few, like the minimalist thing, are a direct result. Finding the woman I love, who has taught me that love can actually be what I thought it could be, not what it was before in my life, could not have happened. The growth of my creative life would not have happened. Counting blessings has power, even when reliving trauma, at least for me.

As for reaching the minimalist aesthetic in life I love so much. It may never happen. Life is an intersection of people and needs and emotions and choices. But I like the journey there. I like the moments of it that appear. I like that I can find beauty and simplicity and kindness and art and love and God in almost everything. That too has been part of the lesson of life and trauma.

Recently, someone asked me if I found lessons in everything. Yes, I do. It’s part of what gives my life meaning, part of what pushes me through the depression and the rough stuff. When we find lessons in the bad stuff, the bad loses some of its power over you. And that’s one less burden to carry.

The best kind of minimalism.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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