For 20 years now, I’ve gone through a season every December that is wrought with emotions that I can never quite put my finger on. Ultimately, I have to settle on “it’s complicated” because it is a mushy jumble of feelings that aren’t quite this or that. I am caught in a whirlwind that is not sadness, not happiness, not relief, not disbelief, and not grief. People ask if I’m okay and I just have to say I am because I think I am, and I am not, but I cannot answer as to why not no more than I can truthfully answer to why I am.
Twenty years seems like a long time to be in such a complicated relationship with memories of the past, but it is what it is. Each year, I attempt to unravel the spaghetti mess of feelings, and every year I end up sitting back and letting myself feel what I feel. Like flashes of lightning, I am at peace and then not. I am in 1997 and then not. I am in 1988 and then not. I am happy and then not. I am sad and then not.
The more I talk with other survivors, the more I see that this is a common experience that we struggle to define. We shrug and pet our feelings as if to give them comfort, yet we have no idea what we are trying to comfort because we aren’t sad or mad or happy or glad. It just is…these feelings…these things we have survived.
It’s complicated to explain. It’s complicated to understand. It’s complicated to carry.
The world says move on and don’t live in the past, and we aren’t, but parts of us go back without our permission. Hearts pound as we notice the date, as we pick up the scent of another decade, a time in life when survival was a real thing, not just something we now talk about. My breath catches when I hear a gunshot ring in the night and I cannot not see a body at the bottom of the stairs. Life has moved on, and yet I chew on these complicated feelings on autopilot, willing my brain to choose something better, to move into the beauty that is today.
The calendar makes it complicated. Twenty years cannot erase the pain and fear and new beginnings that all arrived in one complicated night of terror. I cannot celebrate being alive without the complications of the loss of life, and I cannot grieve the loss without the complications of joy for being here to live.
I’m not a therapist, but I know what I know, and I know what I feel, and trauma is just complicated, no matter how much time has passed, no matter how many times I’m told I should move on, no matter how much I should be grateful to be alive.
I am grateful. I am excited about life. And yet, here I sit on what is the last day of the complicated first two weeks of December, and I bounce through emotions that all mush together, and I want the day to end, and I want to reflect, and I want to have never had this story to begin with, and I want to use all the story to save others, and I want to be left alone, and I want to be close to people, and it’s just all so very complicated. Yes, 20 years later, still…
Read my story here: The First 22 Years Are the Hardest