This morning as I walk alone in the cool breeze of the morning, I see a single. floating. feather. It seems to be resting on the air in the morning silence. A smile reflexively takes me over and I say out loud to no one: “I love when I see that!”
My statement makes me reflect on the one time I saw it before: as a much younger woman during at a time in my life when I grappled with the grief, confusion, frustration and fear associated with making the decision to leave my abusive marriage. In the moment when I saw the feather floating down right before me, peace, calm and hope replaced my discomfort. The feather felt like a personal message to me: that everything was going to work out just fine. In that very moment I felt the strong sensation of confidence and order – that if I was walking in exactly the right place to witness that single feather falling from a bird making her winter journey to warmer weather and it could bring such peace, then I could make sense and order out of the confusion and heartache in my life. I knew I would get through my struggle with confusion and pain. And I did.
Today’s morning feather bringing me back to that winter day so long ago is a special kind of memory. An isolated event (seeing the feather this morning) brought back mental, emotional and physical memories of a similar event (the winter feather) and all of the other circumstances which were surrounding the similar event in the past. There was nothing else about the two events that were the same except that I saw both of the feathers while I walked alone. The weather was different. All of the circumstances of my life were different. One feather fell in the country air, the other fell in the city. But today’s feather brought back vivid memories of the specific struggles which were happening in my life when the first feather fell. Today’s feather brings me to reflect on the roads I have traveled in a way that brings me confidence and peace. I look back on my path and see personal growth and development from the seeds of struggle, circumstance and hardship.
My floating feathers represent a similar kind of experience that everyone has had. As I help victims break free from abuse, I often illustrate something similar by asking my client to close his or her eyes and remember a favorite childhood food. Often, the memory brings not only clear memories of the way the dessert looked, but the smell and taste as well as the circumstances of life during that time. These are memories we all enjoy and it is such a common experience that real estate agents will bake cookies to bring potential buyers back to the positive sensations of the comforts of a childhood home. These memories bring warmth, a sense of connection and the opportunity to build relationships with others.
Trauma memories work in exactly the same way as my feathers or childhood food memories except that no one enjoys the sensations brought on by trauma memories. In fact, trauma memories which bring a flood of negative and re-traumatizing sensations are so harmful that there is a word for the “floating feather” that brings the flood of pain. We call it a trigger.
The good news is that you can keep your happy memories and neutralize the triggers to your trauma memories. It can be difficulty to navigate alone, but once you understand how triggers are neutralized you can learn how to stop them from disrupting your life. Healing from abuse is well within your reach when you have the right tools in your hands.
© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.
In cooperation with 2bsisters, Tamara is in the process of making her recovery curriculum for domestic violence survivors available via a protected online format. This curriculum is for victims who have not yet been able to escape, those who have recently escaped and those who have been independent for a time but still need to strengthen themselves as survivors. To stay connected with Tamara, including access to more in-depth information about domestic violence and how to apply that information to your situation, please visit http://www.2btru2you.com.