How a “Lucky” Woman Learned to Understand Trauma

Dawn Bevier

To those who have suffered abuse and misfortune, I apologize for my apathy

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Every day I read stories on tragedy and horrors of the worst kind — abuse, domestic violence, prejudice, poverty, and the like.

Four months ago, these were just “stories.” From unlucky people with whom I did not identify.

My thoughts back then?

I felt sorry for them. A sorrow that lasted while I read the article and maybe a few minutes later until something more important caught my attention, like a Netflix series or a funny meme on Instagram.

I know it sounds insensitive. And it was.

Because I didn’t understand.

I pitied these trauma victims in a detached way for which I now curse myself.

That is until that day four months ago when my husband lost his six-figure job.

The loss was sudden and unexpected — and devastating.

My husband didn’t make this large amount of money because he had a marketable college degree. He worked his way up over two decades from production worker to assistant plant manager. And so now, finding a job that even came close to the salary he was making is nearly impossible. After all, how many 100,000 dollars a year jobs don’t require a college degree?

It’s been four long months. Still no great offers that will allow our family to live the privileged lifestyle that we were used to.

The problem is that before this moment I was spoiled. Until that day, my happiness was not a privilege to me or even a blessing. It was something I thought I was owed.

After all, I was one of the lucky ones. Not like those other people about which I read. But life was not done teaching me the error of my ways.

Just a month ago, as my family still held their breath awaiting a job for my husband, another tragedy occurred. My stepfather died. Literally.

My mom, a nurse, gave CPR until the paramedics arrived. His heart stopped twice, but they brought him back. Two weeks after that, he was in ICU. First, they worried if his heart would stabilize. Then, when he awoke, we spent four days wondering if his brain was working. His eyes wouldn’t track and he couldn’t follow or respond to commands.

Finally, last week, he stabilized. He spent another week in rehab, and just yesterday, he went home for the first time in almost a month.

The future for him is uncertain. He is better, but his recovery will take time. And the long term effects remain to be seen.

So, finally, after four months and two tragedies, I get it. Well partly.

Because now I realize I am still lucky.

I have a family that loves me and a roof over my head. And while I have suffered greatly in the past few months, it is nothing compared to the horrors that people endure in their souls and in their homes every day.

And these events have forever changed me, allowing me to finally understand how trauma mutates a soul, how it changes the very chemistry of the psyche.

These are clouds over my head now, every day. No longer is the self-assurance there that a “bad day” will simply mean rowdy students at my job or an unexpected two hundred dollar bill from a forgotten doctor visit.

There lies an unspoken fear in each moment — a fear that some random thing in the universe will further smite my family’s well-being and happiness.

So now I am starting to understand all those people whose sufferings I so thoughtlessly ignored as I went about my footloose and fancy-free existence.

Now I understand why a woman who has been burned by domestic abuse refuses to put herself out there to start dating again. She fears the darkness she has once seen in a man’s soul lies in all the hearts and souls of others with the same gender.

Now I understand why a victim of abuse remains secluded, unable at times even to bear the touch of a husband that loves her. She feels the dirty hands of her abuser even in the loving caresses of a man who has shown her nothing but kindness.

Now I understand why a victim of prejudice remains angry and distrustful, even when there’s a world of kind people who love and accept without condition. The ugly words of a racist still echo in his or her mind and drown others’ words and acts of tenderness and fairness.

It’s the past. It scars us. Once we have experienced the lightning of tragedy, we fear the thunder that comes afterward. We keep waiting for the other foot to drop.

But only once we have seen the lightning. And I finally have.

So, I am sorry and I apologize. To all of you who have suffered the terrible tragedies of abuse, of discrimination, of poverty. I know my sufferings do not equal yours and I cannot imagine the wounds that you endure that will probably never completely heal. But for the first time, I really see your pain. And I will never ignore it again.

The Bottom Line:

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness” speaks of how humans learn empathy and human compassion. She states that “before you know what kindness is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.”

She’s right, you know. I’ve felt this feeling now. And while it is painful, it has made me a better person, one who will never quite look at human suffering in the same way again. And while I’m not glad for the suffering, I am glad I’m a better member of mankind.

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Sanford, NC
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