long shadow

The longest shadow

There’s this part of my life, this whole era of my adult experience, that lies just outside my day-to-day view. And because it’s just outside my view, it’s really easy for me to forget about those years. When something happens that calls those days to mind, the experience of remembering feels out-of-body, like I’m watching an old family movie playing on a wall, projected by an old-school reel-to-reel projector. That is to say: remembering doesn’t feel real. I honestly go weeks without remembering, and when I’m forced to recall something from that period, I often make a joke: “Oh! I forgot that happened!”

It turns out, though, that while the experience of those days may lie beneath the surface, the impact of the lessons learned runs deep. That’s because trauma tends to live in our bodies, out of view, but it affects the way we process information. And the experience of this time period of my life? No matter how much I might be convinced that it’s amusing how little I connect with those memories, I am occasionally reminded that the disconnection is self-preservation at work, not just a less-than-stellar memory and the distance acquired by the passage of time.

Today was one of those days. When I was drafting this in my mind, it was titled “The Pop-Tart Challenge,” and it was going to be a humorous, self-deprecating look at why it’s so damned hard for me to eat the pop-tarts I buy. Because, you see, I LOVE POP-TARTS. Not all pop-tarts, to be clear, but in particular I LOVE brown sugar cinnamon pop-tarts. When I began practicing intuitive eating, I started stocking foods I genuinely love in the house again, giving myself full permission to eat them. (If you’re interested in learning more about intuitive eating, please join my intuitive eating class; it starts September 4!) Brown sugar cinnamon pop-tarts were one of those things.

Other people in my house, it turns out, also love pop-tarts. They are less finnicky about what flavors they eat, so when I realized they were eating my beloved brown sugars, I started buying strawberry ones, too, so they’d leave my stash alone. Finding others eating my brown sugars felt more threatening than not having them at all; the panic I felt bubble up was palpable, even as I told myself it was completely irrational. (They’re literally making more pop-tarts every single day.)

But here’s the kicker: Do you know when I last had a brown sugar cinnamon pop-tart? It’s been months. Possibly a year or more. They’re right there in the kitchen. I just don’t eat them.

{insert record scratch here}

I’ve been getting some incredible coaching around what I assume to be a scarcity mentality; around discomfort with things that feel “indulgent”; around why I find self-care so difficult to follow-through on. Today, with a stellar coach, I was scratching at this feeling again, and the intuition of my coach led her to ask where these instincts are coming from.

I talked through how little I felt like food — even indulgent foods, like brown sugar deliciousness — was scarce or restricted when I was a kid. I certainly have my own set of food issues from growing up in the toxic cultural stew that is being a woman in America (or anywhere, to be clear), but the instincts I feel to hoard the things I love most … and never actually use them? They don’t feel rooted in childhood.

Enter that time in my life that lives just on the periphery of my vision.

It was a four-year stretch of time, during which I watched the things that I’d cherished slowly get erased from my life. The couch I had tirelessly searched for until I found The Perfect Couch got sold in a yard sale. The bed I’d carefully described to Santa, who obliged with a gift that allowed me to sleep on mattresses not on the floor for the first time in my adult life — that bed got relegated to a distant guest bedroom, then sold at the same yard sale. My beloved Pfaltzgraff plates in gorgeous hues of blue, gifted to me when I got my first real solo home after college? The dining room table I lugged up two flights of stairs and assembled myself, to save money? All of it was slowly replaced with items that met with the approval of someone else.

Erased.

That word is the only word I can summon today to describe the way those years felt. My spunk, my joy, my active life outside the home, my unabashed adoration of my beloved dog, all of it was slowly snuffed out. Through twisted rewards and punishments, I was contorted into a version of myself that was more acceptable, more pliant, less challenging. The things that were essentially me slowly, one by one, vanished.

Walk into my office at work today, and you’d be hard pressed to find a surface that doesn’t have some visible reminder of something I love. Open a drawer in my home office, and you’ll find enough writing utensils to outfit a high school. Look in the pantry, and you’ll find Girl Scout cookies I keep tucked away. Peer at the dresser in my bedroom, and you’ll see a pyramid of good-smelling candles. Walk through our kitchen, and the unopened box of brown sugar cinnamon pop-tarts will greet you from its perch next to the toaster.

Until today, I wouldn’t have recognized this persistent need to display the things that remind me of what makes me Liz as anything other than a preference for cluttered decor. Today, I recognize it as trauma, lurking just below the surface, asserting itself in quiet but consistent ways.

The long shadow of abuse isn’t always visible, but it doesn’t fade easily or quickly.

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2 Comments

  1. Rachelle says:

    Hi Liz, what courageous work you are doing, holding space for yourself and acknowledging trauma. I’m glad these things are surfacing while you have some trusted support. May you continue being unabashedly Liz and may you enjoy your brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts with a little more freedom each day! xo

    1. liznorell says:

      Thank you Rachelle! <3

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