I watched a travel show the other day where the host went to a country where I had also visited. The show was fabulous and I was completely engaged. Although about five minutes into the episode I noticed that there was also a part of me that was thoughtfully activated. Although I was enjoying the repartee the host was having with the locals, an uneasy quiet settled deep inside because the memories of what happened to me, were the opposite of what was being shown on screen as a happy tourist destination. For sure, the places that he was promoting ARE happy tourist destinations, they just weren’t for me. I was forced to travel to that location, and that experience forever changed how I view the world.
As I watched the episode, I felt validated that the places I had remembered going to were the places he was also visiting. I would say aloud, “I was there, and there, and There! It felt like a shared experience. Except that my experiences were dark and I met people who did not have my best interest at heart or people who looked through me as if I was invisible.
This had me thinking about the paradox of sharing. The definition that I’m using for my thought process is, A situation or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.
As a trauma survivor, we learn pretty quick what we can share and not share with our family and friends. I have always been of the mind, that this is absolutely healthy, and I want my support to have good healthy boundaries. I want to keep a semblance of “normalcy” in my everyday life. I definitely share, but only tell the most intimate and shocking parts of my trauma to my therapist. I have a therapist to help me process, accept, and teach me the tools to live with the effects of my trauma.
But, sometimes its hard to not be able to really participate in a conversation about a shared travel destination, holiday traditions, past birthdays, or just childhood observations. I have traveled to many, many places in my life. When someone talks about taking a tour of the swamps of the south, I may have also gone to the exact same region. I didn’t see Alligators peeking their eyes above the water, I experienced other things. Let me tell you, that if I share even a bit of what I experienced there, it is an instant conversation stopper. Where I find myself enjoying the persons’ vacation tales, they wind up feeling uncomfortable that the underbelly of what people are capable of, is darkening the joy of a fun-in-the-sun travel destination. It’s a paradox when it comes to sharing.
Now I have had a plethora of really good, priceless, life-changing, wonderful experiences in my life that I can freely share and relate to my friends, family, and people on the street. I really don’t have a shortage of those at all. What has me thinking about this, is that sometimes when I’m having a conversation with someone about birthdays or family of origin traditions, I would like to share my experiences too. Not for shock value, but because they are my experiences. That is the extent of it. To me, I would sometimes like to say, Oh yeah, I remember when I was sixteen and …, but that is simply not an appropriate share. For me, it was just my life, for others it is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. There have been many appropriate times and places that I have shared, but it is usually not in the middle of a lighthearted walk down memory lane.
This is simply my observation the last few days after watching that travel show. Survivors of trauma, just like people who live with chronic pain and illness learn to adapt. I do believe that people who are in a friendship/relationship want to hear other’s experiences. The responsibility is on us to navigate our lives and share our stories. It helps those close to us understand the lens we look at the world through, and why we may respond to things the way we do. I know that the feedback I get from people, is, “Oh that makes a lot of sense now!”
I wonder, as I write this, that maybe this paradox in sharing is just human nature. Our different life experiences and how we feel about them may be what determines whether we share or stay silent. Are we afraid of being a “Debby Downer?” Or are do we say, “Wow, well you know what happened to me on my birthdays every year?” I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure what most people do. I’m curious, what do you do?
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph