At home in the house of the living
My friend Claire has just celebrated the beginning of Passover with her family. She shared photos of their seder, of drinking from the Kiddush cup and eating eggs dipped in salty water to symbolize the tears of the ancient Israelites and the destruction of the temple. It was a reminder of how humanity has endured centuries of collective trauma, and how trauma embeds itself in our psyches, both individually and as families, communities and nations.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 is bringing up historic, as well as current, trauma for many people over this Easter weekend.
Trauma is not an objective fact. Trauma is something that is subjectively experienced and stored not just in our conscious memory but in our somatic memory, that is, our body remembers what has happened to us, even if we choose to ‘forget.’ That might explain why at this time of upheaval, we are having trouble sleeping, or can’t concentrate, are eating badly or over-exercising, feel fidgety, withdrawn, angry – the list is endless. Something in our past is being re-activated and manifesting itself in the present day.
A lot of my counselling work at the moment is about helping clients to recognise and process the original, traumatic source of their immediate emotional states, as well as manage their new daily reality. The father who is stressed because he’s attempting to homeschool his children while working from home is not just coping with that, he’s coping with an old terror of being abandoned and left to manage on his own. Not only will understanding the wellspring of his ‘new’ feelings equip him better to navigate them, the therapeutic relationship will provide a reparative experience, where he finds he does not have to survive singlehandedly and he will not be abandoned.
We all need to feel safe “in the house of the living” as D. H. Lawrence put it. If you are struggling with unfamiliar and painful emotions and are in that hopeless place, like the children of Israel centuries ago, unable to conceive of freedom from your own particular slavery, don’t despair. Symbolically speaking, resurrection is an inevitable consequence of any kind of death. Hold fast; your liberation is at hand.