Dedicated to anyone navigating the lasting effects of trauma
There’s one morning that lives vividly in perpetuity within my mind. It’s an invigorating summer morning at the onset of a hot, sticky day that I predict will lead to the cool relief of a city pool in the afternoon. This young day has the perennial magnificence of possibility. The type of morning where hope seems as close as a pan of chocolate frosted cupcakes right under my nose. All I need to do is stick out my tongue, close my eyes and let the chocolatey goodness dance on the tip of my tongue. Fifth grade is behind me and this summer’s mine for the taking.
Mom’s pulled our white Honda over on the shoulder of 4th Avenue. We un-bungee my forest green Raleigh ten speed, lifting it off the bike rack. I’ve graduated from my all-too-constricting BMX bike to these glorious dual wheels of pure freedom. This thing is a beast, a fearless lion, king of the Sioux Falls streets! Blue sky adorned with puffy, jeweled clouds levitate like a crown above my head. Gone are the days of falling off my little kid dirt bike and bloodying my knees every five minutes. I am now a young MAN who pedals upright and proud for miles on end!
I wave goodbye to Mom after her brief safety consultation. I may still catch balls with my glasses. I may pronounce the words run and road, “wun” and “woad,” but I feel like a full fledged suit-and-tie adult pedaling away on my ten speed.
I bike through McKennan Park first, waving to my best friend John Gridley IV as he studiously concentrates on his tennis lesson. Then I head onto Larson Design, precisely on time for my job in the stockroom, unpacking boxes of tinsel, wooden snowmen and angels, and sticking price tags on them. I am gainfully employed, performing necessary work, AND receiving a paycheck. I’m doing everything right and am so pleased to be precisely me. From this mountaintop, I behold a future of shimmering possibility.
Suddenly, my Dad shows up.
He’s not supposed to be here. He’s supposed to be working.
He places his hand upon my shoulder and, looking sorrowfully into my eyes, tells me that John went biking after his tennis lesson, and was hit by a car.
Less than an hour later John dies.
What! WHat! WHAT!!! We are SUPPOSED to have a sleepover Friday and stay up past midnight!
This is all so wrong. None of this is supposed to happen. Kids my age don’t die. Not kids who are my friends. John needs to be alive. I need my best friend!
My shimmering future shatters and the mountain beneath me turns to dust.
TV shows, books, and movies tell us tales of good days turned bad all the time. They offer a thrilling emotional rollercoaster, one we can step off of any time we choose. All we need do is simply stop watching or reading.
But no matter how many times you’ve seen misfortune play out in your imagination, there’s no stepping off the excruciating rollercoaster of tragedy once it appears in your own life.
My suffering was intense.
And John’s family. I can’t even fathom their pain.
For decades, I tried to force myself to forget about that June morning. I tried every way imaginable to hide from its memory. But hiding did not free me from suffering. The crisp vividness of its every detail has long been a curse on my every attempt to erase it.
After John’s death, I tried my best to move on but the instant adulthood that tragedy too often heaps upon children, robbed me of the wind-at-my-back spirit that fueled the young man I was supposed to become.
How does anyone recover from this?
How do I?
Thirty-five years have now passed. I’ve found so much happiness in my career and joy in the world around me. I have dear friends and plenty of activities to keep me active. While the memory of that day lives with me, I find myself thinking about it less and less. Some days, not at all. On the surface that seems like a good thing. But, I’ve recently had some experiences that seem counterintuitive to the way I should be feeling within the life I’m living.
Enter Aaron and Veronica. With a combined 30 years of knowledge and experience in health, energy work, emotional healing and intuitive abilities, I reached out in hopes that they could help me sort through my feelings. I came to our session cautious, with the complaint that I wasn’t realizing the level of success I wanted. Through their process, Aaron and Veronica facilitated my discovery that I have been living my life in response to the shock of that day ever since. While feeling immense joy is wonderful, having it taken away is unbearable.
Aaron and Veronica helped me notice that, in an effort to protect myself from insufferable pain, I’ve been coping by not allowing myself to feel the degree of joy or happiness I fear might become dangerous. Much like a dog whose dreams of exploring the world beyond his yard have been diminished with each shock of the invisible fence, I struggle to stay motivated whenever significant progress comes my way, because my core response is to anticipate the profound pain of losing it. I find an embarrassment of excuses to avoid investing myself in situations and activities that seem to have the potential of making me too happy.
I’m walking around with a 35 year old wound that I’ve neglected to bandage and hasn’t healed on its own.
When John died, I felt deprived of choice.
What I failed to realize was that I had a choice afterwards, I just chose not to heal. I made conscious decisions that only enhanced the emotions of loss and helplessness. I gave up my bike out of fear of riding it and quit my job because my mind was too occupied with John’s death.
Yes, going into an extended depression and doing less and less of what I loved was one way to cope with the heartache of losing John but not the only way.
Sorrow happens in life. It doesn’t mean we have to stay stuck in it.
There’s no way my session with Aaron and Veronica could change the fact that John died. That happened. Nothing will ever change it. But what has changed is now when something good happens for me, I understand the profound fear that follows it likely has nothing to do with the present moment and everything to do with a tragedy that occured decades ago.
Now that I’m aware of the route I habitually take when things run the risk of becoming too good, I have more ability to choose a different path forward.
I’ve spent the better part of a year wrangling this article. It’s been a cathartic process for me. Now that it’s done, I’m thinking it may be time for me to go out and buy a brand new, shiny bike.
I miss you John.
JASON FREEMAN is a Professional Speaker and the proud owner of a Speech Impediment. He is also the author of “Awkwardly Awesome: Embracing My Imperfect Best” and a Perseverance Coach.
He excites and encourages his audience to break through the barriers of their own limitations using a method he created, called “doing your Imperfect Best ™”.
His Imperfect TEDx Talk can be viewed here.