This is my magnolia tree. Today it has six blossoms on it. Compared to my neighbour’s magnolia tree, it is kind of sad. My neighbour’s tree has hundreds of blossoms. And the tree next to that, and the tree next to that. In a row of magnolias, mine is the least impressive this spring. But a few weeks ago, when I looked out my bedroom window and saw these six blooms, I ran down the stairs to my husband to tell him the exciting news. “Honey, the magnolia is blooming!” Because after three years of living in this house, this is the first time any blooms have come at all. Every year I watched the neighbour’s tree blossom while ours lay bare. So this year is very exciting for me. Because as I see this tree begin to blossom, I know it is mirroring my own healing journey.
The first time I looked at the house we now live in I was horrified. There was human vomit dried in a corner of the kitchen, and dog urine and feces stains all over the carpet. There were closet doors off hinges, one room was covered in graffiti, and the entire basement reeked of weed. I had already heard that the police had been called to this house repeatedly, but I didn’t realize just how bad things were until that day. I walked through the house with my 3 month old baby on my hip and my 5 year old following behind us, stunned by the negative energy the house emitted. So much dysfunction and pain. If it had been a house in any other neighbourhood, I wouldn’t have bought it. But our family had outgrown our current home, which was just across the street. We wanted to stay in our neighbourhood, which was family friendly, and these larger townhouses rarely came up for sale. So we made the plunge, bought the house, and started the process of renovating it to repair the damage. I cleaned every surface obsessively, we re-painted the damaged walls and replaced the destroyed carpets. And I sat in the living room and meditated, working to clean it on an energetic level.
A few weeks later we had moved in. I went to meet my new neighbour, the one with the beautifully blooming magnolia tree. And it turned out that his name was the same as my childhood abuser. He seemed like a very nice man, kind and friendly. But still.
I wasn’t prepared for how much this simple move across the street would rock my sense of personal safety. Despite all the work we had put in to make the house our own, I could not forget its past. Knowing the history of what had happened in this house, I worried that drug dealers would show up at the door. I had paranoid thoughts that someone had hidden a drug stash somewhere in the house and one day would break in while my family was asleep to retrieve it. Add in the neighbour with the same name as my abuser, and months of sleep deprivation from the new baby, and it was not good news for my mental health. Some nights I would lie in bed and watch the door of my bedroom, which I always left slightly ajar to listen for my kids. If the door moved an inch, I was convinced someone was coming after us. Writing this now, I realize how crazy it sounds, but here’s the thing. When your sense of safety is messed with as a child, it takes a toll. And all my unresolved issues from my childhood abuse, combined with postpartum depression turned out to be a toxic combination for me.
I didn’t feel safe in my home any more. It was horrible to lose that feeling of safety. But it was also really important for me to go through. Because it made me realize just how carefully I orchestrated my life. It made me realize how much I arranged the external circumstance in my life in order to avoid dealing with the scared child that still lived inside me. I had gotten older, but I hadn’t ever learned to let my adult self keep her safe. I just kept reverting back to the child self whenever anything in my adult life mirrored my childhood experience. Like during my pregnancy with my second child, when painful muscle spasms made me feel unsafe in my body because they triggered abuse flashbacks. Like after my son was born by C-section and I was too weak to get up off the floor, and I felt unsafe because my body was foreign to me. Like when my baby kept needing me to breast feed him when I was beyond exhausted, and I just needed to have my body to myself.
How was I supposed to feel safe in my body and in my home after all of that? I found two resources that helped me recover my sense of safety. I built this amazing online community of survivors for the Trigger Points Anthology with Dawn Daum. And that gave me perspective and support that I had been missing. It gave me a safe place to talk about these moments when I am triggered. Because I realized through all of these experiences, I had made them worse for myself by not talking about it. Did I tell my husband, lying right next to me, that I was having a panic attack while watching my bedroom door move? No. I just suffered in silence. Having the Trigger Points community offered me the chance to start talking about these moments, and to hear someone else say “me too” has made a world of difference in my life.
I also took a course called Training in Power. I learned to trust that inside of me there was a capable adult who could protect the scared child. I learned to connect to a divine energy larger than myself when I didn’t feel I could do it myself. And through that class I connected to another community of amazing, supportive people who are committed to healing themselves.
I started to gain so much confidence and strength that I was able recently to give an 8 minute presentation on a stage in front of a full theatre about my experiences with trauma recovery. I talked openly about the shame of childhood sexual abuse, about body hatred, about postpartum depression. I talked about the long term impact that childhood abuse has had on me. I couldn’t have done that a few years ago. I can do it now because I know now that every time I speak, I am representing thousands of other survivors like me. And I know that I am capable of keeping myself safe now. And I know that every time I speak out, I make it safe for someone else to speak out too.
I look out my window at that magnolia tree with its six blooms. It is in recovery from all the trauma that happened in this house. It has learned now that it is safe to bloom. I look at my reflection in the mirror, and I know that I am blooming too.
Joyelle Brandt Bio
Joyelle Brandt is a radical self love warrior, on a mission to help women understand that their ugly is beautiful. She creates Love Your Body events, workshops and retreats to help women make peace with their bodies and live a life they love. Her next offering is the BE KIND to your Body e-course, starting March 28th.