My little sister, Katie, and I hopped on a Frontier flight out of CVG, headed for Orlando, FL, on October 20, 2017. This was a big flippin’ deal for me! The girl with a thirty year history of severe panic attacks had decided her dreams were bigger than her fears . . . and the present-day pull on my soul was greater than the haunted whisperings of my past. I sent up a few prayers. Okay. I sent up a few hundred prayers, climbed on board (but, not before caressing the smooth white finish of the jet, peaking out from behind the end of the jet bridge, reminding it to “fly safely”) and strapped myself in, a rosary in one hand and my favorite green fluorite stone in the other.
The flight was smooth. I may have even taken a millisecond glance out the window, just for the sake of saying, “Yeah. I looked.” I lost myself in my Mindfulness coloring book, focusing on the strange joy which dances around my head as I watch the white of the page transition to neon and glitter shades as my gel pen scurries between the lines. Katie and I chatted about writing our books, wondering out loud what awaited us at the Hay House Writers’ Workshop, and celebrated the idea of experiencing our first-ever sister trip. Alone. No parents. No kids. No spouses. We were on an adventure together, reminiscent of those nights before Dad’s bedtime stories, spent pretending Katie’s waterbed, clad in its rainbow comforter, was a boat, lost and adrift on a vast blue ocean. We could see the island in the distance . . . a yellow throw rug in the shape of a hang-ten foot . . . too far to swim toward safely. Sharks were surrounding us. Yet the boat was sinking! We would dive from the bed, belly crawling our way through the shark-infested waters, yelling to each other, “Save the babies! Save the babies!” And one or the other would scoop up the Drowsy Doll, in her pink polka-dotted pajamas, blonde hair sticking straight up on end from too many years of being carried around by those locks. The other would grab the naked doll we had named Johnny, giving his belly a good squeeze so he would return a long squealing doll cry from that squeaky hole in his bottom. We always made it safely to shore, snuggled up and giggling on the foot rug, grateful for the momentary reprieve from our real-life traumas. Our grown-up adventure was bound to be the same.
We worked our way through the maze of the Orlando airport, tired and ready to crash in our resort room, eventually chasing down the Super Shuttle, as it pulled out of the parking space on the transportation platform. Scurrying into the back seat, I buckled myself in, and contemplated throwing my travel blanket over my head. I-4 traffic, at rush hour, on a Friday night. Oh, boy. I do not drive on highways. Ever. Or bridges. I have issues even being a passenger on little highway jaunts. Reminding myself I was on a soul-adventure and my calling to share my “story of hope” far surpasses my over-ingrained phobias, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for departure.
“We must pick up one more passenger,” announced the driver, his accent thick.
Where is this person going to sit? On my lap? I pondered as I tried to scooch over closer to my sister.
As the woman climbed into the backseat, she joked about fondling me, in her attempts to find the seat belt latch positioned under my ass. I laughed along and helped her out by crawling on top of my sister. Cozy. This could either help my highway nerves tremendously or trigger some of my “feeling trapped” anxiety. So, I came up with the ultimate in solutions . . . I closed my eyes!
A voice from my left addressed me about ten minutes into our ride and asked, loud enough for all to hear, “Teri, why are your eyes closed?” Yep. My sister.
Have you NOT been paying attention for the last thirty years?
Deep breath in. “Because I have highway anxiety. Closing my eyes helps.”
Then the voice from my right chimed in, “Really? Do you mind my asking why you have highway anxiety?”
I’m an open book. So, I shared the quick version of my trauma history and resulting C-PTSD diagnosis: alcoholic parent, physical abuse in childhood, multiple molestations, date rape, bank robbery with a co-worker stabbed with a hunting knife, bank robbery with a co-worker shot and murdered. Just the highlights. My eyes sealed shut even tighter.
The voice from the right, even softer in tone than a few moments earlier, “I am a trauma therapist.”
My eyes shot open.
Are you fucking kidding me? Of all the people in the world to squish in next to me on a shuttle ride, through rush hour traffic on a crazy busy highway in a city far from home, she turns out to be a trauma therapist! You rock, God!
My eyes locked onto the gentle gaze of a beautiful soul. Our smiles exchanged in new-found friendship. Paulette, the trauma therapist from Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, began sharing calming strategies. “Move your right foot up, toes lifted, while keeping your left foot down. Now alternate. Back and forth. As if doing a dance. One, two, three. One, two, three.” My feet tapped to the soft lilt of her instructions. My mind focused on the waltz happening in this shuttle. Far from the traffic zooming by, I was caught up in learning a new coping skill.
Almost an hour later, we halted the conversation, as we pulled into the Omni Resort drive. Our chatting had not paused since the moment Paulette had reached out with a hand to hold in heavy I-4 traffic. I now had an armful of coping strategies to add to my already overflowing toolbox of learned skills. I guess it’s time for a bigger toolbox!
It is time. Time to share my story. My family and friends have heard snippets. My therapist has sat on the floor of my dark closet, by my side, as I tore open the long-sealed and hidden storage boxes of my memories, as I rifled through their contents, sometimes in terror, other times in awe. It is time to dump those contents onto the floor and allow others to sort through the trauma and find hope in the chaos. It is there. I promise.