Since Saturday afternoon, I have seen my hometown in print every day. I grew up in El Paso, and was stunned to have the city pushed into my awareness by a tragic event. And I can’t help but wonder if tragedy is a feedback loop onto itself because this tragic event has thrown me back into my own trauma history with the daily reminder of where I lived as a child. It is not lost on me that an argument can be made that this can be seen as self-centered with the real loss of life that just happened.
And, yet, I still find myself stuck in some way every time I see the news since the weekend. I’ve lived in the Northwest and the Northeast of this country since I left El Paso many years ago. By design, I’ve endeavored to be as far away as possible. It’s truly not the city’s fault that I am not a fan. Though I can’t help but associate my feelings with El Paso as it is where a lot of stuff happened. To be clear, I am not aware of the entirety of my experience. But I know enough to know that it was traumatic.
This past weekend I was at an event where I was asked about my family with insistence that I must have support from family members. I responded by saying, “Certain family members-I regularly look up their arrest record to keep track of them as it is public information in Texas.” That put an abrupt end to the inquiry.
And now I have to stop writing because it is too much.
I’ve noticed that with this job there are horribly stressful time periods. And then, with no warning, it turns a corner for an unknown period of time, anywhere from an hour to a spate of a few days, where the work feels somewhat manageable. It is during these moments that I start to question my desire to leave this job, and I tell myself, “I can do this. It’s not so bad.” Inevitably, bad times come, the kind that keep me up at night or wake me up from a fitful sleep. Or, have me working until 3:24 a.m. with a full day of work ahead starting at 8 a.m. And no one cares you’ve only had 3 hours of sleep, except for your wife.
I like peace and routine, the peace of not changing jobs, and the routine of knowing how to do a job. As a trauma survivor I crave these elements, and when I have these elusive moments in my current job they lull me into a feeling of “it’s really not that bad.” Earlier this summer I spoke with a friend of mine who described a similar experience she has with her job, that it’s like we get to these periods of relative peace that make the job tolerable. For me, it’s hard to discern when something is truly bad, or if I am having trauma responses not based on what’s going on in the present day. It is so hard to know what reality is. I know my feelings are real. But, what is the reality of the situation around me? I know it’s a matter of time before some new work drama has me contemplating quitting altogether. For all I know it could bite me in the face first thing tomorrow morning, such is life in this vocation.
For now though, I had a weekend where I did not work and did not feel bad or guilty for not opening my work laptop. I sat around the apartment with my wife, and was present and happy. We ate at the same Chinese restaurant twice because we liked it so much, and I would love to have every weekend not be a recovery from a wretched week.
It was lovely to have a trigger free weekend. I would love to have more of these. I know it’s not a trigger free world, but it was a nice change not to have any. I know the challenge for me is handling those inevitable triggers that come my way.
I have a people problem, always have for as long as I can remember. People were certainly part of my traumatic history, and that set me up for building walls around people without even realizing it. I can walk by people without even acknowledging them, even if I know them. My instinct is to not be noticed. It doesn’t always occur to me to say “good morning” or “good night” to folks. I grew up trying to get by without being noticed because being noticed often meant trouble.
It’s taken me years of observation to figure out that my natural way of being does not serve me well. A few years ago I was visiting with a Mexican family that had young children. When company would visit the kids knew they were expected to say hello and greet their guests. One day I was there when one of their young sons just was not in the mood for it, and his mother told him, “Saludale! (Greet them). And later I heard her privately explain to him that it’s considered rude not to greet guests. And in that moment I realized this child and I were learning something important, that you greet guests! So simple, yet not always present in my awareness that I need to do this.
Many of the friends I have made in my life have come from other more outgoing friends making introductions. Meeting my future wife came out of an outgoing friend introducing us with no preamble before she did it, and I often wonder if it’s because she knew I would have foolishly fled the scene if I knew an introduction to a stranger was on the horizon. When I ask my would be cupid friend if she introduced us this way on purpose she just gets coy and smiles, never giving me a straight answer, which just adds to the joy of the story.
I instinctively run from people, yet I need people in this life. And I often disadvantage myself all on my own in this realm. I have to make myself say hello and good night to folks. I have a colleague who can be very effusive when she speaks with folks, and I thought to myself that cannot possibly work. I thought surely people would find it a bit much. But I tried it on during interviews I facilitate in my job, and oh my, it works. Tell a person that you are so thankful they set time aside to meet with you, and you are happy to have a chance to speak with them just works wonders with getting folks comfortable. You would think I promised them the universe. Much to my surprise, as I express gratitude more and more during these interviews I’ve found myself truly feeling gracious for their time.
I have learned that I need to continue to watch and observe those that are more successful with people than me because I do not know crap about how to interact with others. I like to think I do, but I do not. I only know how to speak clearly, calmly and directly. It’s became painfully clear to me that I cannot trust my assessment of how to interact with others. My instinct is to stay home all day and speak to no one, that is my default mode that I fight every day.