For years I couldn’t walk through these doors, but recently, every once in awhile, I’ve been able to pull the black handle back and enter this place. I walk to the counter. I intend to order a bagel because I’m hungry, but as soon as I look into the eyes of the barista my appetite is gone. My hunger has been replaced with sadness. Or maybe fear. Either way, I’m full; emotions rising.
“What can I get for you?” he smiles.
I make fleeting eye contact, attempting to cover my sudden discomfort. “May I please have an iced tall toffee nut latte?” I absently hand over some cash. I drop a quarter or maybe it was a nickel, in the tip jar.
My eyes sweep every table. I move slowly, but inside I’m frantic.
I don’t recognize any faces in the coffee shop, but I didn’t expect to. I hear the door to the bathroom open and I look over my shoulder. A woman is writing in the corner, the same corner where I used to sit and grade papers. It is also the same corner in which I sat with my love during his lunch breaks. This was the store that my once-upon-a-time husband used to work at.
There is a woman at the bar pouring shots of espresso, but for a second I don’t see her. Instead, I see blue eyes leaning over the bar and saying, “Hey, how’s my pretty girl?” Then, the blue eyes vanish, and I see the dark haired woman pour milk into a cup.
What’s happening? PTSD is rising to the surface, that’s all.
The barista pushes a straw in my direction and for a second I want to climb under the counter and cry, but of course I don’t do that. As I reach for the straw, she asks how my day is going. I say my day is going fine. I don’t ask her how her day is going because I fear that if I open my mouth the pain will fall out, and I’m not sure what it would sound like.
“Iced tall toffee nut latte for Natalie.” The woman places the drink on the counter and I see my name scrawled in black letters on the side of the cup.
I have no recollection of giving my name when I placed the order, and I don’t come in often enough for them to know who I am. PTSD must have stolen that moment from me; it is a thief of time, you know.
It is when I can’t remember giving my name that the tears form. The tears form because I know that absent mindedness or preoccupation cannot be blamed for my lack recollection. No, it was something more powerful, something traumatic that stripped it from my mind.
I move toward the black handle and lean my weight into it, and I’m outside in the fresh air. I don’t inhale the air because I’m holding my breath until I get into my car. I know my car will be safe. I exhale.
My coffee tastes of distress, but I swallow the anguish down because I can feel groans rising in my throat. I don’t let the groans escape because I have to pick up my son from my sister’s house and I can’t come undone right now. Also, I have to go to work this afternoon, and I don’t have time to redo my make-up so I brush the warm tear off my cheek.
My sister brings my son out to the car. He has his blue dog and his giraffe and his elephant, and I smile. She doesn’t see my red eyes or if she does she doesn’t say anything. I buckle baby boy in the car seat, and I drive home. Sips of coffee from my cup holder still taste sad.
Sometimes I think that I’m okay, and that I can walk into that coffee shop without having a flashback, without reverting to the broken, fragile woman almost instantaneously. But on mornings like this one, I realize that healing can take a lifetime. The number of prayers, counseling appointments, pills, or positive coping skills does not change the power that past trauma has on my life or the power that it may have in your life. Pain enters in and out of life as it pleases.
I just need to add one more thing.
If you’re religious, you may feel like God should be enough. You might feel like He should have healed your heart, your body or your mind by now… but it hasn’t happened. I encourage you to give yourself the freedom to be in process. Healing may come and healing may not happen. Christians tend to throw God into a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and He is supposed to cover them all and win. I’m here to say that healing doesn’t work that way.
I do not mean to imply that you should give up hope for healing in your life, but I mean for you to know that healing doesn’t always arrive in the timing or the ways we would expect.
Readers, how do you work through the process of healing? What are ways you practice self-care? Thanks for reading.