It started snowing yesterday.
I felt my gut clench as I looked out the window at the big flakes. It seemed too early for snow. I had felt the bitter cold sweep in the day before and found myself muttering at the window, “Don’t snow. Don’t snow.” I kept willing it to stay away, but there was nothing I could do.
My kids clamored to the window, fully enamored by the fluffy flakes, but I saw instead the chunky dust of The Upside Down from Stranger Things, reminding me that this world isn’t safe and all you love can be taken from you in an instant. I was transported to a place I never wanted to be.
Several years ago, my world was shattered on a cold night. The next morning, the snow fell in big, soft flakes. It snowed all day and all night and by the next morning I was stuck in a home with children who loved me and a man I hated. I felt claustrophobic. Angry. Terrified. Isolated. And I had to keep it together because there were little children who needed me to be present and the same warm mommy they had always known.
I survived that terrible day and many days after, looking for signs of hope and some days wishing I didn’t see them. Sometimes hope is more costly than numbness. The cold felt like it had seeped into my bones, swallowed my whole world. Everything was cold. I would sit on my front porch in freezing temperatures and cry. Being out of my house was the one place I felt safe enough to feel the grief and somehow the cold helped. It felt like the whole world was numb and grieving with me.
I could never get warm enough. No matter how hot the shower, how many blankets over me, the softness of the socks I wore to fight the chill. It wasn’t just the external cold, it was my soul. I felt frozen in bed, not wanting to get out. Not wanting to face what another day would bring me. I wished for all the world that I could hibernate and wake up in the warm sunshine of a new life. But the days kept coming.
Eventually things got warmer. My life thawed. My heart thawed. There was restoration and healing. Like a broken bone that didn’t set quite right, I still feel like I walk with a limp from those horrible days, but I am out of bed and walking again. And yet, the frostbite remains. There are parts of my heart that I worry won’t ever get the feeling back in them.
All of this healing—YEARS of healing—have made my life sweeter in many ways. But that first sight of snow. The Christmas lights that follow. The celebrations at New Year’s. The fuss of Valentine’s Day. It all takes me right back to the night my world collapsed. Everything closes in on me and everything feels cold.
This is what I’ve learned about trauma. These moments aren’t a conscious choice. It’s not like pulling out a picture book and taking a stroll down memory lane. These memories come without warning or welcome. The feeling of a cold wind makes me panic in ways that make no sense when I consider my current state of safety. I’m loved. I’m treasured. And I’m suddenly fighting the urge to pack a bag and leave my life.
It’s less like looking at that photo album and more like smelling an old, familiar smell. You can’t quite remember where you’ve smelled it before and then it hits you and you immediately picture that old boyfriend’s jacket, the bedroom at your grandma’s house, the woods where you used to play. The smell brings feelings before it brings conscious memories. You have an awareness of safety or fear, joy or sadness, before you even know why. These trauma anniversaries are like that. You can’t articulate it until it’s too late and you’re crying at the sight of falling snow and wishing for a land where it was always sunny and the people you trusted were always trustworthy.
I will continue to press through in this life. I will learn to sit with the hard feelings. I will find the strength to decorate the Christmas tree although I mostly want to burn it to the ground and all the painful memories with it. I will find a trusted friend or two or I’ll see that counselor again and put words to the things that mostly feel like deep sighs and soul groaning.
And I’ll hope that one day the sight of snow won’t shake me.