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  • by Salvo La Rosa

On surviving the past. Trauma and finding beauty in the rubble.

One of the privileges of this work is being able to witness the strength and beauty of the human spirit. I see it in the eyes of the people who, day after day, struggle to cope with the impact that the past has on their present. No matter the details of each individual’s childhood, we all share in this brokenness that is so uniquely human and, for me, so deeply beautiful.

For many, growing up wasn’t all roses. Some grew up in an atmosphere of neglect or misattunement in the family, never feeling seen or heard. Others found themselves on the receiving end of physical, emotional, sexual abuse or bullying. Others still, found that other things took precedence, maybe siblings, illnesses or early losses or the parents divorcing. Some people remember ‘normal’ childhoods and find themselves successful in their work but struggle with intimacy or knowing how they feel.

We are all unique. Different, and yet so similar. And how truly amazing that despite our past, in one way or another, we all found a way to survive. Sure, often the survival has been at a cost and some of the beliefs and behaviours born in those times of trauma may not be necessary anymore for the adult. But even still, those strategies helped us to protect ourselves and cope with difficult circumstances and we can’t give them up without first learning other resources and coping mechanisms.

Change and trust take time. I always sit in amazement, during the work I do with people in addiction treatment, at watching the courage it takes to be vulnerable, to explore new ways of being. Each person with their story of pain, of struggle, trying to be truthful even when it hurts, laughing, crying, withdrawing, longing to connect, scared or angry, empty, feeling stuck or dissociated. How disarming to find the peculiar strength that comes from admitting one’s weakness and from the recognition of not being alone in one’s suffering.

My experience has taught me that it is in those very moments of pain and suffering that often the seed of something new is born, all the wonderful qualities it takes to become fully human, all the beauty, all the strength, all the compassion and the brilliance that we are all capable of.

I used to be scared of the spaces in the middle, always running, always striving, always searching externally for something that I could never find. Today, I count my blessings. Like finding a hidden park, nestled in between two buildings, on my way to work this mornings. Watching the coots on the canal with their little babies in tow, being able to sit on a bench for a few minutes before starting my day.

As I sit here now, looking at the screen of my laptop, I take a breath. Breathing in the day, with all its moments, all the thoughts and feelings, the highs and the lows and the beauty even in the unexpected places. And I breath out, feeling into the sweetness that comes, sometimes, from these moments of connectedness.

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