I cling to my traumatic experiences like an elderly person to memories of their youth. Like that elderly person I wonder, how was I more carefree and easygoing in my naive state? How was I more 'myself' before, or even more frightening, after, these experiences?
Unlike an elderly person's youth, my traumatic experiences aren't glorious or worthy of envy. It wasn't glorious when, at the tender age of 19, I aborted my trip across the border to arrive home and finally learn my father had dropped dead from a heart attack hours ago. Few people envied me after spending two years in an emotionally abusive relationship, living in a prison of shame and guilt that forced me to believe this unhappy, explosive relationship was all I was worthy of. And there was absolutely, positively, nothing glorious or even remotely envious about finding a massive, invasive tumour living where my right lung should be, killing me slowly and silently and surely if it wasn't for modern medicine, at an age that would have otherwise been full of opportunity and promise.
So why then, do I cling to these memories of trauma as though they are shining moments in my history?
Very simply put, I wouldn't recognize the person I'd be today without these experiences. Each traumatic moment has a clear before and after. Before my father died, I was so naive and youthfully arrogant that I remember reacting to our neighbour's sudden passing by exclaiming "who dies of a heart attack any more anyway?!". Before entering into that obsessive, unhealthy relationship, my idea of the perfect mate was someone who doted on me, obsessed over me, and spent every waking moment clinging to me.
And, before cancer, my health was an afterthought. In yet another moment of youthful arrogance I told my mother very matter-of-factly, "I don't need benefits mother, I'm young and healthy."
After each of these experiences is the person I am today. I work at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I keep a blog that reminds me how much I love to write. I study education part-time. I have a family that has coalesced in collective grief, a partner who gives me space and encourages me to pursue what makes me happy. And I have my health. Thank goodness, I have my health.
I cling to these traumas because they are definitively mine. They are the building blocks to my identity and my understanding of human existence. In an alternate universe where Stephanie-without-these-experiences passes Stephanie-with-these-experiences on an empty street, we walk by one another without even a second glance. We are strangers.
To make sure that these traumas aren't endured in vain, that there is some meaning or purpose behind them, I continue to cling to them. My hope is that when the time comes to look back on my life, it won't be the memories of youth that comfort me. I want to be comforted by the insight and meaning I've acquired after a life saturated with experience, full of pain but complete with recovery. I want to be humbled and proud of a life that is all mine.
Perhaps by then, the shining, defining moments in my history won't be the traumatic experiences, but the life I led as a result of them.