The melt and rain are arriving, warmer breezes blow, birdsong returns. Spring is, as they say, blossoming. During dark times, winter’s retreat helps ground us in what is around us in our physical spaces. Grounding in the now can help ease the fear and anxiety that surrounds us. Come, breathe, and join us at our Spring Equinox service.
When we hear people speak about the symbolism of the Equinox, the themes generally include balance, new life, hope, birth and rebirth, and so on.
Go a little deeper, and the symbolism becomes that of healing and opportunity following a bad situation. Someone might have received news of cancer remission. Another person may have escaped an abusive relationship. Yet another family may celebrate a student graduating after four difficult years of high school. All of these situations can be compared to emerging from the cold and dark of winter into spring’s brighter and warmer days… almost like flipping a switch. Only, there’s more to it than that.
Let’s tunnel even deeper, and, with luck, what we learn will help us to see our healing journeys in fresh light.
Transitions Aren’t Always Smooth
There is a part of the allegory that is not often discussed. It’s the actual transition between the seasons. Winter stubbornly clings, tries to stay in charge. Spring is just as stubborn. As the changes happen, they engage in a tug of war that leads to tumultuous weather. There is no celestial switch. As anyone in a temperate climate can tell you, this is the time of year when you can have a 70℉ day, and then a blizzard the next. Or vice versa.
I remember a late season snow storm when I was a kid. The neighbor had plowed out our rural driveway, which left a huge pile of snow. The next day, it was warm enough that we got to play on it while wearing summer clothes. Not a bad change, as far as we kids were concerned!
That was a fun day for us, although I can imagine the stress the adults had to put up with the day before. I vaguely recall something about the tractor not getting there to dig us out. By the next day, though, things were better. The only evidence left of the mess from the day before, was a pile of snow that entertained us and the neighbor kids for hours. It was a great display of the juxtaposition between two seasons. Dark and cold versus bright and warm, existing in the same space, embodied in a day of snow and shorts.
The past couple of weeks have been like that around here. Warm, cold, wet, dry, cloudy, sunny, we’ve had it all this month. Now the effects of this winter are appearing.
When I look out my front door right now, I can see some landscaping torn up in front of our townhouses. Eventually, those clumps of soil and grass churned up by the plows begin to dissolve with the first, cold rains. In the upcoming weeks, the landscapers will turn them over and settle them into place with fresh seed. Kind of like how one might get the stitches removed from a surgical scar. It’s there, but we care for it with physical therapy, massages, and vitamin-laden lotions. All the effort that people put into healing takes the soil outside and flesh on an injured body and sees them grow from their hurts. Well, fade and maybe grow fresh skin, in the case of a scar. I never claimed the allegory was perfect.
Trauma and Healing
Trauma also bleeds into a person’s relationships, much like salt scatters everywhere around the sidewalks and driveways that must be kept cleared of ice so people don’t get hurt. At home, some of that salt has ended up in the landscaping, and more than enough has been tracked inside by our shoes and boots. Ask me what one of my chores this week will be. How much a person’s trauma scatters to the people around them depends on the situation. With salt, whether it dilutes or washes into places where it can cause more damage, depends on how hard or soft, long or quick the rain comes. Likewise, a person’s relationships can be damaged, improved, or remain static, depending on what is learned, and how the person has or has not dealt with their trauma. Salt is salt, and it burns the ground where it lands. The same can be said of trauma.
When walking my youngest to her bus stop this past Friday, I saw trash littered along the street due to garbage and recycling bins being blown about in a strong wind, and some of it also came from being buried during the snow season. Two-month-old dog poop piles have also emerged now that the snow is mostly gone. During this past winter, we found one of last year’s nests on the ground and decided to leave it for the birds who are now arriving to use its pieces for new nests. These are all things that were left by the melt, and in their own ways, they leave their traces.
Like the refuse that can be revealed as the snow vanishes, difficult, if not traumatic, memories can surface once we are safe and have started to process what happened. Abuse, medical procedures, words exchanged, it can take many forms. Whatever the forms, flashbacks can catch us unaware, flatten us, leave us trembling and back in awful places. I had my first, and, hopefully, last one recently. I was sitting in the loft/family room in my house. It was messy but nothing like the hoarder house I grew up in. I was watching a documentary about the Turpin family, and they had police body cams of their house. It was a complete, horrible, hoarded mess. The only difference that I could see was that the house I grew up in didn’t have people going to the bathroom on the floor. The home I grew up in was absolutely soul crushing, with mental, emotional, and, sometimes, physical abuse. At some point while watching that program, my brain did a weird thing: I literally believed that my house was that severe. It’s not. It can be a cluttered mess, but it’s not like that.
I had a panic attack. I felt like I needed to jump up and start getting rid of stuff right that minute, but I froze in place. When the show ended, I realized it wasn’t an emergency, and that I could clean at my own pace, because we were nowhere near that level of horribleness. When I say “that level,” I’m picturing the double-wide we lived in when I was a kid. Since then, we were forced to clean the upstairs because of a flooded bathroom.
When I told my therapist about this, she said that it was a trauma response triggered by that show. Just like all that nastiness that can be revealed after the snow melt, that searing moment was my past emerging. But in my case, it was a good thing, however painful. Like that trash and dog poop along the street, now that it’s come to light, it can be addressed.
That moment, though, it was real. As frightening as this was, however, it is a mild example compared to the violent flashbacks survivors of abuse, attacks, accidents, or war may experience.
Even though I made light of the dog poop showing up with the melt, these memories, be they exact or altered, can, and do explode into being. As real as when they happened and wherever you are. The rain, and neighbors that clear the refuse away can’t get rid of it entirely. Be it plastic or organic there remains an impact on the ground. Likewise, therapy and comfort can ease the mind and teach to survivors so they can better handle these memories and flashbacks, but the mind and heart are not completely clear. It gets better, so much better, but to best heal we must acknowledge and accept that the impact happened in order to be able to use those tools.
Like the receding winter, trauma of all varieties leaves lasting marks, which can include: scars that lace skin; painful memories that litter waking and sleeping thoughts; buried memories that are revealed when the walls around them are peeled away; and the fallout among people in our lives can radiate in unexpected ways and be tracked, like salt, into our safe spaces. When we move forward from painful to better times, we bring these marks with us. They don’t vanish as life gets better—but the arrival of safety and healing begins the process of mitigating those mental, emotional, and physical injuries, or the effects of illnesses, or the crushing weight of grief.
The healing process is like how spring melts the snow and reveals those hurts, and then its rain dilutes them and may wash the worst of it away.
The good news is that even though the transition from trauma to healing can be as tumultuous as the most violent seasonal weather, it can, and does, get better. If we have the support, therapy, and the tools we need, and if we are ready to face the emergence of the pain, so we can face it, then yes, it can get better. Like signs of winter, the inner and outer scars may linger, but they do fade, even though it takes time, sometimes a great deal of it.
Winter’s Necessary Rest
Now that it seems like I’ve demonized winter, let’s see how its stubbornness is good for more than skiing, snowboarding and hockey.
The first thing that I always think of? Mosquitoes. Those dang things are only good for feeding bats and making your enemies itch. That said, winter’s slumber, unless it’s a La Niña year, like we just had – is the proverbial rest that the land needs. Even equatorial regions have times when the trees drop their leaves and reset. This quiet season is good for people who need a break before attending to trauma they’ve experienced. Before they seek therapy. While the best parts of winter are, in my opinion, the early and middle, its usual refusal to placidly give in the spring represents the strength people don’t know they have. They approach survival with everything from panic to stoicism. Some don’t make it, some do, but most of us are somewhere in between. If we thrive, so much the better, but there is no shame either way.
I can’t end this without mentioning one other, more literal aspect, Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D. Although fall and winter tend to be the worst times for it, spring’s arrival still means more sunlight. More hope. More relief from the dark of winter. This transition to spring often helps to restore people to their usual selves… or at least closer to it.
As winter melts and Spring rains, so do we move from our traumas and hurts toward healing and hope. Like the snow, thunderstorms, floods, and even tornadoes, our steps can be met with more hurt and chaos, but it gets better, my friends. And like the bird song, flowers, and sunshine, we are here as well, beloved community, her as you heal. Here as we heal, together for each other.
Just remember: As spring’s flowers bloom, so fades winter’s gloom.