Joanna Becker

Joanna Becker shares her story…

'In the quest for perfection, we were taught to focus on the good, and put trauma in the past. But sometimes it needs to be allowed to bubble to the surface so it can be healed', Joanna Becker writes.

Joanna Becker
Joanna Becker

I’ve been learning how to do this over the last 4 months.And now I can recognise when trauma wants to be healed, and I have the courage within myself to be able to hold myself in love and compassion. Being able to face and heal past trauma with loving awareness is not a weakness. It’s a strength. Here’s an example.

Last week – quite suddenly – I felt my nervous state change.As suddenly as a gust of wind blowing through the trees, a wave of adrenalin and panic entered my body. And it gripped onto my chest really tight. I cared for myself deeply through the nervous system change and I thought I had most of the causes identified, and I healed them, one by one. But it’s taken for it to get to today for me to realise during a somatic healing training session that I have been living in a state of hyper-vigilance for some time. My nervous system responding with higher-vigilance made sense at a particular time, and I’m grateful for that.

I hadn’t realised it until today – but my nervous system remembered. Three years ago to the day last week: the bushfires (wildfires) swept through our hometown and destroyed 50% of our local government area right before our eyes.Three years ago to the day, I was home alone with a 9yo, 6yo and 1yo in arms, while my husband and our bulldozer were on the firefront containing the fire breaks.

Tim had been there for several weeks already, and would be there for another 4 months. At this time, we only saw him when he pulled in the driveway from 8pm at night, his face and skin dark with ash, the skin around his eyes creased with fatigue. All to catch 6-7 hours sleep then start again tomorrow morning. I was burning out, mentally too. Our business was on stand-by, and our equipment was literally in the firing line.

Three years ago, to the day, I was receiving evacuation orders, and I couldn’t reach Tim because he was out of range on the fire containment lines. Three years ago, to the day, I was frantically throwing out everything in our storage shed. In my daze, I thought that throwing out everything that didn’t matter, would make way for saving items that were important (such as camping oven, batteries, camping fridge, blankets, towels and long-life food), that would give us life should the worst happen to our house.

Three years ago, to the day, I was collapsing on the driveway, because I couldn’t get the tap fitting to connect so that we could continue watering down the house. Our 9yo son, in calm grace, patted me on the shoulder, told me to relax, and he calmly set about finding the right connections and got the watering system working as it should. I cried tears of relief but pushed them down and continued running around.

Finally, we watched the wildfires burn past our community. The wind drove the fire away from our home but I was devastated watching our clients’ properties burn. The wind blew it away from us, so we could breathe. And at midnight, after pacing the halls taking shifts with my cousins to monitor the situation outside, we heard the most horrendous gut-wrenching roar, saying that fire was blowing in.

The phone rang. Our neighbour and good friend drove past our house and screamed down the line – “get out now!” And so we just jumped in the car and sped off down the driveway and road in our separate cars, heading towards the coast, hoping that our path would stay clear of fire. And it did.

We arrived at our friend’s parents house and gratefully slept in their spare bedroom. We couldn’t believe that we were lucky enough to have a beautiful home to sleep in that night. We found out later our back-neighbours had slept in their car at the service station.

The next day, we returned home and found that our house and our neighbourhood 3km surrounding us was SAFE. The fire hadn’t changed direction. But we couldn’t breathe in. The air was orange with smoke. We filled our cars with as many items as we could – and it wasn’t that much – and left to find accommodation in a local holiday park on the coast.

It was nerve wracking finding somewhere safe to stay. And they allowed us to take our dogs. We stayed in a nice cabin, and tried to enjoy being on holiday. Oceana, 1, got sick that night with a cold and I was frantically trying to find medicines in the bag. I hadn’t packed enough warm clothes, and I hadn’t packed a single blanket. I felt very stranded.

Tim continued to work the fire-breaks. I had our 2 dogs tied up to the cabin, while we sat out the fire. I returned home just one more time and couldn’t get out of the car, the smoke was so thick. Four or maybe five days later we were able to return home.

It was a startling and confronting feeling, to see our front door broken as if it had been kicked in. Apparently though, the handle had simply fallen off (how strange). I immediately thought, “Thank god someone found respite here, while we were gone.”

It took months to get over the feelings (I mean, suppress the feelings) that we had abandoned our home and all our belongings. After that, I started consciously throwing out a lot more stuff with a FIGHT or FLIGHT nervous system. I figured if it was that easy for it to all burn, and many of our good friends and clients had lost ALL THEY OWNED, then I would make it easier on myself by separating from attachment now.

This brings me up to today, which is exactly three years after we returned home and I remember being numb, walking around the house, looking at it all through a new lens. A lens of confusion – how could I have abandoned our home? Isn’t it important to me? I thought this place meant so much to me, and yet I just ran and expected I’d never see any of this again.

I couldn’t live with the feelings. I couldn’t sit with them. So I jumped into business mode and bought a water cart, registered a new business, took out the insurances, and recruited staff. Through the energy caused by adrenalin, my brother and I managed to deliver fresh drinking water (10,000 litres at a time) to 100 properties surrounding our home using Tim’s truck, while he was still out containing fires. It took almost 12 months to replenish water to all our neighbours and clients who had had their water tanks burn to the ground.

And finally, normal work was back. We kept on keeping on.

And in the three years since, I’ve kept those feelings neatly packed under layers of distractions. And have witnessed several floods and responded in similar ways – where there’s a disaster, and we have equipment, we will do our best to help. Today, though, those emotions came out.

I’m here, the functional adult me, is holding space for the me of three years ago, and the me of many years ago, and the me of many times since, who has felt that hyper-vigilance is the cure to feeling scared. The functional adult me asks me to consider, if I let my protective instincts relax, what do I feel might happen?

I can ask the part of me that has protective instincts, to give permission for me to access more vulnerable parts of myself. So I can give loving awareness, compassion and acceptance to the part of me that also wants to relax and be trusting. I can give full and total understanding that adrenalin and hyper-vigilance is the reason I am, who I am, today, and give thanks to that part of me.

And invite myself, now, to switch off that part of me and see what that feels like. To go from CAREFUL, NOT to CARELESS, but to CARING. Because Attention, is the most basic form of love.

** The photo accompanying this piece was provided by Joanna Becker, taken November 29th when it finally rained. The joy on Joanna`s face is evident.

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