Fight or flight: the instinctive physiological response to a threatening situation, which readies one either to resist forcibly or to run away.
I covered my ears at the deafening sound of the shotgun blast. My father discharged another volley into the treetops. The leaves shook in terror and temporarily moved as one with hundreds of blackbirds as they jockeyed for position. My mother clapped her hands and tried to scare them off as she ran through the yard whooping at the top of her lungs.
The hated Starlings had always been a problem; roosting where they were not wanted, destroying plants, and driving out native nesters like bluebirds and owls. My parents were on a mission to rid our small farm of their destruction. The shriek of the blackbirds was suddenly interrupted by another shotgun blast. Branches swayed as a great cloud of birds took flight.
Afraid of the gun, the terror of the birds, and my parent’s anger, I ran inside our old farmhouse. Crouched behind the sofa in the family room, I tried to catch my breath covering my ears and waiting for the sounds to stop. All grew silent. I felt sorry for the birds. Hated and harassed, I knew what it was like to be despised for existing.
A strange rustling stirred from the fireplace. I peeked around the sofa. Cold and dark, it was impossible to see anything. I looked harder. A flash of an eye, a soot-covered feather! My heart leaped to my throat. One poor blackbird had fallen down the chimney directly into the lair of the very people who were trying to destroy it. Glancing toward the front door and seeing nothing, I then looked back at the bird. It cocked its head in a silent plea.
The door slammed as my parents entered the house. With a wild flap of its wings, the terrified creature dashed itself against the stones blowing ash and soot into the room through the fireplace screen. Able to offer nothing but pity, I watched in helpless silence. My mother screamed for my father and they began a mad pursuit. First, trying to kill the bird with a broom handle, then, trying to catch it in a paper bag. Tears dripped down my face as I witnessed the bird’s futile attempt at escape. It lay among the ashes opening and closing its beak, too exhausted to continue the fight. This is what it feels like when the protective response of fight or flight is blocked. We are trapped in feelings of panic and terror and giving up seems like the only option.
When I began this journey of healing, I felt as helpless as that blackbird trapped in our farmhouse fireplace all those years ago. I used to laugh at the advocates of “deep breathing” and “body relaxation.” I scoffed at the use of yoga and the idea that the horrible terror fueling my depression and anxiety could ever be resolved by understanding what was physically going on in my body.
We are not crazy or bad or wrong. Our brain is responding to threat, even if that threat is coming from the past. Forward Facing Trauma Therapy gives us the tools to restore our brain to a state of harmony, aligning our behavior with our values and giving us the power to identify and manage triggers.
I am not condemned to live in a cycle of reflexive reaction to trauma. I can live an intentional life and cultivate the skills I need to bring myself into the present. To be at peace. To live the life I want to live instead of the horror I lived through. I can have boundaries. I can say no. I can be set free.
I didn’t follow my father as he took the blackbird outside. I knew even if it managed to fly away, the blackbird probably wouldn’t live. I survived the terror of my childhood and as such, have been given a choice the blackbird never had. Will I give up and allow trauma to terrorize me or will I turn toward life?
I choose life.
Rebekah Brown, a native of the south, now resides in the Great American West. Surviving a complicated and abusive family system makes her unique writing style insightful as well as uplifting. Rebekah is the proud mother of two and grandmother of four. Her very first novel, The Raspberry House, dealing with narcissistic abuse and every person’s desire to find their heart’s true home will be released in 2021.