Trauma In A Foreign Country
Trauma in a Foreign Country – A Life without Meaning until…
By Eva Angvert Harren
What happens when you leave your roots, your “home,” where you “belong?”
How do you connect and establish your Self? How do you find your tribe? How do you belong…again?
Or, did you ever belong…because you’re the one who left!? Why did you leave?
Having worked with a few “up-rooted” clients, I find that they and I agree on one perspective: To find a tribe and develop the feeling of “belonging” can be painful and sometimes, in itself, a traumatic experience.
There is a time limit, a window of opportunity when you can still return “home”; you can change your mind and go back. In my case it was to go back to a job fixing military trucks, jeeps, and tanks.
I would lie under a truck next to a man in his 50s working on changing a clutch, thinking, “Will I be like that in another 30 years? There must be something more to life!”
I had ONE chance, a ticket to America and work as an au pair. I didn’t even understand what that meant, except that I would get out of my job. I would get out from under a truck.
Did you know that when you travel from Sweden to the United States, you can travel for 33 hours and the sun will still be up?
After a few personal detours I landed in San Francisco with $90, two suitcases, a couch to sleep on and no ticket home.
“Ignorance is bliss” is such a true statement. Had I known how bad my situation was, I would probably have been even more scared. I was 26, homeless, jobless, with no family or friends, nowhere to belong, nowhere to call my home.
I didn’t know…that you’re supposed to “plan for the future”, “get an education”, “establish a career”, “get married”, “start a family”, etc. Nobody had told me! What I heard was, “don’t do that,” “that won’t work,” “Eva, for god’s sake, STOP!” “Why do you have to be so difficult?” And on and on – no directions, only criticism for how I did things wrong.
Here is where I learned the 3 Cs…how to Criticize, Complain, and Condemn.
When I landed in San Francisco, my brain was focused on answers to fundamental questions: “What should I eat?”, “Where can I afford to live (for a week or two)?” and “How can I get more bartending shifts, so I don’t have to go back to Sweden and lie under that truck?”
And that’s how it was until I turned 30.
Trauma can be a shocking single event that overwhelms your nervous system and throws you into “fight-flight” mode. Trauma can also become a chronic condition that lives within you due to a threatening environment – an environment without safety, without friends, without the feeling that you are cared for, that someone gives a damn that you are still alive.
One night, when I slept in a car, the thought came…
“What if I were to die right now?
Nobody would miss me.”
That’s a lonely feeling.
There was no one there to contact me, call me, check in on me, or make sure I was okay. When they found me dead, they wouldn’t know who I was, where I came from, or who to contact.
I would die alone without identification, without a name, without a country — without meaning.
Maybe after a few years people in Sweden would wonder, “Whatever happened to Eva?” and maybe someone would investigate. I would be one of those “missing people”, a Jane Doe.
Not to have value, meaning, or a purpose for existence is a chronic traumatizing condition that eats away at your soul.
This condition creates certain defense mechanisms, ways of being that hide the “hole in our soul.” However, the pain is seeping out through our pores, our defensive behaviors become addictive, and our desperate need for connection comes across as neediness and narcissism.
In that self-centered state of mind, we tend to take potential friends as hostages (that is, we attach ourselves to them in unhealthy ways – for them and us).
When we find a partner, we often “see a savior”, and, in that relationship, we behave like a scared child.
In a way, our behaviors have become so dysfunctional, nobody wants our friendship.
Consequently, we are floundering around like driftwood, hoping to attach to somebody, anybody, to belong. This is a desperate, vulnerable, and truly dangerous position to be in.
In this place, we are sitting ducks for predators to target.
The predator who targeted me was 25 years my senior and a violent ex-convict. His way of supporting himself was by dealing drugs. I knew nothing of this when he showed up as a customer in my bar, tipping me with 100-dollar bills and charm.
Because I had been sleeping on other people’s couches, I was vulnerable. Obviously, he caught on and offered me a room in exchange for taking care of his wife and 18-month-old daughter. I thought this was a great idea!
So I moved in. My brain was already pickled in alcohol, with no direction in my life or judgment in support of my own safety. So the “safety” of my own room, and the thought of “belonging” somewhere, drew me in to a life of more alcohol and now…freebasing cocaine.
High on alcohol and cocaine, I married this guy! He had sent his wife and child away, and decided to marry me.
I don’t remember much about 1986 – except me in cowboy boots and a Stetson hat marrying my “savior” in Reno.
Now, I had found my first identity – “Jack’s old lady”.
For the next three years of my young life, I lived in a drug-induced fog at the mercy of this “savior” and his increasingly violent behavior.
When Jack said, “If you didn’t make me so mad, I wouldn’t have to beat you,” my lack of self-worth said, “How can I not make him so mad?”
There was NO thought that said, “You shouldn’t beat me in the first place.”
One day, I became mindful enough to escape with the clothes on my back and found my own place to live.
I was in motion and, perhaps, for the first time in my life finding a tiny glimmer of meaning, my soul’s pilot light.
My Self was hearkening back to the earlier me and whispering in my ear, “There must be more to life than this!”
The “more to life” turned out to be my best friend, the man who lived next door. A man who did not believe in beating women.
In fact, he respected women – even me.
What a strange feeling – respect – something I had never felt before. I didn’t even know what to do with the feeling!
So, here I was bartending, having a roommate and a genuine male friend next door. One day he said to me, “Why don’t you marry me?” For God’s sake, we hadn’t even kissed! I didn’t see the proposal coming.
The sad part of this story, being who I was, I did not ask, “Why would I want to marry you?” Instead, my question was, “Why would you want to marry me?”
Where was my self-esteem? Still dependent on someone else’s view of me. So, I got married again. I had found my “new” identity – “Bob’s wife”.
It took me years of living with a kind man like that to slowly fan the pilot light of my self-worth.
With a husband like that – supportive, respectful, able to see in me what I could not see in my Self – I finally developed a sense of my own worth.
In that time, I was moving from being Bob’s wife to slowly becoming Eva.
And, here I am 28 years later, living beyond my wildest dreams – married to my best friend, mother to two successful young women, in a new home nestled in rolling hills, with a view I rest my eyes on…saying, “Thank you!”
I’m an educated, trained, and experienced coach running my own business.
Walking in grace, with clarity replacing mental fog, confident in my service to others, and most of all, courage to be…me!
Who would have seen that happen – under the truck.