**Trigger warning: This post contains a detailed recounting of a car accident and the thoughts that occurred during and after.**
365 days ago, January 3, 2021, I was in a terrible car accident that resulted in a totaled car and several injuries. 365 days ago, the weather was much like it was today with bright sun and slush-filled side roads.
I left my house that afternoon for a quick errand to get a new piece of clothing to celebrate my one-year post-bariatric surgery from the day before and to stop at the pharmacy for my husband, and did so with the intention of returning home in time for the late afternoon Green Bay Packers game. On my way out, I kid you not, I found myself wondering what kind of car we should consider buying when mine died. We knew we had no more than a year left on it and wanted time to start preparing.
Little did I know.
Medication and new shirt in hand, I started the return trip home. The sun was still shining and I had plenty of time to get home before kickoff. It was a beautiful day.
Then, less than 2 miles from home, slush on the unplowed side road (it was a Sunday, not that that truly makes a difference where I live), grabbed my tires and that was that. 365 days later and I can still feel myself freezing and thinking 'I'm going to hit that tree' just moments before I did. It was the slowest and fastest moment of my life. The part of my brain that knew I was going to hit that tree was not the part of my brain that could quickly tell me what, if anything, I could do to avoid it. It happened.
A beat of deafening silence.
Then, I screamed.
I opened my eyes to see smoke coming from the steering wheel (why does no one broadcast that happens when an airbag deploys!?) and bounced panicked eyes around the inside of the car, trying to assess the situation. I saw my phone on the floor of the passenger side knowing there was absolutely no way I was going to get to it. I looked at my busted-open steering wheel and pressed, hoping for a sound. Blissfully, it came.
Then, God sent a stranger to my door. He was amazing. Calm, attentive. His presence kept me calm. He stayed with me until others arrived. I wish I remembered his name and I hope his trauma of witnessing that accident is not with him 365 days later.
My husband arrived when the paramedics did and all I remember doing is telling him all the things I needed him to do. Call my boss. Call my parents. Call his parents. Figure out who can watch the dogs. Get the prescriptions from the car so nobody steals them. He was so patient and calm, too. Just nodding and affirming.
I didn't start to shake until I was in the ambulance. They were terrific too, though.
There are some terrible memories from the hospital. A doctor who neve laid a hand on me and told me there was no way she was going to give me anymore pain medication so it didn't matter to her that it sometimes makes me nauseous. The caring team that had to transfer a screaming patient from one bed to the next for x-rays, the poor tech that had to position me; they were wonderful, too. Then that doctor again. Seriously, 365 days later and I promise it is still too soon for me to see her again. (And, yes, I filled out the survey)
The good news is that they let my husband come in to be with me while we waited; I think we both needed it. The phone call with my parents on the way home. Being greeted by his parents who were loving on our dogs and taking care of dinner. Good things. Wonderful things.
I waited a long time to drive again and when I did start again the weather hadn't changed much. I struggled with triggers on slushy days. When the season changed and my outward signs began to disappear and when I started driving my new car, I thought I was good.
Until I was driving on the Mackinaw Bridge this summer. A bridge is not a great place to panic, but there is a lane on that bridge that just grips the tires and pulls the car and that was it for me. I panicked. My husband talked me down and got me into another lane, but that was all it took for me to realize I hadn't exactly processed everything from the accident. Feeling like I'm losing control of the car is my tipping point. Noted.
Not too long ago, during the first true snowfall of the year, I was driving my brother from Grand Rapids to Holland so he could make his way to WI--it's a long story. The point is this, during that drive I said something like, 'it's now clear to me that some of the trauma is still there.' The snow had picked up and roads were slick. I wasn't happy.
This persists, but I'm dealing with it. I write about it (obviously!) and talk about it and practice breathing my breathing. I practice my self-talk. I talk to God about it. I'm improving, but it's not yet gone.
The picture above is the only spot left of visible impact. Picture #1 is my left knee (and down) from just a day or two after, Picture #2 is, I think, around 6 months, and Picture #3 is from today. A small area of bruising and a section of calcification remain. My left elbow (radial head fracture) still clicks and reacts strongly to anything too heavy. The 'chevy tattoo' is basically gone, just one line looks like a faint line of dirt is all that remains. The mental scars are by far the largest, but those too are diminishing.
That's how trauma works though, friends. Once you move through the worst of it, it stays hidden until triggered. Some triggers are predictable (ie: weather) and others much more sinister (ie: which car accident in the movie will trigger me? which Equinox I see will trigger me?). They will come. 365 days later they come and that will be true for years. What I know to be true is those deep trauma scars will be triggered less often over time, with work, prayer, and intention. As I heal and remind myself that I drove for 24 years without an accident of that magnitude, including 24 winters with slushy roads, as I continue to have days of winter driving without incident, those scars get pushed further and further away.
I don't know the source of your trauma. I do know, though, that your trauma does not get to define the rest of your life. What happened to you did not become you. You are still you. Changed? Maybe. But change doesn't need to be bad. Talk about it. Write about it. Invite me to host a journaling workshop for you and some friends. Let's normalize the impact trauma has to remove the stigma of receiving help and treatment for it. Let's normalize breathing through panic and burying trauma scars with evidence of non-repetition. Let's normalize how to tell your brain that you're safe when your entire body is screaming that you're not.
365 days. A lot has happened. It isn't over, but it certainly is better. I've reclaimed my love of driving; well, for the most part. Not so much yet in the snow, but otherwise. Decide that your trauma will cease holding power over you and find the help you need to make it so. Send me an email if you want to share your story.