I want to talk about healing.
My pocket-sized vegie garden is flourishing. In late winter I made my first harvest and shades of green filled my nostrils – a handful of sweet lettuce leaves, spicy coriander and buttery baby spinach – just enough for a delicious lunch.
I used to live in the mountains. Now I live in the suburbs of the Southern Gold Coast. There’s a forest that runs a spectacular amphitheatre around my new neighbourhood from which spills the dawn chorus over our sleepy shoulders each morning. There are streetlights, footpaths and a corner store. There are close-proximity neighbours and the sounds of the family upstairs filter into my open-plan studio where the bedroom is connected to the kitchen and the loungeroom.
I landed here at the end of June 2021, swapping a breathtaking vista of Mount Roberts and Binna Burra (now without its slab timber lodge), for a cocoon-like space that holds warmth in winter and is cool in summer.
It seemed an appropriate change of habitat for a woman in her late 50s in the final stages of navigating her way out of two years of traumatic events. A woman in the last of the mush between caterpillar and transformative butterfly.
It’s taken a long time of living as mush to find my feet again, patiently sitting it out while I learned to walk step-by-step, back into the world after the Binna Burra/Beechmont bushfire and a series of family calamities.
I’m sitting in a quiet room on a grey linen couch, tapping my right index and middle finger across my head, forehead, cheekbone, chin and finally chest. As I tap I look intently across the room to Mon, following her lead and repeating a series of statements she speaks as we tap.
“Even though I feel teary and tight in my chest as I remember evacuating my home, I trust and believe in myself to start again…”
Three times we tap and I repeat her statements as she adjusts them slightly each time. Then I close my eyes and take two deep breaths, noticing what I’m feeling in my body as I exhale. Feet are grounded. Tingling in my fingers. Tightness at the base of my skull. An easing of tension and tears.
Mon is a trauma therapist who uses Radical Exposure Therapy (RET) to defuse and better store trauma ‘landmines’ within my body and mind. This means I no longer accidentally trip over them or have them blow up in my face, to destroy relationships, jobs and inner peace. RET works a treat on my nervous system, and now, both childhood trauma and recent bushfire and family catastrophes have largely been put to bed. I can look them squarely in the eye and authentically speak of them out loud.
My life is being transformed by working regularly and consistently with a qualified, warm, experienced and highly skilled therapist like Mon.
Deep breathing is an essential part of the conversation between Mon and I. I’m good at that because steadying, calming breath-based practices (sitting meditation, qigong and yoga), have been central to my life for over a decade.
Modern western science has long recognised the immense value of practising forms of stillness and conscious deep breathing every day. They meet the nervous system in areas we can’t control, such as the heart rate. They create greater space from which to respond when we feel threatened, allowing us to notice our heightened emotions, pause, breathe deeply, look around, then come back to ground and our calm thinking mind. They steady and soothe us when the world seems out of control.
I am a devoted practitioner and have felt their deep benefits – changing my life from the mania of doing into a steadiness of being. And yet, (and this is vitally important), on their own without therapeutic intervention, these practices were not enough to bring me through two years of back-to-back trauma.
I’m standing on the sand breathing deeply. Weathered coastal rainforest rises at my back, leaning in to hold me steady. One step at a time, courage muscled inside my heart, I approach my great love – the ocean – and slide the purple longboard across shining liquid. I stretch my body along its length and begin to paddle towards rolling green waves. Glancing skyward, I laugh out loud as a brahminy kite sweeps across blue, then I cry with happiness, surrendering myself again to joy after the agonising weeks of physical and emotional overwhelm I experienced following the bushfire.
It takes courage to do this. This. Surrendering to beauty, delight and joyfulness again after trauma and tragedy.
The journey towards recovery and healing takes time, especially if the initial traumatic event triggers, like a line of tumbling dominoes, a series of subsequent catastrophes and unintended consequences in one’s life.
For a long time after the fire, I felt mute. In particular, I lost my capacity to write, as well as my ability to see the world with a poet’s eyes.
The quirky, glorious moments that used to punctuate my days and my writing became invisible to me for many months. I despaired. I committed over and again to seeing life fresh and new, and I stumbled and fell as one life-threatening calamity after another devoured my optimism and creativity.
Bit by bit, word by word, the writing returned and then retreated, returned and retreated just like the tide. I journalled clumsily every day, making myself put pen to paper to express, reflect, notice, rant, mourn and keep my writing muscles moving.
Gradually, over blurry days and sleepless nights, I began to heal. Now, two years on, I feel myself blossoming into new energy and freshness for life. I am not the same person I was before the fire exploded across our lives. The woman who climbed down the ladder from clearing the gutters of her roof at midday on 5 September 2019 and then evacuated to the coast an hour later with her most precious, irreplaceable and vital possessions, is not the woman I am now.
I know that terrible things can happen to anyone and that climate collapse is a real and present danger, even in our own backyards. I am cognisant of and eternally grateful for modern medicine and the highly skilled doctors and nurses who save the lives of those most precious to us. I know even the strongest among us can shatter and break. My heart is so tender that I can sit with the grieving and hold a space of unconditional kindness and love. I can bear witness. I can calmly set boundaries for my own good. I know I can heal, start over and grow pocket-sized gardens in the suburbs. And now I know I can lift my eyes to the sky and laugh out loud with pure joy and the deepest of thanks for another chance at life.
This story was written as part of the Beechmont Creative Community Regeneration project.