A lovely friend of mine received difficult health news not long ago.
As she struggled with her new realities, she wrote that she hoped to discover “the grace of innocence and the lack of resentment at being denied what I had before.”
Finding joy in each moment would help keep her spirits afloat, she said. I responded that memories give me joy. They’re like jewels. I sent a picture of her singing in our home.
Herein lies my backstory. I have a jewel box – of the mind.
In it nestle diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls and jade. There are simple pieces and exotic ones. Each jewel represents a difficult experience that shaped who I am today.
Early in my journey to emotional health, I would not have been able to find the good in having this experience or that one.
When asked, “In what ways are you like your father?” I recoiled into hostile silence. I could not be like him. I would not.
It took months, maybe the better part of a year, to be able to report that there are physical commonalities; I have his musculature, I have the Smith crooked eyeteeth, the color of his eyes and hair.
But we share characteristics too. That was harder to come to. I’m impatient with wasted time. I don’t suffer fools gladly. I love adventure and horses. I tell a compelling story, and I inherited his gift of public speaking.
Identifying these led to the next level of growth. How did your experiences shape you? What good came of them?
I am in no way suggesting that these things happened so that I could be the person I am today. These things happened.
To me. The collective abuse gave me post-traumatic stress, so I’m not a particular fan of “everything happens for a reason.” Instead, I can attest to the adage “bad things happen to good people.” What we do about it forges character.
I had to find a way to bring resolution, if not closure, to horrifying memories, so I decided to collect jewels – of the mind.
Jewels are created by intense heat, massive pressure per square inch, and depth within the earth. Emotionally speaking, prolonged, unrelenting, cut to the quick (core) adverse childhood experiences forged the rough-cut jewel.
What about the way I managed through a specific adverse childhood experience birthed strength? Or resilience? Or clarity of thought?
Creating something worthy of my jewel box required me to take those experiences, reshape the trauma and find the facets that serve me today.
Then there were pearls. Formed around something that slipped between the cracks, my mind found ways to surround the experience with something beautiful.
When I now hold a jewel from my box, that’s what I see; a sapphire, a ruby, a diamond or a pearl – not the memory that formed them.
I can tell you about the memory from which each came (and did so with many of them in my book, “The Fifth Sister”), yet I hold as treasure the resultant gemstone.
I have had the privilege of meeting women who had read “The Fifth Sister” and wanted a discussion with the author. Near the end of our time together, one said, “These memories must be so raw for you.”
“No,” I replied. “They’re not any longer. I have a jewel box of the mind” and told this story.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly series by Laura Landgraf on sexual abuse. The previous articles are:
Laura Landgraf, author of “The Fifth Sister,” is a social activist, retreat leader and motivational speaker. Her TEDx Talk is “Razed by Lions: A New Way to Think about Healing after Trauma.”