Yesterday, on the way home from an appointment in Leduc, I had a brush with death. A semi tow truck heading the opposite way from me on a rural highway blew a tire right in front of me and swerved into my lane. All I saw and heard was what seemed like part of the truck blowing up. I can’t quite describe the image of a grill of a truck at least twice or three times the size of my own barreling toward me. Somehow, in the moment before a head on collision, the truck swerved back into its lane, while I swerved toward the shoulder, somehow missing a guard rail on my right, while maintaining control of my vehicle and preventing a roll over. Pieces of the truck’s tire spewed all over my SUV. I came to a halt finally and immediately started to bawl, realizing I had the distinct, momentary thought when I saw the tire blow that this was how things ended for me. My gasped breath is still trying to let go into exhale. Despite the many times I have replayed the entire event I still can’t comprehend how I managed to squeeze between the swerving semi and the guard rail, unscathed. Bewilderment is as prevalent, now, as the feeling of terror was at the time. Even the truck driver had no idea how we missed each other. I’d like to call it angels, but could not possibly reconcile the thought of myself being protected while child refugees dying enroute to safe haven not having the same protection.
All day yesterday and most of today the flashbacks have been strong enough to make it difficult to perceive the current moment as it is. I’ve had flashbacks many times in the past but not to this degree. When I look at anything right now, the image of that truck grill is overlaid on the current image like a transparency. I’ve gapped out multiple times in dissociation and my muscles still seem to be subtly vibrating. Today I am more grateful than ever that I have a toolbelt full of ways to process these symptoms and feel a deeper understanding and compassion for people who don’t. I just finished saying to a client that my approach to psychotherapy is informed by one part education, one part skills development and one part sheer personal experience. I will be a better psychologist for people with shock trauma now.
One the most important things in processing trauma is to ask oneself what you’ve learned. PTSD is a collection of symptoms partly related to trauma being caught in our systems. Our system needs to know we have learned from the experience to try and prevent it in the future, therefore increasing the possibility of our survival. When we’ve done this our nervous system can stop sending us the urgent signals (through physical or emotional symptoms and flashbacks for example) to PAY ATTENTION and LEARN. What I learned will no doubt continue to unfold but I know a few things so far:
- My body reacted without thinking in a very favorable way. It didn’t take analysis for me to know exactly how to hold the wheel, how much to swerve and to not hammer the brakes which actually would have resulted in a guaranteed collision. I can trust this body intelligence and use the experience as empowering – knowing that there is something within me taking care at a level far beyond the cognitive.
- Help happens. No one witnessed the near miss but after we were parked on the side of the road and I was standing in the ditch in shock multiple people stopped. Strangers would have taken care of us if the accident had been worse. For all the shit of this world, humanity is still intact in sacred pockets all over the place.
- Most of my life I have been more afraid of the process or circumstances of accidental or sudden death rather than being dead. I’ve confronted that now. I can’t quite explain it yet, but today I feel less afraid of death than I did yesterday. I met the reaper and made it – I did not “go silently into that good night” , instead I “raged against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas). I know how it feels now, to confront death, that process has been played out. I’m freer now.
- Death can happen in a moment. But so too does life. The thing that continues to reverberate inside me is the phrase “one second”. If I had been even one second slower, the truck would have plowed directly into the driver’s area of my car. For most my adult life I have been trying to “live in the moment” – moments have an even deeper meaning to me now. Life and death are divided only by a moment. Today my moments are slow, my movements and thoughts are slow. Dandelions are more yellow, the breeze feels like the whisper of spirit, people’s eyes look deeper, my heart warmer. Death is delivered in a moment, life is given in a moment. My prayer is that I have the continued fortitude in my soul to receive the life that is given to me, moment by moment. And I pray that when the reaper knocks again I will be practiced in receiving even that final moment with the same grace I receive, today, the sun on my skin and the gratitude in my heart.
Thank you for witnessing my experience, may you find a moment of pure aliveness today – blessed be.