I was recently hiking in Acadia National Park when I stumbled across a rocky cliffside with enormous signs of life and growth. Scanning the different plants which found their home in such a complex environment, my eyes widened on a tree that was halfway grounded in rock, halfway suspended in mid-air. Roots were shooting off the cliff, curling and twisting as if still on the hunt for nutrients and stability. Staring at this intense act of survival, a gut-punch of emotions hit me along with the thought- me too tree, me too.
I knew what I was witnessing was a physical illustration of life after trauma. As a child planted in a rocky environment, I knew all too well the danger, fear, and exhaustion of surviving with exposed roots. Going through life with a permanently activated nervous system due to trauma is like a root searching for food and water mid-air. Only I was on the hunt for safety and security.
The overwhelming presence of this tree’s will to survive reminded me of my determination and uniqueness. Compared to its peers, the tree wasn’t the prettiest nor the tallest. It wasn’t the biggest and didn’t even produce very many leaves. Yet it was alive- I want to think even more so. This tree had the rare opportunity to experience life in a way none of the other trees could. It was rooted and free. Many who end up in this paradoxical situation discover a terrifying sensitivity. Everything can be felt, and all of it is dangerous. What if something hurts us? What if we never get what we need? Most of the time, fear of further trauma ends up being our only trusted companion.
I wanted to spend hours with the tree, soaking in the honesty of its existence. Yet, my two small children had more rocks to climb and crabs to find. So I left it behind spending the rest of the evening contemplating my journey of survival and fear around sensitivity. Which, typically gets quite the bad rap when we lump it in with being overly sensitive. “You take things too personally. It’s not that serious. You’re just a bleeding heart of emotions.” Affirmations that were spoken too many times by others and myself, confirming how my reality was the problem. The journey of healing my trauma and codependency has helped me realize my beautifully sensitive nature was conditioned into an over-sensitivity. Instead of learning to allow my intuition to filter the feelings and energy of everyone around me, it all became my burden to bear. Until recently, I was at the point of cutting myself off from everyone to be shielded from feeling their needs. Also, to escape the guilt of no longer giving in to my codependent habits.
After a while, I began researching the science of trees like the one I saw. One article stated that “if a tree has exposed roots, do not cut them off. This will lead to the tree being susceptible to disease and lack of nutrients”. Damn. Just drag me, why don’t you. As I kept reading articles, I came across another line that triggered a comforting release of tears. “The oldest trees in the world are trees growing in rocky environments.”
There is something to be said about those born into trauma who can find their path towards survival and growth. We embrace the rock of our past which holds us firmly in the reality of our truth, while simultaneously exploring the vast expanse of uncertain freedom laid out before us. We aren’t always the most attractive, the most productive, or the most popular, but dammit, we can be the most alive.