Treasures & Trauma: I embrace me and am cool with you

Me, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

I knew what she was thinking. I paused. I watched my therapist’s reaction. I took note of her intentional eye contact and the warmhearted turn of her mouth.

“Your life is a lot!” she compassionately said.

Except for in safe spaces, like a therapist’s office, I was taught to hide. I went to therapy years ago. I hid there too. I did not cry, except for on my last visit (true story). My therapist at the time, taught me about forgiveness, boundaries, shutting doors and respecting spaces. I really liked her. I was sad it came to an end.

Us, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Now back in therapy, I cry all of the time. I do not know if it was the look on her face. I do not know if it was the certainty that Dave was sitting by my side. I do not know if it is the actuality that I am getting older. Nonetheless, as I sat looking back, I choked up. Then I responded,

“Yes. It is a lot.”

I paused again. Then I thought, “instead of always talking sideways, or not talking until I blow, why don’t I just honor the trauma?”

So, buckled my proverbial seat belt, shut my mouth and let myself feel that moment.

Me, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

I do not know if it was because she could see me take a deep, calming breath. (Probably. Body language is a great indicator.) Whatever her reason, she followed with,

“Beth, you definitely have all of that trauma,” (perhaps implying that “all that trauma” informs most of my decisions).

She is not wrong. And yes, Dave and I are in therapy. I only wish we had started therapy years ago. I love him. I love working things out with him. He is easily distracted. He is often steadfast and he is stubborn. He is also open, supportive and kind. I love how our therapist assures us we are good:

“You two are good. No. I mean that. You will get through the hard moments, because you are really good to each other.”

The dudes, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Our hard moments, or better, our particular boil is where our emotional paths meet. Meaning, even though our paths are different, Dave and I have similar snap-to-anger responses. We are calm until we are flooded (therapy term). Then we lose our respective shit. I will not expose Dave’s personal history here, or rather, I will only expose a smidgen. The smidgen I will offer is that Dave did not experience the crazy trauma I did (obviously). Nevertheless, he does have his stuff. Really, we all have our stuff. (IMHO) Dave, for instance, experiences a lot of anxiety due to clutter, chaos and inconsistency. We are also our pasts, right?

Dave & Eli, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

That is why I remember my empathetic reaction the first time I stepped into his parent’s house. I beheld rooms with stacks of organized groupings, including, but not limited to mail, opened and unopened, credit card statements, newspapers & magazines dating back years, little plastic clips, leftover napkins from all the restaurants, pens, rubber bands and other run-of-the mill clutter. Seconds after stepping into their home, I also have vivid memories of his parents telling me in no uncertain terms that I should not disturb their piles. After that, anytime I visited, they led with,

“Do not touch anything on that table (which meant all the tables and all of the counters). They are important! If I do not see that paper sitting there, I will forget.”

Us, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

When Dave or I moved any of the piles, even a few inches, his parents, who I imagine were immediately overwhelmed, would 0-60-flip out, (which seemed strange because his parents are pretty even).

On the other hand, I am sure I drive them nuts. I am more Scandinavian Aesthetic: clear, open spaces and cool, neutral tones. I am energized by the balance between positive and negative space. As a result, I am very clean. I am intentional. Ask my family, (or my mother-in-law). I am certain they assume I lean toward a brutalist style. Meaning, with my lack of art on the walls, or really anything ornate, implies that I am stark, cold, heartless and obscure (obviously). They may not be wrong. Yet, in my defense, my mom is really clean; so was her mom. I grew up in Minnesota, the US’s epicenter for all things Scandinavian: Uff-Da! Honestly, I love the peace an uncluttered house provides. One could even argue that a clean house offers me respite from all the things I have worked to hide: my trauma.

The dudes Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

As a result, I think I have made it pretty clear that when I see cluttered rooms, I panic. I do not like piles of shit giving birth to other piles of shit, or watching hairballs, dust bunnies, or half of last week’s sandwich suffocating under even more piles of shit. I think my need to live in visual calm, and his personal aversion to clutter may be one of the things that attracted Dave to me.

But although Dave does not like clutter, he still has a tendency to create it. The way his brain works, if something has been put in a drawer, it may as well have been cast into the lava at Mount Doom. So let’s just say that he wants to keep things in piles, out in the open, until they are properly dealt with. When we come to blows over his native urge to create a pile, then another one, I remind him, “Well, at least I help you keep it under control.” He agrees. Then usually follows with, “At least the inside of my drawers don’t look like yours.” He is not wrong. Lately, my drawers are much better. (But please do not look at my desk. It is my safe place, and yes, it is cluttered.)

The dudes Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Alas, time is an excellent teacher. Instead of wanting to fix someone else, I think time has helped me appreciate and respect that someone’s stacks of bills are anything but accumulations of shit. On the contrary, these purposeful piles of newspapers, mountains of treasured trinkets, and comforting Christmas trees (complete with empty, wrapped presents) left up all year, are just fine.

Be you, not how I judge you. It really does not matter if clutter is a way of dealing with the chaos of your inner world, or just a personal space preference. Similarly, I do not think it matters if my lack of clutter or adornment is simply a style preference, helps me relax, or actually saves my life. We have the agency to figure it out. Even in marriage, even in life, I get to be me and you get to be you.