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Trauma and Its Aftermath: When Tough Is Not Enough

It’s a nice story, being tougher than tough. 

Flattering to the character. Reassuring under duress. 

But sometimes the story takes another unexpected turn, and tougher than tough are just words on a page, lifeless weapons that do not protect you from the assault of real life.

I suppose I was beginning to take a certain pride in my ability to endure anything, shrugging off suffering and difficulty like inconvenient mantles around my shoulders. I was best bare and exposed. I could thrive despite and because.

But just when I thought I had filled my pockets with success (my kind of success, the kind that can’t be put on a resume or deposited in a bank account), I found holes in my britches, and my wallet, my credit and my identity, stolen.

Cancer, it’s just cancer again. Been there, done that. How hard can it be?

Apparently, very hard. Maybe if I were new to cancer, and unscarred by my early cancer, it’s almost lethal treatment, the decline I suffered for decades because my medical and emotional trauma were never correctly addressed, and the continuing pelvic and gastrointestinal issues that afflict many traumatized people, maybe this cancer would just be this cancer.

But it’s not. It’s this cancer weighted down by everything I have survived. The damages that I haven’t managed to heal from and I certainly cannot erase. Flesh. Feeling.

And I’m sure this is true of everyone alive. Our present is weighed down by our past. We cannot just cut the line and float free. We are not boards that can be erased, bodies that miraculously become whole, or minds that wishfully become liberated from memory and association.

All of us bear our history with us; some just have a greater load than others.

So if I celebrate my toughness, I can also accept my frailty. I can celebrate the toughness and accept the frailty of others.

It is a lesson I would rather not have learned. It is a story I would rather not be telling. 

But here I am, in the moment of its happening. I am still hanging on. I am still present.


Joshua tree in desert landscape
Toughness Has its Limits

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