The Third Life

For a few months now, I have been reading a book series that introduced to me the science-fictionesque idea that we are inextricably linked to something or someone else. One example of this is a group called the pequeninos, who are linked to a virus and are reborn as trees into a “third life”, further connecting these trees/beings to one another (across all time and space).

I am also reading a book that I find difficult to get through because of a different type of science-fictionesque feeling I receive from it…perhaps it is too “new age” for me, but that’s neither here nor there. In that book, talking about trauma, it identifies three stages of trauma: separation from the known world; a brush with death; reintegration. The author states that we will continue the first two stages until we have completed the third stage (the third life?), which creates wholeness.

1. Separation from the known world: “traumatic stage one is a disorganized removal from the known world–a sudden, shocking, and wholly unexpected end to normalcy. (pg.102)” While I’d like to pose the question “what is normalcy?” I will assume it is social normalcy.

2. A brush with death: Traumatic stage two is the out-of-control moment of the assault–the beating, the yelling, the unwelcome touch that separates spirit from the body, or the beginning of the operation.

If that’s the case, let’s separate these life incidents out:

  • Perhaps my first traumatic event was being born through suicidal attempt into a grieving, up-heaved family. I was just born and the trauma began. The yelling, the crying, the chaos.
  • I was molested at 4 by a family member.  Stage one can be signified by the memory that comes back to me over and over again: the look he gave me as he was coming toward me. The look of unquenchable lust that began it all. It was vile and something I have trouble even stating now that I am beginning to remember the emotions involved.
  • From 4-7 I was repeatedly left home alone by an older sibling looking to find their own distractions from trauma (sex, drugs, etc.). The initial memory was beginning to look around the house and that sudden fear…fear of betrayal, fear of being left…alone.
  • At 6, I remember beginning the role of begging my father to pay my mother child support and the initial fear of the anger that flowed out of him for me. Then the yelling and name calling began. It was horrifying. What’s worse is when we didn’t come home with the check, and my mother’s screaming…
  • At that time (6), I started to be left in stores when out with my dad, or (even worse) rejected when I entered his car (“no, not this time, honey”). That initial look of rejection crippled me. Then came the reasons, the justifications. I wasn’t good enough. I was rarely good enough.
  • At 6 I also watched my mother beat the shit out of my sister. I remember the fear of her initial rage flare. Then I remember, in pretty vivid detail, my mother grabbing my sister’s hair and then beating the crap out of her. My brother had to separate my mother before she killed my sister. The trauma didn’t stop…My sister left the house and NEVER came home. That’s what happens when you cross my mom. You go away and never come back.
  • At 9, I was subjected to being the sexual object of my brother-in-law’s (at the time) desires. The initial moment…I remember it vividly now, too. We were in Oceanside, sitting at a Mexican restaurant and my sister said she got married. I was sick to my stomach and could not shake the betrayal, the disgusting feeling I got about her attaching herself to this person…who gave me the same look I received when I was molested. Unquenchable lust. After that, I was dressed in adult clothing, made up, and paraded around him. Or, even more humiliating, I was photographed in sexual poses, with the pictures intended for him. 
  • At 12, I was brutally and violently raped by an older boy I liked and believed was my friend. And it did start with the same look. The same violating lust. It struck debilitating fear into me and I couldn’t run. Stage two occurred when he forced me, with my back to the bedroom door, to choke down his cock until he got hard and then stuck a butterfly knife to my neck and told me that if I screamed, he’d kill me. I went somewhere else for a very long time.
  • Because of the aforementioned incident, I was shunned by the Mormon Church (separated from the known world yet again), told that I deserved the assault on me, was sexualized, and told I needed to repent. I couldn’t tell my mom. I was a horrible person, a horrible Mormon, an unworthy member of society. I was defiled and broken and unclean. (where is that woodgrain I need to trace to feel clean again?) At the same time, I entered into the world of secrets that is my family: my sister was pregnant and she had an abortion just after my rape. She told someone in the church, and this act of desperation for my sister said something about me (according to the church). I felt the worst shame. I hated her and I hated me. We were all unclean and unworthy, and that made me more unworthy (unworthy girl from an unworthy family).
  • At 12, my best friend, the love of my life (at the time), the purest, most beautiful thing to me, committed suicide. I remember her phone call (stage one), an act of desperation that separated me from everyone else. She was reaching out to me in a suicidal plea. She was me. She was my past too. We both suffered sexual abuses, we both suffered physical abuses, and I couldn’t save her. The horror came when she didn’t show up at the corner and left me alone, devastated, not enough to live for and not enough to save her. What’s more, I found out at her memorial that my other best, dearest friend was killed in a car accident…never returning to me. We went from three to one, and that was me.
  • After this, the traumas happened again and again. Death of my sister, death of my grandmother, multiple friend deaths, multiple suicides, multiple rapes, multiple rejections, multiple people walking away like my life was unaffected. Medical trauma, cancer, surgeries, disgust with my body, sexual harassment at work, you name it.

Stage Three: Being Welcomed as an Initiated Person–In the book series, the pequeninos are initiated into the third life by being vivisected by a tree and then becoming the tree. Death brings new life, sustaining life, sustaining connection with others in the third life. “Sadly, in trauma there is no stage three; there is no welcoming back of for trauma survivors…In traumatic initiations stages one and two occur without sense or reason. The regular world stops, the horror begins, and there is no protective ceremony, no overseer of process, and certainly no welcoming back.”

So…there is no stage three, so how do we GET OUT? At 14, I could not figure that out. I had just been diagnosed with HPV, I had never had consensual sex, I already felt dirty and ashamed, I had no one to go to, I thought I was lesbian, I WAS SCARED AND ALONE. I began the real suicide attempts…the pills, the copious pills. The concoctions, the deadening of all my emotions. Until I ended up in the hospital (but that was on my own accord because if my mom had it her way, I would have actually killed myself that night. That would have been easier for her).

So…how do I get anywhere? “There must be an end to trauma and an understanding of trauma before we can truly exit our traumatic initiations.” So…I cycled, like the book stated, between self-abuse and outward abuse for 10 years before I began addressing my trauma. But I also found groups of people who were affected, too. That started at 15. I sat in a youth ward with a ton of adolescents that had seen too much, been abused, and began abusing themselves or others. I only spent time with those people in my life. I only associated people in that limbo stage. I married a man in limbo because we were part of each other’s therapy group. “we can be welcomed into a world where our suffering is understood. We can help ourselves and others make sense of our turmoil, and we can speak freely and openly about our traumas, thereby ending the cycling.”

The book states, “Neither welcoming process seems to allow trauma survivors to take their place as respected elders in our larger culture…When the welcoming tribe is composed of similarly traumatized people, initiates often get the wrong message about belonging and identity, and many healing and recovery tribes don’t foster a deep connection to our larger society or culture as a whole. Instead, the identification tends to limit itself to the trauma at hand. One becomes a survivor of a specific set of circumstances instead of becoming a fully initiated adult.” Essentially, it does not leave one complete or transition them fully…much like those humans who would not assist the pequeninos to enter into the third life, losing their own lives instead.


“Something deeper must occur, and that requires our entire village of elements and intelligences working together so that we can restore ourselves to resilience and equilibrium.” Moving forward and out of my therapy group is the beginning of reintegration, and that scares the shit out of me. THAT is healing. “We learn that we are not broken apart by our wounds; rather, we are broken open by them.”

Well, if this is broken open, I think I’m about to vomit…


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