East Troublesome Wildfire, Healing, Trauma

Healing is Individual: It May Take Time Before You Can See All the Rainbows

My husband and I have a vacation rental in the mountains, which I’ve written about in my House Therapy posts. In these, I parallel what it was like and what it meant to me – especially retrospectively – to embark on an all-encompassing creative endeavor during the exact same time I was going through the exhausting justice process.

(By the way, I still plan on completing my House Therapy project, possibly as a book. Meanwhile, you can find chapters one through six starting here:
https://diannehammer.com/2020/11/house-therapy-chapter-one-2/ )

John and I hope someday we won’t have to rent out our mountain house, but for now we need the extra money to help with the mortgage. So we have short-term guests during the summer high season, the fall leaf season and various holiday periods throughout the year.

This past weekend, we finally got it back to ourselves for several weeks. We arrived Friday evening, and it felt like a celebration! Oh my gosh!

It’s so incredible not to have to share it with anyone for a while, not to have to clean up everything before we go back to the city. We can leave our sheets on the bed, groceries in the fridge, coats on hooks in the mud room.

I love, love this home – for the peace and simplicity it allows me to bathe in, the expansive views, the tradition and legacy it is creating for our family, the healing it brought to me during a very hard year, and for its survival after being so close to a major wildfire two years ago.

It is still here. I am still here.

For both of these realities, I am thankful. And increasingly with the passage of time and healing within and around me, I see the tremendous possibilities for the future. Trauma is so difficult, but there is an After. And it can be good and beautiful and full of things you (we, I) didn’t know were possible in the Before.

The last time we were at our mountain house this year was for a short vacation in August, and during that week we made a second-anniversary trek into the East Troublesome burn area.

We had driven into the area during roughly the same period in 2021, which was my first full immersion into the wildfire’s After. I had been nervous about seeing it, worried about deep emotions that might overwhelm me. So I had only seen the evidence from the highway and nearby neighborhoods.

But I ended up being delighted at what I found when we viewed it last year, amazed at the new growth that was already happening and the new vistas revealed – even the patterns and contrasts created by the vertical, blackened tree trunks against the vibrant color beginning to rise from the earth.

I was relieved by my reaction, took lots of photos and wrote an “ode to growth” after the fire of trauma, which you can find here: https://diannehammer.com/2021/09/east-troublesome-an-ode-to-growth-after-fire/

Though I felt relieved at my reaction and did publish the work online then, I was nervous about sharing it widely, particularly within the Grand County community; people were still reeling from the raw trauma of loss.

I love how this aspen tree is fighting to live.

Healing from trauma takes time and is so individual. When you are healing, you can’t take in certain messages – especially those that represent “potential” – until you are at the right time in your journey and processing. Before then, being presented with messages of naked positivity can just make you feel angry, resentful, not understood, invalidated, disconnected, isolated. Alone.

As survivors of any kind of trauma, we need to recover and get our bearings before we can stand being told, “Look, the After is kinda beautiful in its own way.” If someone would have said that to me during the first year after my trauma, I would have rolled my eyes privately and shut down, changed the topic. Avoided. And, depending who it was, got angry: “You can’t possibly understand!” Or “F**K YOU!”

As I walked this August on a short trail in the burned forest among the black and peeling, thin and thick trunks of aspen and pine trees, I was amazed again at the progress after another year. The undergrowth shoring up the earth – grasses, bushes filled with berries, flowers, aspen saplings – was incredible to see. And there was sound: birds and insect life.

There is so much recovery still needed – years and decades of it. There is erosion, and earth in large swatches that can’t support life – still black. More of the dead trees will fall. The expansive cemetery of both black and bleached-looking trunks – some still bent at odd angles from the heat and force of the fire moving through – will always be visible in our lifetime. They are the scars. The land for sure will never be the same.

I, too, have scars. I, too, will never be “the same.”

Yet through my lens of healing, I SEE the possibility. Because I know there can be good, and wonder, and growth in the After. I’m excited to see what emerges year over year.

I look forward to returning each anniversary to see how far the land has come. Just as I enjoy, periodically, comparing my own growth with where I started.

But most of the time now? I look Forward.

Please subscribe to this blog to continue following my healing journey. You can also follow me on social media at:

Instagram: @amiddleagedsurvivor
Facebook: @amiddledagedsurvivor
Substack: @amiddleagedsurvivor

Wishing you love, peace and sparks of joy wherever you are on your healing journey. It is my wish with all that I do and all that I write about for you to know that you are not alone.