I have a love/hate relationship with November. The love part is pretty obvious: football games, crisp weather that finally starts to hint of Christmas, Thanksgiving dinners (even we vegetarians can appreciate a giant carb-filled meal with family), some relief from the dreaded pumpkin-flavored everything (as someone with a newly discovered pumpkin allergy, that part of fall stings the most this year), and the snuggly scarves and sweaters and hats. According to the quiz in the back of the book, my love language is touch, so I adore the chill in the air that makes cuddling up to the people you love a necessity to stay warm. Plus in North Carolina, the trees put on a great show. It’s glorious.
The hate part really isn’t November’s fault at all. She’s just a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, kind of like me. See, some ugly things happened in November. For whatever reason, some of my least favorite days have all congregated in this one month over the years, and it’s left a bitter aftertaste to the peppermint mochas I can finally drink without shame now that Halloween has passed.
Sometimes I don’t even notice it coming on. I look forward to this time of year, forgetting to dread the 11 on the calendar. But my body remembers even if I don’t. It’s almost as if the stress and fearfulness of those bad days has been coded into my cells, waiting to remind me where I’ve been. They feel like part of my DNA now, like a mutation that must make itself known.
In the counseling community, this is called an “anniversary reaction” and word has it that lots of us deal with it. When our bodies start to feel the way they did back then– the same kind of weather, the same length of days, the same holiday preparations and weekend activities– we can begin to think we’ve been here before. Our bodies think they know what’s coming next and they try to protect us by making us afraid of things that remind us of what hurt us, hoping we’ll avoid them this time around. Or they throw off our internal clock, making us feel like we’re still in that moment from this time all those years ago. There’s a freshness to the wounds that feels shocking when we’ve long since gotten used to the healed-over scars.
It catches me by surprise every time. I should know better, put an alarm on my phone calendar or something, but I don’t. I keep thinking that next year will be different, so it’s not until I realize I’ve been in a funk for a few days and then notice we’re already back into November that I put two and two together again.
I keep thinking that eventually enough time will pass to separate the good days from the bad, the before from the after. But trauma doesn’t play fair. There’s no surgical precision to the cuts to allow for a few stitches and a clean recovery. Instead they bled out, marking whatever they touched back then with rust-colored fingerprints that fade but just won’t quite come out.
It’s a tough gig, this surviving. It takes a lot out of you, but it gives too. The cool air on my face also helps center me where I am, right here and right now, safe and well. It helps snap me back into the present, where I know I’m not invincible but some days I feel pretty damn close. The good thing about remembering is that I know if I could get through those Novembers, I can certainly get through this one. The phantom lingers, but it can’t hurt me like the real thing did. It’s dead. I’m alive. And life wins every time.