I saw you today as I pulled into the parking lot. I parked straight across from you and happened to catch your eye as I put the car in park. You immediately turned your head, obviously not wanting to be noticed. I averted my eyes in order to ease your concern, but in that split second, I saw you- red, puffy eyes, tissues in hand to wipe away the tears.
It’s the grocery store parking lot, of all places. Most of us just run in the store, get what we need, and hurry home, barely noticing what’s happening around us. Yet, there you were, frozen in the moment, despite the fast pace all around you, overwhelmed by something that none of us could see.
I’m guessing you didn’t expect the tears. Judging by your posture and the way you tried to hide that you were crying, I’m sure those were tears that you couldn’t hold back, or perhaps tears that came on too fast to stop, and I happened to catch a glimpse of it all.
I sat and thought for a moment about what I could do to help you. Did you even want, or need help? Would you be open to talking to a stranger? Did you have a particular tangible need that I could meet?
As I got out of my car to go in the store I glanced your way and took note of the shirt you had on. It was a bright, bold blue; you exuded confidence in that color, except for the tears. Yet there was a level of confidence in a woman who chose to be brave enough to have a very real moment in the midst of cars, people, and shopping carts. I didn’t know your story, but I thought you were brave just for showing up for life in the midst of those tears and whatever caused them.
I walked into the store, really struggling because I wanted to find a way to help you. Yet there I was, paralyzed by my inability to figure out how to help.
To the Woman Crying in the Parking Lot
How do we find our “brave” in these situations? How do we dig deep to be courageous when the weight of the world seems to sit on our shoulders? These were the thoughts swirling in my mind as I made my way through the store. What would it take for you to walk into this store anyway, despite the fact that you were just crying? What could be so challenging that it would cause you to need a minute, right then and there, for the tears?
It turns out, I know the answer to those thoughts and questions, at least for my own situation. You see, I’ve been in your spot. More than once, I’ve been the woman crying in the parking lot. I’ve pulled in to a spot at the back of the parking lot as the tears rolled. I’ve longed for someone, anyone, to step in to that particular moment and find a way to help. Yet, if you would have knocked on my window after seeing my tears, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to talk to you, and I might not have even know how to ask for help.
Trauma can really knock us down sometimes, and despite our best efforts to work through it, to find healing, the truth is that sometimes those triggers can pop up out of nowhere. Despite our best efforts at healing, it’s not unusual to get knocked over by some of the same triggers on occasion.
The difference, though, is that after working through the trauma, after seeking and finding help, we now have the tools and resources to get back up.
Real Hope for Tough Times
The truth is – I’m the woman crying in the parking lot in this story.
Recently, I was texting with a dear friend, saying how much I was struggling as I sat there, feeling panicked and overwhelmed. I watched people walk in and out of the store, and the woman who parked across from me saw me crying. I could tell she was wondering what to do. I tried to look busy so that I wouldn’t draw more attention.
That’s when the solution, at least for me in that moment, became clear. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner, but sometimes the answer just needs to be completely obvious for us to see it in the midst of the chaos of our lives.
I continued texting with my friend, plugged in my earbuds and turned on some music so that it drowned out other sounds. I chose to focus on the music, figuring I could be in and out pretty quickly. All of a sudden, my phone rang, and there was my friend, asking if I was in the store. “Let’s go together, I’ll stay on the phone.” We talked for the next few minutes while I bought the few things I needed.
Wow! Sometimes the best thing we can do is to just show up. Maybe it will be on the phone when a friend says they’re struggling. It might be taking a meal to a friend who is having a tough time. Or perhaps it will be the small gesture of buying a bottle of water for the woman crying in the parking lot. Even something as simple as a smile goes a long way to someone who is struggling; they know they have been seen and noticed.
Learning to Ask for Help
If you are the woman crying in the parking lot, you need to know that it is absolutely okay to ask for help. Text or call a friend, put in those earbuds and listen to some music. If you have the option to conduct your errands at a place where you don’t have a history, that can also help. For example, I went to a different grocery store than we used to go to. I hadn’t been to that store too many times, so it wasn’t full of family memories.
Part of taking back our power after a marriage or relationship that had any level of abuse is to learn how to ask for help. Do not be okay with “how things were” because the truth is – things were not okay. If we accept that things were okay, then we open the door to sliding right back into that relationship again, or one that is similar.
Instead, we need to ask for help. We need those friends and loved ones in our lives who are always going to be there. We won’t need them every minute of every day, but you need a couple people in your life who you know will reply to the text, or answer the call as soon as it comes in.
You Have the Ability to Help
No matter which person you are in this story, you can help.
If you are the woman crying in the parking lot, practice asking for help, even in simple ways. Ask where an item is located in store. Call a friend and ask her to get coffee with you. Find your voice, and use it, no matter how quiet it might be.
If you are the one who noticed the woman crying in the parking lot, find ways to offer support. If the support is for someone you don’t know, smile and engage her in a small conversation. Find something to complement her about – hair, smile, clothes. If the support is for a friend, then keep talking to her – she’s going to come around eventually, I promise. If a friend calls for coffee, find a way to say yes. Plan times you can get together.
Those of us who have struggled with trauma have walked an incredibly tough road, but there is hope. We have the opportunity to sit in our feelings, to consider them, and to think of ways to find help. Had it not been for those moments of crying in the parking lot, I may not have ever considered listening to music while I shop, or talking with a friend. Both are relaxing and easy, and take the edge off in a tense situation.
Find your voice. Do you need help? You can actually just practice saying these words: I need help.
They are three small words, but they’re the three small words that will start to move the mountain in front of you. Say those words every day – several times each day. You don’t even have to know what kind of help you need. I promise you that if you speak those words to a dear and trusted friend or family member, they are going to come right alongside and make a way to help you.