Essays: Throwing Roses into the Abyss

Throw roses into the abyss and say: “Here is my thanks to the monster who didn’t succeed in swallowing me alive.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

I am alive, despite having experienced trauma for years. You could say trauma is my monster, a hydra that’s reared various heads over five decades, from infancy into middle age. Sometimes all the heads appear at once, like a giant air balloon tied to another, identical balloon — and another and another — a train of memories and flashbacks as real as the window I’m looking through now at the world beyond. But there’s never glass between me and the trauma, not a single pane. I meet it with no shield and no weapons.

The Roses of Heliogabalus, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1888), oil on canvas. Image used in accordance with U.S. public domain laws.

Nietzsche says we can’t live as the vanquished. We have to live as the victorious. To do this, we must show our thanks to the monster for not knowing how to devour us. We must throw roses into the abyss. For him, the monster is what lies within us. For me, the monster is both internal and external — and never exclusively one or the other. A thing happens. As a sentient being, I respond. Now the “thing” is within me, kneaded into my response, often long after it has raised its tail and returned to its bottomless lake. This works in reverse, too. As a sentient being, I can’t perceive anything that happens without being informed by my lived experience. The external is never simply external, and the internal is never simply internal. Within is without and without is always necessarily within.

Trauma starts outside us, but it twines its way through each of our two hundred six bones, ninety-thousand-mile nervous system, and more than six hundred forty skeletal, visceral and cardiac muscles. The sequelae of trauma are significant and can include disruptions to nearly every system in the body, behavioral and cognitive changes, high rates of retraumatization, changes in our core beliefs and values, difficulty with living a “normal” life, and much more.

So the monster is not just internal. It is also external. And the two are perpetually engaged in a simple but exquisite water dance. For me, throwing roses at the abyss performs three functions. First, it’s a way to honor the parts of me that have worked together to survive. Second, it’s a way to begin forgiving the monster that is trauma. And third, it’s a way to bring greater presence and beauty to my past, present and future — even if trauma continues to be there, hissing in the margins.

I am alive, and this site is where I throw roses into the abyss. Let them fill the chasm.