What The Haunting of Hill House Can Teach Us About Trauma.

While I self-identify as a hopeless cinephile and long time television junkie of (almost) all flavours, I’ve had a complicated history with the horror genre. When I was younger, although officially banned from partaking in the dark arts thanks to strict Catholic parental protocols, like all children, I adapted. I improvised. I found ways to peer through overbearing hands at forbidden images. Back then, there was plenty of selection from the macabre to choose from.  There was the delightful, dark humour of Freddy Kruger in Nightmare on Elm Street. Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th was a little too intense for my liking. But I always dug the Halloween series for it’s reliance on textbook suspense as opposed to cheap gore.

As I grew older however, I found it more difficult to enjoy the genre. Perhaps partly because horror became more shocking than scary. But it might have also been something else.  Once I got into my twenties, I had some life experience under my belt. I lost several friends. My parents had divorced. My childhood cat died. My mom got cancer. Several of my friend’s outer circle perished in fires. Associates went to prison. Others got raped. Some were assaulted.  When you compartmentalize such tragedies into a short string of sentences, it all appears so chaotic and horrific, but the reality is that these types of events are normal to the human experience. Everyone goes through the burden of several traumas at some point in their lives. And the older we get, the more trauma we are exposed to.

As we age and mature, we see the world through the unfiltered lens of an adult and begin to realize the sanctity of life. How precious and unique and lucky and wonderful it really is, especially when things are going well. Maybe that’s why I had a hard time enjoying watching someone running and screaming in fear for their lives with blood running down their face. I had enough bad stuff going on in my own life.

 

Fast forward to present day, and I have been back on a horror kick of late. It started with me insisting my wife watch the Halloween series.  I’m not entirely sure why it was important to do so.   Perhaps it was the yearning of shared experiences, shared traumas.  What has since changed to provoke this re-visit to ghouls, ghosts and boogeymen?  Well, my wife and I have been dealing with the trauma of her car accident for several years now. Plus, there is the whole Trump era thing that we’ve all been living in. Horror can be an outlet when you think there might not be something scarier than our own present reality. We search for others to escape to.

Now I’m on to The Haunting of Hill House. The series has flawless pacing and succeeds so well at becoming it’s own time capsule universe thanks to Director Mike Flanagan. Based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, the story is of a large family who find themselves as stewards of an old manor bought in order to be flipped and turned for profit.

Sadly for them, it turns out the house holds many secrets of the supernatural kind.  What follows is shared childhood trauma for an entire family.  Many of the scenes shift between present day reality when the five children have morphed into adults.  What’s striking is how each dealt with the events so differently.   One becomes an addict.  Another becomes a child psychologist.  One becomes a writer.  One becomes a funeral director. The final character, Nell, the youngest, struggles with sleep paralysis.  She ends up confronting it by seeking treatment.  More things follow with her character, but if you haven’t yet seen the series, I will say no more.

We all deal with trauma differently. While it’s tempting to drink or do heroin to escape it. You never really can. No matter how high or drunk you get, that trauma will continue to haunt you.  Like it or not, trauma ends up defining ourselves, one way or another.  The best thing to do other than surviving and getting help (either from family, friends or professionals) is to learn and grow from it.  Even better than that, is finding a way to put some good into the world by helping others deal with their own traumas, just like some of the characters in Hill House.

If you’re interested in either helping others or more importantly, helping yourself out – check out some links below.

Trauma Resources

This Way Up

Crisis Text (US)

Volunteer Resources

Volunteer Match 

Idealist

 

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