“[Ma] needs my strong more than me.”
Jack from Lenny Abrahamson’s latest film ‘Room’ (2015) explains this to his grandmother after asking her to cut his Sampson-length hair and give it to his mother who is recovering in hospital from a suicide attempt. A few weeks prior, this five-year-old boy believed the world was the room he and his mother had been held captive in. Alongside adapting to the grass, trees, roads and lights beyond that which came through their skylight being real and not “pretend” inside the TV, he innately demonstrates an understanding that inner strength is something his Ma cannot generate herself right now.
“Ma was in a hurry to go boing up to heaven but she forgot me, Dumbo Ma, so the aliens threw her back down craaaaaaaash and broke her.”
“I’ll always keep it with me, Jack. I will never, ever let it go. When Grandma brought it to me, I… I knew I could get well. You saved me. Again.”
Jack’s love which is his “strong” reconnects him with his mother’s love which is her “strong”, and so she fights her battle with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting from her abduction at seventeen and consequent captivity. Jack uses his hair as a symbol of his love and means through which to reconnect him with his mother. This love which metaphorically speaking had grown as long and strong as his hair was nurtured in, and made possible by, their old life in “Room” where Jack’s conception gave Joy a reason to live. In the very spot, all that had died (her adolescence, freedom, rights, innocence) for her upon being captured the joy of being Jack’s mother was also birthed. Having him to love, protect, live for and nurture became her skylight and reason.
“He is my life. I never could have survived without him… everything was different once Jack came, because he was so beautiful and I had to keep him safe.”
Although very few of us experience such extreme events such as Joy, throughout life, the majority of us are exposed to an experience that has a traumatic effect, and we come to know something of what it is to lose our “strong”. We also know what it is to want to give our “strong” to the ones we love when they lose theirs. This giving and losing our “strong” are what makes us human. It is part of how we love, share experience, strengthen bonds and grow. However, for the person losing their “strong,” it’s also what makes him/her vulnerable, and potentially feel less than, defective, weak or inadequate. This uncomfortable state of being is a time when those like myself automatically pull away and isolate. When I could no longer ignore the effects of the past trauma, I’d tried so hard to forget, my “strong” and life came undone. Not only was I ashamed and embarrassed about my inability to function but I didn’t understand what was going on with me, so I had no idea how to talk about it. When I did start trying, I found many people didn’t know how to respond, and this was understandable and fine because it wasn’t a specific response that was needed but for me to finally speak and the listener not to reject me.
Generally, experiences with losing our “strong” remain captive within an inner room between our head and heart, where only a few people are allowed in to share in those periods where something inside us breaks for however long. And in that room, while broken, we stay captive to fear, pain, deprivation, darkness and having the size of our world reduced to that of a pinpoint. But even so, there’s still always something of a Jack and his Ma, Joy in us, looking up at the skylight desiring and trying to find a way back into our “strong”, the world and light regardless of how far away it appears to remain. And it is others lending us their strong for a while that helps us get there. It can feel like we’re all alone in the darkest room because it’s hard to recognise all how others that love and care for us are with us and in their own ways trying to give us some of their “strong”. During the years I suffered acutely from depression I wouldn’t let anyone in my room where I hid from the world and people. I didn’t want anyone knowing anything about me, but still, there was always those that could see I wasn’t well and never stopped trying, but I couldn’t trust anyone or communicate back. All I knew how to do was what I’d always known how to do, run and disappear. I didn’t allow anyone’s “strong” to help me reconnect with my “strong”. Needing to be in control because everything felt so out of control and threatening, I was determined to figure things out for myself, and so I stayed in the same dark spot for years until I couldn’t ignore the fact that I simply wasn’t able to get through the effects of my complex childhood trauma alone. Regardless of how much I read and understood on a theoretical level. The fact was I needed peoples’ help like I had always needed their help and I’d arrived at a point where the only way to stay alive was to learn how to reach out and accept it. I could not authentically feel trust for anyone, so I had to start taking a risk on people who seemed trustworthy. And so over a long period of time, I ended up drawing from many peoples’ “strong” to find a way out of the tiniest room that had become my world for the longest time. Only my room, metaphorically speaking, had no Jack. And so the lesson I needed to learn to leave my room of self-hate and shame was to develop a capacity to receive and give love and acceptance unto myself and others. Love and acceptance are
precisely what has made me strong and vulnerable at the same time because before that what was broken in me made me dead to life whereas Jack and Joy’s love for each other is what kept them, in essence, alive to life the whole time. It’s also what makes the story written originally as a novel, and then a screenplay, by Emma Donoghue something that doesn’t leave you and strengthens your “strong”.
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