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“The Garden” – a Guided Metaphor for Understanding Trauma

Imagine you are the proud caretaker of a beautiful garden. Upon entering your garden, you’re greeted by an impressive array of wildflowers in every color of the rainbow, a large tree that covers the garden in beautiful, dappled sunlight, and a bright white fence that wraps the garden like an embrace.

Now, imagine your trauma as a gallon of bright blue paint that someone has poured all over your beloved garden. A whirlwind of emotions overcomes you as you realize the beautiful garden you’ve spent years tending to, has been irreversibly changed.

Even though the spill was not your fault, you are responsible for this garden, so you try to clean up as much of the paint as possible. You scoop wet paint from the top layer of soil, you scrub paint spatter from your white fence, and you even pluck blue leaves from your shade tree until you see no remaining paint.

As terrible as the cleanup process was, you find comfort in thinking that the worst is behind you now that the paint is gone.

While vibrant wildflowers continue to grow in your garden, you notice that since the spill, all the flower petals have bloomed in a shade of blue rather than the colorful array you once knew.

Some mornings, the reflection of fresh dew on blue blossoms fills you with hope.

Some mornings, the flower’s blue glow interrupts your peace so violently that you can almost feel the memories crashing against your skull like waves on the shore. On these days, you find no beauty in these flowers. Their blue blossoms only remind you of that awful spill in the garden, which then reminds you of all the pain you felt cleaning it up, which then reminds you of all the ways your garden has never been the same…

You could find a new garden, one with soil that grows any color of flower besides blue, but this is your garden. Despite everything that has happened, you know this is where you belong. So, you spend time digging up flowers and planting new ones, but no matter what you do, they all grow in a shade of blue. With time, you begin to accept that the blue petals are here to stay and after a while, you even find yourself admiring their beauty.

A few years later, a friend comes to visit you in the garden. Your shade tree provides a peaceful refuge from the summer sun while you two catch up. Suddenly, your friend exclaims “What is that blue thing?”, out of the corner of your eye you see a glob of blue paint on your garden gate.

Your dear friend helps you scrub loose the set-in paint, you’re not sure how you missed it but you thank her for her help. Seeing the dried blue spot brings back a flood of memories. You’re shocked that after all this time, you still feel the same gut-wrenching pain and whirlwind of emotions you felt watching the paint spill all those years ago.

You find comfort in the fact that with the help of your friend, you’ve removed the last bit of paint from your garden.

Years later, your once lush garden now serves a new purpose, it has become an outdoor extension of your first child’s playroom. One day, your child asks you to hang a tire swing for them in the garden. You build the swing together and let your little one pick out a perfect branch. As you’re tying the rope in knots, you hear them exclaim, “Woah! There’s some blue paint on this tree!”

Sure enough, there is a blue paint glob on top of their branch. When you were cleaning up paint all those years ago, you didn’t even think to look for it here. You freeze as that familiar pain begins settling in, a feeling you know all too well. You feel incredibly ashamed that you never noticed this spot before, even more so that your own child was the one to point it out.

You dutifully remove as much of the paint from the branch as you can knowing that one day, when your little one has a little one of their own, this whole garden will belong to them. You may not explain what the paint means or where it came from to your child today, perhaps one day in the future.

Today, all that matters to you is that the branch is strong enough to swing.

A few years later, while taking a walk around the neighborhood, you catch a reflection of something blue out of the corner of your eye. As the all too familiar feelings of dread begin to build, you remind yourself of all the beautiful moments you’ve had in your garden – even after the spill. As you replay your favorite memories in your head, you notice that feeling of dread begins to fade.

One day, while tending to your now beloved bed of blue flowers, you find a speck of dried blue paint. Today, you feel a sense of peace fall over you as you realize the paint may never be fully gone from your garden, but that doesn’t mean it’s ruined.

In fact, your garden was never ruined by paint all those years ago, it has always been capable of growing beautiful flowers so long as you took the time to tend to it.

Bonus Content: What About Generational Trauma?

Imagine yourself as a child again. One day, a trusted caretaker tells you that you are set to inherit a ‘garden’ they once tended to. You have never heard the word ‘garden’ before but are excited by the idea of having one of your own!

When your caretaker brings you to the garden you’re met with the scene of a deeply neglected courtyard. Overrun by weeds and covered in cobwebs and what appears to be very old, dried-out paint, you ask your caretaker, “Is this what a garden is supposed to look like?” and they respond, “This is the only garden I’ve ever known and this is how it has always looked.”

At this age, you are not yet a garden connoisseur, and with nothing to compare it to, you have to take your caretaker at their word that indeed, this is what a garden is supposed to look like.

Meet The Author


Meet The Author

Faith is the Administrative Director at Sea Glass Mental Health. Faith is passionate about the accessibility of mental health and therapy services for all.

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