Nadine’s Story: “It wasn’t just things I was gonna buy. It was the new life we were gonna lead.”
Dressed in a satin ruffled pink prom dress, large bow in front, Nadine Hurley tenderly spreads out a picnic blanket on the floor of the living room. Meticulously she places her glass next to a small bowl and empties two prescription bottles into the bowl. “Goodbye,” eeks from her mouth, a sad resignation of the life of unrest and pain that was dealt to her.
She appears a sad, tragic, dying doll, a princess laying for her final rest in a kingdom that has forsaken her. The one thing she felt excited about and connected to in the world (outside of her husband) has not come to pass. She could not get the patent for her silent drape runners. The promise of a world without economic stress, a “new life” for her and Ed.
There is nothing left for her in this world. The world of Twin Peaks is a cold and unjust one. Perhaps she was not quite of this world anyway, so maybe through death she can just return to another simpler and safer place. Yet actually through her suicide attempt, Nadine accesses another dimension whereby she gets to go back for a second chance to redo her life circumstances related to her trauma.
What we know of Nadine’s story in Seasons 1–3 reminds viewers and Twin Peaks fans all over that it is possible to not just survive but to thrive after experiencing traumatic events. Nadine’s journey is one of pain and suffering but also of empowerment and closing of trauma loops. Her journey is of trauma response and injury, and also of trauma recovery.
As a psychotherapist in the Bay Area with a private practice specializing in working with adults dealing with trauma, and a Graduate Psychology professor who teaches a highly popular elective class “Between Two Worlds: Depth Psychology and Twin Peaks,” I have much to say about Nadine and her trauma recovery.
In the class I teach, I discuss Nadine’s story; her psychological history and impact of trauma on her life and her world. Imagine that the honeymoon accident (whereby Ed accidentally shot out her eye) is not the only trauma Nadine has experienced. Nadine’s character reads as someone who has challenges functioning in the day to day and sharing a collectively agreed-upon reality. She is agitated and overwhelmed frequently, yelling at Ed, exhibiting super human strengths, perhaps based in anger or rage, she is hyper fixated and seems at times scared and flooded by the life of the small town of Twin Peaks.
As a psychotherapist, I see these types of behaviors as indicative of unprocessed complex trauma. By complex trauma I mean trauma that is ongoing over a period of time that creates distress in our lives, that can sometimes lead to self harm, to psychosis, or to more severe mental health experiences and that requires much support in healing and recovery. Nadine’s trauma did not start with her eye, or with Ed, only got reinforced and reactivated in her marriage and in her domestic sphere. We may not know all of her past history, but we see the current impact of trauma in her life in Seasons 1–3.
Trauma Loops: “You stepped on my drape runner.”
What do drapes represent? Drapes are a literal way to access the outside world revealing or hiding a window. Drapes become the entryway from private (domestic sphere) to public (outside world). Drapes act as curtains that open and close a show or performance. Drapes are often closed when someone dies (we see this in Nadine’s suicide attempt).
From a psychological perspective, the drapes and drape runners themselves are a significant point of reference for Nadine. Could Nadine have had childhood trauma happen by or near a large window with loud drapes? Was she locked in the house and was only able to access the outside world by opening and closing loud and noisy drapes? Does she have to silently open to the drapes to see something she isn’t supposed to see? Are the drapes a place to locate and fixate her anxieties and overwhelm in a life and sense of self that is quite disorganized? It could be that Nadine’s upset about the drape sounds in Season 1 is signaling the frustration and inability to be well enough in her mental health to face the outside world.
When we experience a trauma we can get caught in a loop when reality is overwhelming, loud, intense, and scary (for Nadine this outside world of Twin Peaks). The nervous system collapses into a singular emotional neuropathway looping around and around the traumatic memory, taking us further and further away from the rational side of the brain that knows we are safe and not actually threatened in the moment.
So when Ed does something accidental, like dropping grease on her cotton balls, Nadine becomes emotionally disregulated because the flight/fight/freeze response has activated in her brain. The trauma loop is ignited and she feels unsafe and begins to “fight” (in this case yelling at Ed and breaking her exercise equipment with superhuman strength). Her brain is looping in the trauma memory and she is not present with the truth of the moment which is that she is actually safe in her living room and no true damage has been done. A little grease has spilled and that is all.
But Nadine physiologically and psychologically can’t access that reality. In that moment her brain actually does not know how to unloop itself from the pathway it has created. For her in that moment, damage has been done and her life’s work has been destroyed. She feels this state of threat so intensely.“You stepped on my drape runner,” in that moment means that Ed eviscerated her ability to escape her circumstances and this is terrifying.
Creating a silent drape runner is an attempt to find her way out of the trauma loops she resides in. When she discovers that she loses the drape runner patent, she realizes there is actually no way out of her trauma and she may have felt;
- rejection on top of feeling already so much rejection in the outside world
- death of a dream, a promise of a new life for her and Ed
- continued anxiety and overwhelm in her life and her world
- strain at the impossibility of returning to the external world
- hopelessness that things won’t change and her trauma will just continue
This is where we meet her in the pink satin dress and the bottles of pills because suicide seems the only way to end the loop.
Trauma Healing: “Just listen to this…..completely silent.”
What can the story of Nadine teach us about trauma loops, trauma healing and trauma recovery?
Nadine’s drape runner patent may not have been accepted at first, but the very act of creating it, signifies movement toward trauma healing. She is beginning to create new brain neuropathways outside of the trauma loops so that she can imagine a world that is quiet, contained, and safe. Healing for her looks like taking control of her living environment and making sense of what is otherwise very confusing and overwhelming to her. The silent drape runners represent:
- controlling chaotic environment or space
- changing circumstances to organize the world around her
- creating ease, safety and containment
- establishing a clear sense of self vs other (inside vs outside)
- reinforcing boundaries (between internal and external forces)
- redefining personal agency (she controls what makes sound)
These are all mechanisms by which trauma healing occurs. Along with Nadine going back to the time when some of her trauma happened (high school) and getting a chance to relive these years, Nadine gets a quantum physics-like opportunity to alter the trauma loop sequence.
The post coma high school psychosis is a hugely important part of her trauma healing process. While in high school (Season 2), Nadine creates agency over her own sexuality and romantic desire. She finds someone (Mike) who is just as excited to be with her as she is to him, and while the relationship was doomed to fail, it is still a developmentally appropriate rite of passage for Nadine who is going from private to public-coming into her own sense of being in the world, finding her voice and her power. And becoming an awe inspiring cheerleader at the same time! Through cheerleading and wrestling she is in the public spotlight and the drapes are open wide—a far cry from the terrified, disorganized and overwhelmed Nadine we met in Season 1.
Trauma Recovery: “You are free, go and enjoy.”
“You are free, go and enjoy,” is NOT what Ed says to Nadine, but what Nadine says to Ed in Season 3, Part 14. Nadine is finally ready to live her own life and has the resources, the strength and the agency to do it. She is able to individuate from Ed and start her own business “Run Silent, Run Drapes,” and is serving up entrepreneurial realness! She does not need to stay in a marriage of lies, codependency, financial stress and mutual dissatisfaction any longer.
Nadine’s story shows us that she can be a successful businesswoman without the help of a man and that she can live alone in the outside world. She has successfully opened the silent drapes and stepped out. In this world she finds Dr. Jacoby and his shovels and a potential new paradigm of love.
She seems at peace in her new life and with her business selling a product that makes the home/ domestic sphere quieter for all housewives who are relegated to opening and closing drapes all day. Perhaps other women and trauma survivors will be able to quietly emerge from trauma loops, and like Nadine re-author the drape narrative in their own ways.
Make no mistake, Nadine is still Nadine, but the trauma loops have shifted and the emotional and rational sides of the brain are more balanced. Nadine is energetically clear, she is calm, she does not seem disregulated or flooded or overwhelmed in the outside world. She is not guided by flight/fight or freeze response, although this can and will still show up for her at times the way it does for everyone. What Nadine does in Twin Peaks is what trauma based therapies seek to do; support clients imagining a way out of trauma and giving tools to support recovery.
Trauma never fully leaves us. We carry with us the experiences and memories of trauma forever. However trauma recovery is about the integration of the trauma in our mind, spirit and body and how we use tools to manage if and when the trauma loops reemerge. Nadine’s story of trauma healing and resiliency reminds viewers of the power of going back and working through what gets stuck, in order to work toward a future of integration and recovery. We have so much to learn from her.