Sometimes thinking with a dissociated mind is like trying to carry too many groceries in your hands at one time. It takes an incredible amount of focus and concentration to be able to process information that to others would seem obviously connected and therefore would be easily considered in a fluid, flexible and ‘together’ fashion.
Some of my writing might be difficult for readers to follow because of the disconnected way information presents itself to me in the first place — as well as how it presents itself to me as I try to write coherently. As I mentioned in previous posts, the inability to tell a coherent life story is directly related to how the early developing brain was fed information back in its beginning. If that information was disconnected at its source — meaning in the brain-mind of an infant’s early caregiver — that pattern of disconnectedness, I believe, is directly communicated not only TO the infant, but more importantly is built into the infant’s growing brain.
Most of us today are at least vaguely familiar with the concept of downloading and uploading information on computers. Taken in its most specific and literal meaning, early caregivers are downloading information directly into an infant’s growing brain. The infant’s brain is forming itself according first to how information is being transmitted to it. It is only after the ‘how’ aspects are transmitted that an infant’s brain can begin to process the specifics of ‘what’ is being transmitted.
Information that is not appropriate in the context of the caregiver-infant interaction and is inconsistently transmitted to an infant will be overwhelming. It is in effect not an dissimilar to the way that wrong information being processed wrongly within a computer will crash it. It is not unlike what happens to a car’s transmission if you were driving down the highway at 50 miles per hour and suddenly moved the gear shift to reverse.
A ‘rupture’ without possibility of ‘repair’ is created when any effective ongoing pattern is drastically — and I mean traumatically — interrupted. We don’t usually think of it this way, but what causes these ‘ruptures without possibility of repair’ in a growing infant and young child’s brain is the presentation of the wrong information in the wrong way at the wrong time, and happens because these young one’s have had no opportunity to build a brain with capacity to process this incoming information effectively.
I believe that if maltreatment exists (as I’ve said before) during critical brain developmental stages during infancy and childhood, these ruptures without repair are themselves built right into the circuitry of the resulting brains. Because their we are talking about interactions that occur in interaction with the environment, every single time such a lack of repair happens, after an overwhelming traumatic experience, a ‘dissociation spot’ is created within the brain’s operational patterns that will be carried within such an individual for the rest of their lives. This is one of the actual, physiological ways that trauma is built into a brain-body.
Knowing exactly which environmental triggers will cause these dissociation spots to become obvious in later years is nearly impossible because most of us with severe abuse histories have literally millions and millions of them built into our brains and into our bodies. Every single time one of these dissociation spots were put there, or created in the first place, a physiological body-based response happened with it. This is one of the ways that trauma is physiologically built into a brain-body’s memory. It is literally formed into the actual cells themselves and affects the way that ongoing genetic processes operate.
If the trauma happens early enough and is severe enough, we DO end up with different brains and bodies as a result, as I mentioned in my previous post. We are sensitive to stimuli differently and process information differently. The vital and necessary ability to appraise and sequence information into usable segments that can then later be used in connection to new information is interfered with.
We are different because we are left with a broken string of pearls and a string that cannot be added onto in a normal useful fashion. We are thus left with an incoherent life story based on a disorganized-disoriented, incoherent brain formed by the same kind of disordered attachment from birth. Only some of us can go a good long way down the road of our life before we are faced with the reality of what this means to us. We are left with an armload of groceries dropped on the floor, and we cannot pick them up. Who is there that can or will help us?
I believe that life operates through a pattern of circles and cycles. Because of this, one can follow any given thought around until it connects to the opposite of itself. I now wish to make the contrasting point to the one I presented in my May 1, 2009 post, “DOES THE GOOD MAKE THE BAD BETTER?” by asking a related question, “How does the bad help us to make our lives better?”
I do not see that there is ever a straight, obvious, easy road that connects the ‘bad’ of our lives to the ‘good’ of our lives. I want to present you with an example of what I am saying. From the earliest times of my life I evidently succeeded relatively well at finding ways to continue on living in spite of not only the abuse I experienced but also in spite of the ways I found to work with what happened to me. Because the traumas were built into my body and my brain on an ongoing basis, I NEVER noticed the adaptations that my brain made to the traumas.
This is a critical point. I ‘continued on being’ as Dr. Allan Schore says of abused infants. I survived, and I have done so through a continuing process that was unrecognized and unknown to me. Things would have remained the same IF I had not had cancer, or more accurately, if the cancer had never been treated and I had not survived it. Because I had treatment, particularly chemotherapy, and because I came out the other end to be who I am today, I can now look back through the windows of that process and say that I have learned something I never could have possibly known otherwise.
To put it most simply, I have learned how I adapted to the traumas because those adaptations have mostly been taken away from me.
There are some things, even those as seemingly insignificant as the one I presented in my April 21, 2009 post “EARTH DAY: In Honor of the Grieving Chicken, ” that one might never be able to imagine or believe unless they are actually experienced. If not for my cancer and its treatment I could never have imagined the adaptative abilities I had actually created in order to survive my abuse that made me believe I had done so ‘normally’.
I now know that my definition of ‘normally’ has to be expanded. My adaptions were normal considering what I experienced, but they were not ‘normal’ in comparison to how other people, whose brains were not formed in, by and for trauma, operate.
I evidently was able to teach myself from birth in some amazing ongoing way how to think and act with a brain that had formed a mind that has millions and millions of dissociation spots built into it. The chemotherapy regime that I underwent disturbed my brain as it interrupted both my memory and how my brain operates in relationship to memory.
I have know of no scientific support for what I know from inside of myself, but I believe what has happened to me post-chemotherapy happened because the part of the brain that processes incoming experience before it is organized for long term memory storage — the hippocampus — the only part of the brain other than the one that processes new smells that continues to build new nerve cells, called neurons — was directly affected by the working aspect of chemotherapy that stops all new cell formation. That’s the same process that made all my hair fall out and made my fingernails stop growing and stopped the ability of the cancer cells to multiply.
Because the chemo stopped the rapid cells from growing in my hippocampus, I could no longer remember the steps I normally take to put on my makeup in the morning. My friend, who also underwent the same chemo treatment, forgot to put her blouse on until she noticed it after she was already in her car to go to work.
It would take a very caring and astute group of people to realize that an extremely dangerous side affect of chemotherapy — for those of us who formed brains containing dissociation spots from early abuse during brain formation stages — is a deterioration of the brain’s ability to utilize the adaptive processes that it found and learned in order to live relatively well in spite of the affects of the trauma on its development.
The wordless image that came to me in relation to this damage is that of a huge steel post being driven into the gears that run the Big Ben clock in the London Tower.
While someone could remove the post and repair the clock, the rupture that happened to my ongoing memory processes about how to live an ongoing life in spite of the serious affects that trauma had on my developing brain cannot be repaired. Yes, this sucks!
Yet as a consequence I now know intimately that I DID manage to create incredible patterns to cope with the dissociation of trauma in my brain. I know it now because I can no longer DO IT! I forgot what I learned, what I evidently taught myself from birth, how to do.
So is it a good thing I had cancer and chemotherapy so that I can now understand all of this? Can what I learned as a result be of some valuable use to someone else? I can only hope that it can, because I now understand how crippling massive dissociation is to any ongoing ability to manage one’s being in the world.
There is another critical piece of information I now know about the link between having undergone severely stressful life events and the development of breast cancer. This research is connected to the ongoing problem of women in Israel developing breast cancer at very high rates.
I have been blessed with excellent physical health and stamina all of my life. I justified the fact that I didn’t need to get a mammogram because I did not fit any of the risk factor categories that I knew of. Had anyone ever told me that the stress of severe child abuse increases one’s risk of getting cancer, THAT fact I would have heard and understood. I understand now that early abuse alters the way the immune system develops as well as alters brain development.
In addition, I now understand that anyone who suffered extreme abuse from birth is at an even higher risk of damage to any ongoing well-being they may have carved out of life for themselves because they no doubt have complicating brain factors due to their brains having adjusted to dissociation. They are at risk because any chemotherapy that stops rapid cell division will affect their hippocampus. They are at risk of forgetting everything they ever learned and remembered about how to keep themselves out from under the devastating effects that underlying dissociation would cause them in their ongoing life processes.
Now it takes very little demand for information processing to “make me drop all the groceries,” and I am now on full disability because of it. Imagine running first in an important race. Suddenly you trip and fall, breaking both your legs. You are hauled by ambulance to the hospital where the legs are set and put in casts. Your leg bones take time to heal. It takes time after this repair for you to get full use of them back again. How likely are you going to be to get back to that same spot on the race track to resume the race and still even be in the running?
None. So I can now say that the me that existed prior to chemotherapy is dead. I cannot go back and get her, either. I had evidently gone through a continuous process throughout my lifetime to adjust to living with the dissociation that trauma had created in my brain. I can no longer remember how I did it.
I know that I am not alone. I am among those on life’s battlefield who have been shot and wounded with thousands of bullets of trauma. Yet we get up again and again and again and struggle forward toward the end of our lives. Do we ever need to question why we suffer?
I had laid out the equivalent of a fragile and vulnerable bread crumb trail in the children’s story of Hansel and Gretel that had allowed me to move from my first breath forward in some kind of ‘associated’ way. By the time I was done with that chemo, that bread crumb trail had vanished and it cannot be replaced. Until chemotherapy I had never known that trail existed in the first place. I know it now because it is gone.
Thank you for reading. Your comments are welcome and appreciated.