Angel chapter 33
XXXIII. Between two worlds
The Great Mismatch Divide
It may be as I write my way through my story that I will rediscover my real voice because I rediscover my real self. Am I prepared to experience my own experience of myself? I don’t ask this question esoterically. I am beginning to understand that when I left home at 18 I didn’t only walk away from abuse. I also walked away from myself as the person who experienced that abuse.
I left home having a kind of amnesia about all I experienced because what I knew in my life prior to 18 had absolutely nothing to do with the world I walked into. I crossed no bridge between worlds. I stepped onto a jet place in Anchorage, Alaska and stepped off of it in Baltimore, Maryland (on my way to Navy boot camp). Once my feet stepped onto that new land there was no going back and no part of the life I had known before came off that plane with me. I had simply disappeared from one world and appeared in an entirely different one.
The only possible connection between my past and my new present would have had to have existed inside of me, and I knew nothing. I was a tabula rasa, a blank slate of a human being. I was a refugee, but I didn’t know that. I was an immigrant into a new and completely foreign world. Nobody knew me. I knew no one. One zippered flowered cloth suitcase containing a few toiletry items and a change of clothing – and my body. I was my parents’ abused child when I left Anchorage and an adult when I arrived in Maryland. That was that.
Now I am writing to put my whole story together. I am returning to my early world having lived through all of my intervening years being someone I hardly recognize. My amnesia, though not literal in the usual sense of the word, has been handy to me. As long as I didn’t know who I was I could be somebody else.
Who I was in my first 18 years of life was who my parents allowed me to be. Who I have been since then is who everyone else I have ever been in the presence of allowed me to be. Where is my in-between-me?
When I see someone, I don’t know who they are. When someone sees me, they don’t know who I am. It seems to me that everyone simply lives in between who people see and who they don’t know. In between supposedly people communicate. Certainly they look at one another, make expressions in their faces and movements and talk a lot.
How is this different from what birds and dogs and cats and horses do minus the words? Humans make no more real sense to me than any other kind of creature does. I don’t think I’m supposed to feel this way. I’m supposed to know something I don’t. Something I am beginning to see at age 62 that I can never learn. It is far, far too late.
Before I left home at 18 I did not feel lonely. Mildred’s abusive illness had forced me into lengths of isolation all of my life until that point so I well knew what being alone WAS. But I had no frame of reference, no alternative perspectives, nobody had ever talked to me or enabled me to talk about my experiences. I had no words and no conscious self-reflecting thoughts about anything that I had ever experienced that truly mattered beyond basic facts as I had learned them. I simply continued to live, only in an entirely different world where I experienced different things than other people did.
Teicher’s research group concluded in their 2003 article I mentioned earlier in this book, The neurobiological consequences of early stress and childhood maltreatment, that there is a “mismatch” between those people (1) who were severely abused and traumatized in their earliest life within a malevolent environment who had their physiological body-brain development changed as a result, and those people (2) who were raised in a benevolent environment and did not experience trauma-altered development. What does this mismatch mean? I am not a scientist. I can say nothing about what this “mismatch” between these two populations of people is like for anyone except me. Because what I experience even now through the body the trauma my parents caused me changed during my early years, I have been forced through default to do my best to explore and to understand what dynamics within my parents were in operation within them as they traumatized me. There is nobody else to do this work for me but me.
Those of us whose physiological body-brain-self-development was altered by trauma have been left all of our lives without the facts we need to understand our experience of being alive. I care very little at this point in my life (or in my writing) about the so-called clinical words the benevolently-formed people have invented to describe what they may see of the “problems” we malevolently-formed survivors of extreme early neglect, abuse and trauma may appear to suffer with. All of us on both sides of the Great Mismatch Divide can benefit from accepting the truth that while the realities on both sides of this Divide are very, very different from one another they are both equally valid. Both sides are constructed of features distinct from one another in critically important ways. We each live in different inner geographical territories that are essentially and profoundly unique to our own population.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
Children grow into verbal language. Those of us raised within and formed by the worst malevolent environments from birth (and/or before) most often existed in our world with verbal abuse present. (An online search using these words together, “stop the storm verbal abuse,” will lead you to some of my Stop the Storm blog posts on verbal abuse including +SOME PRIMARY LINKS ON INFANT VERBAL ABUSE that describe the devastating effects verbal abuse has on young infants and children.)
Along with the terrible brain-mind-self developmental changes that the horrors of verbal abuse cause, its survivors correspondingly suffer from the absence of the “nutrition” we desperately needed that benevolent-world children receive through positive, nurturing, encouraging, affirming, supportive and accurate caring words. We received nothing in the way of verbal exchange that would have allowed us to REALLY match words to our own ongoing experience of being our own self as a child alive in the world. Through these patterns of neglect and abuse we grew up vastly misinformed and uniformed in our thoughts – as human thoughts are designed to advance into the realms of higher cognition through words – about our self in the world.
The best was I can think of to describe what my own experience was and is like as a trauma-altered person who has survived to age 62 as I live on the “benevolent” side of the Great Mismatch Divide is to use the word amnesia. My transition from the malevolent world I was raised in to the benevolent world I entered next took place across the more than 4,000 miles I traversed via jet plane on that October 3, 1969 day I crossed the Divide from one world into the other one. While I know now that I did not forget all I had been through pre-age 18 I did not remember it in words, either. I did not remember what I did not forget.
The writing I am doing now requires that I work with as much of the unforgotten non-remembered information I can find within myself. Writing requires that I now find words to describe what my self-amnesia lacks. Because I am not a scientist I am free to borrow words from the benevolent world to describe what I know of myself as a native of a malevolent world.
I apply the fluid metaphoric content within the poetry of language to the description of my experience. My favorite borrowed and reapplied words come from the fields of attachment study. I do not find the cold, remote harshness of so-called clinical words to be accurate or useful to me. They originated on their side of the Divide and as far as I am concerned most of them can stay there. I do use Borderline Personality Disorder and psychosis as support pillars for the verbal bridge I am creating because from my point of view they describe constellations of patterns within my mother as they caused her to overwhelm my experience during the first 18 years of my life in profoundly damaging ways.
I also borrow attachment study terms such as safe/unsafe, secure/insecure attachment as well as the more specific words “disorganized disoriented insecure attachment disorder.” I understand that this term closely matches the experience of being alive in a trauma-changed body, as does this next term I wish to introduce: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). I see the experience of “disorganized disoriented insecure attachment disorder” and RAD as being inextricably related to one another.
Although I believe that Reactive Attachment Disorder is a term that most accurately describes malevolent world development and experience, I recognize that I have to define how I use the term differently than do benevolent world people. Language is useless in conveyance of information if there is no shared comprehension of what any word signifies (points to). Because nobody owns the words in the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) combination, they are fair use words that are not owned by anyone, not protected by copyright or patent. I am free to use them to form the basis of my communications about life within a malevolent world.
In their formal use these words are applied by “experts” only to describe patterns seen in extremely insecurely attached children who have suffered from severe neglect, abuse and trauma in their earliest years. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) includes both “inhibited” and “disinhibited” patterns of behavior. A simple online search using the word combination “child abuse reactive attachment disorder” will provide readers with benevolent-world generated meaning for the popular use of this term.
The fact that benevolent-world “experts” consider Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) a disorder ONLY of childhood does not stop me from using this term as the primo cable capable of carrying the most accurate information between worlds across the Great Mismatch Divide. Those of us in adulthood who were “evolutionarily” altered from exposure to severe trauma during our early developmental stages (as Teicher’s research group describes) know what this term means as it most accurately describes our reality. I believe that the term Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) defines the common ground of our inner geography as trauma-changed people.
Reactive Attachment Disorder does not mysteriously, magically or miraculously disappear at some age point as those children cross into adulthood. As far as I am concerned that term describes the patterns of physiological changes that trauma made in our development that last inside our bodies for our entire life. When I throw a bucket of words into the air that might be used to describe survivors’ reality it is those words, Reactive Attachment Disorder, that fall back to earth where we live. I do not say that RAD is a “diagnosis.” It describes physiological facts about being a trauma altered person.
Benevolent world experts use a vast array of technical, clinical and diagnostic words to describe an equally vast array of manifestations of how trauma altered development plays itself out across the lifespan of survivors. Their words are no more or less real to me, however, than is my own term the Great Mismatch Divide. The Divide can seem to be a heap of earth and stone raised in the center to create great heights that separate the malevolent from the benevolent world experience. My term also represents a wide, seemingly bottomless chasm of separation between our two worlds. The only verbal cable strong enough to cross this Divide no matter how we visualize it is the term Reactive Attachment Disorder as it spans the human experiences within both worlds.
Order and Disorder
The malevolent world I was born into, the world my physiology had to react to, respond to and adapt to, the world I lived in for the very long 18 years of my childhood, challenged me in ways that only fellow early trauma survivors can begin to comprehend. My world was rampant with disagreeable, disordering, disorienting, disastrous experiences. If I had not been able to find ways to create order inside of my body-brain-self-mind I would be dead. I therefore do not apply the term Reactive Attachment Disorder to myself to suggest or imply that I am flawed in any way. I was trauma-changed and therefore I am different from those people who were formed within their benevolent world across the Great Mismatch Divide.
There is no possible way for anyone to stay alive and NOT react continually within their environment. There is also no possible way to be alive and NOT be engaged in attachment processes. These first two words of the RAD term describe nothing out of the ordinary. This leaves me considering the third word, DISORDER. It is only within this word that anyone could intimate a value-ridden belief that there must be something “wrong” with early trauma survivors. Any thinking by benevolent world-formed people that misconstrues the meaning of the word disorder in the term RAD is missing the point that in our material world of duality, order and disorder exist exactly where life itself takes place.
Life is a series of changes that occupy the time in space where living beings exist. If humans do not react appropriately to the continually disordering effects of ongoing change life does not continue. It is the process of restoring order after disorder – or, to use attachment studies lingo, the process of creating “repair” after “ruptures” that allows us to remain alive.
No matter how grandiose our perception of being human might be, none of us escapes the molecular processes that sustain our existence. Within the matrix of our physiological self, our body, we generate our response to life as we continuously react to disorders in our attachment to life in the best way that we can. The patterns of order and disorder within a malevolent world contrast sharply in distinct ways from the patterns of order and disorder within a benevolent world. It is the mismatch between these patterns – as our species allows them to continue – that needs to most concern us.
My personal sense of amnesia about myself in my life exists because I was fortunate enough to cross the Great Mismatch Divide into a different far more benevolent world that was the world I was formed within. This benevolent world cannot actually help me to remember myself because this world shares no parallel “matching” experience of trauma. In fact natives of these two worlds share entirely different histories right down to our most essential molecular levels.
I am not going to waste any energy in assuaging the ego of benevolent world people as they excuse their lack of understanding about what I say exactly as I intend it to be said. Yes, the species I am a member of has reacted to restore order throughout our long history of surviving trauma – much of it created by members of our species against one another (which is what infant-child neglect and abuse is).
The ways that I have had to adapt myself to living in this “benevolent” world have not, in MANY, MANY ways, been good for me. In essence I have been forced to retain my amnesia, to not remember what I will never forget about the hardships and horrors of growing up within such a malevolent world, because this benevolent world wants to ignore the truth of the existence of a world of which they want no part.
Where is the line between “ignore” and “ignorance?” Why shake up one’s perception of a comfortable reality if such a breach can be avoided? Once a change in the order of ongoing experience is detected anywhere a reaction inevitably takes place. As we are challenged so shall we respond. If we can avoid knowing a problem exists we are spared having to attend to it. All negative judgments levied by benevolent world-formed people against malevolent world-formed people are ultimately intended to shut out the truth about neglect, abuse and trauma done to infants and children.
I will no longer pretend I am a native of the world built on ignorance about the other world that formed me. I didn’t ask for what happened to me. I didn’t ask to be pushed so far away from the ordinary experiences of ordinary people during my childhood that I don’t even know what a person really is by ordinary definition. When I was a very young child I fought back in reaction to the trauma being done to me in every single way I possibly could. Mother fought back harder. As time went on and as no help for me arrived, my range of adaptive reactive options became increasingly limited until they hardly existed at all.
I write these words today at this point in the writing of my story to create an opening for me to increasingly speak in my own voice about myself in my childhood during the years covered in Mildred’s writings. I have to create a way to find myself in my own amnesia. Except for a few glimpses into my own reality within the malevolent world of my childhood I have preserved my own amnesia as it enveloped me the instant I boarded that jet liner to leave Anchorage so long ago.
The act of breaking through the enclosure of my amnesia requires that I reattach to myself without reacting with negative judgments against myself as a child. I find I cannot proceed forward unless I exactly have a cable to grab ahold of to guide me between my childhood world and this current world I reside in at this moment. That cable exists in the verbal construct of Reactive Attachment Disorder. This cable, this concept, directly connects how I was in the world as a severely abused child to how I have always been in the world even as an adult. That cable stretches taunt and true through the vagaries of my amnesia.
I feel my body chilled and shivering from blasts of hostile wind. Muscles tighten. Teeth clench. I summon my determination. I understand that my own experience of being a self in my life was brutally challenged every time Mother attacked me in any way from the time I was born. The only hope I had of survival existed inside my own skin. Every single attack created a rupture in my ongoing experience of being my own self as a child in my life. Benevolent-world terminology would most likely apply the world “dissociation” to my experience of these frequent repeating abrupt changes Mildred’s attacks created in my ongoing-self-in-the-world experience.
Dissociation is another word I use as carefully as I do the word evil. Please take a moment to read again the words above I underlined. I mean exactly what I say. Dissociation had NOTHING to do with how I experienced the attacks themselves. Dissociation happened at the junctures where traumatic change took place – in between my ongoing-self-in-the-world experiences – as repeating traumas interrupted my life.
I had to endure the overwhelming stimulation of all the senses inside of me during Mother’s attacks. My attention went nowhere except into hyper-drive. I am very certain that if I had “dissociated” during most of Mother’s beatings she would have killed me. I had to actively “participate” in her physical attacks to protect my body in any way that I could.
While attacks were underway and during the time it took for me to physiologically recuperate after them, I lost that same amount of time I needed to simply BE a child doing what children need to do. I had massive segments of my childhood stolen from me. Nothing can return to me what I lost of myself in my own life during those stolen times – and there were MANY. What I can only refer to as my amnesia began to take place across the span of time Mother’s attacks captured my own experience of myself in my OWN life separate from my mother.
I claim use and meaning of the word dissociation as I take the word across the Great Mismatch Divide into the world I knew. From as far back as I can remember I was entirely present, fully awake and aware during every attack. I believe it is fundamentally an inaccurate assumption that dissociation automatically takes place during active abuse. Again, I have no memory of sexual abuse and make no claims regarding surviving those traumas.
If this word dissociation describes any aspect of my childhood life it only relates to the great, virtually impossible action of connecting these brutalizing patterns together with my own ongoing self experiences when abuse was not directly happening to me. So great were the ruptures that Mother’s attacks caused me that I could not “hook” the end of one abuse experience to the beginning of my own ongoing self experience. The ends of these totally different realms of experience did not match up with one another. They would not have done so for anyone.
I see this as being simply a microcosm example of the profound differences between a malevolent world experience and a benevolent world experience. My sense of myself in my own ongoing life was by definition benevolent. My other set of experiences through abuse attacks were of a malevolent world.
There was a Great Mismatch Divide created in my life to one extent or another nearly all of the time due to the comprehensive psychotic abuse Mildred did to me. It would take a special kind of stupid ignorance to ever suggest that anyone, especially an infant or a child, could put together these kinds of contrasting experiences into a coherent whole. By essential design these two world experiences do NOT belong together! They do not connect to one another. They do not attach to one another. They do not associate with one another. They are fire and water.
Developmental neuroscientists describe what happens to infant physiology when STOP and GO – patterns of stimulation and of tampering down of stimulation – take place in the nervous system-brain at the same time. Simply put, when this happens “there’s hell to pay.” If you floor your moving car’s gas and brake pedals at the same time you will get a little idea of what this experience does to a human body, especially to the small developing body of an infant or a young child.
This kind of reaction to stressful changes in the environment is certainly not the most helpful one, but sometimes a body has no other choice. How can we fight against or flee from an attack we cannot fight against or flee from? How can order be preserved within a body that is suffering the massively disordering effects of ongoing attack?
A traumatized little person’s body-brain will choose to “dissociate” activation of the gas pedal from activation of the brake pedal if at all possible to preserve life. If so-called disorders end up being physiologically built into a developing person they were put there because life was preserved in the midst of conditions that never should have existed in the first place. Ever.
That human caused trauma exists in the life of infants and children being raised within a malevolent world is a tragedy beyond description. That we endure and survive these conditions is the epitome of a miracle. That we made it out of our malevolent childhoods should be heralded as the greatest feat our species can accomplish.
There is nothing defective about us. We are trauma changed and we are different. That we are met upon our exit out of hell by an ignorant, uninformed and uncaring population of fortunate benevolent world-formed people is just another traumatic tragedy in our lives. That the world we knew doesn’t match the world ordinary people know creates more of the same patterns of discomfort that we have lived with all of our lives. Although we cannot change the past we can change the present and the future. It is in the best interests of all of us to do so.
So where does this leave us, those of us whose very bodies were built by suffering and those whose bodies were not? I am left only able to speak for myself.
I must find my own common thread. The combined forces of my childhood created me to be alone. Within a world so unpeopled I was barred from sharing anything more than the simplest expressions of humanity to humanity. The same abilities I used all of my childhood to remain visible as a body while remaining in isolation as a self let me leave one world to enter a different one that I have never been a part of. I watch. From a great distance, I watch.
Like a pendulum set into motion and left alone long enough I stop inside. I stop. I watch again. This is a very lonely way to live, a loneliness that cannot be fixed. An enduring aloneness that cannot be more than temporarily altered. No one should have to live this way. Between two worlds in a permanent state of belonging to neither one. Being a person between two worlds. Watching. Hearing. Suspended in life like a leaf on a tree by nothing but life itself.
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