I think it’s rare for someone who does not have an abuse history that began at their birth (or even before when traumatic influences affected their life in the womb) to understand why “everyone” can’t move forward in their life leaving abuse and trauma in the past. Certainly the center for Disease Control’s research on the lifelong problems created for survivors of multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences is helping to dispel the myth that ever being able to escape severe early trauma is possible.
Blissful statements made to survivors that belie the facts about how traumatic stress and the permanent distress it creates especially in babies and toddlers during the most physiological formative stages of life only serve to further hurt these survivors, not help them.
Without the power that the pristine forces of Alaska had to sustain and heal me I would not be able to work my way through the telling of my abuse story. I know now that even though I lived long enough to escape the cauldron of hell I was raised in, there was no possible way I could simply scoot off into some glorious new future free of the effects my 18 years of traumatic abuse had on me. Nor was there anyone standing to greet me as I walked from the jet plane that had taken me from Anchorage to Baltimore on my way to Naval boot camp the day of my escape who was interested in debriefing me from the horrific life I had lived up until that moment.
I have always been left to accomplish that task on my own, and here I am 44 years later debriefing myself as I do this writing. I think about the millions of people who have not been able to get this far. Those whose sickness inherited from their family was never preserved in any kind of spoken, written or photographic record of any kind. Their record lies only in their broken heart, the shambled record of their own broken life, in tears, rage — and most clearly of all, in their confusion as they lack any ability to comprehend how what was done to them hurt even the body they live in.
Where are the stories these people deserve to tell? Given the gift of Mother’s writings and of the pictures she took along the way of my childhood as all this was preserved, I am creating a story to share with others whose lives stretch out behind, within, and ahead of them — broken.
Left without words our trauma stories tell themselves out in the dramatic patterns of trauma reenactments that so few can recognize for what they are. My mother lived her trauma drama as she sucked her family helplessly into her wake. Sleep walking. Sometimes sleep racing her way through the years of my childhood my parents created all the stages our shared drama played itself out on and in.
Without insight. Truth buried so deeply within Mother about how hurt she had always been as a child that it could not be brought even into her mind. Anywhere.
The patterns in the cycles of her moves do appear in the words of her writings. Each of her moves were unconsciously designed to alleviate her hidden pain, frustration, confusion and even her rage that was so big she could not find a way to give it all to me no matter how hard she tried. She was fed and sustained by the unseen truths of her life as a child that remained out of sight because they had been transformed into lies.
Perhaps if Mildred had remained living in the same place long enough the buried lies about how wonderful her childhood had been would have begun to crawl up through the floorboards making themselves known when they accumulated in corners and cupboards. Creeping and crawling around under the soles of her feet, shoes on or not, so when she got up to walk from one room to another they would have skittered out and chased her around as she — what?
Ignored them? Blamed their existence on me?
Move. Move again fast. Always moving for one (really) insane reason or another. Packing and unpacking boxes to make sure the bugs didn’t follow her that way. Cleaning. Scrubbing. Polishing. Shining. Ironing out creases in fabrics to make sure not even the eggs — or — heaven forbid — certainly no larvae could exist to grow into the truth buried in the lies that would not stay put when she left them behind. To move yet again.
Parts of Mildred’s truth always ran on ahead of her, waiting for some other door to be unlocked with yet another clean key. Would she have cringed, would she have cried or screamed had she realized her truth had even found its way into the words of her letters to be preserved even in those boxes she taped and taped shut?
Hiding them away inside her storage lockers, these truths show themselves to me now long after her death. I can see them. I know where they are. I am not afraid to let them out or to let them live through the minds of all the people who can finally read them.
One story. One long, complicated and buried story come to life, come to light, somehow in these words.
A blended shared story that lives past Mildred. That will live past me. As unambiguously as I can tell it. Will some parts of the trauma heal itself when the bigger context of the story appears through words? What can be learned through the voice of trauma that speaks thus loudly for all the children whose suffering lies underground, under pavement, under solid or creaking porches where families have come and gone, beyond the ordinary spectrums of what we like to believe childhood is all about?
Trauma only wants to teach us that beyond all the barriers we might construct to pretend it isn’t there, it really is there. In our bodies, those who lived it from before a single word had crossed their lips, at that threshold where lies become truth — or the other way around.
Those who suffer and are kept in silence rise again generation after generation. Somewhere along the lines of time we can choose to stop and listen. What trauma has to teach cannot be outrun, cannot be abandoned through the ignorant choices of the many who leave the hurt ones to suffer in silence yet again within another generation.
Mildred ran to recover something she lost in her childhood. She didn’t know that what she yearned for had never actually existed in the first place. For those of us who have suffered from abuse and trauma since we were born, we are not on a recovery road. We will never be able to find again what we never had in the first place.
Nay. Ours is rather an ongoing journey of discovery. Ours is a creation of a better life, not a recreation. We do not know ease. We do not know solace. Ours has always been a story whose central question has yet to be answered, “What’s the point to any of this?”
We will not know what we need to know, not any of us, until we begin to link our stories together into one that lets us know that what we live is a story bigger than any single life. Bigger-than-life stories have to be shared and told together. We must create one big story of infant and child abuse that can no longer be shunned. No longer ignored or misplaced or misunderstood.
We are a social species. We are designed this way.
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