I can never, never fool myself into thinking a life with so much deep sadness built into it from child abuse from the start is easy. There are days like today is as my brother flies home after his visit here when the sadness feels so big it’s hard to make space around it to get through the day. This has happened to me in large part because of the stage I am at in my book writing as experiences are closer and bigger to me from my childhood than they have probably ever been since I lived through them in the first place.
I know enough now to name the largess of my current feelings as the body memories that they are. My brother’s leaving today is triggering in resonance how both he and I felt around my age of two and his of three when our insane mother began to remove us from one another’s presence — always when she was in a psychotic state of rage at me that meant I was being hurt.
Today I realize not only was I traumatized terribly from whatever form her attacks would have taken but probably more so by the repeated loss of my brother who could not reach me — nor could I reach him — when these attacks happened.
NOTHING in our life was right. Nothing stable or safe. No reason. No sanity or predictability around our mother. No reprieve. No salvation. All I had was my little brother. I know during these attacks he suffered right along with me even though he was Mother’s adored darling all-good world child. She hurt him as much or even more than she hurt me. He is still hurting.
I know enough now to understand the impact of the combined, cumulative pains of the trauma especially from abuse when I was so small I had not even developed enough of a mind to use it to help myself get through what happened to me — and simultaneously to my adored and adoring big brother. Yet we both remember and will never forget what happened to us — me with my words. My brother without.
I do not fool myself into thinking that our shared trauma and pain isn’t present every time he and I are in one another’s presence even though he is 63 and I am 62 years old now. I don’t choose to think about these things. My body tells me with feelings. Feelings that do not diminish, do not go away.
I cannot avoid knowing what my body tells me about being torn apart from my brother from the time we were very, very small and young. Those feelings are awakened today. There are so many levels of suffering that happen to little children when they are terrorized and abused that comes exactly from being tiny and little, helpless and vulnerable and defenseless.
It doesn’t matter how big or how old we are we are not invulnerable to the awakening of the feelings our body holds in memory for us. They will appear at times throughout our lives. They add themselves into our present day experience because they cannot be separated from who we are as people.
This super-sized suffering takes effort, energy, resources and attention away from what we have available to get through our days. The added costs of coping with massive trauma from infancy and childhood can steal the joy out of our present life. It can make what might be a difficult problem to non-trauma survivors feel nearly insurmountable to survivors.
I cannot be awake and aware in my body without being influenced by the burden of my trauma history. The abuse was too severe, too chronic and it lasted over 18 long years.
I guess I could have seen this response to spending time with my brother and to his leaving coming, yet I would never have denied us this visit. I have a belief that when I have completed all my writing I will be “better,” although I don’t even know what I mean by “better.” More immune to the “old” feelings? More protected from their awakenings? More distant from them?
I cannot sugarcoat the fact that as our culture allows infant and child abuse to happen we are creating degrees of additional suffering in those who survive it that cannot be imagined by those who were not so cursed. The very least we can do as a culture is to honor the complexities survivors face in their lives that come directly from the unbearable and inescapable suffering that was built into all of us.
Some days call for a gentleness that ongoing life does not easily or often offer. Such days as this one is for me are especially hard for survivors. I am reminded of a quote I heard once although I cannot remember the source: “Never hurt anyone, no matter whom for no matter what.” I want to remember to practice softening and gentling of my voice and heart toward other people, and toward myself.
I triage my pain. My oldest wound of love has been touched. It is open, raw and weeping. I cannot heal my brother’s pain. I love and pray for him. I hold him close to my heart as if he is a new robin’s egg without its shell, so full of life lived.
When people tell me, “I cannot start to cry because if I do I will never stop,” I believe them. Still, I can tease this sorrow into the light a little more than ever before. I let my feet move slowly, full of lead. There is something to be learned here even about great sibling love in toddlerhood and before.
What depths of life. What breadths. Crashed upon the rocky shore through raging storms of terrible abuse this love did not break. Can there be a more tender love or one more brave?
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