The Dark Side of Mildred’s Mountain series – Angel book 2 beginning with the POP! Goes Alaska letters – chapter 41
41. Forced patience
May 3, 2013. I return today to my work on this book after having taken two weeks off from its writing to settle myself down from my anger that flared so hotly when I reached Mother’s statement in her letter about the excellence of my first grade efforts: “Linda never makes a mistake and I have to watch that she doesn’t get too proud.” I have never chosen to carry anger toward my parents for the horrors they did to me. I consider an angry road to be one of treacherous crossing for me. I cannot afford anger for anger’s sake.
When I awoke this morning it became clear to me that I have accomplished the goal I set for myself two weeks ago: I no longer feel angry. Instead I feel the familiar sadness that has accompanied me in my life for as long as I can remember. Some say there is a righteous anger that can be reasonably turned toward solving problems that create injustices in the world. Certainly infant and child abuse and neglect qualify as injustice. I know that. Yet I prefer compassion rather than anger for my companion.
I find I can afford compassion because it allows for a sensitive discovery of the complexities that flesh out the bigger picture of what happened to me. No traps of sudden danger spring open to lure me into the oblivion of rage if I can stay on my own pathway through my mother’s words and the writing of my story. The rage was hers. She beat my anger out of me before we ever moved to Alaska.
Anger was no longer mine by the time I turned six years old except for one time when I was a senior in high school, and even then that one flash came as an awareness that I was going to stand up to Mother. This was more an action of resolve and determination than it was of outright anger. I resisted her force. I did not act against her.
There was another time during my middle childhood when I made a decision to test Mother. I do not consider that I made any kind of an anger-based choice. At that time I used the growing sophistication of my developing rational mind to consider what seemed to be the facts of my childhood as I opted for mutiny. The consequences were disastrous on all but the most inward and meaningful level. At least I can look back on those long horror-filled 18 years of my childhood and see that on those two occasions I DID defy my mother. (Those stories belong to later books in this series.)
In all but those two cases my having been rendered incapable of feeling anger left me without the ability to fight back against my mother. Perhaps it was my unspoken recognition of this fact that suddenly and unexpectedly broke through to me when I read Mother’s “too proud” comment and triggered my rage in defense of my young self. Far deeper than the harm and hurt that Mother’s comment did to me was the wreckage she had created within me even on a physiological level that had left me completely helpless to even begin to have a fighting chance against my perpetrator.
There is a kind of patience that can be forced upon a young child that enables continued survival simply because it offers no sign of resistance to its attacker. This is a patience that does not appear through choice. It is an infallible humility designed by instinct to retain ongoing life. It is a body-based physiological response and is the standard which defines all possible reactions such a child can have in its environment and still remain alive.
There can be nothing else but ongoing patience within such a child as I was. When faced with the continual brutalizing hatred Mother had for me either I patiently endured everything she did to me or she would have killed me. The absence of anger coupled with the presence of patience was an effective coping mechanism that allowed me to survive.
Stress response train
While I see that anger at current injustices can be used constructively to end them, anger at past injustices that cannot be changed is a useless waste of inner resources. While the survival-based emotions of anger, fear and sadness can be seen as negative, I see them as spots on a wheel of change that each involve specific processes that are designed to produce a positive end – restoration of our being to peaceful calm in an environment of safe and secure connectedness.
The simplest way I envision the activity of a calm-stress response system that has not been forced in early development to adapt itself to chronic stressful trauma is to picture a train station and a train with an engine and three cars labeled anger, fear and sadness sitting on a circular track. When some challenge in the environment creates a disturbance some part of our being – consciously or not – assesses degrees of threat versus safety and decides to respond when needed in the fastest, most effective way possible to restore equilibrium. If we are fortunate such a call for action finds us fully capable of using responses familiar to us to solve any problem immediately. In these cases we do not need to leave the station of our ordinary life to jump on the stress response train at all.
In cases where such immediate competent, confident response actions cannot solve the problem that has challenged our state of peaceful calm we hop on the train and off it goes around and around on its track, passing the station with every loop. I take the liberty of simply calling the first car anger even though we might not notice that the FIGHT systems in our body are in action. There are many seats in each of these cars, and in the case of the anger car we could find seats for everything in a range from cold to hot rage on to mild annoyance or irritation. In this car we search for every known response we know of that has solved a problem in the past similar to the one we are now faced with. If we find a solution the train will stop in front of the peaceful-calm station, off we get, and on with our continuing life we go.
If there is no solution available a person can get stuck on this car circling the track in anger. The most effective next step is to move on to the next car labeled fear which I see as the FLIGHT stress response. Fear is best designed to instill in us the increased motivation necessary to reach further afield in our search for solutions to a problem. It is a response that gears us as members of a social species to seek help from safe, secure, supportive attachment people in our life.
Although it often feels to be a desperate stage, fear is meant to be an open-ended learning stage of the stress response cycle. In ideal circumstances other people will help us solve the problem as we use our combined knowledge and experience. There are many seats in this car, as well, ranging through stages of terror through to the varieties of anxiety experiences. Here again, if a solution is found that can be implemented the train will stop at the station and normalcy will be restored to our systems and hence to our life.
In cases where the train is speeding up with us still on it we often must move on from the fear car to the last stage of sadness, or the FREEZE state of the stress response cycle. While this can be a most difficult stage to find ourselves in as we shift seats from inner agony and anguish through all those seemingly filled with nothing but unending, hopeless despair, in the world of human survival I see this last stage as being one of great hope and positive potential. This stage of sadness is a great stage for learning something entirely NEW!
If we find ourselves circling the track seeming (or being) stuck in the final sadness car it can seem that everything slows, slows, slows…down…. But the train does not stop and we do not get off until either we alone or we in connection with others of our species discover or create an entirely new solution to the problem we are plagued by that has never been used before. To move out of this stage a quickening is required.
Just as developmental experts call the stage an infant-toddler reaches when it stiffens up and arches its way off of its caregiver’s lap into the greater wide world “hatching,” the new life that comes with the invention or discovery of an effective entirely NEW solution to a big problem is an exciting and important stage in development many of us repeat throughout our lifespan.
Our society is currently invested in applying pharmacological (and addictive) solutions to the experience of ongoing sadness and “depression” that seems to be unresolvable by any other means. As we do so we are doing nothing to find solutions to the problems that have created the chronic states of sadness that are being treated. Most of the time real problems are denied and remain unidentified as millions of people find ways to create the illusion that the calm-stress response train has stopped at the station and all is well – when it probably is not.
In cases where the trauma of abuse and neglect affects infants and children nothing about how the calm-stress response system operates can happen in ordinary, normal or optimal ways. The amount of information that needs to be presented to describe what happens in these cases is beyond the scope of this current writing. For those of us who are adult survivors of early severe abuse and trauma our systems have all adapted to those conditions so that our entire experience of being alive in a body is beyond the ordinary. However, it is my belief that while we may experience “dis-abilities” directly connected to our trauma altered development we also have different, or “diff-abilities” that are tied to our greatest assets.
I imagine that without the severe abuse of my childhood my body would have developed to include a healthy and effective anger FIGHT energy stage in my calm-stress response system’s repertoire. For reasons that I have been describing in this chapter such an anger stage is not a part of my own natural physiology in ordinary ways. Although I do include any highly energized problem solving response to a stressor in the environment as being connected to the “anger” spectrum, the patterns of my life have grown from my earliest years to incorporate the various areas of my effective competence, confidence and active coping skills within the arena of WORK itself rather than of anger.
The more I focus on writing my way through the story of my childhood the more I realize that this was exactly what surviving abuse always was for me – a whole lot of very hard WORK. I forever wrangle with my physiological stress response patterns designed in, by and for a life of severe trauma (again, refer to Teicher’s article previously mentioned). I feel fortunate that I can filter my ongoing efforts through a work psychology that feels positive, constructive, productive and helpful to me. I am grateful not to be stuck in a negative, destructive war psychology such as my mother was trapped in.
Trauma has always been our teacher in the ever-changing environments we live in. Our best quality of life relies upon our ability to prevent them from ever happening in the first place. Once one does occur everyone in our species is best served by learning the lessons trauma can teach us so that whenever possible we will prevent the same trauma from happening to anyone else – anywhere – ever again. Repeating patterns of unresolved trauma continue to happen because we have not yet learned how to stop them from doing so.
Even though I woke today very aware of the great sadness that accompanies me through my life I also know that my sadness awakens my compassion and helps me to face the fact that many injustices remain in this world. These injustices and the traumas they create need to be recognized, named, addressed and stopped. This is critically true for the great problems that continue to harm our species’ offspring.
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