Monday, April 28, 2014. I have certainly written about this topic before on this blog. I don’t think it’s possible to consider what living life as a severe early trauma survivor is like without thinking about how especially very early trauma during the first year or two of life changes how the pathways are laid into the early-forming brain and nervous system so that they include dissociation — and, I believe — the inclusive patterns of processing the self within the passage of time differently than “ordinary.”
Learning about self is kind of like returning again and again to a revolving door as we repeatedly enter and explore areas within that have been changed through exposure to severe trauma particularly during our most rapid “critical windows” of early development. Other adults who pay attention to the details of how they interact with circumstances in their lives also enter revolving doors to explore their own experience. They just don’t find what survivors do on the other side!
I was thinking again this past weekend about why I cannot force myself to even get into the car my daughter bought for me since I returned to Fargo. It’s a nice 2003 Mercury Sable wagon, so dark blue it appears pitch black except under streetlights in the dead of night!
This weekend thinking returned me to the day about 6 years ago, not long after I finished serious chemotherapy for my advanced, aggressive breast cancer, when I went for a walk along the rail line close to where I lived. The rails had been pulled out as this 73 mile segment of line had been converted to a part of the nation’s Rails to Trails program. The chips of black rock from the old copper smelter still covered the surface where the line had been.
There was a small bridge over a wash. I knew a very large rattlesnake lived in the area. I had seen it lying fully across the entire bed on previous days as it warmed itself against the fall weather’s coolness. On those days I simply turned around and walked home.
However, on this particular day I noticed a light creamy tan blotch on the side of the black stone path long before I reached it. “Hum,” I thought to myself. “I wonder what has blown up onto the tracks.”
By the time I was about 12′ from the blotch my RIGHT brain, I am quite certain, had not only noticed that there were beautiful patterns on the blotch, but also that it was no doubt a piece of old parchment paper worthy of picking up and taking home. It wasn’t until I had bent over with my hands reaching to pick it up that my LEFT brain, most probably, issued its clear statement to me, “That is a coiled rattlesnake, very much alive. FREEZE!”
So I did freeze, and then backed very slowly away. I scared myself silly! I also never walked that rail line again because I knew I could not trust my own thinking process to keep me safe.
This weekend I realized that due to the nearly overwhelming stress of my life now I cannot trust my brain not to repeat a similar VERY SLOWED DOWN process of taking in information at a critical time when I most need it. Traffic here is TOO MUCH for me. Other drivers do really stupid things and I cannot trust that I can react the way I need to when I need to.
My new learning, therefore, as I consider all of this is that the dissociation I experienced with the snake did not mean that I wasn’t taking in the right information. I took it in and processed it in a slowed-way-down peritraumatic passage of time. (When people speak of their entire life passing through their mind at a critically dangerous moment I suspect it is this peritraumatic passage of time they are gripped within.)
There is no way that rattlesnake would have slowed down its reaction to me to keep pace with how slow my brain’s reaction to it was. Neither will any vehicle on the crazy rushing streets (and parking lots) of this town slow down their actions to match my peritraumatic processing, either.
Where I was living near the small town of 5,000 people in southeastern Arizona I would not see as many cars in one day as I see in a minute on the streets where I am living now. I HATE having lost my mobility here! I HATE IT!
But while my disappointment, frustration, irritation, aggravation continues here I also know a little bit more about HOW this condition appeared out of nowhere once I arrived here. I have driven a lot and safely for many, many years. I have pulled trailers up and down the highways. I have even driven a gigantic sugar beet harvesting dump truck.
My problem now only makes sense when I consider it is the CUMULATIVE stress of my life and its changes right now that has stopped me FROZEN in my driving tracks. That cumulative stress goes back, honestly, to the terrible distress/stress of my own birthing experience as I struggled as a breech baby with Mother in hard labor for over 24 hours before I was born — and then to find only a psychotically abusive mother there on the other end of the journey who so severely abused me for the net 18 years of my life. ALL of the traumatic stress of my life has built itself into me.
There sits that sweet, practical little wagon in my #106 apartment parking spot. There sits my el Camino waiting for its fate to be determined sheltered in a rented dirt floor garage.
Meanwhile — I write. I do not know the ending of this story….
Here are some earlier related posts created throughout the years:
Here is our first book out in ebook format. A very kind professional graphic artist is going to revise our cover pro bono (we are still waiting to hear that he has accomplished this job – I think we will have to find an alternative!). Click here to view or purchase –
It lists for $2.99 and can be read by Amazon Prime customers without charge. Reviews for the book on the Amazon.com site