Sunday, November 2, 2014. Even though my immediate life is not overtly revolving about trauma I do not feel safe in the world. The severe trauma I endured for the duration of the first 18 years of my life (from birth) evidently carved such deep and pervasive tracks into my nervous system including my brain that I cannot escape the FEELINGS of trauma.
Certainly what it felt like to be so abused I wasn’t even able to form a clear sense of myself in my own life carried a profound lack of a sense of safety in this world in my BODY that I very seldom escape even for a few moments at a time. The older I get (I am 63 now) the more aware I am of how complicated life is and how sophisticated the knowledge present in our body is about how to negotiate the split-seconds of our life as we move forward in time.
Being present in moments of extreme trauma that present a threat to ongoing life, which is certainly the experience of little people being greatly harmed especially by those whose task it is to take care of these little people, never goes ignored by the body. Patterns of extreme reactions within the body to experiences of trauma prevents any ability to “relax into” the future. Trauma is an IMMEDIATE experience that overrides any other experience or the hope or possibility of any other experience. Surviving immediate trauma both consumes all available inner resources a little person may have at the same time it pushes the body’s awareness of resources that are lacking toward survival.
Yes, we early trauma survivors DID survive. We did not do so by magically being able to make ourselves BIG enough to combat the largeness of the traumas that consumed us. The LACK of having what it takes to make it through traumas that were way too BIG for us to endure built itself right into our body-brain as a PART of the trauma we survived.
The whole great big mess of trauma, of repeated unendurable trauma that we DID endure, all lies as body memory within us even though we rarely have actual conscious memory of any of this. Our memory built us to be the way we are in the world.
I closely watch the stages of development of self that my now 27-month-old grandson is passing through as I care for him weekdays. I suppose it has been about two months ago now that he had his “AH HA!” experience of recognizing he is a self-within. The following day he used the words “I” and “me” for the first time and then immediately passed into an obvious stage of being extremely shy. It seems that at the instant he recognized that HE is a self he also recognized that the world is full of OTHER selves! He is being helped by everyone who loves him to negotiate what this means for him as a developing person.
Carefully, tenderly, gently, clearly — we help him to negotiate each immediate instant of seemingly quite painful shyness he expresses with his entire being when confronted with other people, even very young children (but not babies). He does a lot of turning away, facing away and then closing his eyes, peeping through nearly closed eyelids. Nearly every adult I have seen interact with him in public affirms his feelings with “Sometimes I feel shy, too.”
It is taking the wider world to mirror back to him how to negotiate interactions that don’t, at first encounter, feel remotely safe!
Nobody PUSHES him. Nobody shames or humiliates or scares him. And what would happen to a child who crosses this threshold into self and social awareness and who is NOT met by safety within the world? A child who has NEVER known safety?
As I write this I find myself narrowing my range of thought. Are there really only two main kinds of situations in life? If so, I would divide them into survival states (fear based on a sense of continual threat to existence) and joy states (happiness based on a sense of safety that allows for calmness), and these are not necessarily compatible.
From watching young children I can see their hesitancy in some situations that seems to come from some innate wisdom within them. I doubt that young abused children get much of a chance to work their own way through situations that elicit caution within them because the traumatic environment they live within continually overwhelms them. In my case my body developed a permanent cautionary reaction to life. I have anxiety and fear all of the time. That is my body’s natural state.
I am too old to believe any longer that I can “work this out” or “work through this.” I have to learn to live my life IN SPITE of what my body knows. I have to “work with this” chronic terror that was so thoroughly built into my body.
In some ways this means that I must have TWO “immediates” going on at the same time. One variant of my immediate existence comes through my clearly trauma-altered body. The other kind of immediate experience of myself in my life MUST come through continual efforts to keep myself exquisitely aware in the moment of how terror rules my body so that I can consciously try as hard as I can to experience something ELSE along with and in spite of what my body experiences on an ongoing basis.
I am never far from having distinct opportunities nowadays to practice this very strange dance within myself. My hive attack that began last September 23rd (as I have explained in earlier posts) is still with me continually. I am being attacked by my own body, which is something immune systems that have adapted to massive prior traumas are prone to do to us.
My range of what feels safe to me has so diminished since leaving my desert home a year ago that there is very little around me I can find to soothe me. Certainly the upcoming many months of brutal North Dakota winter offers me no solace at all. Nor does life in this city, in the confines of this tiny apartment without adequate windows and without a beautiful quiet natural world I can step out my door into, offer me the comfort of sanctuary I left behind me.
Certainly “things could be much worse.” THIS is what my hives are about as they came in response to the message of how close I came to losing my daughter. Did my body respond to news of that so-near miss for my daughter with a celebration of her being spared? Nope! It responded with its pervasive knowledge, grown into it through 18 years of severe abusive trauma, that life is not EVER really safe. That is what I learned as my body was growing itself. My body believes that any immediate sense that life is OK is nothing but an illusion.
Abusive childhoods collapse the distance a growing child needs to traverse between what feels safe to them and what does not. We ALWAYS need to be able to traverse this distance to have any quality of life to speak of. My body took the only shortcut it could find. It (I) was wired to simply KNOW that nothing is ever truly safe. How true is this assessment of life? The answer is of course nothing but relative.
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