Chapter ten 10
My mother would have been an expert at throwing people off the trail. Not that there were many people in her world in the first place. Just grandmother. Just my father. Just my little brother, John. But to be sure that her control was absolute and that her image was impeccable, she would have continued, if only to herself, “I’ll be sure to dress her in the prettiest little outfit I can find come Easter.” And to my grandmother, “Just be patient. I know how much you want to see here, but right now she is sleeping, so let’s all be quiet now. We don’t want to wake her up.”
(Looking at this today, 8-20-6, the ramifications become more obvious and more profound. “Don’t wake her up” means don’t allow the self that is Linda to wake up or to be born. Leave her sleeping in the inner circle…..that’s what happened to mother, too).
How absolutely alone can a person be? I imagine she played the dutiful mother and kept me changed, bathed and bottled on an appropriate Dr. Spockian schedule. (But what price did I have to pay? My needs intruded into her world. She, in turn, intruded with horror and violence, perhaps with resentment? Into mine.) Perhaps she did on occasion during the daytime dress me up in a perfect little pink outfit and lay me on a pink blanket on the couch or on her bed or on the no doubt immaculate living room floor while she accomplished her daily housewifing chores and tended to her interactions with her handsome young-man-son.
My only hope and my heartfelt suspicion is that the one person she did not consider a member of her public sphere – my baby brother John – had some kind of less restricted access to me. Even not that he and I are in our mid-fifties I can feel a special cherished, sweet and deep connection and affection between us that is unique to me. I do not share it with any other person. I have no doubt that from the first look that was exchanged between our eyes that the light of heaven passed between us. I have no doubt that the gentle touch of his little hands on my tinier ones, on my arms, on my infant silken cheeks saved my life. His adoring words to me became the craving music to my being. His smiles of delight, his cooing to me, his silly baby games.
But only when our mother was in another room or wasn’t looking or paying attention could these interactions have occurred.
(8-20-6 If an infant is born in a halo, its being, its essential self enclosed in an inner circle, then without threat or enduring trauma that boundary would be permeable and open, would be able to expand and let the others of its life into it. But if the environment the infant is born into is one of peritrauma and acute distress in response to very real danger and threat of annihilation, then this halo, this inner circle never expands. It closes like a cell wall around it. The self is closed into that circle, never to get out, and after enough time goes by of existing in this state of peritrauma, the self is lost in there. I believe the purity of my brother’s being, the innocence of his love and intentions to me allowed him to see and touch my newborn little self. But being so young himself, he could offer me no protection or true solace. We were both in a dangerous world. Me, by the nature of my mother’s psychosis being in a great deal more danger than he was. But both of us were in an unstable world. And as he watched from his very young vantage point, the horrors that extended from his mother to this new tiny baby girl, he was no doubt traumatized by witness abuse from the time I was born. This would have mobilized his own defenses, interfered with the ability of his brain and mind to develop healthily. He had to respond internally and invisibly to the horrors he saw happening to me. His little brain could not have made a distinction, or made any rational assessment of the situation. His brain formed around these experiences as mine did. Just in a different way.)
Nowhere in all the books and articles and literature that I have studied have I found the kind of importance and significance given to sibling relationships that needs to be recognized, acknowledged, affirmed, encouraged, respected in situations where extreme acute stress of trauma, neglect and abuse are present in a family. (8-20-6 In my case the relationship with my brother was helpful. I suspect in my mother’s case, that it was not. If her only sibling, her brother 2 years older than her, was raised with what I suspect was a mean nanny and inadequate parenting, he was very possibly conflicted and damaged himself. I suspect that he offered two contrasting states toward my mother in her infancy: Charles would either offer supreme affection and positive connection to her, affirming her, comforting her – or he tortured her. I believe these were alternating states between them from early on, so that my mother alternately craved his approval and affection for her, desperately so, for the rest of her life. Or was inwardly afraid of him. We must recognize that very young children can both offer healing to one another, and also can increase the acute stress of trauma, even under very young, infant condition.)
In addition, one only has to look to see how the very fortunate and the extremely unfortunate aspects of a situation can be so closely connected.to the unfortunate. In the “dream world” that was creating itself in the post WWII war glow of suburbanizing Los Angeles, my mother with the milky ivory skin with its smattering of all-American freckles, and her deep emerald eyes and thick wavy dark auburn hair, who had been voted the most beautiful girl in her high school graduating class in Melrose, MA, fit the picture of wifely and motherly perfection. From the outside. With her high heeled shoes and tasteful dresses, with her ruby red lipstick, her perfectly slimmish curvaceous figure, even with her hat and gloves when she ventured out in public. And her fetching most beautiful smile, her well-articulated, well-modulated voice and her correct grammar. She was charming.
And then there was her educated, pipe-smoking handsome intelligent well-employed civil engineering husband. Her perfectly manicured home. Her well dusted and well polished furniture, while not expensive, reflected the care and attention she lavished on them daily. Her well-equipped and orderly kitchen, her well-planned menus and well-balanced meals. Her perfectly set tables, with linens and lace, napkins folded perfectly and placed in their proper positions, silver perfectly polished and placed in their correct positions – all according to her proper Bostonian upbringing’s requirements and specifications.
Her family’s perfectly laundered and ironed clothes with their perfect creases, her husband’s white handkerchiefs bleached and starched with hems folded to perfection. Her perfectly folded linens and towels, all stored with their perfect hems and their perfect folds facing in the correct position. Beds made perfectly with an extra blanket folded to perfection and placed perfectly at the end of the bed. Every item hung on the hangars in her closets facing perfectly in the correct direction.
The outward show of propriety, her aura of feminine completion and fertility, her ability to cook and manage her responsibilities with perfection – could provide for her an outward show of a life that anyone exposed to her charms could only applaud or envy. She was. in herself and in her life, an expression of the American Dream.
During my infancy the horrors that churned within the most innermost chambers of her existence were visible only to me, and by accidental overdose exposure that she could not entirely prevent, to my toddler brother, John.
- And when an encounter with the object of the curse could not be avoided – hated.
After all, who in their right mind could possibly not hate the devil’s own child? Who could not help but hate evil incarnate? Who could not hate that pretender of a newborn cherub that was me? The answer was – NOBODY! And how convenient! The events of my birth and exactly provided that nobody for me. And that nobody was my mother.
For the fact that I was in no way damaged in utereo I am forever grateful. To the best of my knowledge my mother did not during the time I was a fetus ever ingest any substance that was physically harmful to me. I also believe that during her pregnancy with me my mother was as happy as she could be. Her exploding figure was a testament to her fertility, and all who encountered this glowing specimen of motherhood would have complimented and congratulated her. There would have been no anxiety about whether or not I would be born a boy or a girl, as her perfectly placed firstborn son had already taken his proper place on the stage of her family’s life. My guess is, however, that she dreamed of and hoped for a gorgeous angelic little baby girl dolly baby. (Did she have any feelings of foreboding while she carried me? I do not know.)
My mother had as a young girl repeatedly begged her mother for a baby sister or brother, and was told year after year, “Not now, maybe later.” And every year for Christmas she was given an expensive and lavishly dressed china doll baby to add to her collection. As she often repeated this “story” to us as children, she would always add, “I played with my constantly. I was a good mother and took excellent care of them.”
When she was 23 and married my father, she still had her entire collection of dolls. As he had his collection of model trains. Through the undercurrent of antagonism that existed from the start of their married life together, each accused the other of not wanting to grow up and be an adult. So each made the other relinquish their childhood treasures for good. (My father’s model T was thrown out as part of the bargain.)
Perhaps it was some form of a desire for retribution that made my father state to my mother early in their marriage that she had a horrible voice, sang through her nose, and could not carry a tune. This hurt her feelings terribly, and she never sang in his presence again. Throughout all the years of my childhood, my parents sang separately from one another. She sang all the old WII love songs and he sang the old country western classics. And my father had what my mother didn’t – a well cared for collection of record albums filled with 78 lps. All my mother had was her memory of her songs, and her voice.
But in the end of ends, what mattered most is that my mother had what she’d always wanted. She’d traded in all her china dolls for her real live babies. They were not her siblings, but her very own children. They belonged to her, not to her mother. This fact was to become a central focus of one of the raging battles in my mother’s mind over me that changed the fate of my family.
I believe, no matter what, this is the reason we ended up in Alaska. It had nothing to do with the mountaineering my father did, or with is love of the outdoors or fishing. It was a battle for possession of me. And maybe for my mother, it was a battle of possession of herself; because what happened is that we were both taken away from grandmother Beatrice.
Chapter eleven 11
The evidence among the professional community is evidently overwhelmingly affirming of how brain damage occurs when abuse and emotional neglect – or worse – happens to an infant while its brain is forming. We are talking about developmental stages in the creation of our physical brain, which include how the connections are made and how they operate. We are talking about the development ALSO of mind and a sense of self AND self.
I have been hoping as I write my book that I would come across or encounter someone’s writing in my research where they claim to have a way to change the brain and HEAL these deep wounds. Last night I perhaps did, in the work of Diane Fosha.
Otherwise, if there’s no hope of a “cure,” as Jon Allen suggests, then those of us with the damage are left to cope with the rest of our lives with a brain that is as damaged as it would be if we’d been born say autistic. I am convinced that we share some common ground with autism, though of course the brain is so complex and still such a mystery that we have a whole big gift bag of similar characteristics to autism without some of autism’s really huge problems that THEY have to deal with and that everyone notices. Ours are hidden. They are not obvious. We have invisible brain damage, and the damage extends to our birth and to the core of our being.
Which makes it really really hard for us to know what’s wrong with us. Let alone how to cope with it. But I at least have my first direction to look for our possible hope of healing, where an autistic person doesn’t.
The problem, however, as I initially see it, is that this therapy Fosha offers is so radical and rare and no doubt expensive that we can’t access it. So for those of us who have our brain disordered from our mother’s treatment of us, how do we find, access, and pay for this treatment? Let alone asking the questions, “Does it work and would it work for me?”
Jon Allen suggests ways to cope and ways to improve our functioning. But he says not only that there is no cure, but also that retrieving memories and emotions is absolutely NOT advised. Yet both Fosha and Allen would agree that we cannot possibly do any work on our disorganized attachment selves alone. We need a “perfect mother” and that
Trained and capable person can ONLY be a therapist.
Well, how is that possible when most of us have continued to have disorganized lives leading to unprofitable outcomes in most if not ALL areas of our lives? We are not stacked with financial resources and don’t have insurance and most of us are not in stable relationships, let alone with a rich mate who will pay for this therapy. Nor did we come, probably, from a stable full-of-resources family to support us or we would not be in our predicaments in the first place.
So that leaves people like little ole’ me trying to write a book about what happened to me so I can offer, perhaps, insights that can help all of us recognize –at the very least – that although we are not crazy there is something very unordinary about us. Extra-ordinary. There’s just plain something WRONG!
Then in the process of identifying and describing what’s wrong with me I can communicate what ways I used to SEEK out life and survive it.
Because my mother was truly crazy. She couldn’t have harmed me much more than she did unless she’d taken an axe to me and chopped me up into a million little bitty pieces. Which IS what she did mentally and psychologically. For 18 years.
But had she NOT been there the first two years of my life, I would be OK today. If nothing else had changed of the rest of my childhood. If all the thousands and thousands of beatings had still occurred, as well as her mind control – if the interactions I had with her from birth to 2 hadn’t altered and harmed the development of the circuitry of my brain itself, I would still BE OK today.
Sure, I would still be traumatized by the trauma of all of the rest of it. I would still have been affected. I would still have PTSD. But my brain formation, and that of my mind and my core self would have been created in a normal ordinary fashion and I would have had skills and abilities and inner resources like John Pelzner had, or like concentration camp survivors have, or prisoner of war survivors have – to deal with trauma and abuse. If a person’s basic needs are met birth to age 2, then they have what they need to survive anything else in their lives.
Horrors can happen to a person. So can horrors heaped upon horrors. Horrors can happen to a person who is already a person. But that’s a whole different story than with infant abuse. When a baby is cared for from birth by an out-of-control psychotic violent mother like mine was, there’s NO chance the infant’s brain is going to form or operate normally. NONE!
Therefore, its MIND and its SELF will not develop or operate normally either. Not its life, either.
You’ll read all kinds of terms here, words, that you may or may not have ever encountered before. I do not have to take a stand among any colleagues and prove any points. You are encouraged to read any professional’s work that I mention and that you can find to learn more about the specifics. I do NOT want to trace the lineage of theories here, or demonstrate how the pyramids of scientific thought, theorizing or research have accumulated a body of working knowledge about attachment, trauma, neuroscience, or the development of the brain.
If I were to do that I would lose most of the readers I am trying to reach. But I have to find a way to include the basics, or I will lose them anyway.
Think about it in relation to computers, which have now been around long enough that we accept not only their presence in our lives, but their indispensability. But you and I do not need to know their intellectual heritage. We don’t even WANT to know their heritage. We don’t need to. We don’t care who invented them or how. We just want one, want to know how to use it, and want to know we can trust them to work, how to get them fixed if they don’t. We want them available to us. We want them dependable. And we want to be able to improve or upgrade them when we want to, or where to get a better one.
Just like we do with the cares we drive. We know the names of our cars. Not the names of who designed them, engineered them or built them. We just need them to do what we need them to do, and we need to afford to operate them. We need good driving skills and good roads to drive them on. We need to know where we’re going and we trust that we can get to the destination we intend to reach.
So, I am writing a layperson’s book on every level. That is the best I can do. I am not going to become a neuroscientist or a doctor in psychiatry or psychology. I have too much work to do just trying to become a person. Like most people already are. But not all of us. Not in the truest sense. We don’t have a self.
Having come to grips with the fact that my brain is damaged is not an easy task. Having to read books on sociopaths and POW survivors and criminals and autism and on how animals think to try to understand what is wrong with me because there was soething terribly wrong with my mother, is a hard road o take.
I have to understand from my very limited perspective as a lay person not only what went wrong – because it WAS terribly wrong – in my childhood and upbringing, but also in the midst of hell, what went right – what WAS right – because I did not abuse my own children. I did not become a criminal. I did not become a sociopath or a borderline. And most importantly, why am I still alive?
What skills and resources did I have as a newborn that I had to marshal from the moment I was born to SEEK and FIND a path that led in a better – though far from perfect or ordinary – direction out of a terrorizing childhood, and come out seemingly relatively intact? I say relatively because I’ve had little more than a few fleeting glimpses of what HPPY might be. I still feel I am way at the bottom of a deep well, peering up at the world of ordinary people. That I will never really know how to get to their world, and I will never really fit into it if I ever did.
I listen to most conversations between ordinary people with mixed feelings. I envy their ability to socialize with one another, their “belongingness.” But at the same time their lives and topics of interest are foreign to me. I don’t understand them. I am disconnected from them and from their world.
I make a critical judgment that because they live on the surface of a world I don’t understand and am not really a part of, that they and their world are not only surface, but trite and boring. I suppose if one has always been in a state of trying to survive, it would seem that way. I suspect my attitude has a lot to do with my inborn ability to SEEK out what is most important and vital for survival. Animals SEEK for novelty, as that is where the light of day comes from on a very basic level. That is how we find what we need to survive.
Discovery through attraction to novelty using a seeking process led me through a trial and error pathway to find the essence of what I needed to survive and endure my infanthood, and then my childhood. I found what I needed in a hostile, barren, extremely threatening, dangerous, unstable, inconsistent, violent world of chaos and trauma.
But what perhaps amazes me most is that although my mother could offer me nothing but the violence born of pure psychotic hatred (I now understand that she had the animal mind that can’t love and hate the same person), my attraction was toward survival, toward life, toward the light. The great mystery may be as essential to the world of an infant –as clear as clear can be – that in reality an infant is most like a plant that will always grow toward the light. Until it disappears.
This entails two things: One, that there be any light available even in environments and situations that seem completely, absolutely dark (which mine was very close to), and, secondly, that the infant has an intrinsic ability to seek out this light, and FIND IT! The infant then metabolizes this light into itself to live and to grow. To survive. To endure.
In the darkness a terribly abused and neglected infant’s very life depends on its inner motivation to stay alive. It seeks out and grasps even the tiniest sliver, thread, hair of light and wraps itself around it and hangs on for dear life. We say the web spun by spiders is the strongest fiber on earth. Scientists attempt to replicate that strength. That’s how strong any glimmer of light is to an infant who has nothing else to hold onto.
Grandin states that there are four core primitive emotions common in the primitive, oldest part of human brains that exist in the brains of all mammals. These four are listed as 1) rage, 2) prey, chase drive, 3) fear, and 4) curiosity/excitement/anticipation. For this fourth emotion, the language of English lacks a single word to describe it, so I will simplify it to “curiosity.”
Because these emotions are primitive core and central, we know they have to be tied directly to the evolutionary need to survive. If an infant is born without devastating genetic hindrances or with damage cause enutereo, then these core emotions are available in the 1/6th of the human brain present in the body of a tiny newborn.
Once I came out from under the influence of any drugs they gave my mother during her difficult labor with me – that would have been in my system also – my core emotions had to go to work. At least they did as soon as my mother had any private time with me. Away from any public sight or hearing (which included away from my father and grandmother, but not so much from my toddler brother).
I do not know why I did not suffer from Shaken Baby Syndrome, because I strongly suspect my mother’s out-of-control rage and violence was indiscriminately forced on me from my birth. The cruel and terrible horrifying monster that was my mother, this GIANT to me when I was newly born, attacked me the first instant she could and then continued to do so for the next 18 years.
That’s a long long time. And it included every moment of every developmental state a human being passes through during those years. And it began the first private moment my mother had alone with me. Of that, I have no doubt. And I now know I was initiated at that moment into peritrauma that never went away along as she had me in her custody.
Chapter 12 twelve
We like to talk about the possiblitities of prevention and intervention when we talk about child abuse and neglect. ANY child abuse. But if the parental instabilities are not identified BEFORE the mother has the first moment alone with her child, the trouble and damage has already begun. A baby is actively forming its brain-mind-self connections from the instant it is born. (Before, also, of course. But this remains out of the realm and boundaries of my story).
So, back to the four core emotions, simplified: 1) rage, 2) chase, 3) fear, 4) curiosity/seek. For a newborn, as I imagine it, it is pretty simple. 1) I need something and my first primitive reaction is rage at this disturbance of my harmony and equilibrium. So, 2)my chase emotion is triggered but I of course can do nothing but cry at first because I am tiny and helpless. So, supposedly, my tiny attempt to chase what I need by crying triggers, for me, 3) fear because a terrifying monster appears. Yes, she might have good but the rest is B-A-D!! Nothing comes like empathy or concern or love or mirroring. Just terror, confusion and pain. So I turned off any connection mentally with my mother as soon as my developing brain allowed me to do so. And what was substituted for a feeling of safety, soothing and safety was foreboding and a sense of impending doom. As soon as my tiny brain would have determined that any other need I might have for security and “attachment” had to be met in another way, I would have moved on to 4) seek, and looked instinctively for an alternative. And to fulfill the seek emotion, the alternative always has to be a novel one, something DIFFERENT from what is know or available.
And because mammals did not evolve from having a desire to DIE but only evolved with and from a desire to LIVE, any baby, myself included, will seek toward the direction of life. Toward the direction of whatever light there might be for this tiny plant to continue to live and grow.
We might want to balk at the concept of a newborn choosing anything, but I know they do. It is not conscious, as we might understand that state of mind. But the brain is already building itself from the raw material of every experience it is having with the environment, and with the caregivers around it.
Grandin writes that most normal people – I choose to refer to them as ordinary – miss almost all the details of life because they are not paying attention to them. The human mind ordinarily makes connections between things so that we can pay attention to the bigger picture.
I am extremely grateful for my having paid attention when my son was less than 5 hours old so that I could notice this event and pass it on to you from my own personal experience. I had an easy four hours of labor with my son, my third child. Of course it was painful, but I had 2 women friends at my side during delivery, as well as my two daughters. My oldest volunteered to photograph the birth, and my younger daughter cut the umbilical cord. No drugs were used during delivery, so neither my son nor I were under any outside influence.
So there I was about five hours after delivery sitting in my hospital bed watching the TV mounted to the wall up in the corner of my room at the foot of my bed to the left. My son laid peacefully in the bassinette at the end of my bed to the right, with his eyes shut and his head turned away from the TV and toward the door, sucking his thumb. But at the instant that a TV shows began with the opening notes of its theme song and opening credits (I believe the song might have been “Danny Boy,” theme song to the Danny Thomas show, “Make Room for Daddy” – I do not remember the exact song, just that it had a “hymnal” quality of an “old classic favorite” to it), I watched as this newborn opened his eyes, pulled his thumb out of his mouth, turned his head toward the television. He listened intently to the entire song, at after its last note faded, he turned his back toward the door, put his thumb back into his mouth, and shut his eyes.
Researchers have discovered that fetuses respond after birth to music such as TV show theme songs after birth that they heard before they were born. I didn’t even own a TV while I was pregnant with my son. But he certainly identified the sounds of that song and responded to them! He distinguished it as pleasant from all the other sounds going on around him. I don’t know, of course, if he was feeling curious at any point, but he certainly was ATTENDING to that music.
His actions were not conscious as we would probably understand it. Perhaps they were automatic. But they were connected to some kind of patterning and circuitry in his growing little brain, and this experience was added to it. (At this age, it would have been into what is known as implicit memory). He demonstrated a selective behavior, and he was at the center as agent of that selection. Some selective inner process went on that in-spired his actions at that moment. He appeared to have 3) chased down the music by 4) seeking its source. No rage, no fear. As it should ALWAYS be for a being that small!
I was attentive so I could pay attention to his attentiveness as he listened to that song. I imagine it was a pleasurable experience for him. Something in-side of him was stimulated by that music and he accomplished a specific and no doubt satisfactory process toward a successful conclusion. And I did not intrude or interrupt him for the duration, either.
We MUST know – babies do that all of the time. Now to my tiny son that song wasn’t essential for his survival, but it enhanced it. I particularly noticed that he attended to it from its first note to its last. A very specific response. Now, his world posed no threat to him. The one I was born into did. Huge, scary, violent, hurtful, out-of-control, rageful, cruel, wicked, nasty, threatening, traumatic.
for further elucidation: Scientists know that infants can choose, somehow, to turn off the “mentalizing process” when faced — literally – with a really B-A-D mother. They also know that the baby can instantaneously turn the process back on when it is safe and beneficial (for its brain’s development of brain-mind-self) to do so. (What ages?)
What is exactly going on for the infant during those encounters that it evidently KNOWS are harmful, when it has to stop reaching out and shuts down the mentalizing process? The baby is still THERE in every other way, physically experiencing the experience of being raged at, hurt, scared, abused and traumatized. It is THERE under the influence of the B-A-D mother and enduring all the aspects of the traumatic experience because it has not yet developed a SELF with which to disassociate with and from. This is a crucial point. Its body, its senses, its emotions, and its implicit memory is functioning and present. The trauma as it happens and continues to happen, I now realize, is putting the infant into a peritraumatic state. There will be consequences. But the infant can at some age, select on some fundamental level – as my son selected to listen to that entire song at 5 hours old – NOT to mentalize with, or in some way not to pay attention to the BIG B-A-D mother. The WHOLE of the experience now also includes the not-paying-attention part. But very clearly to me, this is NOT disassociation. It is something else….
Whatever independently owned and operated distinct a self a newborn has from birth has to pull its own strings and “decide” and “choose” what it is going to do from the time it is so tiny nobody would even consider there is a self big enough to notice. Sort of like when a sperm fertilizes an egg and life begins – we can’t see either “self” with the naked eye.
But if we get a microscope and look very closely and pay close attention, we can see it all. And because a newborn is so small, all the experiences it has, all the events in its life, have profound and permanent impact on the development of its brain-mind-self, with profound consequences. We need to know that, pay close attention, and not forget it!
Chapter thirteen 13
A baby is born with its foot full throttle on the gas. Pedal to the metal. If it encounters no obstacles, off it goes down the road way of its life. All its loving, caring supporters encourage it and give it whatever it needs to get good driving skills in the first place, and gets its needs met in any pit stops it reaches along the way. It gets a good car and good fuel, helpful adjustments, and a wonderful road map to consult along the way. It can easily find what direction it wants to go in, what the destination is, and how to get there.
We, as a society, are getting better at noticing when the accidents are happening to our abused children and we try to pull them out of the wreckage. But they are often terribly injured and broken by the time we notice that something is terribly wrong. But it is hardest to snatch the infants out of harms way. We often don’t pay enough attention until it is too late.
Just because a child is still in a very small, or even tiny young body, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been nearly fatally damaged by the time we get to them. Especially if we don’t know for fact what that child experienced enuterero or from the moment it was born, and what happened to it FROM the moment it was born. All the “stuff” that goes on behind the closed doors.
In my case, I was born with the ability to put my foot full on the gas, but instantly hit THE OBSTACLE. My very own mother. And she WAS her illness – by definition. It was truly a bad, B-A-D situation!
All I had in my little survival kit was four core emotions. Not much to choose from, yet enough to allow mammals to evolve from the beginning. It is important to note that an animal can display its drive to chase whatever appears before it. Otherwise, they have to seek out something to chase. When I hit that first obstacle, I had to chase in the opposite direction from the one that evolution had programmed me to go – I had to chase AWAY from my caregiver in any possible way I could.
Away meaning my foot was on the gas and I had to DRIVE somewhere else. I had to SEEK a direction to do that. Of course my FEAR was activated. Whatever the RAGE was against was now much larger than it should have been at that new age, just a minor disturbance of a newborn’s equilibrium of restful harmony by the feelings of cold or wet or hunger or warmth – the motivation of the basic needs. Even in the midst of violent hate crisis chaos she fed me by propping a bottle, or changed my diaper (though I have no doubt she didn’t repeatedly stab me with the diaper pins), and kept me clothed. Had she NOT violently handled me, and if I had no touch at all, I would probably have died simply from that fact alone. So in a very real way I LIVED because she hurt my body.
But I could not escape her. My only newborn way to use the tool of the primal core emotion of chasing what I needed by crying was now not only a useless tool – she hated when I cried and I know put her hand over my mouth and nose to silence me whenever she felt like it – but a dangerous one to use. Rage and fear from trauma flooded my body with stress, and my body was in acute peritrauma so that the stress hormones poisoned me.
The only possible avenue open and available to me was to SEEK some way to survive. All, or nearly all, of my efforts would have gone in that direction. And the only defense available to me was to FREEZE. At the core of my being. I never got out of the starting gate, so I froze right at the starting line. Right on the “event horizon.” The events of our lives are supposed to form who we become. But I never got to separate myself from the events. So I am still one – an event. And so is everyone and everything else. I was put into a state of suspended animation, suspended in never ending peritrauma. The train of my life took off, but I wasn’t even on it.
So what of my basic drives, and my emotion of seeking? I am still doing this! I have always been seeking for my self and for the ability to connect and attach in this lifetime. That I cannot DO it has led me to the seeking of answers, that is leading me to the writing of this book. Because I KNOW I am not alone in this dilemma. I know it.
I have to find out how A WAY can be found by a tiny infant to survive with only four core emotional possibilities to choose from. Did one of these become more dominant for me? Did the CHASE emotion provide the impetus for the SEEK emotion?
I wasn’t even given a car, so I certainly did not get to go down a straight or even a round track. I went down one looking more like the infinity sign of a figure eight. I could not escape my mother and I could not escape my body – not even by dissociating. And until I reached the developmental stage of locomotion, anything I did physically was circumstantial. I then “circumstanced” in my circumstances. Whatever that means?
Maybe my toddler brother was in her private and public sphere – her not being able to act on her hate or act it out quite so easily or freely when John was inevitably, occasionally present when my mother and I were together. If she took John outside for a walk, the smiling face would have been the one that took me along. Could I distinguish the smiling mother from the monster? Did I wait for the smiling mother, with anticipation or hope? Did that smiling mother ever “mirror” my emotional states, or my states of mind back to me? I doubt it.
A caged and tortured animal attacks. If provoked enough and powerful enough, it is a dangerous creature. Was I ever “present” enough as a self, separate from my mother, to ever feel that before I was old enough to pound my fists down the hallway walls when she sent me to my room before we went to Alaska (when my grandmother was there, and mother sent me away from her)? Did I ever defy her? Did I try at nine months old, even, to fight her back, to hit her, to try to squirm away?
Did I ever defy her in any way than by my staying alive? Though she couldn’t have very well said, “OOPS! I killed the baby,” or “OOPS! I don’t know what could possibly have happened! The baby just died! And I have no clue how that could possibly have happened!”
No, my staying alive was a kind of operational conspiracy that I had worked out with my mother. She could smother my breath and nearly suffocate me, pinch me, stab me, poke me, slap me, pound me with her fists, hold my hands pinned to my little sides and slam and thump my body up and down like so much bread dough in her hands. She could bruise me where no one but her could or would see it. She could hold me up in front of her face, touching faces, and scream and rage at me. She could treat me roughly and bundle me up so tightly I couldn’t move, way past the age when swaddling the baby was a good thing. She could throw me hard against the side bars of the crib. She could swear I was a curse on her life and that she hated me and that I was evil and the devil’s child and not even human, and scream at me that I was nothing but trouble until my ears throbbed.
But she could not, must not, KILL the baby. That was a point she could not make, a line she dared not cross. There would have been unpleasant consequences and repercussions. That would have been made public. That was the limit of both her consciousness and of her conscience regarding me. She never to the day she died showed any remorse for the tortures she committed to and against me. Her only other real concern from the time I was born was that of keeping her pretty little cherubic girl prop on the stage of her life, seemingly perfect and in her place. Her play dolly and her prey dolly. Talk about devastation and confusion!
Chapter 14 fourteen
But stay alive I did, and thanks to whatever constraints that my mother may have felt upon her destructive impulses and behaviors, she did not deafen or blind me, break any bones, or shake my brain lose from my skull. But she did hurt me very very badly. And 55 years later, I am still suffering from the effects. I am just now recognizing the severity and extensiveness of the damage.
So I had the basics of what I needed for my physical survival. Food and warmth. My need to be protected from danger was not met, and certainly not met by the person who was supposed to protect me that was so damaging me. I had my core emotions. And my senses. She could not and did not rob me of my senses, and I used them the best I could to make sense of a senseless mad bad world.
I no doubt recognized variations in sound at as early an age as my son did when he listened intently to that TV theme song. Of course I didn’t know what any sound meant to start off with. But I could certainly discriminate noise from non-noise, and soon the day sounds from the night sounds. I believe I learned to calibrate my hearing and listening senses particularly well, and I am still very finely tuned to the pitch, rhythm and caliber of voices. There is only one I truly resonate with today. That of the man I am in love with, that I cannot be with. Occasionally I am able to talk with him on the telephone, and the sound of his voice is the best sound I have ever heard. Perhaps his voice reminds me of my father’s voice. One of the “good” voices I would have listened for from behind closed doors.
As soon as possible I knew my father’s voice, and that of my toddler brother. And then there was a woman’s voice I could here. She appeared now and then only when somebody else was with her. That woman’s voice came into the room only with someone else. The other voice I never heard until she was with me, and scaring and hurting me. She had a different face and a different voice than the other woman did. The other woman had a smile on her face and a nice voice, and sometimes that one fed me. And sometimes the scary one that hurt me fed me. Mostly she did.
I listened and listened and listened and listened into nothing for and to all the sounds I could find. The ones I had to listen for the most were the footsteps. There were the big heavy hard loud bad ones that always came alone with no voice. They made the door open very hard and very fast. That door was scary, too. Something round on it moved hard and fast before the hurting woman came in. Then there was the feeling I had no name for.
As I grew older I knew that the bad footsteps and the loud door would mean my body would get rigid and tense with fear and anticipation of pain. My tiny fists would clench. My eyes were either so wide open they might stay tat way forever or so squinched shut that they disappeared. Like I tried to do. But I couldn’t and she always found me. Or I would try when I got older to fight back with my little fists, or scramble away from her into a corner of the crib. That didn’t work, either.
She would do things to me and scare me and hurt me and leave me with a bottle. Propped first on top of a rolled up blanket beside me. And as I grew, left for me to hold by myself. And then she left with those same footsteps. Out the door. Close the door. The footsteps went away, and I was alone again. Listening. Always listening. Unless I fell asleep.
And sometimes when I was asleep I didn’t hear the footsteps, or the door. All of a sudden she was THERE with the bad voice hurting me, waking me up sometimes, scring me all the time. If I was asleep I didn’t know she was coming. I was asleep.
- (When I was writing this longhand, I went to printing, and then had difficulty spelling at this point, and had to force myself back to writing.) And then after that it was a bad thing to fall asleep at all so she had to come wake me up and scare me and hurt me some more.
Because good girls don’t EVER do things like that. Not ever ever ever ever! But way back before the sounds that came out of her mouth had any meaning, I knew the tones and the sounds. I had to identify the source of the other sounds and what they meant after I learned about the voices. Toilet flushing, pots and pans and dishes and cooking sounds. Other doors opening and closing, vacuum cleaner sounds, Refrigerator sounds, birds and water running and car sounds. Outdoor sounds, indoor sounds, the sound of my father’s voice when he came home.
Sometimes when there were good voices and good footsteps getting louder and I wastaken away from my crib I went to where all the sounds were louder and I saw what these people did. Sometimes I went someplace else, in my body, with my eyes. Sometimes she gave me a bath when my brother was there. Sometimes she put me in the baby butler chair and gave me things to eat from a spoon. Or things to pick up and eat. Or things to hold and eat. I tasted all these things. Everybody ate sometime.
But I could tell the knife edge in my mother’s voice. I knew when I was in trouble. In between the smiling woman voice and the badvoice. Sometimes when I was with my brother I could only hear the bad voice and it scared my brother, too. The bad voice didn’t talk to him. It only talked to me. But it scared John, too. (I went back to rpinting here, and stayed that way as I wrote.)
The bad voice the bad vice the bad voice would pick me up and hurt me. Squeeze me and slap me and pinch me and shake me all the way back to the room with the closed door. Took me away from my brother.
My brother was not big. He was little. Bigger than me, but still little. He had a good little voice. Sometimes he touched my hands and my arms and my legs and my toes and my cheeks and my hair. Gently. He had a little voice. He taught me those words. He had good eyes when he looked into mine I could even see myself there sometimes in his eyes. Mostly I just saw him.
He never never never ever hurt me. He sang songs to me. Sometimes he changed his face around and me me laugh. Sometimes he put his hands over his face and went away and then moved his hands fast and come back and say, “Peek-a-Boo!” He made me laugh. He shoed me how to clap y hands when he did, o rhow to put my arms straight up over my head and he said, Big girl! Big girl, Linda!”
But he only did these things sometimes, when she was not near by us. Sometimes she moved around the house and did the other things that made the other noises and sounds. Sometimes.
chapter twelve 15
Please! Hold On and Do Not Let Us Go!
The Inner Circle, Peritrauma, Infant Abuse
And the Brain-Mind-Self Dis-connection
A newborn infant is pure, born inside a halo that will expand to include primary caregivers that love and cherish it, or will close solidly against hatred, trauma and abuse.
Some Native American tribes believed that an infant was so pure when it was born that the parents had to make every effort, for as long as three years, to convince the child that is was a good thing that it came to live on this earth and that it wanted to stay here. Otherwise it was thought that the infant would leave. Perhaps it is that way with all of us. We need love in order to stay here, whether or not we ever get to the “start line,” whether or not we ever get out of the circle we were born into and can get locked into for life.
Once this halo has closed, if the infant remains in an acute state of chronic distress, in the chronic state of peritrauma and is not offered a way out before the age of two or shortly afterwards, the true self of the individual remains locked within this circle for the rest of its life. Alone.
When an infant is severely and constantly abused by its primary caregiver, it is presented with an “unsolvable problem,” a “paradoxical injunction,” to which there is no adaptable defense. The infant remains in solitary confinement, and it can’t get out.
The reason why adults do not fit into a definable category of attachment is because their infanthood was filled with such trauma that attachment was not an option. Because they grew up entrapped in the conditions of peritrauma, there never was a development of a sense of time. They remained in the “altered state of time” that peritrauma creates. In this state, the developmental process was missed that was supposed to lead to the development of a “sense of self” in time around the age of 2. When peritrauma is the chronic state of an infant, no self develops, no person, so that disassociation is not possible. The infant is depersonalized, and remains so throughout its lifespan.
Caught in this state of detachment, of non-attachment, they will never fit into an ordinary category of attachment, and therefore end up in the “cannot classify” category. They have no attachment, no self to attach with, no self for anyone else to attach to.
Yet the truest, deepest longings of these infants-grown-into-adults is for attachment. They remain alone, however. It is not a fear of abandonment that grips them, unless we consider that it was the non-attachment of anyone to them in the first place that causes this pseudo-state of fear of abandonment.
We know we are absolutely alone inside our crystallized halo. All we desperately know is that someone, any one that claims to love us is like a light shining into our darkness. If we can see your light of love which is your attachment to us, it is the only glimmer we have of what it means to be a person. You cannot let go of us. Please! Yet also know that we cannot truly “feel felt” by you. Nor can we offer that back to you. We are in a constant doomed state of TRYING to connect to you, but we cannot do it. We are continually NEEDING but cannot be satisfied or satiated.
Like a telephone constantly ringing that nobody can ever answer. We are forever reaching out to you. And we are constantly in pain because we cannot connect. You who were not severely abused during infancy will never know what this feels like. And those of us who were severely abused will never know what it feels like to connect, to attach, to feel fully felt by another human being, or to offer it back.
We remain forever seeking, searching, trying. And forever unattached. If it happened to the development of our brain, then somebody please find a way to fix it! Our brains are damaged. If nobody acknowledges our state, the fact of our basic existence, then nobody is going to name it, or look for the solution.
We are disconnected from our own self. We cannot even connect to ourselves! So how can we connect with anyone else? There is no “flow of energy and information,” as Siegel puts it, with our own self in our own mind. How can we offer it to someone else? If we don’t have a self to hold our own mind in mind with, then how can we hold another’s mind in our mind? As much as we desperately want and need to.
All we can desperately hope for is that someone else will hold our mind in theirs. That you will not abandon us by turning the radiance and warmth of your love away from us, because that is all we have. Even though we cannot feel it. We KNOW it is there. We know you are there. Turned toward us. We can catch a glimpse of ourselves in the reflection of your love for us. That’s all we have. While we are left TRYING to reach you as you try to reach us. Just don’t give up! We have such overwhelming grief and foreboding and loneliness, we can’t take any more!
What we have are individuals in our lives with who we are trying to connect, and that these people are trying to connect to us. We don’t even know what a person really is. My sister, Cindy, seems to think this is not possible, but I believe it is. Those developmental stages were so distorted for us that the connections in our brains either were severely altered, or never made. That’s why we are depersonalized. Why “people” are like objects to us.
It’s why I was so shocked when I read that Baha’i quote that the most insignificant of men is more important in the eyes of God than the mightiest mountain. I couldn’t understand that, and even now, only remotely through intellect.
What would it feel like if the circle around us just disappeared and we could join people in the normal world? Will I ever find out? Because if we cannot attach, cannot fundamentally connect, we remain forever alone and lonely – with not even a self to keep us company.