111909 – doing difficult recovery work in spite of the impossible
It takes much courage and willingness today for me to go back to read and transcribe these eight letters I wrote from the age of 29 to 33 that were returned to me yesterday by my friend, Ruby, to whom they were written from 1981 to 1984.
These letters are connected to my adult journals posted from this same era of my life.
What makes it possible for me to work with these eight letters today is not courage or willingness, however. It is hope. It is my hope that the research I have been engaged in these past five years can re-in-form me about what I was truly experiencing as a human being during the time these letters were written. Have I made any progress in understanding the dynamics within myself that have ALWAYS transformed themselves into difficulty, confusion, loss, heartache and pain?
If I were a skilled musician, I would be able to listen to a complex musical piece and be able to identify not only every instrument being played and their individual parts, I would be able to identify the patterns that form the structure of the musical score. Can I accomplish this with these eight letters as if they are, all put together, simply a piece of music that was played ‘back then’ but whose sound began to echo in me and in my life from the moment I was born and continues to echo through me and in my life up until this very instant in time?
For all the courage and willingness and hope in the world, I still have to ask myself at this moment, “Am I strong and clear enough to do this work today? Do I have the inner fortitude today that I must have in order to face the undercurrent of disorganization and disorientation, of fragmentation, lack of integration, confusion, terrible pain and terrifying fear that originated with my birth to my mother and has been the well-spring from which I have been forced to draw my life’s sustaining water from for my entire life?
Two sayings that are embedded in the culture of our English language come to mind: “Knowledge is power” and “The truth shall set you free.” Both of these sayings can be traced back to the Bible in their origins. That means, to me, that both of these sayings have a spiritual connection that gives me confidence that no matter how dark and scary the truth of my own life might seem to me, I am never truly as alone as I feel.
This knowledge itself is critically important to me as I begin to transcribe these letters because the knowledge I now have and the truth about my deepest conflicts lies squarely within the experience of living with a severe insecure attachment disorder given to me by the malevolent conditions that formed me through severe abuse from the time of my birth.
It is my severe disorganized and disoriented insecure attachment disorder that forms the musical score of my life. All the patterns I can now see-hear in any part of my life story is connected to this fundamental problem. Nobody ever told me this. Nobody told me that the insecurity of an unstable and vicious childhood from birth demanded that my development on every level of my being take a detoured course.
Nobody told me that my body-nervous system-brain-immune system and resulting mind-self construction could never be ordinary. Nobody told me that I was formed in trauma, by trauma, and for a world of continued trauma for the rest of my life. Nobody told me that I was different, that being a trauma-centered being meant that nothing about me would match this glowing recovery format I encountered as I tried to ‘get well’, ‘improve myself’, ‘life a better life’, ‘get well’, so that I could be ‘happy, joyous and free’.
I was born strong. I was also born with a tenacious, unconscious will in my body to remain alive, as most people are. This knowledge that “I must remain alive, no matter what, for as long as I possibly can” is probably the oldest genetic memory we have. But to continue to suffer on our deepest levels throughout our entire lifetime, and to do so long after we escaped the torturous trauma of the child abuse we suffered, seems to make no logical sense.
Yet the suffering is real. It in-forms our entire life because it is directly connected in our body to the trauma-adjusted development our body had to make every single step of our childhood – so that we COULD stay alive – in SPITE of everything that happened to us.
As I begin to transcribe these eight letters that my friend has preserved among her papers for all these years and now returned back to me, what do I now understand about myself in my life that can help me with this task?
First, I have to know that there will never be a single thing about me that is not trauma-based. Every piece of information I receive about myself in the world comes in through a trauma-formed body-brain. That is a fact.
This trauma-formed me, including my body-brain, will never be free to have an ‘ordinary’ experience in an ‘ordinary’ world. I cannot make myself into anything other than who I am, and who I am is directly connected to HOW I am. The HOW of who I am is trauma-based because that was the world I was in for the whole long 18 years I formed and developed in a severely abusive, malevolent world of trauma.
This fact does not leave me without hope of improvement. But I will accomplish nothing positive until and unless I consider the physiological facts of my existence FIRST so that all other information I access about ‘positive change’ comes in through this critically important filter.
I might wish to have wings so that I can fly all I want to. I am not a bird, and my wish will never literally come true. I might wish to be an ‘ordinary’ person receiving ‘ordinary’ information in an ‘ordinary’ world in ‘ordinary’ ways, but that is never going to happen, either. My being alive is trauma-centered and I better learn everything about what that means. That is the knowledge is my only hope of finding the power to escape the experience of suffering that has strung itself along within my body for my entire lifetime.
This knowledge begins with my need to understand that my attachment in this world to my self and to everyone and everything else is unstable, disorganized, disoriented and insecure. On its most basic level this means that unlike ‘ordinary’ non-trauma-centered people, my attachment needs remain continually unmet and my attachment system is continually ‘ON’ and running in the background within me with every breath that I take. ‘Ordinary’ people with secure attachment systems, and even those with the insecure ORGANIZED attachment system can find ways to turn their attachment need system ‘OFF’.
It will take the full focus of my conscious mind and will to begin to understand how to find healthy ways to diminish my internal suffering that is directly connected to my insecure (disorganized-disoriented) attachment system that is never turned ‘OFF’. There is a purpose to the pain caused by an ‘ON’ attachment system. It is designed to motivate members of a social species to find ways to solve the problem of unmet needs so that the system CAN turn itself ‘OFF’.
All of our body and brain’s ‘feel good’ chemical systems are designed to motivate us to achieve the reward of an ‘OFF’ attachment system so we don’t feel pain and suffering. This isn’t about rules and slogans and ideas about ‘recovery’. This isn’t about jumping hoops, trying to be ‘good enough’, healing our ‘inner child’, making so-called ‘better choices’.
Everything about so-called recovery that applies to ‘ordinary’ secure or organized-insecure attachment disordered people will make no sense to us and will not give us the well-being we so desperately need and seek because we are ignoring the number one, bedrock level fact that those of us who suffered intolerable pain and torment in malevolent early infant-childhoods of abuse do not have the same kind of body-brain that these other people have. They can experience what it feels like to have their attachment need system turned ‘OFF’. I do not believe that those of us with trauma-centered physiological survival-based bodies will ever experience that state in our lifetime.
This is the nuts-and-bolts of our condition as severe child abuse survivors. This is the information I needed ‘back then’. This is the information I need now if I am going to make changes in how I am in the world. There’s a lot to this, but this is the most important basic piece of knowledge that we need to begin to understand why we still suffer and cannot turn the suffering off.
Sure, we have our better moments when the suffering diminishes and becomes less noticeable. We have times in our lives when things seem better. But when we look backward, and when we look forward, and when we look clearly at where we are in our lives ‘compared to those ordinary folks’, we KNOW something is different about us.
We have to honor what we know, and we have to respect who we are. Wishful thinking, ‘if only’ our childhoods had been different so we could be ‘ordinary’, is not going to help us. Understanding what changes had to happen to us so that we could survive at all is where we have to begin.