During the week between the 15th and the 21st of December, I was struggling a great deal with what I believe were somatic memories of what happened last year as well as partial dissociation. The following is something I wrote during that week. I wasn’t quite ready to post it to my own blog, because I was feeling quite uncomfortable and I’m pretty sure I was partially dissociating and feeling depersonalized. As I understand it, dissociation is a protective mechanism during severely traumatic incidents. I also know that for me, whether I want to or not (and I do NOT want), I get echoes of the past. First year anniversaries are always tough. I feel somatic disturbances within when anniversaries of traumatic incidents approach. It always gets better after I let the feelings move through me in whatever way they need to. Always.
I find resisting the emotions and somatic feelings jams up my system and makes things worse.
I want to make it clear though, before I go into what I wrote, that I do not identify as a victim. You may interpret me however you like, but I self-interpret just fine on my own. I am not a victim. I never feel sorry for myself for too long, and I do tend to my physical and emotional experiences with compassion and love and writing about them.
And, I’ve studied trauma recovery from many different viewpoints – from psychological, physical (including yoga, craniosacral therapy and myofascial release), spiritual and neuroscientific viewpoint. I never ask anyone to agree with my views. I only share my journey and the lessons I have learned along the way. People are free to judge me in their own minds, and in fact, I encourage that, but I don’t look kindly upon vocal/written criticism of my personhood. After living with viciously narcissistic family members, I have learned some harsh ways of letting my Ego defend my Self.
No one gets to interpret me. No one gets to tell me what I should and should not do. People have been trying to ALL my life, to no avail. I get to tend to my own Self, in whichever way I see fit. I also get to change my mind as I see fit as well.
My journey is my journey. There are lessons I was put on this big blue marble to learn. Your journey is your journey. We may share our journey along the way, but it’s not my job to interpret yours and not your job to interpret mine.
The blessing is this:
Life on earth is a whole, yet it expresses itself in unique time-bound bodies, microscopic or visible, plant or animal, extinct or living. So there can be no one place to be. There can be no one way to be, no one way to practice, no one way to learn, no one way to love, no one way to grow or to heal, no one way to live, no one way to feel, no one thing to know or be known. The particulars count.
With that, please read on. Or not. As always, the choice is yours.
I am working through childhood trauma and relationship trauma – I have had therapy off and on for 3 years and now I’m in Al-anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics groups.
I used to work in forensics on homicides and sexual assaults, but never felt perturbed by what I was working on. And yet, I’m very terrified at the work I’m being asked to do as part of the group recovery. True, the instances of abuse or trauma might be past, but I’m living the residual physical and psychological pain in the Now. And being very empathetic to other people’s pain, I am moved to tears by other people’s experience. It’s all challenging to me.
This time last year my husband had a major meltdown. After a fight I had with him. And he went out and got drunk, then came home and after I tried to make amends with him, he ‘freaked out’ and ran down to the gun cabinet and started pulling out a few handguns. I tried to stop him, as I had in the past when he got depressed. The week following that incident was extremely hard. I was out of touch with life. I was shuttered and shutting down all but the most basic of functions. I stopped talking except the bare necessities for my children. I spent most of the week in a semi-trance. I am sure there was some depersonalization going on. I pretty much felt life as I knew it was over and would never be the same again (yes, I know better now…).
In the early weeks and months following this incident, I had flashbacks. But not of that incident. Like a child’s ViewMaster toy, I kept seeing images of ALL kinds from my life – both happy moments and tragic ones – in rapid succession. It didn’t hurt, but it made me feel dizzy sometimes and unhappy that my memories threw up in my brain.
But I know, for me, it’s not so much the memories that are the real burden, but the nervous system problems I currently have. Sometimes (heavy, heavy emphasis on SOMETIMES), I am in such a delicate place physically and mentally. Adrenal fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, mental exhaustion. And the worst one of all, the feeling of helplessness – which I move in and out of. I’m feeling quite empowered now, but during these episodes, helplessness characterizes the experience and so I have a number of resources in my toolbox to learn to cope with the feelings of powerlessness.
I am on the fence about whether or not revisiting the past and acknowledging out loud what happened is healthy or not – and these groups ask tend to ask you to do just that. But I am sick of the burden I carry. The burden of my own guilt for things I’ve done and the people I hurt in adulthood as a result of being harmed as a child and the ‘sins’ I committed as an adult (when I am ready, I might share those. But right now, I’m not).
My ego defenses are failing. I have to face the deep emotional pain I tried to wall off.
I know my True Self is undamaged, untouchable. In the meantime, it’s housed within a body that is sick. I feel nauseous most of the time. If I could just vomit all the emotional toxins lingering in me, I would be so much better off, I think.
I don’t loathe myself as much anymore, but I feel full of sorrow which came after a long period of anger.
I don’t mind if other people forget me, though there was a time I was afraid of that.
I don’t want to forget me – the True Self, the Buddha Nature, the One Who Knows, the observer – but I want to forget what I’ve done. I don’t want to abandon me anymore. I failed to take care of me. I put myself in harm’s way.
And there was a time when I raged and threw tantrums and self-harmed and spewed hurtful things at people I loved.
But I can’t live like that anymore. Well, I probably could, but I won’t.
I don’t know that stirring up things is at all useful, though I’ve been told that this is a ‘normal’ part of the process and it should improve in time.
I have a hard time believing it.
The work in Al-anon is different than the work in ACA. I don’t relate too much to the work of the Al-anon stuff, because I’ve come to peace with how co-dependent I was when my husband was drinking. I’ll no longer clean up his puke or bail him out of jail too soon if he ever backslides. If he has too much to drink and he’s pissed off and wants to leave, I won’t try to bar the door and grovel and apologize for my part in his upset. I will do my best to not escalate the problems, but I certainly won’t stop him anymore if he wants to risk another DUI or worse.
I actually have gone twice to ACA, and there are a few things that surprised me about it. 1) they treat this family experience (alcoholism or other dysfunction) as trauma, 2) they deal directly with the adult problems that arose out of dysfunctional upbringing, 3) what we actually have control over (our own experience and choices); 4) focusing on the Now, not on the past 5) dissolving ego defenses.
The downside is that for a while, it asks that you revisit memories which are traumatic so that you can mourn them and move on. But in revisiting memories, you trigger the emotional pain in the body that you avoided by having ego defenses.
For me, the challenge that I have had is in not resisting this process, for the reason that it does call up somatic memories. The mind may have forgotten, but the current understanding of trauma work is that the body remembers what the mind blocked out.
I think, for trauma survivors, staying in the Now is helpful, but the body is going to be reactive to stimuli that resembles past experiences whether you want it to or not. It’s a biological imperative, meant for species survival, to have this response. We do have a developed neo-cortex that allows for rational thought, but we still have primitive emotional brain (the limbic system) that allows our bodies to scan the environment for trouble and engage the fight/freeze/flight response. if that is activated too much, the body forgets how to self-regulate. I think Ego takes advantage of this.
I am also thinking that solely focusing on the now without resolving the past traumas is spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is a sophisticated way of ego defense. It’s a way of avoiding the hard work of processing and mourning the unresolved traumas of the past. We can ground ourselves in the now, for sure we might HAVE to in order to prevent a total collapse, but to only focus on the Now that in order to bury the issues of the past is detrimental to our well-being.
It’s detrimental to our spirit.
I don’t advocate spiritual bypassing, even though I find myself wanting to.
I’m all for transcending Ego, but once unresolved issues have been resolved. From what I have read and heard, that many people undergoing spiritual transformation experience a lot of physical pain during their meditative practices. I view this as trauma healing work.
In the grand scheme of things, what I’ve done is no worse, nor better than another. However, when I think of the beautiful, innocent child that I was, filled with wonder at the beauty of Nature, and the journey I’ve traveled to this day, I am astonished at the dysfunction I tolerated and perpetuated.
I have to make decisions, every moment, as to what I will do with the information that comes through my nervous system. When it’s overwhelming, focusing on the Now, for me, means, checking into my body and being PRESENT to the aches and pains. I don’t always know what to do with that. If nothing in my current experience is triggering the feelings, then I must look to the past to uncover what my body might be remembering. What flickered across my consciousness that evoked this physical response?
For me, I have gotten flashbacks of two kinds – some with images, some that don’t have images. I know I’m safely ensconced in the present, but involuntarily taken out of the present moment. This process happens almost seamlessly. If I have an overreaction to the present moment, it’s usually because of the resemblance to something in the past that magnified it.
I’m told this should get easier. I’m told that the more I trust my own process, my own authority, I should start feeling more sure and the issues should be easier to handle.
It’s clear to me that Ego would kill the host in order to show its spite. Which means, internally, it will throw up any sort of deception to scare the living daylights out of someone and thwart their development. The Ego is a terrorist.
I’m feeling really good this past week, even though my middlest daughter had an emergency room visit on Christmas Eve (yes, I’ll talk about that soon). I am quite sure that my body remembered how I was feeling this time last year, one week after the event I mentioned. I would love nothing more than to put the event out of my memory bank, but clearly my body had other plans.
As a post script, I wanted to say thank you for reading.
I wanted to share something wonderful I learned in my journey about art and healing PTSD:
Healing from our PTSD soul wounds is a form of sanctification, becoming more authentic, more of the person God created each of us to become. Artwork is a form of sanctification.