I’ll tell you, I don’t know where this is going. Not necessarily this post—that will go where most posts go, just meander for a while, trail off. But the thought process I’m having right now.
It’s quite intense.
I’ll try to explain what I am thinking about. It made me cry pretty hard—although that’s nothing unusual. Then dissociate for a while. I just stared. It seemed okay to do that for a while. Then I took a shower (it’s cold, warm helps), made tea, and here I am.
I just kind of got what it was for me to be an abused child. I can’t describe it that well. I just got it. Things in my head linked up. I got that feeling worthless came from being treated badly. Worthlessness in my head is communication within me about someone else’s disregard for me in their head. If I were worth something to that person—my mom or my dad—they would be treating me better. It’s information, and it’s so intense because my mind has decided this is very, very important. The emotions are intense because that’s how my mind directs my attention, it creates an emotional response. This was life or death, and so my mind is basically screaming at me: fucking remember this. Otherwise, this shit might get you killed.
That sounds very abstract. It didn’t feel very abstract sitting out on the back porch, drinking a coffee, trying to think about this. The thought part of it is that I finally know what this really is. The feeling I have is information I have stored about what happened. It’s a recording, but it has been scrambled. I just knew I felt bad.
Now I know it was part of an event. It was part of a repetitive event, or many events with this in common: my welfare was disregarded. My dignity was disregarded. My humanity was disregarded.
Just like shame is an emotional recording of someone perceives that you did something wrong, which I have been writing about for a while.
What sank in for me was that someone perceived I did something wrong and then the punishment was so severe, I thought I might die. My mother was very physical in her violence. She’s not a clever person. She is too impulsive to be clever. But I think you can do this without laying a finger on a child. I think you can wind them up to this same degree of intensity without physical or sexual abuse.
The point is I hadn’t fully linked the three: the felt sense (shame, for example), the perception (my mom thinks I did something wrong), and the event (she beat the shit out of me.) You can do the same thing with worthlessness or feeling like an object. There is a felt sense, a perception, and an event for every abusive and neglectful situation a child experiences.
It might be that my mind has been trying to put these pieces together, seeing where they go, and that’s why they can be so intrusive. I hope that is the case. I hope my emotional reactions to reminders of trauma can get fainter, now that I know more what they are about. It’s hard to imagine trying to cope with that wash of shame every time someone appears to disapprove of me, or every time I perceive I have made a mistake.
Anyway, the other part of this is recognizing what happened in between: that life needed to be attended to. I was reading about combat veterans, and the omnipresence of danger. You can’t really live in constant fear, even though you are never actually safe, and you have to somehow cope with being hypervigilant while also keep your mind on daily life. You have to somehow brush your teeth, eat dinner, play with your sister, do your homework and generally get on with things while your life is constantly in danger. You can’t escape it. You can’t defeat it. You have to keep moving somehow, despite the constant threat of danger. Your parents are the ones hurting you, and you need them. You have to figure out how to block out fear, block out rage, and get on with life no matter how intense those instincts to run away, hide, become paralyzed, or lash out are. And you also have to resist the impulse to seek comfort, because the people you would want comfort from most are hurting you and it might set them off. That sense of longing inside that I feel, that’s a longing for comfort. I had to find a way to not feel that as a child. You do become numb, because you have to keep your attention on daily life somehow, even though all of this is going on. Even though you are terrified and sad and angry all the time.
As a child, I don’t think I had any awareness of what it really felt like underneath that numbness. I had no idea how sad and confused and afraid I was about my parents hurting me. You can’t. I am starting to feel it now though. I am starting to get a sense of how it was during eruptions of violence in the family, and also of what it felt like in between.
The third thing I thought about was how a thousand traumatic events is different than a single traumatic event, just in terms of its inescapableness and hopelessness. No matter what you do, you seem to end up assaulted. There is a feeling that goes with that perception of futility. The thoughts might be suicidal ideation, but there is an emotion of despair too. It’s the same formula actually: emotion (despair), perception (I can’t escape this or stop this), and event (repeated trauma).