I’ve recently been thinking out loud about trauma and find myself using the term ‘trauma responses’. It’s a shorthand term I’ve developed over decades and so deserves defining for those not living in my head.
It turns out that childhood abuse and trauma does nasty shit to the growing brain. I’m writing to you from just such a brain. My mother was a monster. Shit gets weird in my brain.
Shit also gets real in my body.
Trauma responses are my body’s way of carrying our history: a physically illustrated almanac of pain and lack. My body remembers so much more pain than my brain. Trauma responses are the song of mourning that my flesh and bones sing.
Sorry, that got poetic. Obviously I’m avoiding the point. (I am a master avoider but also moderately good at recognising when avoidance is functioning as genuine self-protection. Describing ‘symptoms’ in detail is always traumatic. My poetics are to avoid said trauma.) Okay then, I’ll give you the short version.
But first, two things:
Firstly, I know a lot of us live with this shit. I’m not trying to speak for all of us. ‘Trauma responses’ is just my name for this. Other people in my mother-survivors’ club describe it as ‘the baggage’, ‘the gift that keeps giving’ and ‘the leftovers’.
Second, the impacts of my monster mother didn’t end when I escaped. Like many of us, I did an amazing job of filling the abuse-shaped vacuum with ‘careful’ selection of sexual partners and ‘recreational’ activities. Ha. So I include my body’s leftover damage from the incredibly therapeutic decade I spent trying to kill myself in this definition.
(My trackmark: the tiny soup bowl that feeds my sanity
There’s very few pictures from that time, these are the reminders I carry everywhere. I put these holes in my arm, not my mother (well, except one time – and that was a disaster). Owning that as self-harm was foundational in breaking her Stockholm hold on me.)
So now that I’ve avoided as much as I can, spontaneous outbreaks of combinations of the following are my ‘trauma responses’*:
- Flashbacks (visual and audible)
- Panic attacks (ranging from mild to critical)
- Multi-track thinking (often have several conversations going in my head)
- Memory problems (partitioning is essential in the traumatised brain and so files go missing (more so in moments of stress)
- Physical tics and wild gesturing (particularly helpful for maintaining personal space)
- Ditto excessive sweating (my theory is that my body got so used to panic in the first 16 years that it reacts to any stressor with a panic sweat – even when the situation is positive)
- Frequent insomnia bouts that go for days
- Stress headaches (usually from jaw clenching)
- Irrational attacks of rage (controlling that’s a learning curve)
- Entirely rational moments/days/weeks of melancholy and mourning
- Obsessive attention to detail crippled by a limited and unpredictable attention to detail
- Rampant paranoia and worst case scenario thinking (yesterday my wife feel asleep and by the time I got home I was planning for a funeral – I’m sorry, my love)
- Random and unfixable physical illnesses and symptoms that doctors can’t explain (including large numb patches of skin, frequent abdominal issues and rampant endometriosis)
Well, shit. I started writing this post four weeks ago. It’s taken that long to write a list of thirteen points. In that time I’ve been riding the roller-coaster – have had every single item on the list, many repeatedly.
This, however, is entirely self-inflicted. Damn my curious, curious brain!
I’m going to be thinking about this for a while and would love other survivors’ input and opinions. Talk to me here or @boxedangel on Twitter.
*Yes, that was a long sentence.