This is a writing exercise: literally “publish something that’s so personal it makes you want to vomit…”
I remember a time in my life when I could became a mess for days at a time.
I remember when I would sit for hours and cry, for no clear reason. Sometimes I felt so tired I wasn’t sure how I would get out of bed. And there was no reason for it. I wasn’t sick. Everything was functioning in my life; I had a job I liked; I had good friends. Still sometimes, without warning, some overwhelming sadness would take me, and unless I melted down, sometimes for hours, sometimes over days, I could not shift gears and feel better.
It was too dangerous and debilitating to feel anything if it meant I would unravel. Who had time for that? So I would resist, evade, and do anything to continue in restless mode. Busy. Rush. Run. I would talk myself out of whatever I was trying not to feel. “Nothing happened.” “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.” You’re too sensitive; too emotional; too anything; as long as I could stay away from whatever I wasn’t feeling.
When I could evade no more, exhausted, the incident would have its way with me. Once it started there was the roller coaster of every painful experience I had ever had in my life. It was agony; it was devastating; it was humiliating. What on Earth was wrong with me?
I told nobody. To the outside world, I was just going along like most everyone else.
Sound like a traumatized brain?
Yep. It was.
By the time I was three and a half years old, I had, unaccompanied, encountered a likely sexual assault by a step-father on his step-daughter.
That incident would disappear beneath years of crazy tension because within hours of witnessing this assault, I shattered my elbow joint in an outdoor play accident. The only active memories I kept were of “broken arm” trauma. Not the assault. It got buried, or as they say in psychological circles, occluded.
The arm was trauma enough for anyone. When it happened, I was playing with the elder sister of the victim. These girls were my teenage babysitters, and I adored them. I was riding piggy back on Debbie who was on all fours in the grass. Somehow I fell off, and my elbow got caught between the sprinkler head, the concrete sidewalk and my hip which landed on it. When I got up, I was not okay.
That moment my words became meaningless because no one was listening, they couldn’t understand, and I couldn’t make anyone. I had a broken arm, but I had a much bigger wound, the terror of the violence and pain I had witnessed that morning that was beyond my words or understanding.
My father took me to the hospital (my Mom stayed home with my older brothers who were 7 and 5). I remember screaming, terrified of anyone who got near me, so my Dad couldn’t put me down. I remember screaming and clawing him bloodied when he tried to hand me to an x-ray tech. Baby nails. I would not allow him to leave me alone in the x-ray room. They couldn’t take the x-ray. The doctor told him to let me cry, I would get tired. And I cried, and cried, and cried. I remember the look on the doctor’s face. He knew something wasn’t normal much beyond that arm. But what could he have guessed? I remember he asked, “Does she cry like this?” My Dad was mystified. They had Dad hold me in his lap on a chair to shoot the x-rays. I remember fighting sleep while losing sight of the x-ray table once they had put my arm in the first position they wanted to shoot.
I went home in a half cast, which was pried off every night and finessed back on every morning by my mother. More pain, more crying. The bone, because of where it shattered, was in danger of growing no further, leaving me a baby arm, and crippled for life. They had to devise a way to immobilize it, but they could not leave it in a solid elbow cast without endangering bone growth. I didn’t understand any of that either. But I felt it. Everybody was stressed out until the follow up x-rays showed healing and bone growth.
After that horrible night, the only other eventful thing about the break I remember was taking the miracle drug penicillin. The taste was hideous. After some days, I reclaimed some self determination by refusing to take it. My mother tried everything but she couldn’t handle the medicine, the spoon, and me, if I would not stay in one place and swallow. I was kind of enjoying the game. She was patient but determined. I remember her threatening to call my Dad. I thought that was a great idea, which wasn’t exactly how she had intended that to land. My Dad was not a scary guy. She called him, and he tried to act tough to make me take the medicine but when he said, do you want me to have to come home and make you take it? I thought that was an even better good idea. He came home; and made me take it. Wasn’t a great idea.
I remember being so angry and clasping my jaws so tightly, he had to hold both my arms (yeah, the broken one) and squeeze my mouth open for my mother to get the spoon in there. I spit half out. Then, my Dad was angry, and my Mom had to stay calm, which was a rare turn of events. I stormed off and I remember saying through tears “You take it,” as only a distressed little kid could do. And they did. Both of them. I remember them looking at each other after realizing it was pretty god awful stuff. “Huh, she’s right.” I am sure my Dad went back to the office feeling awful, but laughing at least a little bit. I took the medicine after that.
Many years later, I was lying in bed in a hotel suite in Switzerland, when I felt something was “stuck” in my leg. By this time, I had become an experienced energy healer with the weird superpower of knowing how to find what no one ever wanted to remember as long as they lived, and gently releasing it from their bodies. There, in that beautiful and settled place, gazing out onto the Alps, my skills drove me into a long ago time and place stuck in my own body.
As anyone who has had a flashback knows, they come uninvited, sometimes carrying all the emotional torrents of the original event; an event so powerful that it shuts down a human brain on impact and can separate an individual’s consciousness from their body in an instant. It can be so pathological as to be life-threatening.
As I wandered around my own tissue, I came upon a spot screaming with heat. I kept my attention there, and then in an instant I felt the energy shoot up into my throat and then my head. First, I felt the terror; and then I remembered. I remembered myself standing in my babysitters’ house, in the hallway to their Mom’s room, and I could hear Jackie’s 14-year-old voice saying “No, no, please, no.” She was pleading through tears. What could I see? Her stepfather, straddled across her on the bed, shirtless, pulling off a belt.
I kept working in the leg, and I remembered more. I had been in my room and had this impulse, not from inside my body, from above my head, to go immediately to their house. I told my Mom where I was going on my way out the door. When I got to their backdoor, I knocked but no one came. I heard voices in the house, so I opened the door and went in. These were neighbors in a time when neighbors and neighborhoods were places of belonging and safety. Even so young, my parents had no concerns letting me pop over to their house on my own. And I had no hesitation to enter their house as if it were mine. Imagine, times were so safe, the abuser hadn’t even bothered to lock the back door.
I remembered entering the house. I followed the voices. I remembered I was suddenly scared. I got out of the line of sight, and quietly backed down the hallway still facing their voices. I remembered a voice above my head telling me to wait. I was in the kitchen. I remembered staring into the fish tank against the fridge, home to two piranha fish, with their lunch meat already dangling from a thread. His fish.
I could hear her screaming at him to stop and sobbing. He was yelling at her to shut up. Frozen, I stared at those fish-seeing nothing, wanting not to hear. After I have no idea how long, but if fear were the measure, it was longer than the darkest, scariest, night, I left. “OK, you can go now,” I heard the voice above my head. When I got out that door I started to run, but again that voice said, “Wait! Go back! You have to close the door, you left it open.” And then, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen.” I closed the door. And finally, I was running out their back gate, out of there, back to my safe home.
I remember the fear and tears, as my 31year old self understood what I had encountered, in a way the 3-year-old could never have. And it would be months and even years of work to unravel how that had impacted me. In some ways, I had classic sexual assault victim psychology but I had some distance from it too. I was not victimized, but I was so young, one psychologist speculated that at that age, the identity is not strong enough to be experienced as separate from the environment and those one loves. It was a wandering, staggering mystery for awhile as I untwisted my psyche through the labyrinth of occlusions and impressions. Was this real? Had I spoken to someone and that led to the broken arm? Who else knew about this? Jackie, the victim, certainly. Deborah, the victim’s sister? My Mom? Who was I now, in light of this new information?
Shining a light on my past, brought one blessed boon: the horrible mini-bouts of depression ended. After that I could unplug from the cycling emotions. I could feel and not identify it with the litany of other times I had felt that emotion. All that rewinding came to an end, once this impression, one so desperate to reconnect, announced itself so acutely.
There’s a great deal more to the tale that I won’t get into here. But I made the effort to verify the reality of my memory. Jackie had already passed away from some undiagnosable disease that had slowly withered her away. Her abuser, years before, had a complete transformation, stopped drinking, and then, became her caregiver in her illness. “Amends of some sort probably,” Deborah said. “Unrecognizable” she said of his transformation. She admitted she felt vindicated when I appeared out of the woodwork asking questions about their adolescence and their step-father. She had long suspected there was something like that going on but had never dared to speak it out. My mother also thought it likely true as she recalled conversations in which the girls’ mother had expressed fears. Their mother, when Debbie presented my memories, requested a conversation. She was searching to poke holes in my memories; solid holes of certainty and absolution. But the vehemence she brought to refute and silence, seemed more confirmation than denial. That was fine. I was well practiced at not being heard or listened to…
Because I was the craziest thing on two legs this side of the known Universe. When trauma comes so young, the mind learns to separate from the body easily. I would have a near death experience (NDE) by the time I was 7. Another incident no one noticed for years. Not because I didn’t tell my mother this time. She wrote it off; I am sure as me dreaming in fever. But it was no dream, and I have all the classic attributes of a childhood NDE specimen. By the time I was 16 I understood that consciousness precedes matter though I may not have been able to use those words to describe it. This is something physicists are telling us only now they theorize is true-not that they’ll ever touch that question, they’re are all about matter-but social scientists and philosophers are looking for proof. My idea of rational thinking was what most people would call intuitive insight, unverifiable leaps and bounds to non-linear conclusions. I had to go to college and study critical thinking to learn how to think like other people. Before that, I was short on logic and high on definitive certainty that often turned out to be frighteningly accurate, even if it took a long time to play out.
Those abilities have served me well. I’ve had an adventurous life: intuitive empath to personal development coach; yoga and meditation teacher to world traveler; and now, writer, reminding other people why it’s important to do the work needed to be present and authentic. It changes everything; it heals, even if slowly; it takes us beyond even our imaginations; and it brings us even bigger surprises.
Today for the first time, I understood why I can know something but not express it well enough for even the wise to understand. Only today have I understood that gap…that little girl, with a shattered elbow holding onto a dangerous secret she has no words to describe, could not express, even if she could remember it in any kind of linear way. She has only all those feelings and impressions, a certainty with no language. My capacity for intuition rests in that child’s awareness of a bigger reality, kept awake through someone else’s trauma. But it predates verbal awareness, predates even most identity; it’s a sight, a sound, a feeling; the verbal mind wasn’t online; it doesn’t reach into that place.
Okay, let it be.
At least, I can finally stop trying to explain.
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