Sunday, October 14, 2007

Survival Tactics

"When shameful and humiliating experiences become part of who you are. getting rid of them leaves you empty and scared. That is why so many victims of trauma, especially childhood trauma, feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness, almost like having a black hole inside. Thus looking inside often leaves you in the dark. If you have had many traumatic experiences, then you are filled with a lot of these holes which may have developed into what is called a Personality Disorder, which can interfere with your self esteem and relations with others. Many times there is a wish to fill this hole up, in order not to feel the void. Often traumatized individuals will attempt to fill the void by alcohol, drugs, food and sex."

This is the opening mini-lecture of the third week of the trauma group. TGD then elicits examples from the group members as to how each one fills her own void and emptiness. The women in the group quietly give answers and TGD lists them on the white board with a fiery red marker.


I wonder if everyone is as embarassed and ashamed as I am to see the sins of our survival strategies posted on the white board.

I pick out my own shameful behavior and cringe at the thought of having to verbalize what is so blatantly obvious to everyone regarding the way I have tired to insulate myself from anyone. My survival strategy serves to insulate me from everyone. They see one of my many failures right before their eyes. At least if I were sexually promiscious, took drugs or was even an alcoholic, it could be hidden, but not the weight. Being overweight sends out screaming alarms to everyone. Not too obvious a visual.

The silence in the room is deafening and interminable. Guilt, humiliation, and disgust seem to spark a chord inside of everyone. Each one of these sins ignites a shame and embarassment that has stoked the fire of traumaike a joke birthday candle that keeps reigniting itself as an unsuspecting child keeps trying to blow it out.

TGD softly asks one of the group members, what she does when she finds a big dark void, a hole. When the group member responds to the inquiry, TGD then carefully probes a little more and asks, "Can you please tell the group, that when you find yourself in this dark lonely place, what usually reminds you or causes you to experience this hole? What are you thinking of?"

TGD begins to open this gaping raw wound for all of us.

As the group member relives her story of brutality and violence heaped on her by a parent, and the feelings associated with the traumas, I once again disapppear into that place in my psyche that I allow no one to enter. It's a double- edged sword- no one enters, but the memories and the perpetrators never leave- or are they memories? Is it then or is it now? The pain, humiliation and shame transcend time. The picture is clear but also cloudy. It's back to a time that sees the longing, the rejection, and the loneliness. But it's not in the past. It's still here. Still here!

At the same time, I am praying that TGD doesn't call on me to speak. Am I still a child in school fearing the teacher, not knowing the right answer and being called stupid?

No sooner do I think these thoughts, TGD turns to me and says, "Suzy, can you please tell us what images come to your mind when you look at the board and think about the various ways to fill the emptiness or voids"?

She knows me, she knows what I'm thinking and she fucking wants me to say it in front of everyone, not just in our private sessions. But there is something in her eyes, something safe, that allows me to trust her with my overwheleming sadness and not have to pretend anymore, and permits me to let her and the others in without fear of shame.

Before I know it I experience a flashback, that visual she knew I had within me, and I begin to recount to TGD and the group, memories involving food. A mother who probably didn't feed me. Memories of TV dinners being put on the table at 4pm with clear angry instructions not to talk and eat as fast as possible as my mother had to go back to bed before getting up for the all night shift. Sitting at that formica kitchen table after the aluminum tray was taken away and just feeling sad. That's all there was. No conversation, no sharing, just silence.
I have memories of going upstairs to the neighbors and knocking on their door to see if I could come in and be with someone, anyone. They would be finishing dinner and offering me their leftovers, seconds, anything that was left. "Eat it Suzy, or we'll just throw it away." The last stop before the garbage. Great, just fucking great. Seems like yesterday, and it probably was. No voids here.
I look at TGD through my tears and at once I am reassured that my "drug of choice" is nothing to be ashamed of. It was a survival tactic and I won. I am still here. My choice got me through the trauma when I could have just given up.
"If I won, why do I feel like such a loser"? I ask.

TGD explains that together we will sort through the memories, events, and traumas of my childhood and extract the past from the present and separate the trauma from the person. They are not one and the same anymore.

TGD will investigate where the hot spots are in the embers of my ashes and will identify the incendiary devices and the arsonist.

At last I feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.


Blogger Casdok said...

Im so glad to hear that last sentance.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

"The more personal, the more universal." We all do this, Suzy, to one degree or another. You are strong and brave. I'm so proud of you.

10:44 AM  
Blogger kario said...

I love the line about the trick birthday candle! So perfect.

You're right about that damn wall we build - it might keep others from getting in but it also keeps all the crap inside. I'm FedEx'ing you one of my porcupine quills so you can drill a hole in that bastard and let some of it out, okay?

Love you.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I also love the line about the birthday candle, and the way you've been using the horse of fire in general.

Your searing honesty in sharing this is such an inspiration--not only for how to write, but how to live. Man, do I love TGD!

And I love you.

1:58 PM  
Blogger dgibbs said...

You always wish for TGD to not call you out, and she always does. Good for her!

5:27 PM  
Blogger Terry Whitaker said...

This kind of honesty is breathtaking. Thank you for letting it out.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Mystic Wing said...

great post suzy. I-phone blogging is a bit timeconsuming though.

Exceptional courage, my friend. Can't tell you how much I admire you.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

This is your best work yet, Suzy. I'm sitting in that circle in that room with you. I loved how clearly you explained our black holes - I know it was TGD, but her voice is becoming your voice so I'm giving you credit. You are so brave and growing by leaps and bounds. Your healing shows in your writing. I'm so proud to call you friend and fellow survivor. Much love.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Self employed mum said...

WOW I have just stumbled across you, I have just begun a journey to relive my life and put the past in a box and find 'true happiness' if there is such a thing. The hole and dark void described so well how I feel, it was like reading about myself, although I'm not sure I suffered the same trauma as yourself. I am now going to have to go back and read more. Take care and well done on speaking out, I believe it helps. x

7:47 AM  
Blogger riversgrace said...

Wow, so painful to read...because it hits so close to home. Regardless of how we survive, so many of us have chosen similar strategies...and you're right, it was a really smart option for a child to choose.

The journey may be long but other choices become more and more possible to choose. I think we develop and build new aspects around the wound, so that finally, one day, the wound can unfold and that safely surrounds it.

Thank you, Suzy, for doing your life work. Thank you for allowing it to be medicine for others.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Jerri said...

Prema's so right. Your healing is medicine for us all, Suze. We, your readers and friends, are honored to share in this journey and privileged to witness the unfolding.

You belong, my dear. In ways big and small, now and always, you belong.

3:43 PM  
Blogger MY OWN WOMAN said...

Thank you for allowing me to have some insight into a world that I do not know but I suspect my husband has lived through.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

You do belong Suzy.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

Fantastic writing BTW.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

"I look at TGD through my tears and at once I am reassured that my "drug of choice" is nothing to be ashamed of. It was a survival tactic and I won. I am still here. My choice got me through the trauma when I could have just given up"

You are still here and now you are looking straight into the incinerator and putting out the burning embers. Great work Suz.

9:50 AM  
Blogger grammer said...

"It was a survival tactic and I won." We do what we have to do, don't we? And then we keep doing it, even after the immediate threat has gone ... The hole won't fill, and "more" isn't helping.

You sought help, and you're doing the hardest work. On top of that, you're sharing the ride with us. I so admire you.

The final sentences are so redemptive. They read like a warm embrace, a quiet hallelujah.

xo t

10:46 PM  
Blogger lo said...

I have tears for you and for memories your writing has reminded me of also.

6:15 PM  

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