Tragedy, trauma, turning

I’ve been thinking about 9/11 and Covid-19 and the difference between the deaths of each of my parents. My father was gone within 24 hours from a heart attack and my mother had a long slow farewell until she died of congestive heart failure and stroke at 90 (my grandmother’s was even longer one at 101). My father was in another state and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I made the drive from L.A. to San Diego every month to see my mother, largely unaware of the lifelong effects of her abuse on me.

Photo by Jesse Mills on Unsplash

9/11 was traumatic and horrifying but there was no warning for the general public. Bam. A plane into a skyscraper, and another, and the Pentagon, and one down in a field. Shocking, horrible, then the eerie silence as all the planes were grounded. Cities full of stunned people. Now we have cities of quarantined people with a sense of dread: how bad will it get, where’s the next hot spot, will I get it, will a loved one, and will we survive. It’s already touched the families and friends of friends. As I write this I get a text that my son may have it.

Dread. That’s one of the controlling methods in an abusive household. Someone (and I’m sorry I didn’t make a note of who) on Twitter noted, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be in a relationship with an abusive man, you are with this president. Mixed messages, denying reality, telling you something then denying it later. I grew up with that. It’s familiar. It’s going on in individual households, but it’s also playing out on the national stage. It’s alcoholic behavior and that of a “dry drunk” who exhibits the behavior without the actual booze.

When they start pulling up semi trailers to haul away the bodies, those tactics fail. There’s nothing like the human body to bring us back to reality. Dead or alive.

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

For your own well-being, listen to your body. Everything is stored there and it is the source of much wisdom and all your intuition. I know I’ve taken a dark turn, but these are dark times. We don’t need sugarcoating. We’ve had way too much of that. So take care of yourselves. Stay healthy. Raise hell with your reps for Covid testing and mail ballots and tell damned Jeff Bezos to accept EBT from all states for Amazon and wave the Prime fees for low-income users. Let’s come out of this a more compassionate society that cares for more than the bottom line.

What trauma does to you: pain

Photo by Asdrubal luna on Unsplash

Many people who were abused as children experience pain symptoms, either acutely or chronically. Most common are headaches and back pain. Now it is suggested that in both cases, patients who experience migraines and/or chronic low back pain be screened for child abuse.

My experience with pain as part of the fallout stems from CSA (child sexual abuse). I’ve written about the most dramatic manifestation that appeared while I was in college.

From my upcoming memoir, Baggage Claim:

When I’m a freshman in college, after a year of the stabbing agony of sex not getting better, I see the doctor at the clinic at UCSD. She mentions that she has one other female student my age with the same complaint and no answers for either of us. There is nothing physically wrong.

Later that week, I sit in my parents’ front room, unchanged from when we moved in, on the Naugahyde sectional, and tell my mother about the pain. She’s not only an R.N., but our own personal medical expert. No matter how strained things get, all three of her children rely on her to answer all medical questions.

I’m on one side of a large handmade lamp with a base made from a plain Balthazar-sized green wine bottle with a beige shantung shade handmade by our former neighbor. My mother sits on the other side in her brown and tan lounge chair doing counted cross-stitch as she calmly tells me that one of my half-brothers molested me when I was three. I am surprised to find that I am not surprised. I’m mostly numb, the hot anger of “how could you let that happen?” does not arise. It’s not safe to show emotion in front of her. I know somewhere hidden inside of me it does not make sense that she, who prided herself on being a nurse and caretaker, who was an incest survivor abused for a dozen years by her stepfather, would allow it under her roof.

  Baggage Claim by Diane Sherlock

After my mother told me about the abuse, the pain vanished. I still experience low back pain when I’m dredging up the past to write and mid-back pain when I go through extended lonely periods and feel unloved. My trauma therapist taught me that self-compassion goes a very long way in healing mind, body, and spirit.

Here’s Peter Levine on traumatic memory and the body (it’s only 4 min):

Emotions are stored in the body and when there’s been trauma, the body does what it can to signal there’s a problem and one of the most common signals is pain. Thankfully there are somatic therapists, rolfers, physical therapists, and yoga instructors who have been studying trauma and how emotions become locked in the body, developing a number of ways to release them. One of the most common releases is to complete the gesture that was originally ineffective, such as the motion to push away a stronger person. Completing the entire motion is often effective in allowing the emotion to leave the body. Here’s another case study using running and temper tantrum gestures. As the case study notes, caution must be exercised in cases where there’s dissociation, psychosis, or BPD and then only proceed with a trained trauma therapist or find other solutions.

What trauma does to you: Muscle Armoring

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

We’re always tense, always on guard, those of us with CPTSD.

Braced.

Tight.

Clenched.

Muscle armoring goes along with hypervigilance. The body is perpetually preparing for flight, preparing to fight, or stuck in freeze. There’s often pain when the muscles are constantly tensed and overworked. There can also be body imbalances, fibromyalgia, and breathing problems due to the ribcage muscles being locked up. Muscle armoring is another coping mechanism developed in an unstable childhood where you never knew when or where the next attack, verbal, physical, even silent, was coming from.

Photo by Andrii Podilnyk on Unsplash

According to Urbanfitt.com:

FUNCTIONS OF MUSCULAR ARMOR:
* Keeps potentially explosive emotions contained

*Acts as a protective coping mechanism resulting from the fight or flight impulse being continually inhibited into a state of freeze often experienced in victims of abuse. See Polyvagal Theory 

*Wards off the emotions of others and provide a physical barrier to external stress or threat like a protective container.

*Creates a sense of physical safety and containment as a coping mechanism to deal with chronic stressful life events

Body armor and character armor are essentially the same. Their function is trying to protect yourself against the pain of not expressing things that society says you may not express. Muscular armor is character armor expressed in body, muscular rigidity.

Armoring is the sum total of the muscular attitudes which a person develops as a defense against the breakthrough of emotions, especially anxiety, rage, sexual excitation. Character armor is the sum total of all the years of the muscular attitudes that have also been incorporated in the person’s character through a more stimulated habitual nervous system response.

An armored person doesn’t feel their armor because it develops over time and, as such, we wouldn’t notice the accumulation of muscular tension, fascial adhesions and blocks.  What is body armor made of?  Hypertonic fascia.  We accumulate denser connective tissue (that is, fascia) when we engage in body armoring.

http://urbanfitt.com/the-bodybraid-somatic-healing-and-body-armoring/

Urbanfitt.com offers the Body Braid as a way to reprogram body armor. I have not tried it, but it sounds very intriguing.