Recently, there was an event. An event that led me to some monumental upheaval in my life, and in my mind. Or was it an event? Was it not still, as always, a culmination of both recent and not so recent and unhealed parts of myself coming to the surface? I find myself sitting in front of another therapist, finally willing to look at parts of my life, difficult ugly, and fragile portions of me that I had tried so hard not to acknowledge in many many years. I don’t even know if I possess the ability to try and explain all of these swirling thoughts in my heart and in my mind. But I owe it to myself, and to my readers, to try.
I was instructed to download/order a book by my therapist. A book which would help me better understand why I am the way that I am. Why my mind fires the way that it does. The premise is to “Recognize Patterns, Heal from the past, Create yourself”. Heal from my past? But I thought that I had already done that? Is that not what step work, confession, meetings, sponsorship, fellowship, etc. is all about? It is, but what I have realized in the last month + is that there are parts of me, parts of my past that I hid, even from myself if that even sounds possible.
What is Trauma? Have you ever experienced Trauma? How do you know that it was indeed Trauma, by definition? I personally never really fully understood the meaning of trauma until recently. I was just so used to saying things like “I’ve been through a lot”, or “I’ve had it rough for a long time”. I hadn’t ever really put 2 & 2 together until I was finally able and willing to speak some really ugly, and shameful truths about my life overall.
I suppose that I was so accustomed to chaos, and to surviving trauma, that in my recent years kind of developed a crack pot theory that went something like “I believe that, for some, the simple and basic process of merely growing up and living life, is traumatic.” And that is true, I believe, to an extent. My therapist said something like “Just think about it, the even of simply being born is trauma for some. Going from ‘sleep’ inside your mother’s womb, in the dark, comfortable and warm, then seemingly out of no where, BOOM we’re thrust into these blinding lights and our life here on earth has begun.” I can certainly get with that, but what do we as new born babies really process? Or is it mostly shock and awe that we first experience?
It’s very interesting to me, how these ideas and memories have seemingly been unlocked in my brain recently. I suppose that I have adapted to so much over my young 36.5 years here on earth that I have figured out how to protect myself through disassociation and compartmentalization. What’s equally interesting to me, is the way that I have adapted certain “responses” in my repertoire without even designing them, they just sort of happened.
They say that we are products of our environment, which I agree with to some extent, but we also must find a way to not be. We also must find a way to heal, and to overcome the things that we were born into. But for some, that is much easier said than done, and for me, I didn’t even realize until recently, that some of the things that I needed to overcome and heal from even effected me. I guess, I was just continuing on with my life as if I had healed from them, like some type of arrogant survivor of great battles; but the truth is, I never even acknowledged them. I was doing the exact same thing, as I was conditioned to do, that I had always done my entire life. I was stuffing things deep down inside, hoping that nothing would ever “prick” those memories, self medicating, and hiding from it all. But those of us who do not learn or heal from the past, are doomed to fucking repeat it.
The last time I was in therapy was some years ago, and the wonderful lady that I was seeing for my sessions kept using the term “Trauma Repetition”. At the time, and during the sessions when this buzz word would come up I would nod my head in agreement as if I actually had any sort of deep understanding of what this meant. I didn’t, but I think that I am starting to understand it now. Those of us who are familiar with Recovering Addicts/Alcoholics, or have been around anyone who struggles with Mental Health or Substance Abuse have probably heard them say something along the lines of “Oh, I’m really good at bouncing back, I can ‘come up’ with the best of ’em”. But what is that really saying? Is it saying “All I know is the constant cycle of chaos/destruction/trauma, and how to burn things to the ground as a result, then compartmentalize it, dust myself off, and only bounce back as far as my repetition cycle will allow me to, only to go and do it all over again” ? I hope that that makes sense, because I can see it in my mind. And that’s what I’ve known, and done for pretty much all of my life. Trauma Repetition. The idea that I am only truly “Comfortable” in the turmoil, in the chaos, and in the “rebuilding” from said turmoil in some self preserving facade to “prove” (Delude) myself that i have actually made progress, when in fact, nothing deep down inside has actually ever been addressed- because I have never been spurred to actually go deep, go back, and open up those old dusty boxes buried inside my mind.
And what I am starting to realize lately, is that if I/we do not confront those unhealed parts of our childhood, or those painful parts of our adolescence then our current relationships and our current life are the ones who are going to pay the price for that. I think this is what they mean when they say “If we don’t heal from our past wounds, then we will bleed on people who never cut us.” Interesting.
I suppose, looking back on things, without getting into graphic or specific details with you, as I am still discussing much of this in real time with my therapist, my first recollection of something traumatic was when my little brother was born. I was so excited to have a little brother, and to be a big brother. I would feel little Luke’s kicks and movements, and remember feeling so excited and proud that I was gonna have a little brother to show the world to. But when the day finally came, everything was a blur. I suppose the fact that I was only 4 or 5 at the time played a part in this, but I don’t actually remember the day he was born, the very difficult part came just a few short days afterward. I don’t remember a conversation beforehand, and I don’t remember much after, but what I do remember was that I adamantly refused to leave the hospital; I stayed by my baby brother’s bed side for almost four weeks, with my mom, as my brother was clinging to life inside some kind of tent, an incubation tent maybe as he was immediately battling Pneumonia. I figure this was my real and lasting trauma event, because of the not remembering much else on either side of said event, and because of how I remember feeling at the time. I was maybe 5 years old at the time, and this was already my first brush with death, my first brush with catastrophic loss. Seeing his tiny little body inside this clear plastic tent, under bright warming lights, with tubes and monitors coming and going from his body, that I can still see now when I close my eyes.
Moving on from here, intermittent trauma was pretty much part of my life. And no, I am not blaming, and I am not excusing anything, I am just trying to share with you all what I have been learning about myself recently in hopes that perhaps this will reach someone who needs to hear it, and in turn, address their own past and heal.
When I was about kindergarten age, we lived in a very diverse apartment complex in Peach Tree City, Georgia. I was just like any other kindergarten kid, I just wanted to play with friends, ride my bike, and be a little boy. I had made a friend about 2 buildings down, a black boy about my age, who’s name escapes me, but I want to say that it was Monty. Me and Monty played together every single day after school. We were best buddies. We would ride bikes together and swing on the swings, and just run around the complex catching bugs and exploring life. Well, one day I rode my bike down to Monty’s door and knocked as I always did, and was prepared to ask my routine question, “Can Monty come out and play?” And when the door pulled open, I saw a couple “big kids” standing there. So I asked, but I immediately remember feeling fear, and started to kind of tread backwards, in retreat. The two big kids, who I still don’t know who they are to this day, came outside on to the stoop, and started pushing me around, picking on me and saying really mean things to me. Things like “Oh this that little honky boy Monty always talkin bout, yeah we heard about you- Stevie. Nah we done heard that Monty been runnin around with you and you need to get ya little pink ass up outta here.” They pushed me to the ground and kicked me in the face, they slapped me, they spit on me, and every time I tried getting up, they would push me down again. I remember being scared, like really scared for the first time. One of the big kids went inside and grabbed a broom, and then proceeded to beat me repeatedly with it while the other boy absolutely destroyed my little bike and threw it down into a culvert. Finally Monty came running out trying to help me, but was carried back inside crying about what was being done to his buddy. Eventually, a neighbor heard the ruckus, and came out to break it all up and help me back home. I was bloodied, scraped, crying, and my feelings were so hurt. When the neighbor finally got me back home and inside to explain what had just happened, it got even worse. My mother threw on her shoes, and walked down the sidewalk and knocked on the very door where all of this just happened. Now I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I could see that mom was very angry. I think my Dad was holding me back, as I didn’t want to see any more violence or anyone to get hurt. The mother of the big kids who just did this to me emerged from the apartment and a confrontation ensued. Out of no where the lady goes to grab or push my mom, and then got dealt a brutal right cross that sent blood, spit, and teeth flying out into the grass. I believe this lady was asleep before she even hit the ground. And as soon as she did hit the ground my mom proceeded to stomp her guts out, kicking her in the face and downward heal stomping her head. Once she was satisfied with the revenge that was just dealt she came back to the apartment, helped my dad wash all of the blood and snot and tears off my face, sat down and smoked a Marlboro Red 100. I was in Kindergarten.
This was the type of shit that I was exposed to on the regular. And I used to excuse it as, “It was Georgia in the 90’s, it was a really crazy time”, but the fact of the matter is no child should have to experience shit like this. And it didn’t stop. Shortly after this, my parents, and Monty’s parents made us fight each other, and neither one us wanted it to happen. “Beat his ass or ill beat your ass boy” type shit, they pushed us at each other, and I refused, but Monty did not. It was very horrible and scary to not throw a single punch and to get the shit kicked out of me by my best friend. All because a little white boy wanted to be friends with a little black boy. It’s disgusting. And shortly after that, Monty and I found a way to sneak down to the park and play. His older cousin Travis caught us swinging on the swings. He tried to play nice like he wasn’t bothered at all, and had asked us if we wanted to see the new golf club he had just found in the dumpster of the apartment complex. So, being kindergarten naive kids, we said something like “oh yeah, AWESOME!!!” Well, Travis used that Iron to split my head open from the top of my eyebrow-backwards, and then had the soul less audacity to drag me up from the park and knock on a neighbors door asking for help, and he fucking got away with it too, after I was taken by ambulance and the cops had left, because he convinced them all that it was an accident, and that we were just playing around. It breaks my heart that someone could do something like this to a little boy.
I never spoke to Monty again. We would see each other on the bus, or at recess, but we never spoke another word to one another again. I hope he didn’t turn out like his predecessors.
From there, it never really got any easier to understand either. Most of you know that We moved a lot. I went to a different school every single year until I was in 7th grade. But what was concurrent with that, and what was concurrent with the constant battle between my father and my mother’s family, what was concurrent with the power or water being shut off, what was concurrent with the fights between my mom and dad, and with the constant turmoil and unknowns, was that I was repeatedly molested by various people in my life from the time I was about 7 to the time I was in about 4th grade. Not by my parents, not anything like that, but by the older kids in the trailer park. Now, I’m gonna spare the details here, but just believe me on this one. It was not a good feeling to go out and ride bikes, not knowing what was going to happen to me that day. Was I gonna be forced to do things I didn’t want to do? Was I going to get beat up? Both? And one of the major reasons (I think) that I never told anyone until now, was that I don’t know if I ever really felt safe enough to tell anyone. Would I be called a Faggot, or a pussy by my own family? I was a little boy, and the things that were happening were happening at the hands of high school kids, and young adults. I was defenseless. And I believe that when all of these things were happening to me, during this critical time of mental development in my youth, was when I started to “Learn” how to detach, or disassociate as a form of self protection. If I can just escape into my little “space ship” inside my mind, this will be over sooner, and I wont feel a thing. And it worked. And it was a practice, or defense mechanism that I would be utilizing for a very long time.