Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shannon: The Topography of Traumaland #1

In my early adulthood I experienced profound relational abuse. A woman and a man both, at separate times, thrust their violence upon/into me - physically, emotionally and spiritually. The wounds were real, mottled purple and deep. They shattered my psyche and also shattered my illusions about the foresight and protection that I believed my years would provide. Unlike some of those that grew up in traumatic environments I had known health and a strong sense of self. For this I am thankful, and also vexed. I can still remember 'a time before'. Foggily, but enough to give shame extra teeth when it wants them. The harassments of 'what if', 'remember when' and 'I used to be able to' come on very strong sometimes. It can be a sore test of my sore heart. Learning to live can sometimes feel like the soul equivalent of an accident victim's struggle to learn to walk again. Slow, sweaty and plagued by weariness.

However, there's still love. And goodness everywhere, alight in corners. I have learned to stalk these things. They are stronger than evil as light is stronger than darkness and I have been sung to sleep many nights by them. 

Healing is long work and violence so brute and short.


I thought it may be helpful for my friends and colleagues to occasionally hear a first hand account of the journey through the consequences of evil, trauma and abuse. It is certainly helpful for me to tell. For now I will list and unpack phrases that I think describe a bit of what I know to be the world of post-trauma.

For what they're worth, may they bless you and those whose faces you tend.

1| Conflict Vertigo.

ver·ti·go - a dizzying sensation of tilting within stable surroundings or of being in tilting or spinning surroundings.

Before the trauma I had an above average record for initiating, sustaining and surviving conflict with my self intact. I knew when to fight and when to fly. 

After trauma, pervasive dizziness. All conflicts lost their aspect. Like a compass at the north pole I sometimes spin and can't find a point of reference. Mountains blend with valleys and I can't tell if I'm in a war or just a negotiation. I sometimes shout when I should whisper, whisper when I should shout, stay when I should leave. All the while my heart is beating like I am on a building's bare edge far above the hard earth. Though my mind knows otherwise, my heart anticipates violence and I am afraid.

This is a terrible bind. I lose sight of where I'm at and I'm just as likely to wound those that wish to love me as I am to love those that will further wound me. 

2| People as events. 

After trauma it sometimes feels as if each person is a new and large event that needs my attention. They cease to be people and become instead mysterious, intimidating occasions. I feel small and surrounded by giants. I can be acutely aware of even the strangers next to me in Chipotle. I can't give half attention. My heart can get overwhelmed with them as their presence fills up my inner atmosphere. (I think this is what is called in healing parlance 'hyper-vigilance'. I prefer my title. It makes more sense to me.) I get caught up in watching whoever is across from me and I do it intensely. But I'm also watching everything else - with my whole body. It feels natural. It just happens. My radar is always on. I don't think I would have caught this one if it weren't for honest friends asking me why I retreat from social interaction. It exhausts me. I can't forget the person standing behind me, even though I want to. 

There are gifts to be gleaned from this, and I am very grateful for them. My senses have been hewn and activated in such a way that I can see deep drama and character in people that others ignore. I have watched many sparrows in the underbrush. I have a great capacity for awe and gratitude. 

Yet, the curse is there, too. I can't walk through the market with my eyes closed. I often can't retreat into my inner world in social situations. The after-church milling about makes my back sweat.

It is a balancing act, being thankful and lamenting simultaneously. This is where I am at in my healing process. But thank God, I'm truly grateful for some of these costly gifts, the fruit of suffering. Occasionally I'm even thankful for the trauma itself. Is this redemption? I don't know, but if it isn't then the real thing is going to be extraordinary. 

Long before Harry Potter discovered that his Patronus in the fight against evil was the stag the Christian tradition had named it for similar reasons. On old European churches you can still find stonecarved scenes of the stag swallowing a snake. The snake, of course, symbolizes evil. They're both powerful creatures. 


Solomon Chan said...

Bless you for sharing, Shannon. Your perceptive heart is also a wounded one that I (and so many others) have benefited from. You're a gift of presence that's been paid for at a very high price.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. Some of my favorite moments in life are when I read something that plainly states thoughts that, whether from fear or lack of strength, I've been unable to pin down. I've learned when that happens, to read it 30 times, or 50, or however long it takes until that "kicked in the gut" feeling wanes and I can better wrap my head around the ideas. That's what this was for me... and it was valuable.

Your writing is beautiful and your thoughts are appreciated - Take care -

stacy pietsch said...

thank you for this, shannon. your heart, soul, and history are so precious to me. i have said it before and feel pressed to say it again--my image of God is changed bc of you in good, healing, true, holy, and fascinating ways. i am sure He/She thanks you...