Saturday, July 2, 2016

There are no words.


They say to start at the beginning. They say to start with what you know. They say to start with yourself.

But what if all you have is a sickness in your stomach? What if all you remember is looking out the window?

Some memories float to the surface again and again like the disgusting foam that forms on the top of a boiling meat. They are part of me, and yet they are not. Yet, there is a darkness that remains that is also not yet fully known. Because I don’t know why it’s there. Because I don’t know why I act that way. Because I don’t have the words.

Broca’s area in the brain is the part that controls the ability to speak. It connects the ideas  to words and then controls the motor function of getting those words processed into sound. When traumatized people listen to a retelling of their trauma, this area of the brain shuts down as they approach the moment of trauma. We, quite literally, have no words.

We already intuitively know this. We say things like, “I was speechless.” We can have feelings and images and smells and pain in our bodies, but we lack the capacity to integrate them in a way that enables us to articulate them into words.

I never noticed before that I have a recurrent image that pops into my head. I’ve always brushed it aside because it seemed so useless and pointless and lacking meaning. Other memories from that time seem so much more important and elicit obvious feelings that I can describe. But this particular memory, the view out of a window, seemed only to serve as a pin in the bulletin board, a locator to bring me back to a period of time and space when the pain really started. If someone had asked me, “When do you think the trauma began?” I might have a flash of that image and then my brain would latch onto other moments that seemed to make more sense. What use is a window?

I want explanations.
I want to solve the equation, the relationship, the mystery.
I want order and continuity.
I want this to mean this and that to mean that.
I want answers.
I want certainty.

But fuck if trauma doesn’t hijack your brain and your body and your memory and put things in the wrong order or hold onto moments that seem meaningless or, for some, elicit no memory at all.

We attendees of Numonohi Christian Academy used to joke that we were “Veterans of Num.” Even as children we knew that the life we were living, abandoned by our parents for a greater cause, didn’t make sense. Some of us were beaten. Some of us were molested. Some of us were neglected. Some of us were chastised for eating too much, for eating too little, walking the wrong way, crying too easily, being upset when we witnessed trauma, screaming when we thought we were about to be raped. There was no way of being that was right. We were prisoners of faith under the control of wardens with no accountability and no consequences who claimed to be doing the work of the Lord.

And there will be no justice.

Sometimes I think that’s why I hold on to horrific memories. Like eating poison and expecting the rat to die, I’m tormenting myself because I don’t want to let them off the hook. However, because of laws pertaining to crimes that happened in other countries and because New Tribes Mission continues to fail in their pursuit of justice and concern for the victims of their systemic abuse, there will never be justice. And because justice doesn’t give us healing anyway, I know I can only begin to work on healing within, to start the one place I know, the place with no words.

I’m tired. Aren’t you guys tired too?

Developmental Trauma and PTSD both affect sleep and can cause long term pain patterns in the body, digestive problems, fatigue, fibromyalgia, weight gain, substance abuse, risk-seeking, and other self-destructive behaviors.

“The lives of many trauma survivors come to revolve around bracing against and neutralizing unwanted sensory experiences, and most in my practice have become experts in such self-numbing.” Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

I’ve been writing this blog now for nine years. I’ve been attempting through those years to make sense of the senseless. I’ve written about meditation, yoga, food, and research that I’ve come across that has helped me. I write to help sort things out. I write so that others might know they’re not alone. But sometimes there are no words.

Discovering Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and his book, The Body Keeps the Score, led me to find a type of therapy that works beyond words. Somatic Therapists use techniques that follow the sensations of the body to integrate traumatic memory and help victims of trauma integrate the discombobulated memories that assault them into the greater storyline of their lives.

Sometimes that image that comes up in your mind when you’re panicked about a work crisis, can be a window into understanding you never knew was possible.

I’ve got a long way to go, but I wanted to share with you about how this particular type of therapy is helping me so profoundly in ways that talk therapy alone never did.

I encourage you to listen to Krista Tippett’s interview with Dr. van der Kolk for her show On Being.

Here also is a list of books that have aided me in my journey back into my body and through the process of integration:

The Body Keeps the Score - Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Bodies - Dr. Susie Orbach
The Places That Scare You - Pema Chödrön

There is hope.

There are therapies and practices that have been shown to greatly improve the lives of traumatized people. Body therapies like massage, acupuncture, rolfing, The Feldenkrais Method, EMDR as well as body practices like yoga and meditation have helped many people become more embodied and better understand their own body sensations and respond to them in healthy ways.

Sometimes we don’t have the words. And that is just the place to begin.


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