What difference? A day, A year, A lifetime, PART 2
Originally posted 2009-04-24 06:55:35 -0500,
It was, after all, the one truism that I knew to be absolutely true, namely that everything good goes bad, everything alive dies and everything gained will be lost.
Somehow we moved from my clinical trial to my first real successful HIV treatment regimen with a few stops along the way. I said I'd pick up exactly where I left off last week, so here we go...
When I was an undergrad, I took a poetry course focusing on the Black Mountain poets, especially the four most famous ones (Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley and Ed Dorn). It had to have been one of the most challenging and difficult and ultimately rewarding of my classes that semester, as I eventually took three more classes taught by the same prof in the same general vicinity of contemporary poetry.
OK, that sounds tangential, but I assure you it isn't. But give me a second to connect the Black Mountain poets and being a trauma survivor. Here goes:
The least readable of the poets of that school was, in my own opinion, Charles Olson. His epic always felt like a very stuffy and not even comparable knock-off to Ezra Pound's stunning . But Olson did give me the most amazing gift, namely that of Enyalion:
(from Olson's Maximus epic):
excerpted from by Stephen Fredman
The whole idea of disclosure (disrobing for Enyalion) -- of being naked as a way to actually live in this world and as a way of disarming your enemies (real or imagined) -- to me was the last thing I would have ever attempted as a way of coming to terms with my father's violence, but ultimately, it was the watershed sort of philosophy that I adopted to try to get over being so scared and so tortured.
The game he would play with me was to to hit me, hard. If I cried, I was hit again. If I did not cry, the game was over. When he raged, of course, there was no game afoot, no possibility of him stopping beating me until such time that he either tired of it, or I was simply too pulverized to even bother with or (perhaps) my mother returning from being out.
When he was home, I never knew if and when the time bomb would go off and I would once again show everyone what it was like to be a real-life superhero (I could, after all, bounce off walls and not cry). Why? Why me?
I will never know.
Particular episodes stick out in my mind with a freshness and a kind of visceral life that I don't think I'll ever fully be able to ever forget them. The time I was held under the running tap (nose up catching the water) or the time I was tossed from the upper bunk bed to the closet or the "basketball pole" black eye that bore the indentation of his college ring on my face.
My job, I discovered when very young, was to be the spokesperson who would explain exactly why I was so black-and-blue or so fat-lipped etc. If and when any adult ever stopped to talk to us and got a good look at me and wondered out loud "what happened..." I would be the voice that spoke up, explaining how I tripped doing a lay-up and that's how my right side of my face got so bruised or how I fell off the roof and that's why m y right wrist still has an improperly set bone.
But I am doing it again, talking about but not really of the abuse.
OK, to bring closure to the one part of the diary, here are the two final stories/poems that were eventually incorporated into the 18-poem poem I gave my mom for mother's day. The first one is the actual experience of me being hit while the last one is the aftermath.
the punches never hurt actually
just a ringing sensation
then a metal wet mouth
bloody lips first bleeding in my mouth
the lights and gravity
take on new lives
the flash and dull thud
from a fist on my face
in my back or on my arm leg shoulder
the dull thud exploding a second flash of
and then the ringing sensation
odd how when in the midst of the assault
nothing can be heard there are no sounds anymore
like the movie reel and its soundtrack and score have been severed
except for the ringing sensation
which never goes away?
everything will hurt
but not until it has ended
and I am left. alone.
the front door opened not long after the car engine had been turned off
from the carport the sound of keys
in hand sorting to find the door key
then the softer steady steps
pedal pushers on the linoleum
into my room from sound to shoes to shadow
my light switched from safe to now brightly lit
the ice pack next to my bed melting away
the black eye already alive my nose sniffled sore
a hesitation, a quick inhale of air?
across the length of the room to my bed a book in hand "microbes" I asked "what are microbes?"
"I have no idea. you need to read this and come tell me when you find out. ok?" no kiss or hug
the book has a tough blue cover and lots of pages
in the kitchen she now treads thin ice
"jesus christ bill, he’s only six years old so don’t
tell me he’ll be alright he’s only six god what could have been the crime this time? six. school pictures are this week he’s supposed to get one taken you
know but how in the hell do ahhhhhhh
and yes, a science book from the library we can’t pretend he’s just like the rest"
So by the time I am 21, I have not only endured and survived and been indelibly marked by my father but I also have buried him. Literally. His suicide was the most bittersweet moment of my life -- and why I felt so guilty for feeling freed would be a voice that would stay in my head up to and not until I finally tried to, like Enyalion, disrobe and face the fear naked.
What amazes me to this day is that no one intervened, no one stopped him, no one tried to calm the raging sea. And if they had, they were unsuccessful. My adult life, living with PTSD, was initially informed by this cruel, jaded and frankly accurate thinking that if I never opened my mouth to anyone about any of this, no one would ever know, care or try to help heal. People failed me -- constantly. No one ever rescued or liberated or spirited me away, no loving and adoptive family came by to provide me with safety and quiet.
My trauma and the injury I sustained (all the discrete injuries ultimately just became one unhealed, unattended-to montage) was my curse, my scarlet letter, my alter-ego, and my one real friend. I could always count on me being me. But imagine what it is like walking down a street and whammo! There is a sudden and unexpected backfire from a car. Certainly that would scare most of us. But for me, it goes beyond that initial fright -- it resurrects him. The sudden, unanticipated and disorienting sound (loud sounds) are a trigger for me. Men are a trigger for me (yeah, figures that I would be gay and have this preternatural fear of men). I can write this now, but this is after years and years of therapy, of addiction, of self-destructive behavior, of completely icing down any and all of my feelings, of making work my god (or drug of choice if you will) of making ANYTHING my god just so long as it never yelled or threatened or made a sudden move towards me that I either could not see or was not expecting.
The old adage attributed to young people is that they act recklessly because they think themselves immortal. That was never me. I thought I would be dead by age 20. Like so so so many other folks like me, trauma survivors, I had absolutely no illusion of immortality or, for that matter, remedy.
They call it "retraumatization." It basically is the word to explain the phenomenon of trauma survivors always seeming to find themselves in settings where they are going to be or are triggered. Why would I end up in a relationship with someone who made me feel as fearful or timid as did my father? Simple: I was feeling something, in real time, for real whenever I found myself in such a setting. I learned so long ago to fake the feeling and ice down the nerves and just be a good thirty-to sixty seconds ahead of everyone so that nothing said will catch you off-guard and no one will make you look weak or vulnerable. We place such an emphasis on "feeling" things that regardless of how risky the encounter is for me, I am willing to feel, in real time. Sadly, my natural inclination, the way in which my injury in my brain (which was never attended to and so which healed in an adaptive but unhelpful fashion) is almost reflexive -- I go to trauma-inducing places the way a raccoon goes to standing water it wash its prey.
My brain fires neurotransmitter substances which then direct my brain and body as to what to do etc. While I have been through ample counseling, if you were to wager on who wins, a neurotransmitter substance or a behavioral modification, the answer is probably self-evident -- the chemical trumps the behavioral ultimately, eventually, consistently.
For the survivors of abuse and trauma as a child or adolescent, the real risk of becoming just another typical trauma survivor who either ends up injured because of their predilection for high-risk stunts and settings, in a relationship where they are abused, or, and what I feared the most, being the abuser in a new relationship is real. And so terrifying.
I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around those returning soldiers from the Iraqi occupation who -- as we all know -- are being under- or intentionally mis- diagnosed, their PTSD being left un-therapized, un-medicated, unattended to. They are the embodiment of Santayana’s "those who forget, repeat" adage.
Frankly, there are no simple solutions to this problem. Generational cycles of PTSD, trauma, violence, and familiarity have a way of becoming almost genetically entrenched. The way out of this mess is to deliberately and cautiously and aggressively move me, us, the issue, out of its safe and visibly invisible closet and talk about it, do something about it, do anything other than either think someone else will pay attention to that kid with that recurring bruise or dare to help someone you don't know. Being embarrassed may be what you feel and fear if you decide to question or act, but your immediate discomfort -- something you always have the option of walking away from -- is nothing compared to the deep and enervating scars that the traumatized individual will carry for a life time -- and a scar that we can never forget about or walk away from.
And here is where I could go on about how trauma and surviving trauma can be facilitated in our blogs, in our diaries, in our day-to-day interactions with others here and in person.
But I'm not. Not now. This is as Enyalion as I have ever been and while trusting that this is in fact a healthy step for me, there is only so much nakedness that I can endure.
But I suppose the point I would leave from these two rambling messes of a diary is this -- there are those of us among you who believe nothing, trust nothing, and hope for nothing. Our lives -- no matter how together we may look, sound or seem -- are anything but. Don't settle for the most convenient, most stress-free, the least threatening explanation. Learn to tolerate less trauma, in your work environment, in your family, With your friends, listen. In the world around you, look. If no one is willing to fight for me or for that little kid that you sometimes happen across, if no one is willing to accept that rape is not sex, if no one is willing to risk being ostracized because you feel/perceive that something is amiss with that family and that child, then all that has happened is that once again, I am left being the voice to explain away and make smooth the serious rupture that is once again being given to me.
I was one of the lucky ones who was able to find help when all the world was just a trigger. It was and is a long recovery, but it is on-going. However, for the countless survivors and current victims of trauma, a world in which they have to always fend for themselves, for ourselves, is a worlds that we are really not long for, either spiritually, emotionally or sometimes, physically.
Change begins at home. With yourself.