What Difference Does a Year Make? -- part one

a moving work by dadanation - bumped --sd

As of April 16th, 2008 all I knew for certain was that I could provide no one with any information about my health with any certainty.  Oddly, living under the perpetual cloud of one step forward, one step back was not only familiar but oddly comforting for me.  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.  

It still makes me knot up every time I hear the adage "What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger."  While this is truly a great Hallmark greeting card slogan for the Hemingway-esque sensibility, for the survivor of childhood trauma, it was a rather insensitive and frankly inapplicable suggestion.  

Just because the forces that sought to hurt me when I was a child were no longer physically in my life by no means meant that they were no longer a part of my life.  Over time, the scars and bruises they left on me still had power, still had influence.  Even though there was no one there in the flesh to try to physically hurt me, their memory was just as strong today as their fists were when I was a child.

Since tomorrow (April 17th) is actually my one-year anniversary of my first diary for the DKosThursday Night Health Care series, I volunteered to write a diary that looked both retrospectively at my past year and my health as well as to look prospectively at what are the challenges that I face in the coming year – and sort of extrapolate some of these remembrances and forecasts in some form of a meta diary.

And all was hunky dory for me in this regard – that is until I found myself in this diary by RoCali: Child Sexual Abuse; Some of the Myths and Facts.  Whatever calm I had, whatever diary I had envisioned was blown out of the water the minute I found myself typing a reply to a comment by a fellow survivor of trauma in the comment section of the diary.

One step forward, one step back...
But I digress...

Right about this time last year, I was a functioning wreck.  While no longer having to deal with either the threat of a long-standing Hepatitis C infection or the agonizing interferon regimen that I had been on for 18 consecutive months, I was facing the rather frightening reality that I was rapidly exhausting all of my HIV medication options.  What was once a sort of running joke that when it came to my overall health that I was the living embodiment of a Newtonian law -- that for every positive piece of news about my health it seemed that I invariably would be at the receiving end of some other, rather challenging (read: bad) news was, well, no longer funny.

So, as of April 16th, 2008 all I knew for certain was that I could provide no one with any information about my health with any certainty.  Oddly, living under the perpetual cloud of one step forward, one step back was not only familiar but oddly comforting for me.  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.

What we knew about my health on April 17, 2008 was this: while I had successfully cleared Hepatitis C, my HIV meds had stopped working and had stopped working for at least two years.  February 2006 saw me able to end my 18-month interferon treatment for Hep C.  But the fact that I was showing no clinical benefit from my HIV meds was deeply troubling.  Regimen after regimen was exhausted.  Long story short, here is the diary about it.

The final resolution was also a diary topic by me, here.

Great news, absolutely.  The best news I have had in years and years. So, how then does this have anything to do with the experiences, scars and realities of a survivor of trauma?  

In a word?  Everything.

What one has to not just understand but believe is that my entire life is viewed through the prism of being both the target of and the survivor of childhood trauma.  The way I see the world, the way I see me, the way I believe the world sees me – well, they are all inexorably, inextricably and irrefutably informed by, constructed though and understood because of this reality. Forces outside of me literally left in their wake the lens through which I see the world, left in their wake the ears I hear the world with, left in their wake to pace I walk in this world and left in their wake in my soul the sad truth that when push comes to shove, the only thing I would ever be guaranteed in my life was that even though good things may happen to me, because of me, ultimately bad things were going to happen, in spite of me, but to me.

The messages I not only learned but internalized and embodied were pretty simple, almost always contradictory, but never failed to bear themselves out in my life.

I have written about being a survivor before, but thought that tonight, it would be as important to bring you into the actual trauma as possible, in much the same way that I had you with me in the narrative about being in the clinical trial and all its attendant this and that.

It really was a profound realization a few years ago that I was the master at talking about being the target of abuse at the hand of my father, I had never spoken or written about the actual abuse.  It was almost as if I was having the scene fade to black in the movie of my life every time I filmed it.

A gift to my mom on Mother’s Day a few years back brought this deflection ultimately to its end.  I began incorporating pieces of an 18-poem poem for my mother into my art.  Like so:


the poem reads

i used to think her heart was frozen,
cold and lifeless

Why 18 poems?  Ulysses by James Joyce is 18 chapters, we are Irish, bombast, convenience, you name it. The piece, Bloom In Dublin, was hard to write, harder to give my mom, and very liberating.  For the time being.

But when I finished illustrating the work, I found that I was ultimately the only person who could hear the other voice in the narrative, the only person who saw the man behind the door like Yossarian – while the poem addressed my growing up, it skirted the issue of my father insofar as when the violence is about to happen, the poem or poems end.  My pain in my recounting of my life was always implied.

Even as survivor, the predilection to somehow protect my abuser, to try to salvage some aspect of control over the narrative, n o matter how inconsequential or tangential was still as powerful for me as a 30 year old man as it was for me as an eight-year old kid.

Quite accidentally, when working on a wholly distinct other painting of mine, I found myself mumbling phrases that I kept hearing and seeing in my mind.  Eventually these phrases became stanzas, stanzas became poems and the poems, four in total, became the first time the camera did not fade to black or the sounds muffled by my imaginary orchestral score.

Here are the first of the four poems, and this will; also be the close of this installment of this diary.  Thursday April 23rd (both Shakespeare's and my father's birthdays),  I’ll begin here, where I left off with the last two poems and then wrap this all up.  But note, I can no more guarantee that I can wrap this is neatly or cogently any more than I can ever make sense of the pain and hurt and the day-to-day reality of being a trauma survivor.  I’ll try, and that is perhaps the only thing I can ever tell you and be certain that it is honestly what I am going to do.

the first poem -- the moment of clarity:

number 1.
for the next three hours I held my breath, taking faith in a newly discovered superstition that one exhale would break the spell,

the thought of him returning through the front door

that now was a magical moment – he was gone, gone, gone.  To breathe before the time required for the magic to work would be to break the spell which in turn would bring him back which I could not allow so I stopped breathing
but I did not stop being careful, hedging my bet, I began preparing for what was possible or plausible or just unfair that he’d be back

anticipatory terror back in my body, from throat to fingertips to my eyeballs to toes, this seventh sense my longtime companion, me now we sitting together on guard we more accurately I was ready, for him, fear his exit was theater, dreading the second act --
in shouts and irrational immediate demands for the needle or the haystack or even the camel

the knot in my gut already began to make me sick
the second act never varied in tone or intent, just often the content or subject of the object could vary

the second poem:  the rage litany:

number 2.

you can kiss my ass you SUCH-AND-SUCH   I don’t give a damn about what the neighbor’s think about SUCH-AND-SUCH   well you tell that to his school when they ask SUCH-AND-SUCH   michael where are my brown suit socks with the SUCH-AND-SUCH   and why not?  oh, or have you completely forgotten the reason why you were grounded?  well then I suggest young man that SUCH-AND-SUCH   before I SUCH-AND-SUCH   would you wipe that look off your face before I wipe it off your face for you permanently god damn it  why, why are my SUCH-AND-SUCH   here when I specifically told you to SUCH-AND-SUCH     which was SUCH-AND-SUCH   and michael why is this SUCH-AND-SUCH   when I told you never SUCH-AND-SUCH    even after I specifically told you not to SUCH-AND-SUCH    even after I specifically told you to SUCH-AND-SUCH    what were you thinking when SUCH-AND-SUCH   because I can not understand how someone as smart as you can do something as stupid as SUCH-AND-SUCH    would you please shut that door before SUCH-AND-SUCH    don’t you ever SUCH-AND-SUCH

ok, that is about all i can do right now.


Tags: trauma, personal, poetry, survivor, abuse (all tags) :: Previous Tag Versions

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part 2 will be posted thursday evening.

For me, your poetry adds a much more personal dimension to your story much like the lyrics of a song.

one gift i got from my father was a transistor radio that he bought when he was in japan (circa 1970).  i kept that radio for ever and when things were especially chaotic or hurtful, i would have to play it so that i could sleep (and play it under my pillow where it could not be heard). it seemed to me then, when i was a kid, that it was the only thing that could get me to sleep.  i am rarely without music -- in my apartment, on my iPod, etc. -- there is something very calming and very protective about music to me. 


thanks for reading the diary.  i really appreciate the comment.