When I think about writing this piece, I notice that my teeth are clenched and my shoulders are raised. I also feel that familiar, pleasant, slightly floaty feeling as if I’m not really here. I stare out the window vaguely without focus. It’s called dissociation, and I’ve only recently learned to label it as such. It’s pleasant, because it allows me to leave a painful situation, mentally, to check out, even if my body isn’t coping.
I’ve been encouraged for a few years by well-meaning medical folk to deal with the underlying trauma that is a contributing factor in my chronic illness; and I’ve tried hard to identify and move through it. I have had debilitating symptoms for over a decade now, most of which seem untreatable. I won’t delve into the full story of my health problems right now: suffice to say these symptoms and my pain levels are bad enough to stop me from leading a normal life.
My osteopath is currently working on trying to get my shoulders to relax and resume their normal position, back and down. Instead, they sit upwards and forwards, and are chronically knotted; so tightly that my nerves are affected and my arms go numb when I sleep every night. When I first returned to him last year, he said to me “What’s going on? It’s like you’re bracing for someone who’s coming at you.” We’ve talked about the Fight or Flight response, and also the Freeze response, in which your body freezes, but your mind takes a holiday in order to protect itself. In other words, dissociation. It seems I’m freezing up in anticipation of a threat, most likely a threat long gone.
It’s slow progress trying to deal with the trauma, and the illness I have. I’m not really getting anywhere fast, however, I think I have finally realised that the bulk of my underlying trauma has been caused by decades of sexual abuse, in one form or another. It was difficult for me to arrive at this conclusion. I had a troubled upbringing complete with emotional abuse and unhealthy primary relationships, three near-drowning experiences, and my father died after a horrible, protracted illness during my 30s, which I had to deal with and grieve with almost no support. It was easy for me to focus on these things as the cause of my trauma, and indeed, I’m certain they all contribute and are significant. But, the trauma wasn’t shifting, even after almost 15 years of therapy. Daily meditations were not calming my system, nor were significant dietary changes or regular exercise.
However, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last year, it forced me to re-evaluate my life extensively, particularly in terms of my relationships with men and boys, and I came up with some startling conclusions: almost all of my relationships with men and boys have involved some form of sexual abuse, assault, misconduct, or (at a minimum) coercion. In varying degrees, of course, but there has, much more often than not, been something inherently disrespectful and harmful in these relationships. Or, these relationships were inappropriate in other ways: for example, abuses of power and authority by those of advanced age and status that left me feeling used and that wasted precious years of my youth. Add to this inappropriate behaviour on casual dates, decades of street harassment, sexualised images of women on screen and in print, inappropriately sexualised behaviour by teachers, and from men in society in general and being molested as a child by a male babysitter, and you have a pretty overwhelming picture. In short: I think I found my trauma, the behemoth, the ogre-lurking-in-the-shadows, the overwhelming pile of steaming feculence that has derailed my life and my health. Read More