I am thinking about my 28-month-old grandson whose life has changed dramatically now that he has a one-week-old baby brother. Nobody can possibly determine how this change is affecting him. He isn’t old enough to be able to articulate in word or thought how he feels or how he sees the world. Add into the mixture the fact that nearly everyone commonly uses the phrase “the terrible twos’ to describe in general the stage that little people of his age group seem to transition through no matter what else might be going on in their lives.
These ponderings of mine flow from this tributary of thought into one that concerns all of us: “Who helped us grow the body-nervous system-brain pathways and circuits on every level during our early development that we needed to move through transitions of life as calmly and orderly as possible?”
My grandson has all of the safe and secure attachment patterns built into him already that he needs to further build his patterns of processing change of all kinds throughout his lifetime. He is unequivocally loved and cherished. He has two wise and informed parents as well as a super-professional daycare staff to assist him – every step of the way through his growth and development.
Transitions are as much a part of life as are changes. These two states of ‘being in the world’ (for everything) are not two sides of the same coin. They are ONE side — inextricably interwoven in their connection with one another.
I realize as I ponder this morning that I most often think of trauma in term of the ACTIONS that are its components. Yet the truth is that the radical disturbances that are created by these actions to a previously ongoing state INTO a different one are so radical that a smooth transition from one state to the other cannot happen smoothly. The WAY traumatic change happens is just as traumatic as WHAT actually happens as these changes take place.
My abusive infancy and childhood was nothing BUT unpredictable, unforeseeable, unanticipated, uncontrollable, unprepared for RADICAL CHANGE from MY current-ongoing state of being a little person in my own reality into and through a traumatic transition/change state that was instrumented by my psychotic very mentally ill supremely abusive mother.
Without giving an account here of all the times I know of when the shifts between my own states of being into those initiated by abuse I can simply say that each and every one of these FELT like an ATTACK to me on every level of my being — because they WERE attacks. These attacks came out-of-the-blue and so greatly disturbed my ongoing experience of being alive that I had no possible way to transition smoothly through them. And obviously there certainly was NOBODY there to assist me.
I see an image in my mind’s eye. There I was even from the tiniest of my ages on my own ‘solid ground’. Seeking ‘solid ground’ is as natural a part of being alive as – well, as LIFE is a part of being alive. Every living creature must be able to return to some place of ‘safety and security’ within the body to reestablish and maintain ongoing existence or it will die.
There I am on my ‘solid ground’ — and BOOM! ATTACK by Mother! Suddenly inside of myself I am falling into a bottomless abyss. There is no rope to grab, nobody to throw the rope — just falling falling falling until the ATTACK stops. I went through such frequent attacks sometimes several times a day, sometimes all day, sometimes for weeks — and the conditions of continual threat of attack were such that my body had to find a way to make conscious continual awareness of my danger fade into the background so that I could continue to remain alive at all.
But today instead of thinking one bit about what Mother actually DID to me during these attacks — I am thinking about the very split-second INSTANT her attacks took place.
The fact that I could not transition from my own pre-attack state smoothly into the trauma of her actual attack was as traumatic for me as any action she actually did to me.
Developmental neuroscientists speak of ‘state shifts’. Yes, we often experience these shifts between one ongoing experience into another one emotionally — but often, as severe early trauma survivors, our emotions come in the aftermath. Our BODY and our brain react of their OWN well-honed extremely-rapid intelligence about how to transition through anything that hints of threat as quickly and as effectively as possible. Our conscious self is dragged along by our physiological self’s reaction which had to dominate our development so that we could remain alive.
(I went outside into the glorious beauty of this new day after recent monsoons rain have stimulated such new growth around me in this high desert to write what follows….)
Given the unsafe, insecure, unpredictable, threatening, dangerous and traumatic, malevolent conditions of a little person’s universe of abuse (and I include all neglect of basic important needs here) there is no possible way such a person’s body-brain could develop “AS IF” conditions were the opposite.
Yet within the OVERALL environment of malevolence every little person will find, will discover, will create times-places-spaces (inside and outside of itself) where all the trauma does not exist — because trauma CANNOT ALWAYS EXIST if the little person is going to remain alive.
Even on the level of physiology alone there HAS TO BE down-time from the ongoing experience and reality of trauma. The human self has this same need.
And yet there is a very high price paid both for being FORCED to find these down-times AND for actually finding a way to do so.
Chaos theorists describe something known as ‘The Butterfly Effect.” According to Wickipedia, “In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.”
Some say the wing flap can be on one side of the planet causing the hurricane on the other side of the planet. How are visible realities tied and connected by invisible ones? What is the tie and the connection between what we currently understand and what we do not?
Early trauma survivors do not get to connect their down-time realities together. These realities seem to be as far apart as the butterfly wing and the hurricane described above. Not being allowed in the BODY to transition smoothly between ‘states of reality’ due to continual traumatic interruptions leaves us living the experience of our lives as if we are in disconnected pieces. The traumas we lived through were too overwhelming to manage in any other way.
As I stop to consider the words I have just written this morning I see the image in my mind of a lake so big it’s shores are so far away they are invisible and might as well not exist at all. We entered this world in such a big splash of trauma that the ripples moving out from the epicenter of our earliest unsafe and insecure beginnings continue to roll out around us — affecting every aspect of our existence — for our entire lifespan.
OK. So exactly where and how do I find something helpful and hopeful to say here without it sounding useless and trite?
Just at the moment I ask this question one single word comes into my thoughts: CONTRIBUTION.
The world itself seems to be a doorway. As I peek through it I see what appears at first glimpse to be —– an infinity of beauty!
I know should I choose to move through this doorway evidently represented by this seemingly oddly presenting word — CONTRIBUTION — that I could spend an infinity of time describing what I find.
The simple words that come to me next are, “Do not forget that there are infinite ways to look at and to understand every aspect of life.”
Yes, what I think I know is such a tiny fragment that it limits me — until I allow myself to begin to see all the goodness and beauty that has CONTRIBUTED to my even being alive at this moment.
Do I allow, even encourage myself to also see the brilliant sparkles from sunlight and moonbeams that are a part of this lake of my life? Do I see the colors in the prisms of each tiny drop? Do I imagine the purity of this water that is me, the life teeming in its depths, the cycles of the water’s movements over the courses of time?
Do I consider the spring thaws in distant places that send water here, the cycles of clouds giving rain, the evaporation of moisture as lake water changes form and rises to move off to give life somewhere else?
Do I consider the miracles?
Oh. I see. No matter what else has happened this part is up to me.
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