January 20, 2013

What in the world are we talking about?

What does it mean to us and for the quality of our life when we are deprived – because we were deprived from the start of our life – of the ability to “safely” regulate our emotions?  We are most certainly not born with this ability.  It comes with the growth, development and advancement of our body. 

When we were tiniest, when we were born, we could do very little of anything by ourselves.  We could breath.  We could swallow.  We could do what a newborn mammal can do.  But given the complexity of being human we were meant for so much more.  But without being given what we needed to move toward our potential for advancement, we suffered then and will suffer in ways invisible to our comprehension for the rest of our life.

Time passes by.  We stay alive.  We appear to have made it through all of the common developmental milestones.  We grow and grow as we pass one milestone after another until we’re all grown up.

Here we are in adulthood.  We’ve made it!  Nobody ever tells us what we might have missed out on during our development.  Nobody tells us what mattered most.  Nobody told us what shortages of inner supplies plagued us from the beginning of our lives – and thus – always will.

If anything goes wrong as we make it through our life we are told that we’re to blame.  We are expected to be autonomous.  We are expected to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-motivated, self-contained.  If we need something, go get it.  If we want something, go get it.  If we fall flat on the ground with our face in the dust, it’s our own fault.  Pick yourself up.  Don’t expect anyone to be there to help you.  Don’t expect anyone to care.  You are on your own.

Don’t you dare complain, either.  Don’t look around you and notice that there seems to be some kind of invisible inner difference between people who seem to fall naturally into the confident, competent and therefore successful category while there are others who seem to never make it ‘there’ no matter how hard they try.

It’s like some people know something we don’t know, have something we don’t have.  They seem to live in one kind of world while the rest of us live in a different one.  Some people just seem somehow blessed.  They “get it” and we don’t.  Whatever “it” is, “it” seems vague to us and impossible to understand or define.  We move through our life being nagged with a feeling that we missed something somewhere but we don’t know what.  There’s a secret ingredient that is absent for some and present for others.  We don’t know what that ingredient is and we sure don’t know where to get it.

We don’t even know where to look for what’s different between us and so many others who seem to feel, yes, a different rhythm than we do as they live their lives.  If we turn and look within we know there’s a kind of emptiness in us.  Somehow we have a hollow space inside our body.  Some of us know this.  Others have found a way to walk around believing it’s not possible to fill this place of void, so it’s best to find any way possible to ignore that it exists.

Don’t look inward!  Look outward!  If we’re missing something then, by golly, there must be a way to find it.  We believe this because if we didn’t we know there’s a certain time coming when we will fall down and we will not be able to get back up.

What if someone told us that what we are missing, what we have lost, what has been stolen from us lies not inside of us because it was never put there in the first place?  How is it possible to go all the way back, back before we could walk or crawl or sit up or even roll over to look for what got left out of the story of our lives?  To even try to imagine what happened to us when we were so small seems to make our mind go blank.  Blank without words.  How can we think?  Yet I ask you, “What did you know before you could first think in thoughts about yourself in the world that you have never forgotten and can’t quite remember?”

Sending a part of our self back there from this present moment to that distant past requires only one ability.  Simply trust what you know.  Don’t read your life in words.  Read it in feelings.  There is no part of our body that doesn’t remember all it has been through.  All the way backwards we remember the sound of the voices of who welcomed us into this world – or did not.  We know the feeling of our small self, vulnerable, fragile in the hands of giants.  What did they do with us and to us when we needed them most? 

We haven’t forgotten.  We remember and we know in every fiber of our being if we started from our beginning being loved and feeling completely safe and secure in the world at all times, or if we did not.  Our body, if we pay attention to what it can tell us – if we ask and we listen – will never lie to us.

This process of being able to hear what our body tells us might seem to be mysterious because it is so foreign in our culture to believe that which our physical self can tell us about everything else we think we know.  We take up space.  We move around.  We think in noisy thoughts with words.  If we find something is wrong we look for solutions.  If something is broken we either fix it or throw it away.

After all, being in a body is no different than being tuna in a can or jelly in a jar.  It’s what’s inside the container we place the value on.  That we ARE our container-body with a self all put together inseparably until the moment of our death has to matter to us.  Once it does we will then be able to grow to understand that both how our body grew along with our self cannot be taken apart from one another.  Each exists as a whole entity whose patterns of being in the world were set into place long before we knew we had a name.

For those of us who have always known there was something terribly wrong with how we were raised, and for those who listen to the memory that is in their body itself and discover this very same thing, chances are that what happened so long ago has always directly caused difficulties in our lives we have never been able to describe.  We can’t expect anyone to appear, either, who will say to us, “Oops!  So sorry!  Please excuse the mess.  We never meant for this to happen.  Let me fix this for you.”  Nope.  Not going to happen.

So what is the point of searching backwards for the missing ingredient in our life if nobody is going to be able to fix now what went wrong for us way back then?  How are we supposed to change the past, anyway?  Are those who stand on one end of the tug-o-war rope having all they need within them to win the game equal with those on the other end who were born missing out on what they needed most to find a smoother way through life?

As my mother wrote in one of her childhood stories when she was nine, “I don’t think you would like to hear what happened in the cave that night but I will tell you….”  Yes.  We are equal.  We are also very, very different.

Just because we look around and see other people whose containers seem so alike in all the essential ways does not mean if we looked a little deeper we wouldn’t find that in the ways that matter most – as they hold the greatest power to influence how we live a life in this world – we wouldn’t find exactly that same dividing line we already really know exists.  There are those of us who were loved and cherished into this world and there are those of us who were not.  And between these two groups of people, according to degrees of deprivation from birth, lies the greatest chasm we could imagine.

We either grew a body-brain-self that knew it was safe and secure in this world or we didn’t.  It is exactly within this difference between us that we must search for what we have always known and cannot name.

There is one word we can use to begin to explore the differences I am describing.  That word is “attachment.”


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  1. Ah, yes…. society is a game. Life itself is not. Politically I’m a Digger and Leveller, which is to say a despised and disenfranchised misfit. Think of it, though. Because we were viciously abused you can put all your energies into this healing blog (and provide a healing and needed forum for others) and I can work in the completely uneconomic fine crafts; you on disability, and I on welfare. If we weren’t ‘damaged goods’, the ‘game’ would never permit this, and I shudder to think of our fates had we lived two hundred, or even one hundred years ago. Would the world be a better place if we’d been loved and cherished in our early years so that we would now be consequently enfranchised, possibly ‘honourably employed’, you as a greeter at Wally World, and I as a hairdresser? I rage against the truth that the abuse was for me a gift — I see no way for me, or anyone, to live honourably without willing complicity in or willful blindness to the appalling horror of the ‘game’ — and without being remotely a Christian (even a five-year-old child knows a “loving”, “personal”, all-seeing God doesn’t peep through a cloud while that five-year-old is raped by a middle-aged man), I’m compelled to accept and to praise the order in this universe in willing humility, “Thy will be done.”

    • Oh – and my other thought – related to what I am working on at this moment. Even 100 or 200 years ago — the break in the chain that matters most is the quality of the interaction between infant and mother until age two. In more closely linked social (smaller) communities it probably was more rare for mother’s to get away with horrific treatment of their little ones.

      I imagine there have always been exceptions to ‘the rule’ that adequate care be given to infants. Life – as you both so tacitly and clearly describe it — has yet to be fair. In my thinking it is the call to a desire to prevent changes to the very body a person is confined to live in for their lifetime, created directly through traumatic infant-mother-early primary caregiver interactions, that ignites my passion.

      If you or I had not suffered what we did – I would not believe for a moment we would have settled for the employment you describe. We will never know. And, yes, I am grateful for the allowance to survive — but being dead is not our worst enemy.

        • Not in our lifetime, but the world will change — it will become a better world, probably a truly great one. Give it 400 – 1000 more years and those changes should encompass the world. If we don’t make these changes on our own, something heavy duty is going to force us to. You and I — maybe we can be in the mezanine and see this from the other side……

          • I was considering not so very long ago that if we’re some sort of cosmic experiment, and I were asked to bear witness and prognosticate the ultimate repercussions of that experiment to a dispassionate adjudicator, I would be morally bound to testify that the experiment is failed; that the fruit flies should be destroyed; and the test flask sterilized. And yet the grief that caused me quite startled me in its intensity. Melk Abbey. Stonehenge. Gerard Manley Hopkins. When we’re good, we’re very, very good, but when we’re bad we’re vile. We mustn’t be allowed off this planet to infect other parts of the universe, or even other parts of this solar system. If there *are* adjudicators out there I wonder what they think of the billions-of-dollars-‘worth’ of porn we salute them with across interstellar space each year. And Toddlers in Tiaras.. And Facebook.

  2. We seem to agree on essentials, and disagree on their interpretation. You regret that traumatic abuse denied you “having all [you] need within [you] to win the game.” (Life isn’t a game, in an aside: I hate that metaphor.) But Linda — you won. You’ve taken your experiences and done something useful, compassionate, and creative with them. You have a dimension most people lack — or courage and integrity to develop, anyway — because the almost invariable response to trauma is denial, and/or a sort of psychological plasticity that makes people complicit in their own abuse. All three of those are *choices*, and I would argue that your response — your survival-induced, neurological adaptation — is robustly life-affirming, and an exemplar of the unembodied determination ordained by whatever first spun the galaxies. You won! — and you keep regretting something that almost certainly doesn’t exist! ‘Suri Cruise’ is a child probably the most publicly “loved and cherished into this world” as it gets. Do you really think the appalling lie of her life and raising is doing her any favours? — or that the “loving and cherishing” you fancy to discern in other persons (“winners”) is any more than a matter of degree? Recall the Tronnick experiment. If the world were really something to be loved and cherished into — would the child react with such instinctive distress at only a few moments of non-response from its mother? You said yourself to trust the body’s knowledge. The child “knows” it’s born into an incomprehensible and terrible void, and attaches to its mother in *denial* of that certain knowledge. And the attachment is equally needful by the mother, too. This is good insofar as it ensures the spiritual raw material (incarnate birth) for whatever (and whyever in that form) is the universe’s purpose; but bad because one has then the hurting and hurtful necessity to break away from every willful illusion with which we’re acculturated to self-soothe our collective instinctive terrors — in order to progress into that same universal purpose. We face this universe wholly alone. There’s no getting past that. No one reaches ‘God’ pickaback. The images Hubble delivered impress upon us just how incomprehensible and isolate is our singular and collective role in this universe. We’re required — alone, and despite everything — to make our lives a shout of joy and praise.

    • Hello there – an infant is developing a body-brain that isn’t finished yet during the time of its life it is building that body-brain — hence an infant’s desperate and determined response to deprivation of its external support system

      “Game” is exactly what I believe an articially constructed extremely competitive society which does not ensure equitable distributions of resource to all is creating.

      I am among the very fortunate of extreme early trauma and abuse survivors. Many did not have and do not have the protective factors – both internally and externally – that I have been blessed with. This has not deprived me of degrees of suffering that have been chronic and lifelong — and which were entirely unnecessary. There are millions of people that do not yet know to put credit for harm where it is most likely to belong — to the traumatic and harmful interactions with primary caregivers conception to age 2. Because I live in a society that has created ‘the game’ and perpetrates it as the only alternative to continued adult existence within itself — and because I have never left the nation of my birth — I examine both the game and what causes disenfranchisement among those who were tossed into adulthood already sinking.

      I do appreciate your wide, broad perspectives!!!!

      If I waited to get ‘everything right’ in my thoughts I would never say anything. Bad gasp for a writer….

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