Friday, April 26, 2013

Trauma Tiger: Part One

One of the most evil phrases ever spoken is, "Just let it go."

This erudite (and helpful!) instruction is often issued pushily by those who've never actually been gripped by the said "it" the letting go of which they propose. These pushers aren't trying to be evil (usually). They just sincerely think their experience of, say, not getting their dream first car, translates easily into your experience of being raped when you were five, or of being barfed on by your black-out drunk mom, or of being beaten with a dictionary for your whorish interest in Party of Five.

"You just have to get over these things," they might say from across the table, while you secretly shred the napkin in your lap into tiny, dismembered threads. And weep inside.

And they don't know that their (however-unintentional) suggestion that you are at least partly at fault for your pain (such suggestions are embedded at the slimy cores of all "let it go" nuggets) spirals you into compulsive fantasies of how you might feasibly get away with hitting this helpful friend in the head with a baseball bat without any baristas noticing, or hours of  scream-crying just to avoid actually acting on the violent urge.

They think their gripe equates your trauma. But it doesn't. And neither does "normie" healing equate trauma recovery.

A normie coping strategy can often be easy peasy, accomplished by saying something like, "Oh well, I guess I should focus on happier things," and followed up with a bit of retail therapy (I love Home Depot as much as the next hipster).

Trauma healing, on the other hand, is typically a scosche more complex, often featuring desperate, strung out struggles to just not geyser out random spasms of unspecified rage at the grocery store, or not shrivel up into black, cavernous hair-cloaks of self-loathing at work.

One of the best books (IMO) ever written on the unique nature of trauma healing is Peter Levine's Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

In his prologue, he underscores what differentiates trauma from ordinary pains:
"...the body reacts profoundly in trauma. It tenses in readiness, braces in fear, and freezes and collapses in helpless terror. When the mind's protective reaction to overwhelm returns to normal, the body's response is also meant to normalize after the event. When this restorative process is thwarted, the effects of trauma become fixated and the person becomes traumatized."
Notice, he says here twice the body. Not the brain. Not the character. Basically, he's saying trauma is a not a head game. Healing trauma is not a mental decision. Failing to recover or recovering slowly is not a moral failing, or a sign of obstinacy. Trauma can not be disgorged at will.

Even if you've never had a bruise or a scar (though many of us have), trauma is a physical injury, something like a blown circuit breaker, or fried surge protector, or over-heated hard-drive that won't shut down squirreled away in the nooks of your hypothalamus. Healing trauma is thus also a physical process.

So let us return for kicks to the untoward table of "just let it go" despair, and flip things: Your friend feels bad because he or she can't lose weight. Well, what does any sound-minded individual say, but, "Just let it go." 

"What?" your friend asks, looking all askance at your scategorical response.

"What?" you say in reply. "Have more will power. Just let it go."

Yeah. Because will power incinerates fat internally. Just ask Susan Powter.

Assuming that fat can be evaporated at will from the lovely love-handles we all accumulate (because vegan peanut butter brownies are that nom), is as logical and kind as assuming trauma can be processed the same way. If ever anyone suggests to you that you are somehow at fault for not "letting go" hard enough ("squeeze it dammit!" they may scream), know it's not your fault. Know it's a process. A process that, ironically, just has to be let go.

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