Tag Archives: trauma

Trauma is a Mother Fucker

30 Sep

This has been an especially rough week. Few weeks, actually. I remember a while back I read this article that summarized a study that had been carried out on Vietnam Vets. Please excuse my lapse in memory since I read this a long time ago and am a little fuzzy on the details but the gist of it is as follows:

Following the Vietnam War, some social scientists questioned a number of soldiers returning from battle. They asked them specific questions about their experiences, what happened, how they felt. They took detailed notes, took down their names and said they would follow up in a few decades time. The years passed and then, 30 or 40 years later, they tracked down the people that they could find and asked the exact same questions they had asked upon their initial return. The vets fell distinctly into two different groups: those whose memories had changed, and those whose memories had not. They had all experienced some horrible things while overseas but some of them had the distinct markers of trauma and some of them did not. Those whose memories had changed over time – who in hindsight saw their experience at war through rose-colored glasses – had not developed PTSD. It was the returnees who explained scenarios exactly as they had decades before, those who remembered all the details of specific events as if they had happened just yesterday, that were suffering the longterm psychological effects of war.

I think about that study a lot in regards to myself and my life. What do I have unwavering memory of and what has faded and changed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot these past few weeks as we have read about Christine Blasey Ford and as we watched her speak before the Senate Judicial Committee. I thought about it while she talked about her hippocampus and the fact that she installed a second front door in her home. You see, we never forget. Trauma simply does not allow for that.

But there’s more there than just that. I have been watching as the women in my life have struggled. How we have all been sad and in pain; how we have had old wounds torn open; how we have seen women on the subway, walking down the street, in cafes huddled over their phones crying. We all know why. It is because all of us, or at least most of us, have either been or almost been Christine Blasey Ford. We have either reported our experiences, not reported our experiences, or tried to report our experiences and been turned away or dissuaded. Her story is not just hers it is mine, it is yours, it is all of ours. How do I figure? I’ll tell you.

Last night I finished an especially busy shift at work and decided to sit down and have a shift drink and a chat with my coworkers. I was sitting at the bar talking to my friend to my left when I felt a quick *tap tap* on my right shoulder. I turned but no one was there. And then I saw hands and realized that the man who had tapped me had then used my distraction to place one hand on either side of me on the bar, essentially trapping me in my seat. I was immediately transported back to my senior year in college when at a frat party a “friend” of mine, upset with me for who knows what reason (he always seemed to have a reason) trapped me against a wall by placing one hand on either side of my shoulders and leaning his body towards me, making escape feel impossible. Not that it matters but I’ll say it anyway: he was drunk, I was not. And I know that because he had tricked me into driving our mutual friend to the airport at 3 in the morning because he wanted to enjoy the party; he knew me well enough to know I was too responsible, even at 21, to put my friends at risk or cause someone to miss their flight home. I don’t remember how long we stood like that, me cowering and him talking loudly at me before I broke free, he lost interest or someone came to my rescue. But I specifically remembered that feeling of knowing that anything could happen, anything could be done to me in that moment and I would have very little ability to stop it. I experienced that feeling again last night and I realized something.

The man who trapped me wasn’t trying to scare me. He wasn’t trying to make me feel powerless or intimidate me. He was just treating me the way a lot of people treat and think of women: as slightly less human than men. My personal space wasn’t his concern, nor my personal safety. He could do what he wanted because even though we are not friends and have never had more than casual conversation he owns me a little bit. He is entitled to me. And even though he might not have been actively thinking that in the moment, or been actively trying to make me feel like I had  no right to take up space, that’s exactly what he did. He reminded me in that small yet aggressive action that I, and women in general, are only permitted to taking up exactly the amount of space a man deems necessary and that amount of space is subject to change at any time depending on any specific man’s mood or level of intoxication.

Let’s bring it back a little. Back when the #MeToo movement had its second life (it was originally conceived by Tarana Burke and, surprise surprise, co-opted by wealthy white women) a lot of people were afraid of an impending sex panic. How will men ride in elevators with women? How will they hit on us? How will they interview for and secure jobs? How will they have sex? How will they do all of this when any woman at any time can accuse them of sexual misconduct, sexual assault or rape and ruin their lives? Clearly women are unhinged and it is the men who are really at risk here. But let me remind you of something:

  • Donald Trump has 16 credible accusations of sexual misconduct, assault and rape and he is the president of the United States (vomit)
  • Larry Nassar sexually assaulted 400 women and counting; he was first accused back in 1997 and nothing was done for 20 years
  • Louis C.K. jerked off in front of women, stopped performing for 9 months and then walked on stage at the Comedy Cellar here in New York City and got a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth
  • Bill Cosby was sentenced 3-10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He drugged and assaulted or raped other women as well, something he admitted to in front of a grand jury in the early 2000s
  • Brett Kavanaugh had been accused of rape by 3 women – one of whom detailed “train rapes” that he and his childhood friend Mark Judge participated in – and there is a very good chance he will be confirmed and end up with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court

So I guess what I am trying to tell you is this: yes, things have been changing. Yes, women are being heard now (whether or not they are being believed is still up for debate). But remind yourself which women are being heard. And remind yourself that the entire country just watched, transfixed, as a giant man baby blubbered to a group of politicians about how his life was being ruined.  And while you’re thinking about that, don’t forget about the woman who had carefully, and respectfully, testified earlier that morning about how her life had been turned upside down by actions taken by a young Brett Kavanaugh. She wasn’t just effected by this now, in 2018. She has been dealing with this, and living with it, since the early 1980s. While every one is saying that we need due process, that we cannot “just believe the victims,” that she is probably part of some conspiracy to keep the court from becoming more conservative just remember that it is Dr. Ford who was hacked, it is Dr. Ford who is being called a slut and a liar, it is Dr. Ford who had to move her family out of their home and hire protection. She is not guaranteed a right to space, to her story and to her humanity. None of us are. And trauma? Trauma doesn’t allow us to forget. That is what this is about.

Trauma is a Bitch

1 Jun

I feel as though I have been harping on this. As if it has occupied some unreasonable amount of space in my brain and my body. As if I have to apologize for referencing it, for talking about it, for allowing it to impact the way I do my job and live my life. I would say this is the last time I will bring it up here but I cannot say that for certain because I don’t know when, and if, it might come back to haunt my mind again. Trauma, as it turns out, is a strange and unpredictable thing. It winds its way into and throughout your body, it occupies the smallest crevices in your brain. It shows its face at the strangest times and leaves you standing on the street, silent tears streaming down your face, breathing through your racing heart, wondering why all the jokes you make about it can’t just force it to live in the past where it belongs. It makes you doubt your strength and your ability to will yourself to just move forward and leave that experience in the dust, a small annotation in a long life.

A few weeks ago I was informed by my coworker that the guy who physically assaulted me at work had come into the bar. Entirely unrelatedly, and by no intention of my own, I had spoken with him previously, and extremely briefly, over the phone. He told me he hoped we could move forward and become friends. I chuckled and told him not to be crazy, to take care of himself. I got off the phone and I felt good, in control, strong. I worked a shift behind the very bar where the incident occurred and then the next day I wrote him a letter. I knew he wasn’t going to read it, although I would be pleased if he did. It was just a means for me to tell him what I wanted him to know and to take back a little bit of my own power. The goal was to feel a little less helpless and it seemed like it worked. But then the news. I don’t know exactly how to put into words the feeling I got when I was told he had been in the bar the previous week. My hand immediately shot just above my left eye where there is still a pebble-sized calcification just below the skin that I find myself touching when I get nervous or uncomfortable. I looked at my friend in disbelief. My stomach dropped through the floor. I started sweating. I got the chills. So much for power and control. So much for thinking that a guy with a sizeable rap sheet who would throw a glass at the face of a girl who is half his size and two-thirds his age has even an ounce of self-control, has the capability of making reasonable decisions, gives a shit about his own future and his freedom. Joke’s on me, I guess. Seeing the best in a person is simply not possible when there is nothing good there. But beyond that I realized that I had been operating under the incorrect assumption that I was safe and that I was trusting the word of a man who I honestly believe to be a monster. He told his family he would stay away from the bar and me. He didn’t. And according to security he has tried to come into the bar when I’ve been there. Apparently booze tastes better when you get it from a place where you are unwelcome.

And then there was last night. I met up with a good friend of mine to just, I don’t know, catch-up, unload, destress. We went to our local spot which was oddly busy and, just as we decided to go somewhere better suited to our mood I heard it:  violent flesh-on-flesh contact. I grabbed my friend’s arm and just kept saying “oh god, oh god, oh god” until he headed into the mass of people trying to get the man who had struck the bartender out of the room. All of a sudden they were moving towards me. An angry, loud, testosterone-full group of people forcing the guy through the bar and out onto the street. I wedged myself between the bar and a stranger sitting on a barstool. A stranger whose sweatshirt hood I grabbed as I had visions of myself somehow being slammed into the bar or taking an errant elbow to the face. It wasn’t about me, had nothing to do with me, was likely not going to effect me and yet I couldn’t see how something like this couldn’t somehow drag me in. When I knew the coast was clear I fled through the door and leaned against the building, I concentrated on my breathing and willed my heart to just slow the fuck down. I felt weak and powerless. But even more acutely I felt like a self-indulgent asshole as I stood there having a panic attack over someone else’s experience and my proximity to it. Crazy, right?

I guess it’s just a weird thing to realize that sometimes being well-adjusted, self-reflective and emotionally even-keeled is simply not enough. And it’s infuriating to me to acknowledge that another person, a person who I actually don’t even really know and am afraid I might not recognize, has the ability to throw me into a complete and total tailspin in an entirely different neighborhood and in completely different circumstances without even doing anything. His actions didn’t change his psychology but they certainly altered mine. And then it gets me thinking about the trauma that other people deal with on the day-to-day. In the grand scheme of things, what I experienced was small potatoes. People live through wars, through violent attacks of all kinds, through fires, through abuse, through horrific accidents. I imagine those experiences creep up on them, too. Sometimes even randomly, on a Sunday night, in their own backyard. But that’s life, I guess. All we can hope to do is keep pushing forward, realize our feelings and emotions are important and worthwhile, take care of ourselves as best we can and when we can’t, reach out to others to take the pressure off. That’s what friends and family are for and I am eternally grateful for mine.

Here’s to hoping that this is the last post about this bullshit.