It’s almost as if I am standing in front of a 12 step group, finally coming to the realization that I am powerless over my trauma. I have to admit that lately, it has been kicking my butt. Triggers are surfacing everywhere, triggers that I didn’t have to deal with when I was single, they all have to do with attachment. The fight is exhausting and I am worn out, that is why I haven’t written for almost a week.
What is Complex Trauma
Complex trauma occurs when a person is exposed to highly stressful events over a large span of time. The trauma gets interwoven in all parts of life and it gets tangled into our very existence. For me, as far as I can tell, the trauma came from high levels of shame and anger in my family of origin. Honestly, I know that I have not uncovered all that I need to uncover to have a full understanding of my early trauma. I keep researching and learning in an attempt to gain more knowledge.
The high levels of anger and shame made me feel unsafe. The trauma that I have makes me sensitive to the moods of others. As a child and still today as an adult I am always watching to figure out what people are feeling and how they will behave. For many years I withheld my emotions from others, I didn’t want people to see that I was afraid, sad, or angry.
In fact when I am having a trauma response today I still withhold emotions. I put up a wall and I get tough, with the mentality, “Hell will freeze over before you hurt me.”
In the book, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. (I highly recommend this book if you have trauma) he discusses how trauma produces actual physiological changes in our brain. He says, “After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system.”
I want to be clear and careful as I proceed talking about my trauma. I am not blaming my parents or my ex husband. I just want to acknowledge it, try to understand it, and work towards healing it,
My trauma spans most of my life time in one form or another. I have two major traumas that can take me down at the knees everytime. If you look at my history it is easy to understand why these are the big kahunas for me.
The first is around anger. This trauma spans the first 18 years of my life. I have come to discover over the last few months that anger scares me to death. In my family of origin I grew up with intense anger and shame. (I want to be clear, I think my parents are great people who love me to death. They have human characteristics and a history and family origin of their own that play into the picture) I won’t pretend to know why, and I am not blaming, just mentioning it to gain understanding.
This is what I do know…..
Somewhere during my growing up years I started to feel like the anger was my fault. It made me anxious and I felt very unsafe during times when there was a lot of anger. I felt that if I did things more perfectly then I could stop it from happening. As we all know that is not how it works because I wasn’t accountable for the anger, so I couldn’t fix it. The little Norma didn’t know that it wasn’t me. I grew up thinking that mistakes made me bad, and since I am imperfect and make mistakes daily, I felt like I was bad most of the time. Little did I know that anger from both of my parents would put me in a fight/flight/freeze mode. As a child I froze, and just tried to be more perfect. It was too scary to fight back, there would have been more consequences, and as a young child I was powerless to leave.
One Trauma Led me to Another
I can see now that this is one of the reasons I was so attracted to my ex husband. He was calm and rarely showed emotion. The lack of emotion actually provided a safe place for me. I was so afraid of the anger I would do anything to avoid it. I can see now that he provided a safe haven away from my initial huge trauma. In our 19 years of marriage he only raised his voice a few times. That made me feel safe. I bet he only yelled at me once, right at the end when I was setting boundaries. Little did I know what I was in for.
The second major trauma is not surprising either. I was married to a man who had a sex addiction for 19 years, he was constantly looking and fantasizing about other women. (I again want to be clear, to this day I think my ex husband is a good man with a yucky addiction. He has his own trauma, and although living with him was very painful and left many scars, I am taking accountability for me and determined to do something about me, I can’t control or make choices for him) I tried to be better, I was sure that if I was more attractive, exercised more, if I was nicer he would love and appreciate me one day. His actions and lack of connection to me left me in a fight/flight/freeze mode. Time after time for 19 years I tried to connect, I tried to reach out, but he didn’t want me. This left me with more complex trauma, with triggers everywhere. The media, attractive women, the gym, my new husband, sex….. lots of triggers all over the place.
Both of these traumas make things difficult. I am a grown up now, I am no longer a little girl that is powerless over anger. I am no longer in a relationship where my husband is looking for something else….
yet when trauma hits….
it is like a flashback. I worry, I panic, I shut down. All the adaptations I learned because of trauma. All of the physiological changes that happened in my brain because I was afraid of anger, or afraid that I would be left for another woman. I still adapt to life based on those traumas. I made the changes to survive the first 37 years of my life, and they are no longer helping me. In fact they are proving to be counterproductive and they interfere with my capacity to love, and be loved.
So, I walk into this year with a lot of unknowns, but have decided where I will start. I’m going to start on Step 1, just like if I was in a 12 step group.
I am going to start with HONESTY, and say, my dear friends My name is Norma and I have Complex Trauma and I don’t know what to do with it. I am powerless over it.