In healing from trauma I’ve had to experience a lot of feelings, some of them really horrible combinations of terror & despair & helplessness. I remember once, feeling the worst pain I had ever felt, I don’t even remember now what emotions or physical sensations were part of it, I realized that I would be willing to do anything — abuse a child, drink or take drugs, murder someone — ANYTHING not to feel this feeling. Of course, once I was feeling it, it was too late. But I came out of that experience with enormous compassion, for my alcoholic parents, and for all people who commit violent acts. I looked up Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem “Please call me by my true names” and printed it out to read at the gathering.
My Past Experiences
This was written in October 2003. The whole entry was posted 4/28/10.
O god I feel so hopeless at this moment. I think if I could just lay down my head and die I might do it. The pain in my heart is so great — there’s something about this deep level that’s so difficult. I suppose because I’m so practiced at making myself wrong and turning away from this kind of pain. Did my best to sit and breathe with it for 20 minutes. It’s VERY painful. I understand better why people will do anything — keep busy, drink, abuse children — to avoid feeling this kind of pain. It’s like an unhealed wound. Part of the pain is the vulnerability — too open and sensitive, feeling only cold hostility or indifference — desperately wanting to be safe and warm and comforted and not seeing any possibility of that.
Written in December 2008 and posted May 11/11
This morning, in the sitting, I tried to sit with depression. First I imagined a grey stony figure sitting in front of me, then I had it be depressed Jenny. She was in a small room paved and walled with stone, she was writhing and beating her head against the wall. I did my best to stay with her, to witness her pain, but it was very difficult. I was able to be with it for a bit, but I was also on the edge of overwhelm. It’s just too much pain. I called on Spirit to help me but no one came. I tried to come out of it, to be in the room, feel my body, etc, and that helped a little but didn’t really give me a vacation. I thought about that other time, when the pain was so intense that I understood why people would abuse children, take drugs, kill to avoid feeling that much pain. But it didn’t last very long. This time it’s too much for me, way too much. I feel hopelessly inadequate to the amount of pain entrusted to me. Isn’t that the definition of trauma? I think “This is a traumatized baby,” and feel a movement of my heart in sympathy, but I also feel a degree of hopelessness and helplessness that keeps me frozen.
Written in January 2007 and posted 2/25/10
Got the usual invalidating message from R telling me that pain doesn’t exist and I can choose not to think those thoughts. My first reaction is to want to die. My second is to get in touch with my anger at his failure to understand what my life is like. I understand why someone would fly an airplane into a building. First I imagined beating R to a pulp with a baseball bat. Then I imagined smashing a person-sized piece of pottery. Nope, not violent enough to relieve my feelings. Then I imagined driving my car head on into a truck. Still not there. Then I imagined driving my car (smash!) into a rock wall. Then I imagined flying an airliner full of people into a sky scraper — Ahh. Satisfaction. The pain of having one’s feelings and needs ignored and invalidated. So if this is the helpless angry pain that produces terrorism, my willingness to feel it and refusal to act on it is one way of stopping terrorism. Perhaps the only way. This is work worth doing, worth staying alive for.
When I was in California in the late 60’s I had an experience of being violent myself. I had a relationship with a man — he was an oddball like me — he had studied anthropology and talked to me about vision quests, so I thought we had connected on a deep level. He was also dealing drugs, but I carefully arranged not to find out if it was anything more dangerous than marijuana. I went home and to visit a friend in Texas. I was gone for two weeks. When I got back, I expected to hear from him — we had talked about having a future together. When I tried to get ahold of him he was distant and cold. Finally I drove to his apartment and found he was with another woman. He wouldn’t open the door or talk to me. So I went back to my car, got the jack, and started breaking his windows. Suddenly there were two cops walking in the street. David went to talk to them, saying he wouldn’t press charges. I ran away. Eventually I ended up in the Student Health Center, being filled full of tranquilizers. The amount of energy I had was amazing, I was just exploding with the rage that had been buried for years. Unfortunately there was no one with the knowledge to help me at the time, in fact all the people at the Health Center were concerned that I might try to kill myself. I went through several months of justifying myself to myself and alternately being desperately ashamed.
I went back to the East Coast, to Maine where I had been happy as a child. That winter I descended into my first severe depression. No one, including me, had any idea that the rage and the depression were connected to being traumatized as a child.
My own experience tells me that Barry must have been similarly injured when he was very young. The story in the Union Leader says Barry was not respected by his students and abused by some of them. Why didn’t he get angry and defend himself? Abusive parents often respond to a child’s getting angry with severe punishment, the child becomes conditioned against expressing anger. This was true for me too. But the energy of the anger is still there, and it’s way beyond what most human beings can handle.
Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery, writes, ‘The survivor is continually buffeted by terror and rage. These emotions are qualitatively different from ordinary fear and anger. They are outside the range of ordinary emotional experience, and they overwhelm the ordinary capacity to bear feelings.”
When I had begun to heal from trauma by doing Somatic Experiencing, I had a different experience, where the energy of anger was released safely and available for living. See Awakening Kali, posted July 7, 2010
By the way, my feeling of empathy for Barry does NOT mean that I condone what he did. Not in any way. And I wouldn’t presume to forgive him either — that’s for Evie and her family to do if they want to. I just wanted to point out that Barry is still a member of the human race, doing something that unfortunately too many humans do.