Last month I had a bad headache and Lynelle asked me what I was feeling. I said “Nothing” so she asked what the baby was feeling. I tuned in and got the words “angry” and “stuck.” Later I asked the baby why she was angry and she said “I was in so much trouble and no one saw it!” Well no wonder she was angry.
I thought about all the times that someone knowledgeable would have started suspecting something was wrong. But back in the 40’s and 50’s no one knew about child abuse, teachers were not taught what to look for. They wouldn’t have known what bruises meant, maybe that the child had fallen. In my case, though my parents were alcoholic, they weren’t violent. Even I didn’t know how much they had damaged me until the knowledge about “Children of Alcoholics” began to be public, and that wasn’t until 1984. On that list is “over-achieve in school.” A sensitive and knowledgeable teacher might have been able to suspect that my “good behavior” was because I was scared. Though it was also true that I loved school. I was lucky to be in a private school with excellent teachers. I was intelligent and wanted to learn, and I had the learning style that schooling was designed for. I felt safe because the rules were clear, not changing all the time, and there was clear, accurate and consistent feedback in the form of grades.
The baby is angry because she was in so much trouble and no one saw it. Or if they did, they didn’t know what to do. My cousin Susan told me a story several years ago, that her father had only told her recently. He had gone to my house for some reason, couldn’t find my mother (who was probably unconscious upstairs) and found me climbing on the kitchen counter, trying to feed my younger siblings. I’m sure he was concerned, but those were the days when you didn’t interfere. There was the time I went down to the end of the driveway because no one was at home and Herman, my grandfather’s groom, rescued me. My Aunt Betty, who was the most psychologically sophisticated member of my family, told me about a time when she had come over and found me alone in a playpen, clearly unhappy. I’m sure she was concerned at the time, but didn’t know what to do, or if there was reason to interfere until much later when she went into therapy herself. There was the time my classmates Ann Minor and Boots Thompson made me drink a doll’s bottle with a rubber nipple full of salt water and put me in a baby carriage. We must have been visiting their parents, and the adults weren’t paying attention to what the children were doing. I couldn’t stand up for myself and stop them. I think I felt helpless, rather than angry. The Black maid rescued me. In 4th grade, when they were having us all do the eye test, I couldn’t see the letters. Other kids laughed at me. The teacher sent me home with a message to my parents. That might have been a time that someone might have suspected that I was being neglected. But I was intelligent and well-behaved and quiet, so no one understood that I was in trouble.
In my junior year at college, when I started falling asleep over my homework, they put me in the health center, they thought I had mono. But I didn’t, there was nothing physical wrong with me. Nobody thought to bring in a psychologist. At the Health Center in Davis, I had broken apart emotionally, so they all tried to put me back together, shut the genie back in the bottle — I was scared enough that I wanted it shut down too. They were giving me 300mg of mellaril, a powerful tranquilizer. Later I found out that 600mg was the minimum lethal dose. It was a good thing I didn’t know that at the time. I wonder if it happened today if someone would recognize PTSD? Probably not. Nor did anyone see it as a potential for opening a piece of work in therapy. If I had had someone to work with me with Somatic Experiencing, I might have been able to heal a lot way back then. But Somatic Experiencing wasn’t even developed until almost 30 years later.
I talk about my breakdown in Davis toward the end of another post.
When I was on my own, because I had an independent income I didn’t have to work. So I wasn’t at a job where people might notice if I didn’t come to work for a few days, or burst into tears occasionally, or had a full-blown nervous breakdown. But I was hanging out with hippies, smoking pot occasionally, and questioning everything. After the failure of a relationship I retreated back to the East Coast, and began a long struggle with severe depression. I had no idea what it was, just something else wrong with me.
I used to feel guilty for the luxury of not having to have a job. What I didn’t know, until I began to work with PTSD, was that I would never have been able to work a 40-hour week. If I had not had an independent income, I would probably be in a mental hospital, or dead.