Primary Wound History

I wrote this yesterday as part of a program given by Matt Licata, who is a trauma-sensitive therapist and writer.  I found about him from a piece of his blog, which was posted on Jalaja Bonheim’s Circlework Page.  I’m in a time of feeling a lot of triggered fear, and find Matt’s work comforting.  So I signed up for a course called The Path of the Wounded Healer.  It includes talks by Matt, Q & A sessions from the Zoom version, meditations and writing exercises.  The following is what I wrote in answer to the Question: Write a few paragraphs about the primary wounds you’ve suffered/ struggled with in your life and what you have learned from these experiences. In what ways have you come to see your wounding as supportive of your path and in what ways has it been an obstacle? 

Primary wounds: being left alone too much as an infant — trauma, frozen because fight-flight not online yet.  Also no object constancy so mother is really nonexistent when I can’t see her.  Very much in line with the frozen fear I’ve been feeling lately where there is no friendly presence in the universe.  Then Mother’s “mis-representation” of me to myself.  Instead of mirroring me accurately, so I would have some idea of who I really was, she projected her cold, selfish, narcissistic persona on to me so I learned I was incapable of loving, I didn’t care about anything, and I “thought I was so great.”

Until I was 42, I thought I was defective.  That’s still my default, I fall back into it very easily.  When I was 42, I found out about Children of Alcoholic parents.  My parents weren’t violent, but because of their drinking they weren’t really available and present for me.  The new information let me know that I wasn’t defective.  I had learned dysfunctional behavior from dysfunctional parents, and I could unlearn it.  I had been in & out of therapy since I was in my twenties, but now I came at it from another direction.  I looked to identify and dismantle the COA patterns.  I went to workshops for COA’s, drove 2 1/2 hours to Boston with a friend to go to the first COA workshop offered, and then to go to a special group for women.  This carried me a long way, but looking back I can see that the idea that I am defective stayed untouched in a very deep place.  The very early trauma didn’t help since my brain and nervous system matured under the influence of trauma, which left me with a strong bias toward negativity and being easily triggered.

(Not mentioned: in my 20’s I cut myself for a few years and was hospitalized for violent behavior when abandoned by a boyfriend.)

As a result of early trauma and alcoholic parents I suffered from severe depression until I was 55.  I knew I’d had bad depressions, but didn’t know how bad it was until I was diagnosed with severe depression and told I should get on medication right away.  My first attempt at medication was a terrifying experience, but when I finally got on one that worked, and experienced normal brain chemistry for the first time, I was astounded.  It was a completely new experience.  As a consequence, my husband of 18 years left me for another woman.  He had only stayed with me because he thought I would kill myself if he left.

The main reason our marriage failed was because I was unable to be sexual.  Because of the self-mutilation, I explored the possibility of having been sexually abused as a child, but never got any conclusive evidence.

A good friend, who had been majorly traumatized in her early life, told me more than once that she thought I was dealing with the same thing, but I didn’t believe her.  I thought trauma was caused by violence, and my parents had never been violent.  Finally, my friend started doing Somatic Experiencing and having positive results.  I read Peter Levine’s book, Waking the Tiger, and when I went into a spiral of terror on reading the chapter on hyper-vigilance, I put the book aside (as they recommended) and made an appointment to see an S.E. practitioner.  Somewhere, Peter Levine says an infant can be traumatized by being left alone in a cold room.  Learning the mechanism behind trauma, that when the reptilian brainstem concludes the organism is in danger of death, it triggers survival mode.  If the person is unable to fight or flee, the instinctive default is freeze.  Freeze means that the enormous energy that has not been used in fighting or fleeing is still locked up in the body.  A baby can’t fight or flee, so survival mode goes to freeze.  If the energy frozen in the body is not discharged somehow, the experience does not get metabolized, but remains in the body to be triggered over and over again. The person is forced to experience the undigested pieces of the experience.  When those flashbacks happen, the person does not experience them as memory, but as present happenings.  This is why the combat veteran’s body dives behind the couch before his brain has time to identify a car backfiring out in the street.  I used this to tell myself when I was terrified — NOT “There’s nothing to be afraid of” or “You are perfectly safe” which are invalidating and only make me feel worse — but “What you are afraid of really happened.  But it happened in the past, it’s not happening now.”  Sometimes I would add “Mother is dead, she can’t hurt you any more.”  This didn’t make the fear go away, but at least it gave me an intellectual container.

At least writing this has helped make the fear fade.  I also am somewhat surprised to see what enormous hardship I’ve been through, and how well I have done just to survive.  I haven’t even begun to address the second part of the question.

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