Trusting your body?

Guilt is one of the most destructive of human emotions.  It is particularly devastating in the wake of trauma, as you try to make sense of something beyond your understanding.  Children are specifically vulnerable to this because the realm of motivations for adults doesn’t exist for them.  You end up feeling that somehow you brought the trauma on yourself, that there must have been some signal you sent, some aspect of yourself that you didn’t guard carefully enough, that allowed the abuser access.  This is compounded when it is a parent, or both parents, who inflict the trauma.  Trying to carry the load of emotions that accompany childhood abuse often becomes unbearable.  Dissociation, splitting off from your body, is a common tool that children use to escape situations that are intolerable.  I remember little of my childhood and have often compounded the guilt I feel about my abuse by blaming myself for the large amount of memory the traumatic events have taken up in my brain.  This is where rational and irrational thought clash, and the realm of logic is torn apart by the reality of emotion.  My memories are scant because I was absent during chunks of time as I grew-up.  I had to find some way to leave situations that I could not physically depart from.  I do not regret being able to split off from my body during times of terror in my youth.  It was a tool vital for my survival.  It has led, though, to many issues surrounding my body.

In addition to the self-hatred engendered by the abuse, I’ve found that a sense of worthlessness and self-hatred  seems to be genetically programmed into my father’s ascendants and descendants.  (Whether that genetic trait has been exacerbated by behavior is not even a question.)  My father was abused, and shared little to no memories of his own childhood with us.  (Two events from his youth that my mother shared with us were of his father spanking him for throwing up on a train ride, and his fall down a set of stairs that led to one of his kidneys having to be removed.)  Alienation from the body, the body as betrayer, was powerfully pounded into my psyche.  It was the rule, rather than the exception, to be told that whatever you were feeling was either impossible or a product of your imagination.  My father told himself the same thing.  I don’t know how much of it came from his Southern Baptist heritage, but that hatred of the body for being “sinful” was both explicitly and implicitly expressed.  My mother joked about what an “innocent” my dad was sexually when they met.  She took pride in feeling that she educated him about this, and seemed to relish telling us, her children, how she taught him the pleasures of intimacy.  I’m sure my mom felt she was being very modern, was perhaps even trying to undo some of the messages alienating me from my body, by sharing that his noisy eating at the dinner table was mirrored in their bedroom sexually.  It repulsed me to hear about it though, and even now I have to put music on during mealtimes because the sounds of eating nauseate me. (Her teaching did not extend to encouraging him to believe his children when they expressed pain or physical symptoms.)

Being told repeatedly that what I was feeling was “exaggerated” or impossible, led to me having a deep distrust of my body’s signals.  This has been compounded by health care practitioners telling me, essentially, the same thing.  The most recent example being a bout of disabling abdominal pain that a male gynecologist told me “cannot possibly be explained by the presence of two small cysts, one on each ovary” that showed up on ultrasound.  Despite multiple bouts with ovarian cysts that led to laparoscopies, my familiarity with this type of pain is not seen as reliable.  A man who has no ovaries, who has never had the physical sensation of a cyst growing in his abdomen, is by medical degree more reliable than my own experience.  (The M.D. being the same  entity that gave my father absolute authority when diagnosing his children as “hypochondriacs.”)

Sensitivity to physical pain is an almost unforgivable “sin” in my family of origin.  What options, then, am I left with to try and cope with symptoms that seemingly have no basis in reality?  So far they have been guilt, self-hatred, and alientation from my body.  I hate this betrayal more than almost any other in my life.  Desolate is the only word I can think of that conveys the emotion felt when you experience debilitating physical pain that there is no clinical evidence for.  How can you trust your own body over the opinion of a “professional” when you were taught as a child that terror is love, anger is poison when it is your own but justified when it is directed at you, and pain is at best imagination, at worst weakness in it’s most disgusting form.  Trusting your body?  It’s what all the self-help literature tells us is essential to healing.  If that is true, I fear my future will continue to be grim and my chance for getting better non-existent.

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~ by janetlandis on October 14, 2009.

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