Trauma and rock bottom

Trauma and rock bottom both involve immediate fear of death.

The alcoholic goes on drinking, and pretending about it to themselves, being enabled by relatives or colleagues, until some immediate threat emerges which they can only escape by not drinking. Perhaps their enabler gives up, or something else changes in their world. Then their illusions are stripped away, they begin supporting themselves rather than relying on others, and they experience it as freedom. They do what they need to do. Not drinking is hard, but drinking is impossible.

I heard about this phenomenon and wondered if it would ever happen to me. How bad did it have to get, before I started doing what I ought to do? I rely on others, and want that to continue. As I wrestled with emotion, fear, suppression and internal conflict, I had this ideal of the whole human, stripped of illusion, acting rationally for its highest good. I wondered if anything would make me like that.

What gets in the way is trauma, also an immediate fear of death. There are different traumas, but the small child needs unconditional love, which upholds a precarious sense of safety. Whatever happens I will be fed and kept warm so I can survive. Then the child loses that sense and is terrified. Perhaps a parent dies, or they are separated. In my case my mother could not accept me as I am, and needed me to be otherwise.

I am back considering this. I know I was traumatised. I realised that it did not matter whether I suffered pressure no human being could possibly withstand, or was too-

Oh, this is hard to write, even now I know it. Was too fragile, was useless to begin with, stubbed my toe once and that broke me. I suffered pressure strong enough to break me. In my forties I said, “The monster will get me”- a small child expression of a nameless fear of death which still controlled me. I was bringing it into consciousness for the first time. I was aware there was a fear which affected me, was beginning to be aware of how it affected me, rather than merely being unconsciously affected by it.

A fear of death which I was not conscious of, would have thought was ridiculous and impossible, made me cling to particular illusions and ways of being. However bad my life got, the bracing shock of rock bottom, which would get me firing on all cylinders, all parts of me pulling together, never happened because the fear of death had already forced me onto a different path.

I am not a child any more, I said. I am not dependent on my parents. If The Monster devouring me is my mother withdrawing love, it should not affect me now. It is ridiculous. I could not accept that it ruled my life.

I know myself better, now. I have an understanding of my strengths from observing my responses, and, well, some self-respect, actually. It took more to break me than stubbing my toe. And the break was so fundamental that it still affects me.

On top of God within, the trauma grafted on a set of particular responses to the world which were, to my conscious self, the only possible ones. I was strongly motivated to respond as programmed, in order to survive. Then I lost motivation. Those responses are not the way to survive. Or, I can survive without them, though at a level that being created by trauma, the tamed self, found unpleasant. My inner conflicts reached a static equilibrium. I stopped.

And there have always been things I loved, found worthwhile, pursued. I am busily constructing from them a self-concept, an understanding of who I am, which the tamed self attacks, trying to ridicule and undermine it. Self-acceptance grows, and the ridicule ceases to work. From past experience it seems that there will be things I love and pursue, and even possible that from them I will construct a life worth living. Or, that my recovery is the point.

I will my own good. That has led me into trauma responses, to survive, and now leads me into self-respect for the untamed self beneath, which said No. It says what it can. My conscious self is listening, though the traumatised, tamed self is noisy.

There are adult traumas- the soldier seeing his fellows die under enemy fire which he cannot see how he can avoid is traumatised, and some might protect the word from me. These soldiers are traumatised, I should not diminish their experience by pretending to it. That is echoed by the tamed self which says, of course I am not traumatised, how could I be. It clings to its illusions. Refuting the illusions takes patient work, and constant repetition.

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