Here is her quote. She pulls out a piece of paper. The room stays silent.
When I use the word gifted in the title (of the last post), I had in mind neither children who receive high grades in school nor children talented in a special way. I simply meant all of us who have survived an abusive childhood thanks to an ability to adapt even to unspeakable cruelty by becoming numb.. Without this gift offered to us by nature, we would not have survived.
She puts the paper, hands shaking, back into her pocket and continues after surveying the crowd.
"Adaptions can take many forms. At a very young age, I learned to become hypervigilant of my environment. I was oversensitive to others' moods, body language, and innuendos in order to avoid imagined abuse. If my father entered the house and slammed the door, I would be hypersenstive to his mood. Would he become enraged? Had he been drinking? I could never trust him, so I watched him and everyone else, scouting out their moods.
"I also learned that to be emotionally vulnerable was not safe, so I erected walls around my emotions. I used walls of anger, silence, grandiosity, or seduction. Trust was an invitation to betrayal. I would watch and then decide how to respond in order to get what I wanted. I could never ask directly for what I wanted or needed because I had learned that I would not get it, so I learned to manipulate. If my father was in a good mood, I was seductive. If he was angry, I became silent. If I didn't want to hear what he had to say, I used a continuous stream of words to block him. I did this with everyone because I was terrified of being found out for the worthless person my parents had shamed me into believing I was.
"This shame was not my own. I was not born with it. I did not earn it. It came from my parents and from their shameful behavior, which, when dumped on me, became part of who I thought I was. I carried it around for them, for certainly they did not have the capacity to recognize their own shamelessness. Carried shame in the instigator of trauma, whereby each reminder of our shame drives us back to the infant ego state in which we first felt our parent's shame. It freezes us in time. It arrests our development.
"I come from a linage filled with trauma and its subsequent, shame-based wounding: self-loathing individuals, all attempting to hide their pain. Each generation passed on the message to the next. My grandmother attempted to control with rages; my grandfather drank and withdrew. Like me, my father watched his parents and imagined that they treated him this was because he was "bad." And so, when he began to parent, he did what he had learned, and passed that same message to his children.
"Once carried shame is absorbed, it is stored in our unconscious and in the cells of our bodies. This poison incubates and leaches out to fuel our dysfunctional adaptations to abuse. We might not remember our abuse for years until it is triggered into memory. The event is cataclysmic.
"It was my 30th birthday. I was having a talk with my younger sister. She told me she had been doing some personal psychological work and remembered that she had been sexually abused. Up until that point, I had no memories of incest, and I was surprised by my reaction. Instead of denying or dismissing her reality, I felt a visceral shot of affirming energy throughout my mind and body. It was that moment I knew the truth.
"My abuse had been stored in the cells of my body and, when unlocked, it sent out a surge of released energy. Often, in the course of my life since my initial revelation, the energy bubbles more subtly. For instance, when I began preparing for this lecture, I thought I was feeling well and, intellectually, I felt secure dealing with the material. I'm recovered and this is all about recovery that we will be getting to. I promise. Anyway, about an hour into the prep-work, I got a severe headache and nausea, and I had to lie down. Today, I know the signs, and I take the measures necessary to allow this process to occur, but that was not always the case.
"My parents had poisonously gifted me with the tools to block my emotional pain, like a prizefighter blocking a right cross. Initially, I used walls, dissociation, and distorted adaptations to dodge and avoid the truth.
"I began this journey at a very young age. History's slave, I followed the model prior generations of my dysfunctional family. My behavioral repertoire of obsessive-compulsive or addictive behaviors began to multiply. The behavior my parents that I had modeled most persistently was intensity. I stayed busy... very busy. Like my parents, I conditioned myself to be in perpetual motion, using whatever means I could to distract myself from my feelings. If someone or something blocked my ability to stay distracted.. for instance, if my mother was too busy to take me to the park, of my neighborhood friends were unable to play...there was hell to pay!" For a moment the audience relaxed to chuckle identifying with their own childhoods. "I would relentlessly and intrusively coax, nag, harass, or manipulate until I got what I wanted.
"Day after day, I feverishly concocted means to run from my feelings. I lived in hyperarousal. As I grew older, my calendar was full: school, work, meetings, appointments, gym, workshops. But still it was not enough. I needed more, always more, to suppress my immense well of pain."
(To be continued.)