The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma
April 9, 2018 6:33 AM   Subscribe

 
Trigger warning

(It's in the tags - but you know, in case you don't look at tags)
posted by slipthought at 6:42 AM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh wow. This. So much this.

Healing from a childhood trauma has never been about I'm finally ok. The mask still comes out and is too comforting to resist. The ways that I've managed to run are still surprising to me sometimes. And the never-ending intrusions of new memories still happen.

Trauma is a time traveller, an ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before.

A lot of times I wonder what's the point of continuing therapy and working on healing when I don't seem to be healing. I keep thinking 'now is when I'm finally ok' but it never sticks around for very long. I don't start writing again. I stay silent and away from friends, even though I'm doing so much better than I was during a bad bout of nightmares and numbness.

Entire literary careers could have fit into the years I didn’t write.

I've been feeling so incredibly ashamed that despite huge amounts of work I put in last year I still don't feel like I thought I would. I thought I was doing healing wrong. But I haven't, have I.

So much has changed. But some things haven’t. There are still times when the depression hammers down and months vanish out from under me, when the suicidal ideation returns. The writing hasn’t come back, not really. But there are good stretches, and they are starting to outnumber the bad. Every year, I feel less like the dead, more a part of the living. The intrusions are fewer now, and when they come they don’t throw me completely. I still have those horrible dreams every now and then, and they are still foul as fuck, but at least I have resources to deal with them.

Thank you chaoticgood for sharing this here. Truly.
posted by A hidden well at 7:12 AM on April 9, 2018 [26 favorites]


Jesus Christ. Just, Jesus Christ.

The writing is searingly beautiful. I broke out in goosebumps a dozen times reading this. It's like if Dostoyevsky wrote a personal essay about childhood sexual abuse.

If you can bear it, read it. They'll still be reading it in 100 years. I feel like I can't even talk about the content, I am so overwhelmed with beauty and pain.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:19 AM on April 9, 2018 [27 favorites]


Astounding essay. Brave as fuck.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:24 AM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


When I wasn’t completely out of it I read everything I could lay my hands on, played Dungeons & Dragons for days on end. I tried to forget, but you never forget. Night was the worst—that’s when the dreams would come.

Nailed it. It's interesting to me how many survivors I meet that used books and D&D to escape before drugs became an option. Great essay - what he describes as classic trauma behavior is just that, and it's important (to me, and just in general) to have more people talk about it and break down the silence.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


>It's interesting to me how many survivors I meet that used books and D&D to escape before drugs became an option.

They weren't just an escape.

Books allowed me to see how people behaved, and more importantly, to get a sketchy idea of how they thought. I knew my family wasn't normal, and I was desperate for better references.

D&D, of course, was practice. That's where the mask was perfected. It was also a way of having friends without needing to show them anything true, but not having to lie either.
posted by MrVisible at 7:53 AM on April 9, 2018 [27 favorites]


Oh, Juni. Wow.
posted by Glomar response at 7:56 AM on April 9, 2018


Books allowed me to see how people behaved, and more importantly, to get a sketchy idea of how they thought. I knew my family wasn't normal, and I was desperate for better references.

This is largely why I tend to see so much in terms of mythology and fairy tales.

And why I understand Jungian thought per archetypes without needing any explanations.

They're models. Not escapes. Models. Nothing more, and nothing less. You can't build a house without a plan, but the plan is not the house.
posted by fraula at 8:30 AM on April 9, 2018 [9 favorites]


As a writer struggling with childhood trauma, sexual trauma, etc., this brought me to tears. Like everything Junot writes, this is equal parts devastation and salvation. It's ridiculous how powerful it is to see him describe the inside of MY head, oh god, are we really all the same underneath? Failing out in high school, on-and-off suicidal, and more than anything else, this compulsion to write autobiography into story after story after story.

That last especially! I've always felt like a hack, like a pretender, like a "fake" fiction writer for doing that. I've always described myself as lacking imagination because I can't seem to help but write and rewrite and embellish my life into every so-called "story." And now here's Junot Diaz telling me he's been doing the same.

I know, "everyone does that," and it's stupid of me to think otherwise, ever. Somehow it just makes a difference, you know, when this is your idol and the story he's talking about is your favorite story and his struggles have apparently always been your own. Down to the meta of it, where he has struggled so long of how and whether to tell the truth of it out loud and own it, and even as of last week I've been butting my head against how I can possibly own mine without hurting or damaging everyone in my life. He found his way. It gives me hope.
posted by MiraK at 8:47 AM on April 9, 2018 [8 favorites]


Trauma is a time traveller, an ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before.


It's worth posting again because it's true.

I already knew I love Diaz, this is just amazing.
posted by Twinge at 9:48 AM on April 9, 2018 [7 favorites]


During that time I wrote very little. Mostly I underlined passages in my favorite books. This line in particular I circled at least a dozen times: “Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.”

Yes, because Tolkien understood empathy.
posted by Twinge at 9:50 AM on April 9, 2018 [7 favorites]


>It's interesting to me how many survivors I meet that used books and D&D to escape before drugs became an option.

They weren't just an escape.

Books allowed me to see how people behaved, and more importantly, to get a sketchy idea of how they thought. I knew my family wasn't normal, and I was desperate for better references.

D&D, of course, was practice. That's where the mask was perfected. It was also a way of having friends without needing to show them anything true, but not having to lie either.

posted by MrVisible


This is largely why I tend to see so much in terms of mythology and fairy tales.

And why I understand Jungian thought per archetypes without needing any explanations.

They're models. Not escapes. Models. Nothing more, and nothing less. You can't build a house without a plan, but the plan is not the house.

posted by fraula


My apologies, my wording was careless. I should have used the personal 'I' when referring to books and D&D as an escape. That's what they were to me when I was using them to escape the torment of sexual abuse trauma. Everyone is going to have a different relationship with those tools.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:17 AM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


And while other kids were exploring crushes and first love I was dealing with intrusive memories of my rape that were so excruciating I had to slam my head against a wall.

Brutal. I still haven't figured out how to deal with the intrusive thoughts without doing some harm. I'm in intensive therapy. I attended a retreat for survivors. I journal constantly. I take my meds. It's still fucking brutal.

He talks about manhood. I talk about not wanting to be "that girl". You know her. The one who needs attention, the one who is chatty or desperate or mopey or whatever that girl is to anyone. I don't want to be her, so for 35 years I was just smart. Not too smart. Not overly smart. Not know-it-all smart. Not in-your-face smart. Just smart enough. That was my mask. Is my mask. I don't know that I'll ever remove it. I genuinely don't know if it's removable.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:00 AM on April 9, 2018 [12 favorites]


Need to come into this in detail on some day that's not a Monday, because I can't do a really bad day early in the week. Some things that stick out:

I just mentioned to my counselor that I didn't want to repeatedly go over those moments, (yes, I'm using an euphemism) partly because I've already done it, and partly because it's the space and years around those moments that have really screwed me up.

The comment that abuse is a time-traveler. I puzzled and worried over the fact that my mother has better memories of myself as a child than I do, not just those moments but the happy holidays and vacations and little school things as well. And finally someone said to me that yes, narrative memory dysfunction is part of the territory.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:24 AM on April 9, 2018 [10 favorites]


Wow, this is an incredible essay.
posted by salvia at 11:51 AM on April 9, 2018


What a beautiful and painful essay. I already knew I loved Junot Diaz' writing, but this is amazing. And your comments are too. I suddenly realize that one reason I feel safe here on MetaFilter is that so many of us share experiences.
Luckily, I wasn't raped as a child, though I was as a young adult. But my mother was physically abusive towards me. I don't even really remember, it's my siblings who have told me that she would chase me around the house with a hairbrush or a clothes-hanger till I escaped when I was a teen and my grandmothers took over (they had already done a lot from early on, they must have read the situation, but didn't know how to cope with it). And I can recognize every single thing in that essay. I'm currently searching for a good therapist because that mask is literally killing me, and because my mum is suddenly old and frail and needs me, and I can't handle the pain and confusion. Just now, my daughter said she could see I was broken today, because I'd been helping my mum. What kind of life is that? The reason my mum needs my help is weirdly that I feel no compassion. My siblings can't help her because they get all emotional and can't deal with her illness which is ugly. I honestly don't care. Today, when I left her apartment, I felt I should have held her hand or said something nice like I did with my grans and my dad, but I couldn't. But that also meant I can deal with her problems, I can be direct and harsh which is absolutely necessary.

I carried my frail dad into the shower when he had shat himself, and held him when he was scared. I cooked his favorite dishes even when I didn't like them myself. For my mother, I have become an expert in getting social services to provide care. It's good for all of us. But the reason is that I have no love.

On the radio, I heard a show about forgiveness, and there was an anecdote about two monks who had been imprisoned and tortured. One asked the other: can you forgive them? And the second monk said, no, not ever. The first monk said: if you can't, you are still in prison. I agree with this, this has been my method for moving on and getting a reasonably successful life. But during the past 2-3 years, I've realized that it is not that simple. Yes, I can and will forgive my mother, and that has meant she has no power over me now, or the last 30 something years. She really doesn't. But the pain is still there and won't go away, and the confusion about what is right and wrong is still there and leaves me open to other people's manipulations. To this day, people can gaslight me and confuse me, because the people who do that type of thing can always recognize a victim.

I've been spending a lot of time in my mum's apartment recently, waiting for her to come back from the hospital, or waiting for the ambulance while she lay out of consciousness. I've realized that she doesn't have one single picture of me from after I was nine. She has multiple pictures of my abusive ex-husband, as well as of my siblings. It's as if I died or something. It reminds me of all the things I forgot. So I looked in her photo albums, and I could see that before I was nine, she created a fictive mumimor for photos. A child that lived up to her expectations, but also a child that had to be beaten into place. I do remember that at about nine, I refused to participate, I didn't remember that the violence escalated.

I suppose that the natural state of children is to blindly trust the adults. And when that is broken, it breaks you.
posted by mumimor at 12:03 PM on April 9, 2018 [29 favorites]


If you can stomach reading more about such a tragic topic, Barry Lopez's Sliver of Sky is another very haunting personal essay on the same subject. A warning, though, it's a lot more graphic than the Diaz piece.
posted by perplexion at 12:16 PM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


I'm going to write this here, because mostly I'm ok with you all knowing this because you don't know me IRL. I apologize in advance to anyone I might trigger.

Even my husband who knows there's a mask and who desperately wants me to take it off doesn't know what's behind it, because I don't know what's behind it. Something I've been exploring lately is that I'm afraid that if I ever actually reach the center of the pain, that I'll shatter into a million pieces and never be able to be whole again, for a relative value of whole. I don't know if I'm strong enough to reach the center when there's so much fear and repulsion there.

While I'm pretty stable, I've built my entire stable life around my abuse. I'm married to a really wonderful man. A gay man who doesn't need sex with me and lost his lover (my best friend) to HIV. We've been married almost 19 years and it's a really great partnership but he knows that I have a part of me that I can't fully share. He's super gentle on days that I come home from therapy and have to go straight to bed, but he hopes every time that I'll be able to share some of it with him. I have dedicated my life to helping others. I have worked in HIV research for 26 years now and can talk about sex with no shame, no prudery, no judgment, because I don't believe that there's anything in consensual sex to be ashamed of, even if I cannot bear it personally.

I know I will never have "closure". I know that "healing" will never mean closed and done. One day, early on in my therapy, my therapist told me that a friend of hers once had a wound so deep, it needed to be packed and cleaned out over a long time and even after it healed, it was an enormous hole in his leg. My "healing" might be like that. Not a scar that you notice every now and then, but an enormous crater that needs to be cared for constantly.

And now I want to delete this entire screed because it disgusts me but I won't, because I'm trying, even though this might not be the right way.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:56 PM on April 9, 2018 [74 favorites]


A warning, though, it's a lot more graphic than the Diaz piece.
That is mildly put. I'm going to have nightmares, I know.
posted by mumimor at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2018


Thank you for sharing, Sophie1. Hugs and support.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2018 [9 favorites]


I guess there was a reason why Junot Diaz's work resonated with me. I loved The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a few years back and the short stories he's had in The New Yorker. While I did not experience sexual abuse as a child, I had my own traumatic childhood event that has had a sort of indescribable lasting impact on me. My dad killed himself when I was in elementary school.

I never wanted to talk about it (Sophie1, I can identify with not wanting to be seen as "that girl"), never seeked therapy, and I've never actually told my real-life friends about it. I spent way too many hours escaping into video games in high school. For my entire life there's been this dark cloud that hangs over me that I've never been able to shake, and I've found it really difficult to connect with most people, because it's the sort of thing you can't possibly understand unless you've lived it or experienced something else that's just as traumatic. So that led to some pretty messed up relationships for a while.

I have a stable, married life now with a wonderful man, but I often feel like I'm playing normal, like an imposter who doesn't deserve this life. It's still like a scab I want to pick open over and over again. I hope Diaz is able to find some relief from publishing that article, or at least comfort in knowing he really is not alone in the pain he experiences every day.
posted by wondermouse at 2:43 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


My God. May the telling work toward the healing.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:01 PM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


It's amazing how universal and how isolating trauma is. Hearing that someone else has experienced another version of what you went through never stops feeling like finding a long-lost...sibling? friend? maybe? At least for me. Someone who gets it, however you want to label them. If we can't live in a world where none of this happens, I'm glad we at least live in a world where people are starting to be able to tell their stories.
posted by polychromie at 5:31 PM on April 9, 2018 [12 favorites]


This took me back, painfully, to the suicide note left by Bill Zeller, MeFi's null terminated, some years back. Who did not manage to survive. I am very glad Diaz is still with us, finding a way to live and write, but my god. The agony, the loss, the waste.
posted by Kat Allison at 7:45 PM on April 9, 2018 [10 favorites]


I lost weeks, I lost months, I lost years (two)

So much loss. And not just years - although so many years - but who you could have become in those years, if not for those years. And coming out of those years feels a little like killing yourself again, because you cannot survive in that pain.


mumimor: "Child abuse, molestation, and domestic violence all are inflicted by people who are supposed to love you. That knocks out the most important protection against being traumatized: being sheltered by the people you love." - bessel van der kolk
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 10:53 PM on April 9, 2018 [11 favorites]


Thank you all for this.

I'm glad we made it this far.
posted by BS Artisan at 7:10 AM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm also a survivor of severe abuse. In hindsight it might have made national news if it came out at the right time due to some appalling particulars and circumstances. I don't care to get into the particulars because that's for my therapist and journal. (I've talked about it to a couple of closer MetaFilter friends.)

Thank you for everyone that's shared in this thread. Like the alcoholism thread we had a few months back, there's a whole lot of people struggling with this that I wouldn't have suspected were struggling at all.

Masks, indeed.

These kinds of threads are especially helpful to me because they remind me that I am (unfortunately) not alone and why I haven't given up.

For whatever reason, my empathy seems to be wired in such a way that hearing about other people's struggles always make mine easier and lighter to deal with. It's worked that way in talk therapy, in group and other venues.

Simplified "If they can deal with this, you can too." and also a little bit of "If you can do this, you can also help others find the way."

This is also the primary reason I spend so much time in nature. Alone. Doing nothing at all besides appreciating the moment. Because every moment of feeling calm and secure, every moment of peace and appreciation for being alive is not a small victory, but a major one.

I've learned to stop feeling guilty about this at all, and it's a fine and healthy response. I'm not being lazy. I'm still healing and breaking the cycle.

Huge hugs to everyone who wants one. You're loved and you're strong. Stay up.

Yesterday I biked 25 hilly miles (!!) mostly through thick forest, saw many bald eagles and hawks, watched an otter swimming around, hung out with a crow for a half an hour and shared my beef jerky with them, wrote some postcards to friends and even managed a half a nap in a sunny field full of wildflowers. Oh, and I talked to the sprouts in my garden, telling them that though they were a little crowded right now, that they were all wanted and I promised to thin and transplant every plant I could. It was a good day.
posted by loquacious at 7:53 AM on April 10, 2018 [19 favorites]


Loquacious. My healing place is in my garden too! I watch all of the bees so hard at work on my lavender and mustard greens that have already bolted. They are so industrious, gathering as much pollen as their little bodies can manage to fly with. I take photos of the snap pea flowers and watch for artichokes about to pop out of the mess of leaves. I try to spend some time out there every day, getting dirty with real dirt and growing beautiful and useful things. It is the place I feel most grounded (pun possibly intended?) and most whole.

Thanks for the hugs. Back atcha if you want them!
posted by Sophie1 at 8:16 AM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]


This is incredible writing. Thank you for posting.
posted by numberstation at 10:16 AM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


Loquacious. My healing place is in my garden too!

I'm more about just letting my eyes feast on green and stuff and being in quiet places.

Gardening - at least solo - is totally new to me. I don't think I've ever felt secure or stable enough to try it on my own outside of the odd windowsill pot of basil or houseplant. But I've been around it enough to know enough to be dangerous. Today is actually the first week from sowing, and yesterday there were tiny sprouts and some beans starting to break through.

So far most of my "gardening" has been going out there to look at the soil and worry that it might be getting a little too much rain, but if I'm getting seedling in 6 days that's probably a great sign.
posted by loquacious at 10:59 AM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. This piece, and the one that perplexion posted have raised my consciousness with regard to some behaviors that I didn't understand from of a couple of people I know, who have trusted me enough to tell me of their abuse.

Hugs to everyone who has posted their experiences here. I'm honored that you've trusted your fellow Mefites as well.

Sunlight on all things.
posted by vignettist at 11:12 PM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how universal and how isolating trauma is. Hearing that someone else has experienced another version of what you went through never stops feeling like finding a long-lost...sibling? friend? maybe? At least for me. Someone who gets it, however you want to label them.

Yes. This. I feel a palpable and complicated bond with the people that have trauma scarring shaped like mine. It's really quite remarkable, and not always welcome. There are times when I find myself having sympathy for some truly heinous people because they have this trauma. I dunno. Tough to articulate. Thankfully, most of the time it's a positive thing, a shibboleth for a desperately appreciated community.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:17 AM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]


This essay touches on so many things: toxic mascuinity, the wake that abuse leaves around it, the palpable relief at finally speaking your truth. But there is something that is so upsetting to me about this essay, and that is the way Diaz has repeatedly used nameless muses as a way for him to work out his own feelings. He says himself in this essay that he built his fame by writing about the women he emotionally abused as aresult of his own trauma.

I don't know man. Maybe it's because I read this essay yesterday directly after reading Alison Kinney's essay Man in the Mirror. Or maybe it's because my abuser, a parent, used their own childhood sexual abuse to justify their emotional abuse towards me. It's complicated. But I think Diaz's perpetuating of his abuse is worth discussing.

Also, on Twitter, lots of women writers are subtweeting Diaz, including Roxane Gay and Carmen Maria Machado. The consensus seems to be that this essay is some kind of preemtive apology. Diaz apparently has a reputation.
posted by Brittanie at 12:11 PM on April 11, 2018 [19 favorites]


Thank you for your comment, Brittanie. Without undermining the seriousness of Diaz's trauma, I want us to acknowledge the callousness with which he tosses off the impacts on victims he created. I don't know much about Diaz's life off the page, but there seems to be a well known pattern of misogyny that this essay typifies.
posted by witchen at 12:25 PM on April 11, 2018 [9 favorites]


I was going to skip past this essay when I got to it this morning, but I read the first para and then it was half an hour later.

EMcG: The writing is searingly beautiful. I broke out in goosebumps a dozen times reading this. [...] If you can bear it, read it. They'll still be reading it in 100 years. I feel like I can't even talk about the content, I am so overwhelmed with beauty and pain.

Yes.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:01 AM on April 18, 2018


Without undermining the seriousness of Diaz's trauma, I want us to acknowledge the callousness with which he tosses off the impacts on victims he created.

Reading this now: "And yet, as many Black women have pointed out, it is hard to hear him dissect and discuss the harm he went on to cause towards the nameless Black and Brown women he dated on his journey. While dealing with the effects and aftermath of his assault, women were reduced to objects and now are mere footnotes in his journey, operating as tools to animate and move him forward at a time when he needed life and love and couldn’t make such decisions for himself. Mere testaments, lessons of what his messed up behavior lost him."--The bittersweetness in Junot Diaz’s #MeToo moment and how men traumatize women on their way to healing, from The Black Youth Project
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:19 PM on April 19, 2018 [10 favorites]


Ooops, forgot to add the author: Briana L. Ureña-Ravelo.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:38 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also, on Twitter, lots of women writers are subtweeting Diaz, including Roxane Gay and Carmen Maria Machado. The consensus seems to be that this essay is some kind of preemtive apology. Diaz apparently has a reputation.

Brittanie was right on in the above comment. The details of Diaz's reputation are out this morning. Junot Diaz #MeToo Accusations Surface :
A number of authors have taken to Twitter to accuse Junot Díaz, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, of sexual harassment and other misconduct.

Allegations broke early this morning, when What We Lose author Zinzi Clemmons took to the social media platform to say that Díaz [corner[ed] and forcibly kiss[ed]" her at a workshop.

As a grad student, I invited Junot Diaz to speak to a workshop on issues of representation in literature. I was an unknown wide-eyed 26 yo, and he used it as an opportunity to corner and forcibly kiss me. I'm far from the only one he's done this 2, I refuse to be silent anymore.
— zinziclemmons (@zinziclemmons) May 4, 2018

Following Clemmons's statement, authors including Carmen Maria Machado and Monica Byrne came forward with their own stories about Díaz, which revolved around his "bullying and misogyny."
posted by gladly at 8:33 AM on May 4, 2018 [10 favorites]


gladly, saw that yesterday too. as one reaction puts it: "I'm beginning to realize the obvious [no shit]-- that even confession (even this confession?) involves subjection. By assigning these texts [of Diaz / Alexie / Updike etc], I've made young women spend time in the head space of awful men -- to listen to them confess/justify mistreatment that surely they've experienced."
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 1:35 AM on May 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


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