Trauma and How Our Bodies Keep the Score
There’s a scientific connection between trauma and mental, emotional and physical health. And there’s no time limit on when it might rear its ugly horns. Addressing our traumatic experiences before they manifest into serious health issues is crucial. The good news is there are useful resources to help us. One of them is Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, How the Body Keeps the Score.
In August 2020, I was in the back of an ambulance suffering from excruciating abdominal pain. After a battery of tests, I learned I had kidney disease. Those who’ve spent a minute with me will attest I live a super healthy lifestyle. I eat and sleep well, use non-toxic products, and read a plethora of wellness materials. So, why the months of fatigue and now debilitating pain?
While recuperating, I met with my therapist online. After my session, I listened to a Jocko Podcast. That evening, I watched Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story. All three referenced Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score. Without hesitation, I ordered the book. I quickly learned that the identity I morphed into to survive was not aligned with my core identity. I had to learn how to open my heart so I could let the fullness of life in again.
TRAUMA AND HOW THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE
I refer to my mother as ‘Cadillac’. It’s a self-preservation mechanism. My therapist recommended I choose a nickname for her. “She didn’t protect you, rather, she caused you harm. Therefore, she doesn’t deserve the designation of ‘Mother’.”
My childhood friends who knew Cadillac thought she was amazing. She was beautiful and dramatic, a beloved elementary school teacher. But, no one saw the monster she became behind closed doors, weaving between good and evil with ease.
As her only child, I’ve discovered her overdosed and lifeless many times. She has scars from lacerations and broken bones she received during bar fights. I’ve received phone calls from police officers who found her passed-out in public. And I’ve watched ICU doctors place her on respirators and feeding tubes. If I had a nickel for each time I heard, “Her prognosis isn’t good; it’s unlikely she’ll recover.” She always recovers, telling fantastical lies and blaming others for each near-death experience.
Narcissists pretend to be kind. They turn it on and off like a switch. I’ve experienced it time and again. Cadillac would befriend people without vetting. She’d move them into our home. Within weeks, her unrelenting paranoia would incite a vengeful falling-out. In retribution, her ‘friends’ would rob us blind—furniture, heirlooms and all.
My trauma bond with Cadillac developed through abusive manipulation. I was an eager-to-please little girl who yearned for love and validation. I felt an intense obligation to protect her, even from herself. After each violent outburst, I’d clean up her mess. It became habit to navigate the world with neurotic compulsion.
The trauma I endured at the hands of a my mother manifested illness. I’ve suffered with asthma, IBS, PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, miscarriage, diverticulosis and adrenal damage. This is how trauma wreaks havoc on our bodies. This is how our bodies keep the score.
“Traumatized children have fifty times the rate of asthma as their non-traumatized peers.”
—Bessel Van Der Kolk
Adults who knew Cadillac told me with a pitiful tsk-tsk, “Take care of your mama.” I was a child—a traumatized child. They knew she abandoned me at age four. They new she moved thousands of miles away. And they saw her return and resume motherhood as if nothing had happened. If I was responsible for taking care of her, who was responsible for taking care of me?
The day I left for college, Cadillac launched her best and final assault. Her diabolical mind refused to relinquish sadistic dominance. In short form, she instigated an argument, pulled me by the hair, and hit me over and over. And for the first time in my life, I returned the favor. One strike across her face and eighteen years of remorseless physical abuse was over.
I should feel ashamed of my retribution, but I’m not. The little girl who slept behind a locked bathroom door felt nothing short of victorious. I placed the house key on the kitchen counter and pulled the front door to the hell house closed. No apology, remorse, or regret.
A few months into my freshman year, my grandmother called. She told me Cadillac was alone, incoherent and suicidal. I drove two hours to find Cadillac strung-out and despondent. Her fragile frame weighed ninety pounds. She was in need of a shower, a meal and a hardcore detox. I threw on my trusty cape, rented a U-Haul, boxed her belongings, and brought her home with me.
This was our codependent waltz. She created problems, blamed the world for her problems, and insisted I fix the problems. It was the truest form of dysfunction. I picked up the pieces and constructed a beautiful exterior world. But, my interior walls were crumbling.
I can’t remember the last time Cadillac acknowledged my birthday. The last time I spoke with her, she was obsessing over what to giver her new boyfriend for his birthday. His birthday was a few days before mine. Although she usually ghosted me on my birthday, I expected her to call. It was a big one. I was turning fifty.
The sun rose and set on what would be my 50th trip around the sun. Not a peep came from the person who brought me into the world. My mindset shifted that day. And as I drifted to sleep that night, my codependency to her died.
Healing from Trauma
As my kidneys healed, I followed a few Instagram accounts for encouragement. I commented with encouragement to someone on their wellness journey. Shortly after, I received a direct message from someone named Lauryn. Something about my comment encouraged her to reach out. The sweet communal universe was at it again.
Lauryn and I communicated with brutal honesty right off the bat. Our mothers are malignant narcissists. We endured maternal abuse. We struggle with codependency. And we experienced kidney disease. Lauryn shared with me how, in a holistic sense, our kidneys house fear. We grew up in fear. And our bodies kept the score.
The End. And the Beginning…
I couldn’t write that note before reading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s lifechanging book. No matter the source of your trauma, I encourage you to read it. Let it be your north star to recognizing the effects of trauma and how to manifest your path to healing.
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