Last Entry: Experiences: April 15, 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Coming to Understand the Messages of Trauma

Well it appears that I have been quite neglectful about continuing my story, as many months have now passed since my last entry. Perhaps something about the timing will be significant in what I have to say or the way that I will now choose to say it...

So, anyway, as I was saying in my last post, the next piece relating to my six-year-old soul part, my shoulder, and my experience of trauma came about three years later, which was in the Summer of 2010. By this time I had completed two terms of the Art Therapy Counseling program at Marylhurst University and was about to continue my studies by transferring to Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM. Thus, my reading list for the summer included books like Coming Into Mind: The Mind-Brain Relationship: A Jungian Clinical Perspective by Margaret Wilkinson, Mindsight by Daniel Siegel, and Awakening Joy by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander.

Somewhere between Coming Into Mind and Mindsight, I began to understand how the brain processes trauma. I was first attracted to the idea that the right brain is the first to develop, with the left brain lagging behind a couple of years. This means, on the one hand, that only implicit, sensory memory storage happens during these first years of life. On the other hand, it also means that any events occurring before the left brain comes online will not be available for explicit, declarative recall. The only information stored in memory about the event will be the resulting sensory experience. Thus, a traumatic event can happen to a child and leave an impression within their body, but that event may never become a part of their memory.

The second attraction included the idea that traumatic events can sometimes evade explicit, left brain, memory storage. This evasion can occur in situations where the hippocampus, which organizes information for storage in the brain, shuts down. A number of factors can create this condition, which includes but is not limited to highly terrifying events, repeated traumatic events over time, stress, uncontrollable rage, and the abuse of alcohol.

And finally, I was interested in the commentary on disassociation, which can be a coping mechanism for dealing with repeated trauma. In this case, an attempt is made to leave the situation by removing oneself as much as possible. A child, in particular, cannot usually leave physically or emotionally, but may be able to leave mentally and spiritually. And in this way, a person is said to have left their body and disassociated from the situation. In doing so, this becomes another way that memories may evade storage in the explicit, left side of the brain.

So, what did these ideas mean for me?

I began to realize that I had a triggering event that would cause a panic attack in a situation where I knew I was not in danger. A particular sequence of events that my body had learned to be an indicator of danger and was therefore responding to accordingly. And a similar sequence of events that would make my left arm feel as if it were actually detached from my body. This sequence, in the briefest detail, involved being sound asleep while someone is drinking alcohol in the house and waking up in a panic as the lights are being turned off.

My body has remembered something that happened. But I remember very little of the situation. Only a short preceding film clip of a memory. And yet, my body remembers so well that fear permeates me as I write this, because the sequence of events is still triggering and because I still don't know for certain what happened or by whom. I do have some pretty solid guesses at this point, but I won't be sharing any of that here...

And so, I was slowly beginning to recognize connections between my shoulder problems and my six-year-old soul part. Shoulder pain that had seeming come on suddenly without cause, might in fact have an origin. At least this was where I'd gotten to, just before I began my journey through the Art Therapy Counseling program at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM.