Trauma. What the hell is trauma? How does one define it and make sense of it? How do you live with its memories and scars, its resultant fears and beliefs? Why does it have to happen in the first place? Why does it have to hurt so much? I still can’t believe that I’ve actually sat down to write this article, as it’s one that’s been on my mind for some time, but I never really intended to write it; for its content had remained largely unspoken of, until now. In the beginning, it was denied, and then it was rationalized away. Things weren’t so bad, I would tell myself; things weren’t so bad is what most of us say. Fucking trauma.
My version of it, as most, is accompanied by shame and a sense of guilt, of needing to have done more, as though it were somehow possible. So, here it goes; this is where it all begins, where the memories come flooding back. It’s amazing how, sometimes, you can become aware of your own suffering only through its identification in books, the media, or from friends and acquaintances. While you’re in it, you consider it as normal, the way life is and is supposed to be. I grew up in what I only now know to have been a broken home, with domestic violence. And, although I don’t consciously recall those memories often, they frequently haunt me in my dreams, as though fueled by a malicious vortex, sucking my soul back into a place and time which I so desperately want to entirely forget.
As with other forms of trauma, words become inadequate and its memories become hazy. In other parts of my life, I remain confident in my ability to speak. I can articulate facts and theories; I can tell you all about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and its foundation; I can help you understand your own thought processes and, in some way, overcome them; but, I can’t talk about this, my history, because I feel so ashamed of it, and my persistent fear of exposure holds me back. Much as with the memories of trauma, I expect this article to reflect their unique reality, in essence, their fragmentation. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I can recall bits and pieces, but I can’t present many specific details. And if I could only have one wish, I’d wish for all of them to disappear into the ether, as so many of us do; I’d forget it all if I could.
My stepfather was the most vicious man I had ever known, and despite the way in which he presented himself to others, I was one of the privileged few who knew who he was deep inside. I recall the terror of his mood swings and relentless rage, fully grasping, even then, the extent of his desire for compete control. As for most narcissists, control for him was everything; it engendered an intense high which can cause one to spend an entire lifetime chasing it, and he was its faithful servant. He wielded control through anger, intimidation, manipulation, and sacrifice. His goals were all that mattered, and despite the casualties involved, the means always justified his ends. As a kid, I didn’t know how much all of it would affect my adulthood, and how much his actions would affect my ability to form relationships, and to love. But, the ramifications now present themselves with brilliant clarity, one which I wish I had seen sooner.
When I initially told others, they didn’t believe in the intensity of my story, so I resolved to suppress my account of it. Why bother? What difference does it make? Who the hell would even care? I don’t even recall discussing it in therapy, where I knew it was safe. And, that’s how trauma works: even when you believe in the safety of your environment, some deeper part holds you back. Thus, the dreams. But, I suppose they’re there to do some good. They posses a deep yearning to tell me something; I can tell. I suppose they want me to talk. But, it’s easier to talk about the trauma of others than my own, so I’ve digressed multiple times, writing about this and that; yet, not about the thing that matters most. So, I’ll continue.
In order for manipulation and emotional abuse to work, one needs to make control certain and all-econompassing; my stepfather knew that, and that’s exactly what he did. He was in charge of the family-finances, the vacations, the events we went to, and the people we saw; although my mom had suggestions, the final call was always his. She had an allowance which she “poorly spent,” and thereby inevitably, and always, received a verbal lashing for wasting money. She rebelled the only way she knew how to, which was through shopping; it provided her with some autonomy, but resulted in persistent punishment, which comprised of reducing her weekly gift. I recall the fights, being placed in their middle, and coerced into taking his side to preserve the peace; I recall the putdowns, the isolation, and the justifications for each fucking terrible misdeed; I recall her level of dependence, and blaming myself for not standing up to him and doing more.
Most of the sense of shame that accompanies my memories is guilt over my own perceived weaknesses, which were repeatedly placed into the spotlight; I was too weak and too cowardly, so I was told. Although the man in me recognizes that a child could never have done more, the boy in me still rebels. And I hate it all: the guilt, the shame, the whole fucking story, which I wish would finally end, which I wish could be forgotten. Then, the other part of me rebels in turn, as the man in me shouts, no! In it, he retorts, is something special, because there lies a seed that can help other men share their own stories of violence and abuse, which can help mitigate their shame. So, I accepted that it was finally time to share this story, my story, because it is, and always has been, necessary for us, for men, to disclose their shame, and to discontinue the patterns their horrific fathers left behind. I’m still anxious, and embarrassed, to share these memories, but my inner voice assures me that I will be okay.