Trauma 1, Trans Body 0

Sometimes, when I mess up, my blood sugar drops very low, down into the 50s or even high 40s.  I can feel the effect in my body, as I sweat, become unstable and feel weak.   I take a reading and have a slice of toast and the event passes.

My doctor is rightly concerned about any event like this.  Get blood sugar too low and you go into a coma, even risk brain damage.  The more your body has to have blood sugar externally controlled, the more insensitive you become to the signs of dramatically low sugars.  I understand this challenge and work to stay well managed, having a good hemoglobin a1c since I started control.

That feeling in my body, though, is compelling to me.   I am so disconnected from my body, so apart from sensation, that when something that dramatic sweeps over me, I savour it.  Feeling my body respond, as I assume some people get feelings from drugs or exercise or sex or other experiences, is kind of delicious and thrilling, even if it is inherently risky.

The Body Keeps The Score” is Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s book on trauma, subtitled “Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.”  Based on decades of experience with trauma victims, the book reminds me about the limits of my own strategies to live with the trauma I have experienced in my own life.

It is amazing that I wired myself with sensors, first used to try and control emotional responses in a loaded world, and later used to understand and learn from the emotions I had no way to directly express or experience.   I had enough brainpower to compensate for the craziness, much like a stroke victim in rehab learns to use other, more general thinking to substitute for their burned out firmware controllers.

As much as I have learned to separate from my body, my left brain mediating the right, those experiences are still coded there, still deep in the third gotcha.  I am unable to imagine a way to be embodied, to feel safe in my own primal experience.    My experience of weakness when blood sugar drops feels real to me in a way that words never will, for the same reason I sometimes imagine lying on the floor under a blanket and being kicked hard to calm myself down.

My challenge is living a newly embodied life, beyond the ritual concierge service and hermetic sharing that has defined the last period.   To do that, though, I have to engage my body, not just control and limit it, modulating my emotions.  I have to imagine how I can live an blossoming embodied life in the world, something that is a real struggle for me.

“Therapy won’t work if people keep getting pulled back into the past,” Dr van der Kolk writes.   My experience of my family is that they pull me back into the past, triggering my survival responses and shutting down any imagined possibilities.

Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. Numerous studies of disaster response around the globe have shown that social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma.

Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart.
Many traumatized people find themselves chronically out of sync with the people around them. Some find comfort in groups where they can replay their combat experiences, rape, or torture with others who have similar backgrounds or experiences. Focusing on a shared history of trauma and victimization alleviates their searing sense of isolation, but usually at the price of having to deny their individual differences: Members can belong only if they conform to the common code.

Isolating oneself into a narrowly defined victim group promotes a view of others as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst, which eventually only leads to further alienation. Gangs, extremist political parties, and religious cults may provide solace, but they rarely foster the mental flexibility needed to be fully open to what life has to offer and as such cannot liberate their members from their traumas. Well-functioning people are able to accept individual differences and acknowledge the humanity of others.
 — Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score

Trans and trauma are difficult because it is very hard to get completely beyond the trauma that pushed you into feeling unsafe, hiding and lying in the first place.   You can never dump the effects of trauma, only learn to achieve mastery and ownership beyond it,

With the trans experience, there are so many ways to be forced to relive that trauma.   Some people still believe that it is their right and the right thing to do to inflict trauma on you, just to keep you hidden and impotent in the world.

Add to that the challenge of getting the kind of reciprocity, the kind of support that makes us feel seen and heard, held in hearts and minds, and the re-traumatization is almost inevitable.  Finding liberation is daunting for transpeople, to say the least.

The experience of trauma is very human, but the social choice not to acknowledge that is conventional and cowardly.   Trauma isn’t fun or pretty, but only when we acknowledge and engage it can we be safe for others to work though it, can we do the grounding and foundational work of giving young people the tools to survive it and work it through.

I understand living with the effects of trauma and being unable to find reciprocity, being able to easily move past it rather than go through similar experiences over and over again.

More in the next few days.