For most of my life, I didn’t view my trauma as Trauma. Yes, I was diagnosed with PTSD; yes, I dissociated; yes, I struggled with nervous system dysregulation… but I minimized my trauma.
It was just one thing that happened to me on one day when I was a child. It wasn’t ongoing. There are people who experience much worse than me.
When I minimized the trauma, I minimized the effects.
Everyone dissociates once in awhile, right? It’s not uncommon to view yourself outside of yourself when you look back on memories, right? Everyone has episodes of depression during April, right? We all are just waiting for the next big tragedy, right? None of that really MEANS anything.
That’s what I believed.
Add to that thought pattern all the ways we talk about trauma: we use phrases like big T, little t… say things like, “real trauma is only seen in war veterans…” or “trauma is just part of life.”
I minimized my trauma, and I minimized the effects, over and over again.
In high school I wrote an essay about the unique scents of each season and the memories attached (it actually became a finalist in a state writing competition, you know I have to throw that in there). In this essay, I described how the scents of spring felt sad to me because they reminded me of my grandpa’s traumatic death on my front lawn. Even when I wrote the words at the age of 17, I didn’t understand the effects of that trauma the way I do now.
Now I understand that because of that trauma, I dissociated often. I stared off into space randomly, sometimes in the middle of engaging conversations. In the early aftermath of the trauma, I was frequently sick with stomachaches and infections, namely tonsillitis and bronchitis. When an emergency situation arose, I froze, and watched everything that happened outside of my body until I felt safe to return to it.
None of this was intentional, and that is important to understand when we are talking about trauma. These responses were the ways that my brain protected me from a repeat injury. These were signals from my brain to my body, so that my body could go on alert and keep me safe in the way it was designed to.
We all, at some point in our lives, will experience trauma. It may not impact your brain and body the way it impacted me. But it will happen, and it will impact you, if it hasn’t already.