I feel my heart rate increasing, like a detective getting closer to the whereabouts of the culprit—the current way in which the chemistry of my brain works due to the trauma of infant surgery without anesthesia. I just read a paper entitled, “Working with the Neurobiological Legacy of Early Trauma” by Dr. Janina Fisher, a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Instructor at the Trauma Center in Boston, and the first page read like a narrative about my life. She’s writing about why many trauma survivors don’t get the help that they need, and that sure was me growing up. Here’s what she says in the first paragraph:
Despite the fact that an estimated 70% of all psychiatric inpatients and 30% of outpatients have histories of psychological trauma, the effects of those histories often go unrecognized or underestimated. When my client, Jill, first began psychotherapy at the age of 16, she was depressed, suicidal, angry, and oppositional, for no reason that her family or therapist could clearly pinpoint. Like most survivors of childhood trauma, her presenting issue was not framed as, ‘I was badly neglected as a kid by my alcoholic mother’ or ‘My two older brothers sexually abused me and terrified my whole family.’ At the time, she barely remembered what had happened: she only knew that she was filled with shame and rage and just wanted to die.
That was me! I not only wanted to die, I tried to die—many times. What’s truly a miracle is that I didn’t kill myself just by continually engaging in risky behavior, such as driving insanely fast, walking alone late at night, and starving and stuffing myself until I felt sick. For me, self-destructive behavior was a lifestyle off and on until my mid-twenties.
The article goes on to say that since most trauma survivors complain of the very things that many non-traumatized therapy clients suffer—relationship issues, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness and alienation, problems with anger—it’s hard to know whether someone has an early trauma history unless he or she tells you, which is unlikely, or unless a report exists, which is often not the case.
According to Fisher, the ‘symptom-equivalents’ of traumatic memory [are] intrusive fear, hypervigilance, chronic self-hatred, alienation from self and from one’s own body, [and] disorganized attachment behavior in relationships. Many therapists don’t recognize these signs that point to early trauma in their clients. Lucky for me in my early twenties, I had used writing, drawing, and painting to explore the early trauma and so at age 26, could articulate to some extent what was going on with me to a counselor. It was quite clear that I was suffering from the early trauma of my infant surgery.
Furthermore, Dr. Fisher goes on to say that even when counselors or therapists correctly recognize the signs of early trauma and assign a post-traumatic stress (PTS) diagnosis, professionals need to understand the neurobiological effects of trauma so that they will be in the best position to help their clients. The neurobiology of trauma is summarized in her article, but the specific details of that process are not clarified.
I’m closer to identifying the culprit that causes the fear, hypervigilance, and distrust of my body that I still experience 59 years after the surgery. Will keep you posted.