As you can see, I’m slowing down on posting. For the past several years, I’ve posted weekly. Now though I’m focusing on rewriting and editing my memoir manuscript about infant surgery, The Autobiography of a Sea Creature. I’ve hired a wonderful editor to help me and it makes all the difference. The surgery I had at 26 days old for pyloric stenosis, a stomach blockage, caused much isolation early in my life–separation from my mother, from my family and from care-givers. Back then, one recovered alone in a sterile room, hospitalized for weeks. No visitors. Nurses vigilant yet holed up behind closed doors. Germ theory reigned, managing infection paramount. Not much thought was given to the psychological development of the child. So having the help of an editor is not only revitalizing me and my manuscript, it’s healing on a whole other level.
One of the challenges of rewriting this manuscript is portraying reenactment. Reenactment is a behavior that survivors of unresolved trauma cope with. Compulsion is another way of classifying it. Growing up, I knew that I engaged in some strange behaviors, but I didn’t know why. The brain is always busy coping with unresolved trauma, but reenacted behavior offers no healing or cure. I was often drawn to knives, dangerous situations, others’ traumas, unconsciously trying to revisit and fix my own. But healing doesn’t happen that way. When one is frozen by trauma, one is always trying to crack the ice. But the way to do that is not by re-experiencing trauma but by facing what actually happened with a trained professional, or through writing, or through EMDR therapy (see some of my recent posts). For whatever reason, we could not flee or fight off the danger, and the experiences of helplessness and immobilization have compromised our growth.
To show the phenomenon of reenactment in nonfiction is challenging. I often assume that readers will make the connection say between the fact that I was traumatized by a scalpel, for I was cut open without anesthesia and paralyzed by a muscle-numbing drug, and my lifelong relationship and fascination with knives. (Even now, I carry a knife in my hiking pouch, have a knife–a good long one–on my dresser, have one in the cup holder of my car and several on a shelf at the back door of my house.) My editor assures me that I must make the connection more explicit.
I also assume that a reader, without having to spell it out, will understand the connection between the early, brutal, medical invasion and the act of my cutting myself with razor blades when I was a teen-ager. People who experience trauma and pain as infants, and whose trauma has not been treated, often seek out the endorphin high from engaging in painful acts. We may be numb or anxiety-ridden, but cutting offers comfort, oddly enough. But what I am discovering is that a writer must figure out how to convey the connections without resorting to the language of trauma experts, such as Drs. Robert Scaer, Peter Levine and Bessel van der Kolk. How to make the connections as a creative writer. How to use metaphor and juxtaposition of ideas to help the reader connect the dots. How to suggest rather than tell; infer rather than report; offer rather than declare. It’s a delicate dance. One that I am right now taking a break from.
What is astounding to me is that many don’t seem to understand what reenactment is. Frankly, I think it should be a household word, for so much violence in our world can be attributed to it. Many times people don’t realize that in choosing to bully or engage in high-risk activities or in seeking out relationships with destructive people and circumstances, we are caught up in compulsion. We may be trying, unsuccessfully, to cope with and resolve an earlier trauma. Many of us are suffering from PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and are seeking relief from anxiety, hypervigilance, panic, and anger. We’ve lost the connection between these states and the trauma and think we are just acting out of personality or who we think we are. But nothing could be farther from the truth. We are acting out of who we aren’t. Our personal development was interrupted. We need to put our puzzle back together, but NOT through reenactment.
Bear with me as I finish my manuscript. June 3rd is the projected finishing date for two rewrites. June 30th is the default date, just in case I need a bit more time. Send me some good vibes so that I can be patient and creative in portraying the intricacies of reenactment. I can’t write this book alone. Perhaps the aloneness it took years ago to write the manuscript in the first place is a kind of reenactment in itself–replicating the early intensive care isolation and alienation. But since writing ultimately involves readers, I think the impulse is at its core healing. EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, though has further helped me break through to WE focus rather than I. WE. I like the sound of it. WEEEE!! as in thrill. We as in support. We as in help. We as in finishing this manuscript together. Thank you for your part in my journey.
Such deep wisdom and personal insight in this post, Wendy. I love the surprising discovery that the final phase of your memoir is about dismantling the isolation associated with the trauma and the act of writing itself.
Thanks, Mary! And your friendship is also part of the isolation breaking! xo
sending you many good vibes as you hike through creating a book land,with support in your pockets,friends to cheer you on your way.Posted a “we” reply in your previous post,btw..you continue to inspire me by your courage to press on.Thank you.
Hi Jen, Thanks so much for the support. Just found your Comment. (WordPress stopped informing my email there’s a comment, so I’ll have to remember to check manually.) I’m on a break from the book now, for I turned in my revision to my editor a week ago. I get the manuscript back with her comments again on Tuesday, May 5. I can’t wait to get back to it though. I’m so excited to finally be finishing my beloved book. Let’s keep inspiring each other!!
I cannot wait to read your book Wendy,so excited for you…I laugh at the serendipity of reading the latest post just when I started really reading that book by Shapiro.It’s an amazing process to go from hurting,healing,helping..from hell to heaven,in fact..I used to think of myself as somewhat of a jellyfish,used the term “undifferentiated ego mass” from family systems theory in an unkind fashion..Celebrating you,your book,your healing and the possibilities of reaching many others :))
You are a blessing. I love hearing from you. We seem to be in chronic synch! Key word in your comment: “used” as in past–you “used” to think of yourself as a “jellyfish.” I can relate! Today in my EMDR session, I worked on a dream I had in which I was repulsed by this flaccid, elongated, floppy baby with strange breasts consisting of Ramen noodle type squiggles. I’m getting help to see this baby in a new, compassionate way rather than being repulsed by it. Hell to heaven with EMDR–sounds like a great book title! Stay in touch, Jen. Thanks for writing! Write me anytime with your news.
Best wishes, Wendy, as you near the deadline you have set for yourself. I look forward to a happy and fruitful conclusion of what has been a long journey, and to reading your Autobiography.
Especially encouraging waves go your way as you write (or edit what you have written already) about reenactment. You may recall that I have posted about this also on my blogsite, “Surviving Infant Surgery”.
How true it is that reenactment is a dark and scary obsession into which we feel powerfully but mysteriously drawn. Only later, with the insight gained from newly available resources, and greater understanding and self-insight, do we realise that reenactment is not a unique and totally freakish form of behaviour, but a typical (though unproductive) way for dealing with trauma.
I’m sure you will write this chapter in your usually sensitive and lucid way.
You know, reenactment certainly is a challenging aspect of emotional wounding and trauma to capture as I’ve discussed; I think though that readers will be able to follow the threads and get the sense of reenactment I’m trying to get across–the obsessive quality of it and the utter confusion one feels about why one is doing this or that as the behaviors, in and of themselves, make no logical sense. Btw, I just turned in the second draft of the manuscript and am excited about my receiving my editor’s final comments June 10th. Thanks for your friendship on my journey.