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Images Key to Unlocking Preverbal Trauma


My pastel “Self-Hate,” on display at the Sacramento Poetry Center this month, along with two others of mine and those of eight other artists who also write as part of Jennifer O’Neill Pickering’s Sable & Quill exhibit, is an expression of the feelings I felt about my body and about life in general, especially as a teen-ager. Anger ruled my life.

A decade later in my early twenties, I discovered the source of this rage–infant surgery at 26 days old to correct pyloric stenosis, a stomach blockage, without anesthesia. Did you know that before 1987, anesthesia was often not administered to infants for invasive medical procedures and operations?  The medical community had convinced themselves that babies didn’t feel pain. It also worried that anesthesia could cause brain damage, for how could safe doses be determined? Instead, a muscle paralytic was given so that the baby could not fight. Sometimes a sugar cube soaked in alcohol was given or small amounts of anesthesia.

Since the torture occurred before I had language, I didn’t really understand the messages I was receiving from my body, emotions and senses over the years. My body was frozen in terror, for as a baby, I could not flee or fight–only lie helplessness. Many others have suffered this fate, some of whom have contacted me through this blog. We number in the millions and may or may not understand the depression, rage, and numbness we have felt throughout our lives. Post-traumatic stress or PTS it has come to be called. Preverbal infant trauma is not something the public, or the victims themselves, is generally aware of. Through artwork, early feelings find their way to the surface, feelings for which no words were ever attached.

Jennifer has given me the opportunity to speak briefly about this and read from my memoir manuscript, Autobiography of a Sea Creature – Coming Home to My Body after Infant Surgery, at the Sable & Quill reading this Saturday, January 9, 2016 at the Sacramento Poetry Center (25th and R) reading 7:30-9 pm, which follows the art reception 5-7 pm.  I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to reading and hearing from the other artists as well. Hope to see you there!