Tying a Bow: Leaving Old Trauma Behind

Each morning, I lift the cheerful pillow with its red and yellow plaid  cover from the rocker chair and carry it to the bed. Just as I’m about to throw it onto the quilt, the tie slips out from where I’ve tucked it into the case the night before. I feel repulsed. Each night I tuck it in, and each day when I pick it up, the tie leaps out and I feel bad.

Why?  And why repeat this ritual day after day?

Because that’s what folks who have preverbal trauma do–react emotionally to sensation from unresolved experience of long ago. Sensations contact our nervous systems that is unconnected to anything that is actually happening. Then we respond to the stimulation, further disconnecting us from ourselves. It’s a totally weird life.

Thankfully, because I’ve come to understand my early trauma, I can figure out what is really going on. 

Mornings, when the tie slips from the pillow, I feel a vague anxiety–could my insides flop out of my belly and kill me? During my operation at one-month old, the surgeon sliced my belly and tummy muscles open, pulled the pylorus part of my stomach out of my body, and sliced the pylorus to relieve pressure on the food canal so nutrition could pass through. Then he tucked it back and sewed me up. (This operation was, btw, without anesthesia.)

My anxiety about the tie flopping out is also about my mother’s fear. The surgeon told her in the hospital discharge meeting that if my stitches broke, I would die; it was up to her, he assured her,  that this did not happen. Mom was completely freaked out that my belly would break open once I got home from the hospital. Her fear became mine. 

So mornings, when I thrust the tie back into the case, I take control. Damn it, I’m going to survive. No guts are gonna fall out of me!  A ritual of re-enactment has me in its grasp. Though once I realized the reason for this uncomfortable ritual, I changed it. I pulled out the other end of the tie and made a big bow, securing the loose ends. How satisfying to make that knot!

Now, each morning as I make my bed each day and set the pillow on the quilt, I note the lovely bow. And that’s how I rid myself of  anxiety based on old trauma. That’s how I became more real and more happy. That’s how I am becoming more me.


Let's Act, Not Re-enact

My last two posts were about re-enactment. In “Re-enactment is Real” (May 13, 2014), I define this concept and give an example of it in my own life–when the simple act of replacing a light bulb became painful and challenging. In “A Master’s Take on Re-enactment: The Words of Dr. Peter Levine” (May 5, 2014), I provide… Continue Reading

A Master's Take on Re-enactment–The Words of Dr. Peter Levine

Re-enactment is real. The following are the words of Dr. Peter Levine, a PhD in Medical and Biological Physics from UC Berkeley, who has studied trauma and stress for well over thirty years. I took this excerpt from his book Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, North Atlantic Books, 1997, a readable, groundbreaking book about the… Continue Reading

Re-enactment is Real

What is re-enactment?  Before I reach for Dr. Peter Levine book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma to give the official definition, I’ll have a go at it myself. Re-enactment is an unconscious attempt made by someone with unresolved trauma to resolve it. For example, the date of one’s car accident arrives, an accident that resulted in… Continue Reading