As I sit here in a coffee shop, listening to the Talking Heads play overhead, my sibling is visiting our mother. I’m not joining her for a host of reasons. But not with any bitterness. As Rumi says, “It is what it is.” The “it” in this case is the overall nature of our relationship, the condition under which we stopped speaking, my present state of mind, and the current nature of my relationship with my own children. All of these relationships have been impacted by Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD), something that impacts my life every. Damn. Day. (cue Elvis Costello – The Detectives)
How many of you reading this article have strong relationships with both your parents? Or at least one of them? If you are curious about DTD and perhaps questioning whether you walk around in the world through the haze of DTD, it’s possible that maybe you don’t have healthy relationships with either of your parents or perhaps only one of them. It’s even likely that you were raised by someone other than your parents; grandparents, aunts, uncles or even neighbors, or through a child welfare system. (Smashing Pumpkins is now on my radar)
I was born to my parents and raised by lots of folks; aunties and uncles who had good hearts, cousins who rough housed with me and left me blacked out on a floor, grandmothers with strict beliefs and tender ways, various babysitters with little attention for my safety and well-being, and 2nd cousins in another state who dearly wanted a daughter to call their own. My mother’s heart and soul were wounded. The manifestation of these scars were visible in the form of a mental illness that plagued her life and undermined her ability to function on most days in ways that mattered for a little girl. Her struggle became my struggle. Her inability to function impacted my life in ways monstrous and miniscule. My father was also struggling with his own demons. They were various, powerful and dominated his world through the use of drugs and alcohol, usurping his artistic talents. He died in his 50’s.
There are four attachment styles as observed by researchers Waters and Wall (1978) and Main and Solomon (1990); secure attachment, insecure-avoidant attachment, insecure-ambivalent attachment and disorganized-disoriented attachment (as cited in Ogden, Minton, Pain, 2006). The midline brain structures, comprised of the anterior and posterior cingulate, are part of how we define self experience (van der Kolk, 2014). During the first year of a child’s development outside the womb, establishing attachment to caregivers is of primary importance. Based on letters exchanged with my mother and conversations with various family members, it’s most likely I had disorganized-disoriented attachment with all of my primary caregivers. My mother’s mental illness made my early life very chaotic as I was shuffled around between family members, some of whom I did not know. Brennan & Shaver (1995), Cozolino (2002), and Hazan & Shaver (1990) have all found that “attachment patterns formed in infancy, usually remain consistent throughout childhood and into adulthood (Ogden, et. al, 2006, p. 46).
My life was beginning to make sense – both my formative years and my adult life. (I’ve given up on coffee house music and am listening to Buddha Bar selections through my iTunes). Rather than enjoying new schools as a little girl and making friends, my brainbody was perceiving threat and danger from every corner and all of it unconsciously. Instead of taking in new experiences as an adult and having fun, I was blocking them out through dissociation and assessment of my surroundings as dangerous and life threatening. Instead of moving freely in my body and feeling safe, I was often afraid and frozen in terror (sympathetic / parasympathetic nervous system). I couldn’t learn in school, I struggled in some social situations and felt paralyzed with fear, I had trouble reading the faces of people in my life, I felt I could not control certain aspects of my life no matter the intentions I set, and I had an extreme amount of physical pain. My own ability for risk assessment, present moment awareness, healthy social engagement and accurate sensory information processing had all been inhibited due to my exposure to violence and terror during fetal development, birth trauma, and various chronic destabilizing childhood events (Hannaford, 2013; Juhan, 2003; Porges, 2007; van der Kolk, 2014; Verny, 1981).
Up until about 2 years ago, it would have been impossible for me to sit here in this coffee shop right now. The overhead music, the sound of the coffee grinder, espresso machine, blender, other people’s conversations and the traffic noise from outside, would have sent me into a state of dissociation. Dissociation was a powerful and unconscious coping mechanism for me, so powerful in fact that I completely wiped from my memory a trip to Disneyland at the age of 19 with my family. A trip that had to actually be proven to me, by my sibling, through a photograph of my mother and I in front of Cinderella’s Castle. Yup, that powerful. While I have a long way to go in my healing work, that I can sit here and write this blog post (I’m biting my nails, but we won’t address that right now), is a miracle. Even with the set back I wrote about recently, staying in the present moment is truly the result of hard work – facing the trauma that had happened to me as a little girl which was constantly taking me out of the present moment and sending me back through some kind of “way-back” machine. That is the nature of Developmental Trauma. Being thrust through a worm-hole into the past, feeling utterly out of control to stop this from happening, and loosing quality moments in present time had been a constant way of life for more than 4 decades.
Although my blogging may seem a bit scrambled, know that I’m following a thread connected to present moment awareness and daily life in reference to how I USED to function. Each day is a present – fresh with gifts and awareness that reveal how I’m living now – even to myself. I will continue to uncover and share what I’ve learned through my former literature reviews and how I’m living my daily life. I could tell a succinct story, similar to the thread in my thesis, but that way of disseminating information holds the potential for sending me into a trauma loop – one I work diligently to avoid. Blogging is fresh and in the present moment, being right here, right now – a much more rewarding way to live!
Further along, I will include blogs about personality development, fetal development, child development and gross motor movement, as well as the brain of a child and how it processes auditory and visual information! Much more to come ~