This letter won’t be an angry rant from a shrieking harpy demanding you acknowledge your privilege.
It won’t be a rational, implacable lecture with Stanford statistics deftly peppered throughout in an attempt to appeal to your logic.
It won’t even contain much quirky snark to catch the eye of a man with optimized time, holding his skepticism about female “writers” who probably need to get a real job.
I’ll even hold off on too many buzzwords, so that you don’t need to suppress the obligatory eye-roll.
No, I won’t be taking those tacks because I want to appeal to your social-media-addicted attention span and catch your weary eye skimming across the roiling sea of social awareness blogs.
This is my message in a bottle.
My love letter to my trauma and your brethren who brought it to me.
Specifically, a love letter to the effects of the trauma in my brain and body.
I became acquainted with trauma as a big eyed, solemn toddler with a penchant for sharp perceptivity.
My mom aptly nicknamed me Little Owl because not much escaped my observation, and when I was still in diapers, I asked her why my father didn’t love her.
My first memory of physical fear was around age 5 when I can recall the sharp kick of my adrenals across the top of my gut accompanied with the thought that maybe my father was capable of killing me.
At age 6, Josh S. informed me that Sarah T. was the first prettiest girl in school, and I was the second. My malleable brain figured if I wasn’t getting safety and support from the man at home, maybe boys unrelated to me were the next best thing.
At age 7, my parents divorced and I cried when I realized that my beloved swing set couldn’t move with me. I was glad I wouldn’t have to look at my father anymore. I was already avoiding him, anyway.
At age 14, some boys at school decided they would organize a betting pool to see who could “get with me” first. Rape was implied if I didn’t cooperate. Jay C., with his hot pink hair and stained teeth, told everyone he’d do it with me in my Mom’s bed.
When the short Italian kid with the spotless Nike hi tops informed me at my locker one morning that I’d better not let him down, that he had $50 riding on me, I learned the fawning, automatic smile of every woman as she’s being threatened. The primate’s fear grimace that isn’t an invitation but somehow every guy thinks it is.
Jolts of adrenaline and cortisol and aldosterone and epinephrine became the cocktail that flooded my system on an hourly basis and my insomnia worsened. Somehow, even though I began missing many school days, I still carried mostly A’s.
It became difficult to cover my body odor. The pungent scent of fear was always on my skin, but I was afraid to take showers. When I did, they were in the dark.
Because the school district did nothing about my harassment, I was transferred to a tiny, private Christian school in another town. The relief was intense; I could wear long skirts and slacks and the boys weren’t allowed to harass the girls. Instead, the instruction for girls centered on our submission to our future, loving husbands. And to Jesus, of course.
Men who knew best for us.
At age 15, when my church decided I should undergo an exorcism to cure me of demonic possession, my brain broke. That kind of abject terror inside a child’s body, with nowhere to go and no one to witness, will absolutely hardwire the fear into habit. Beyond that point, there was no peace for me.
It was soon after I’d been declared “saved” that I was informed of my pastor’s “affair” with a 14 year old girl. He was removed from the parish and began work as a janitor. He was a pedophile; I was demonically possessed.
At age 19 going on 20, only just divested of my virginity, I dropped out of college and began working as a call girl in the Los Angeles area. At the time, it made perfect sense.
My twenties were sordid. I don’t feel like going into detail here, but suffice to say the trauma was intense. After a while, despite electroshock therapy, I descended into clinical agoraphobta for about 13 years.
I didn’t have sex for over a decade, and when I finally did, I bled so much that I went to the ER the following day. Then the guy showed signs of easing out the door so I preemptively broke up with him and a week later, attempted suicide.
I awoke from a coma almost four days later, surprised to be alive.
Everyone else was surprised, too.
After moving back to NYC over a year later, I saw a cardiologist to discuss the intense blood pressure spikes I endured on an almost daily basis. My improved mindset and mental health were a stunning example of neuroplasticity, but my central nervous system hadn’t gotten the memo. The doctor told me to take baby aspirin on the days I knew I’d be scared. I was in slight danger of stroke, she said.
My trauma had left its impact on my brain.
It was so deeply ingrained that no amount of neurohacking would budge it. I needed trauma therapy. So, instead of another clinician who would misdiagnose and over-pathologize me, I went to a woman who knew about trauma, and started to talk.
And it wasn’t just my brain that had suffered.
I’d learned my survival depended on looking a certain way and had been adjusting my posture to further appeal to men.
This involved holding my abdomen with the discipline of a ballerina, and shallow breathing that kept my chest lifted and thrust forward.
My psoas muscle, which connects to my hips and drives me forward while running, became misaligned as I held my hips at an angle that emulated sex and fitness.
Combined with shoes that further thrust my center of gravity off its healthy axis, my chronic joint and muscle pain started early.
And that’s just the tip of the physiological iceberg.
Evolutionarily, terror is meant to propel an animal across the Serengeti for a screaming five minutes of terror, and then either it’s over, or the animal is over.
Many animals then go through a physical release process whereby they expel the remnants of adrenaline via uncontrollable shaking.
After, they go about their business.
I, like most women, never had the opportunity for this release, and so my trauma built up its residence within me.
I acknowledge my role in this accumulation of trauma within my physical and emotional self. I didn’t learn boundaries. I sought out father-figures and narcissists without realizing my codependency, thereby cementing my neural pathways of fear. I subjugated myself for a host of nuanced reasons, not least of which was a desire to stay “safe”. I became addicted to enmeshment, triangulation, and the “attention” of crisis-prone relationships.
I was victimized, but I am no longer a powerless victim.
But I wasn’t aware of power dynamics within relationships and how people can maintain the awareness of their responsibility within them.
And what can keep us aware is Empathy.
I didn’t realize the more I made my appearance my part-time job, the more I nipped, tucked, glossed, fixed, sculpted, hid, hated…the more barriers I would be erecting between me and the other half of the human race. By making myself an object of pleasure, by setting myself up for inevitable rejection based on my surface appeal, I further reinforced my neurobiological pathways of fear and isolation.
But even when I’d reveal my intellect to a man, it would become a source of entertainment for him and an opportunity to comment on the unexpectedness of it: “Oh look, the sex robot has smarts. Maybe she’ll play chess with me after I bang her.”
I don’t want to quit, take my ball out of the game and go home, petulant and stiff with the old hurts of abuse and rejection. I genuinely don’t believe all men are American Psycho wannabes with one hand permanently atop a woman’s head while the other casually swipes right.
When you look at me, with the mild appraisal of a cattle auctioneer, you might just see hips, lips, ass. And when you’ve seen me in distress, your response has been the same level of compassion you’d show a wounded, lost Kobe beef cow on its way to slaughter—would be such a shame if it went to waste.
But when I’m looking back at you, I’m noticing the lack of light in your eyes and I think, “You don’t scare me anymore but do you see another human being?”
I do not want men to start hardcore self-improvement.
You don’t need any courses or books. You must go inward.
As an aspiring neuroplastician, I have found that meditation has a profound impact on every brain. Even men who believe they’re perfect, or the women who believe a man’s behavior is set unchangeable.
Because meditation is free and “simple”, almost no one thinks it could be that life changing.
I promise you, if you make some form of mindful, intentional meditation a daily discipline in your life, you will see yourself expand into awareness.
Maybe if we all go inward with loving discipline, this will be the first time in the history of this awful, amazing, resilient, selfish species we will have Empathy for the opposite sex.
The last guy I briefly dated is quadriplegic. He lives in New York, and there was love there with him, but I left suddenly when I realized I was enmeshed in a toxic relationship group dynamic that had carried over from my life prior to my suicide attempt, and I didn’t know how to get out of it.
He told me he understood why I had run away from New York, and that he couldn’t chase after me. I agreed that yes, I had run.
And I’m doing lots of yoga to release my psoas muscle.
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