June 3, 2017 (Saturday)

by Yule Heibel on June 2, 2018

I just had this strange insight during meditation. Let’s say something traumatic happens to you when you’re a very young child. If you’re a girl, the “something” is so traumatic and painful as to make you lose consciousness, black out so completely that the only thing you can recall is finding yourself ages later, standing at the front door of your family home in the dark (or dusk), with blood having poured from between your legs, your leotard still wet.

But you passed out, “went away,” and can’t remember anything except a feeling of dread and foreboding, real fear, right before the moment when the thread ripped, consciousness left, at least in memory. You don’t know when exactly you passed out, all you remember is a sense of fear. Your memory has been bleached, albeit not white, but rather quite dark.

Now, here’s my insight: every time, going forward, that you feel fear or stress, your go-to compensation mechanism is to black out again, to “go away.” You can’t actually faint every time life gets hard, but there are drugs, there’s alcohol, both of which work to bring on that blessèd release. I enjoy blanking out, zoning out, “blissing” out during meditation, and today I – my mind – asked myself “Why?” It just felt very specific today. Of course everyone enjoys episodes of tuning out, turning on, etc. But how this impulse can be connected to a real past trauma was something that hadn’t really been as clear (and real) to me as it became this morning. And I don’t want to suggest that all my bad habits and cowardice and laziness stem from what’s now fashionably and easily called PTSD, but the little vignette described above happened, and happened to me when I was about six. Passing out, “going away,” was a tactic to something so painful and so out of the ordinary, I can’t remember it; I blocked it out so completely.

I have never forgotten the events leading up to the blackout, nor the events after. So, in other words, it’s not like this story has morphed or even spontaneously appeared in my memory. It’s been there since I can remember, since it happened. I just don’t know what happened during the “away” process.

I also remember that the adults around me were singularly incompetent and / or uncaring. An indifferent doctor who made me bend over while he administered a tetanus shot. (This was the next day.) My mother bathing me the evening it happened, tut-tutting over all the blood in the bathwater, but not calling for help or the police or anything. Both my parents’ eagerness to find a “harmless” answer, and both of them grabbing on to the idea I’d sat on a rusty nail out in the field(s) near the house, a nail protruding from a log or something. Hence the next-day tetanus shot.

My father was kind about taking me to a clinic (my mother didn’t bother coming along). I saw an older-than-me girl there, lying on a gurney in a hallway through which we passed. She had her legs akimbo, as if unable to close them, and she looked traumatized, terrified. I’ll never forget that either.

Not trusting adults to help; “going away” in the face of stress and danger…

I had to think yesterday, when I had occasion to reread a couple of my blog entries from 2004 (Sex and Shame and Barter, November 3, 2004; This is depressing: a sad milestone for women in Canada — going backwards into the dark ages, December 20, 2004) 2005  (Vive Quebec, March 11, 2005, Novelists on Politics and Terrorism, July 20, 2005, Some Critics of Islam, July 29, 2005), and 2006 (Connecting the Dots?, February 5, 2006), where I wrote against sharia and the hijab and Muslim fundamentalism creeping into the West, that those blog entries were good. Really good. But then feeling that I could never enter the social media fray now (as I did then, in the “good old days” of blogging) and have vitriol heaped on me from all sides. I was thinking this in response to an article Emma-Kate Symonds posted, which asked where the feminist critics of mandatory veiling are, and thinking, “Me! Here, in 2004, 2005, 2006 and everywhere!” Those entries are just some examples.

This fear of being alone, and then not having competent adults who really have my back, who will step in and protect me … it doesn’t excuse but might explain my reluctance. For I have built up a half century or more of avoidance patterns here. Faced with really awful fear, or even something milder, I want to zone out. Pass the wine.

Adults should give their children protection. That is all.

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