Embodied Trauma

Lately my physical body has been struggling; I am in constant widespread pain, feel ill, bruise and tire easily, and have unexplained abdominal pain. I get nerve-twitching on my face, and tremors in my arms, and at night I find it difficult to fall asleep due to intense abdominal and leg pain. My bones, all over, ache. I went to the GP the other day who diagnosed ‘Tietze’s syndrome’ for the pain in my ribs – whereby the space between my ribs are inflamed. It’s nothing serious. It just hurts like fuck. The reason I’m describing these various symptoms will become apparent later in this post.

I have had fibromyalgia for a while now but this all feels different. If you asked me to describe in one word how my body is feeling – how my body for itself is feeling – I would say ‘overwhelmed.’ I can feel the fibromyalgia is there and attacking me and yet that remains a steady consistent, it has gradually worsened over the months but by itself is no means endlessly disabling. I can feel the fibro almost in the background, with these host of new unexplained and extreme symptoms clutching my body and suffocating it. My body feels like it’s fighting a steadily losing battle, an invisible battle, with injuries I cannot prevent or begin to understand. In truth, it feels like my body could be elsewhere. I can be sitting down, doing nothing, and suddenly feel like I’m being punched all over. I’m evidently not. And fibro, whilst it is a nasty illness,  does not create (for me anyway) the sensation of suddenly being beaten up. When this first started I guessed it was a body memory. But this pain is constant and extreme, and all over, and random. Could this still be body memories?

The answer, is yes. Some of my fellow alter-personalities believe there is something, in present time, which is wrong. In truth there is – there’s fibro and now a nice period of inflamed ribs. And I’m in constant hideous pain – that is something wrong. But speaking to my therapist last week, and discussing the steadily worsening widespread pain, she mentioned the term ’embodied trauma.’ We discussed that at great length. Now, whilst I cannot deny my pain or the random blood tests, I am not convinced all of this pain is 100% something which can be cured or diagnosed in the standard medical manner. I believe a lot of what I am feeling is embodied trauma – very very real, by no means ‘all in my head’, but the pain my body went through over a period of years, now surfacing. It is my body using it’s voice in the only way it knows how. I cry and sob and laugh and talk about my experiences and how they emotionally damaged me. My body lacks it’s own state of consciousness and voicebox but needs to speak, needs to be heard and comforted for the vile torture it was put through. Now my layers of dissociation and suppression are lifting, now that I have a timeline of my life, now the worst period of my childhood has surfaced, my body has the chance to call for the help it never received.

So doctors have taken my blood, and on one occasion it showed a sign of infection – somewhere – and then a week later the blood tests were clear, but I was in more pain. When the doctor poked my stomach and abdomen, she could feel swollen and tender areas, especially around my gall bladder (which is being scanned next week) and my ovaries (which are always tender) and womb area. But also sometimes elsewhere. There’s no distinct pattern. Sometimes I double over and faint. Other times I throw up. At least three times a week I feel the skin on my scalp feel as though it’s being pulled tight, and I get pins and needles/numbness trickle down my face and neck. None of it makes any sense. Either in the space of a month my body has decided to pack in, or fibro has suddenly gone through the roof, or there’s some underlying thing going on. Or, embodied trauma. Or, a mix of the lot. Who knows.

I have tried to keep a smiling face around Uni and not let the pain prevent me from doing stuff, but it hurts. I am in a lot of pain. Let’s not  even go into the state of emotional pain lately, for now I’m just thinking about my body.

After talking to my therapist, we time-lined where this sudden flare up of random symptoms started. That’s quite difficult because I’ve been in so much pain with fibro for months, but we think this new stuff (particularly abdominal pain) started mid-April time. This was about a week before the worst memories of my entire childhood surfaced, whilst I was safely away with friends and had the head-space to remember. They are unquestionably memories from the darkest, most evil-filled period of my childhood, involving a lot of pain and trauma, and extensive damage to the body. The memories had been pushing to the surface for a while, and about a week before they reared their ugly head, my body started crashing. I don’t believe this to be a coincidence. As the full picture concerning the memories have come forward, my body has felt even worse. Equally, as I have recently grown significantly safer, my body has felt worse. As though only with safeness could my body find it’s voice, which makes a lot of sense.

As my therapist talked about embodied trauma, I felt like a great big ‘DUH’ sign was smacking me in the face. If you break your arm, it’s sore for weeks, and even years later can ache in the cold.

This is on a whole new scale. My body has gone through rape, gang rape, near-starvation, torture, being chained to a wall, fighting against cable ties, raped with objects (blunt and sharp), pregnancies, miscarriages, births, near-drowning, being beaten senseless, being drugged and being sleep-deprived, etc etc, too many times, for a long period. Worse, this was all happening as my body was still growing and developing as a child. Whilst this made me quicker to heal, and my bones less easy to solidly snap, it has also meant the pain developed, as I did. Quite literally, the pain could be trapped in my bones. Equally, on the same level that I had to dissociate a huge amount of the emotional pain and memories, and split them between personality parts, if I was to survive at all….the same stands for the physical pain I felt. Different alters took different bits. We are becoming more co-conscious; it only makes sense if it starts leaking between us. I am safe and ready to recover; I don’t need to suppress and dissociate all of the pain now. Maybe you wonder why I’d let it back at all? Well, for the same reason why I go through the fire of memories and try to keep breathing through the heartache. Unless I feel the pain properly now, and I’m soothed and comforted for it, and I can comfort myself and assure myself it was never deserved…unless I feel it and process the pain, I will not recover from it. What was done to me is hideously wrong. It’s only right if I process it, soothe the damaged parts of me – including my body – and so with that, start to move forwards. Move away from victim to survivor, and then to thriver.

The fact I’m in widespread agony, therefore, is of little surprise I guess. My body needs the chance to process what it went through, what it survived, what an exceptional job it did of releasing the right hormones and healing quickly etc etc to ensure that I could survive. I keep getting waves of mad dizziness and I’m now wondering if this is embodied trauma of blood loss. My therapist was not phased at all by the fact my abdomen especially should be hurting so much. Pregnancies, birth, rape. My whole pelvic area is in pain because of what happened, of course, and probably has been for a while but I’ve just been dissociating it. My shoulders ache and stab, but then I have had my shoulders ripped behind me, forced into excruciating positions, and indeed fought against them myself when trying to fight with the cable ties tying me up. My ribs feel inflamed, as GP diagnosed, but then after however many kicks to my upper back and ribs whilst lying curled up on the floor, desperately trying to protect myself, I’m not  surprised. I am bruising easier – my body isn’t on mad adrenaline mode 24/7. I’m probably just bruising more like a normal person. I’m exhausted, on an almost constant basis. Firstly, I have Fibro, and secondly…sleep didn’t happen as a child. At home I’d lie awake waiting for him to come in and rape me. In the ring location, myself and the children would clean each other up, and soothe each other to sleep, but I’d spend a couple of precious hours trying to work things out. Any sleep I had was fitful and restless, jumping awake at the slightest sound or movement….or, I’d keep my eyes close and play dead, and listen for what was happening. Of course I’m tired.

Every so often I double over, feeling like my insides have been punched and twisted, and breathe through half an hour of contraction-like pain. Except I’m clearly not 9 months pregnant. But the trauma of giving birth, at times by myself whilst in a cellar, is a horrific one. The pain is out of this world. That embodied trauma is there and needs processing. Other times I feel the sharp twist of a corkscrew raping me, or I touch an inanimate object and feel what one of its kind once did to me. My body is in memory recovery now, as well as my mind.

My bones ache. Of course they do. I am a survivor of torture. This means not only is my mind scarred and damaged, and needs healing… so is my body. My body needs to be held and comforted now too. Now my wrists aren’t tied to a bed, I can rub my aching shoulders instead of fight against them.

I understand a bit more about why I self-harm too. Maybe  this sounds counter-productive, but I always feel like I’m trying to ‘get bad things out.’ And I guess, following the theory of embodied trauma, this makes some kind of logical sense. To some part of my head, a wound is an escape route, whereby the trauma can leave.

There’s also the physical impact of severe emotional trauma. Grief, especially, traps itself in the body. In my chest I feel like there’s a huge pressure, of children’s screams – some my own – that I must carry, so that I can hold my babies forever. My arms throb with having no purpose, for not being able to hold my babies. My heart physically aches. It is genuinely a physical pain, grief. An extreme one.

I have survived horrendous emotional and physical torture, and now I am in constant widespread agony and don’t ever want to move. I of course couldn’t have consciously felt this as a child, because it would have got me killed. If I hadn’t dissociated the pain, I wouldn’t have survived. It’s that simple. And that’s the paradox; the fact I am in so much horrendous pain, within my body soul and mind, is only a sign of the fact I’m safe.

I am of course still going to the GP, just to make sure it isn’t anything else. But I do think there’s something in what the therapist said. After what I’ve survived, if I wasn’t in constant agony I think I’d be more concerned, because that would mean I’m still dissociating. They tortured me, and I feel tortured. The therapist reassured me this is common for torture survivors, and sometimes can last a life-time, where for others it can come in flare ups, and for others the physical pain and reality of what they suffered doesn’t hit them for many years. And that’s the heartbreaking truth; this pain is bittersweet. It’s overwhelming, it makes me want to give up sometimes, and other times I want to scream…it’s really hideous pain. And yet, it is a sign of how far I’ve come.

Keep shouting body, keep crying, keep screaming for someone to hear you. I can hear you now. You aren’t being tortured anymore; now you can have the space to feel and grieve for what we went through together. My throat feels sore constantly, for the screams we cried…our screams a constant signal that we were still alive, but equally an unfulfilled hope that someone would hear and rescue us. I won’t dissociate this pain, I won’t ignore  you. It’s only right you process the trauma we physically went though, just as my mind and heart has the chance to process the emotional toll of such trauma.

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3 thoughts on “Embodied Trauma

  1. I understand this to a far lesser degree- recently I have been struggling with a horrible crawling sensation in my skin, and I just want to keep scrubbing myself until I’m clean. I’m starting to feel better now. I hope somehow this clears up for you too. Safe hugs x

  2. Pingback: Thinking of all victims and survivors over this incredibly difficult/dangerous weekend…. | Fighting the Abuse

  3. . I deal with similar issues though the trauma I experienced was more emotional and that of a witness…but I so understand. thank you for writing this courageous blog.

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