“We’re all adults, until triggers are pulled.” That’s a line from a poem I had planned to write but I stopped because I thought to myself, this topic is too important. And the times we’re living in are too hot for people to misinterpret that line and possibly take it out of context. This topic is something most of us are familiar with even if we don’t know it. Trauma.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand people. We’re all complex creatures that were handed conditions out of our control. A young boy who grows up without a father can grow into a brilliant adult and still have no idea why he has trust issues. Or a wife who saw her mother get beat by every man she had a relationship with falls into the same trap. These are just a few examples of what happens when trauma goes unchecked. Unobserved. Ignored and buried deep within our unconscious. But you see, that’s one of the biggest misconceptions us as humans have. We think once we grab a shovel and bury the painful memories it’s gone from our life. No. The wound is still there, it’s just invisible. Imagine for a second: You scrape your knee really bad. So bad that you can see the white meat. Blood isn’t running terribly so you continue to go about your day as if nothing happened. Years go by and you develop an infection that requires surgery, leading to more complications throughout your life just because you left your knee unattended. It’s the same concept when it comes to early traumatic events. If left unchecked, complications continue. Quite possibly, until death.
Remember that burying you did earlier? Well, it was actually a defense mechanism, you really didn’t bury it. It may seem like you buried it but, you didn’t. It was a traumatic adaptation that was necessary in the moment. The brain does not forget. And as you get older, you become more effective in the skill of burying (masking). It’s how you coped and because you’re alive, it worked! However, that scared kid or teen still lives inside of you wanting to be heard and seen. Everybody’s trauma is different, but what’s consistent is that everyone had to find a way to cope. You had no choice. Those self protective measures are what kept us alive. Coping though, it gets old. Especially the methods we use. Jerry Colona, a life coach for prominent CEO’S wrote a book called Reboot and describes it as “Ghosts in the machine.” Using outdated methods for problems in the present. Anything that can take us outside ourselves will suffice. Running away. Drinking. Video games. Dissociation. The brain is mega powerful and will find a method to keep you safe. New ways to cope are vital. Mindfulness exercises would be a great introduction.
Take it from a guy who is on this same journey, it’s not easy. Digging deep and doing some serious self introspection is difficult. It takes A LOT of courage and, it will sting a bit. But James Baldwin was born today. A hero who made the world think about themselves. He famously said “The unexamined life is not worth living; and I, too, know that self-delusion.” Examine your life with ruthless objectivity. Be kind to that kid inside when you feel its right to confront him or her. They did what they had to do. The more you look inside yourself the more you can understand the world. Everybody is fighting a battle (including the people who committed the acts that resulted in your trauma). Dysfunctional upbringings are universal. Occasionally observe life through the lens of trauma and your compassion expands. Get to know you, and you’ll come closer to harmony. And that’s the goal.