Commonality

MC Easton

I cannot thank you enough. For in reading my story, you have become part of it now, too. All survivors need to be heard. Need to be believed. It is part of how we can heal each other. It is a gift.

Thank you.

But my story has only been a grain of sand in an hourglass. One among the millions of women who have experienced sexual assault.

Trauma is inevitable in human experience. People we love will die. Our bodies will get sick and grow frail. We will suffer accidents and injuries. Natural disasters may befall us. Car crashes can leave us shaken. There is no escaping trauma.

And there is no point in creating a hierarchy of trauma. Each experience is so distinct. So personal. The path through it is unique to each survivor. But there is every reason to examine the systems that enable abuse and violence…

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Reconnection

MC Easton

One morning I woke up, and my teeth were not clenched anymore. My face wasn’t twisted by nightmares. I had grieved for more than a year, and I felt cleansed.

I could shelve books beside men in the stacks, and I no longer wanted to punch them. I no longer imagined a knife in my hand, blood dribbling out of wounds I inflicted. Instead, I began to think quite ordinary thoughts. It took no effort at all. One day I stood beside a man in a down jacket and wondered who he loved and if he had children and whether he understood what so many of the women around him have been through.

*             *             *

Without the rage and the grief, I hardly knew myself. My entire life I had clasped anger over my heart like cold steel, so I did not have to feel the fear of my…

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Mourning

MC Easton

The first thing it makes space for is sorrow. As the rage and terror ebb away, the grief can overwhelm us.

For me, I think it was the grief, more than anything else, that I feared. I had lifted my rage against it like a shield. Hadn’t trauma cost me enough? How dare anyone, even my own life, require more from me.

But there is only one way out of grief. I had to kiss goodbye the child I could have been. I had to lay to rest the person I might have become. So much violence from men had killed and maimed too many parts of myself. I was becoming something, but it was something else.

Not the person I was born to become.

But the person I could put back together.

And I had to allow myself to rage against that. And then to mourn it.

Losing the…

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Remembrance

MC Easton

In many faith traditions, remembrance is a sacred act. A devotion to God. Buddhism in particular offers a definition of remembrance that echoes this stage in trauma recovery. The Pali term sati can be translated as both mindfulness and memory. The Satipatthana Sutta teaches that sati enables us to see the true relationship between all things. We must awaken to reality by perceiving the interdependent nature of things. In Zen Buddhism especially, the past is always here in the present. There is no then and no now as two separate experiences.

There is just this.

*             *             *

The challenge for the trauma survivor is that there is a difference between remembering and reliving. As discussed in my post on triggers, flashbacks are not memories. They are experiences. The past becomes the present when a trauma survivor is triggered, and it is not possible to integrate the memory in…

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Safety

MC Easton

I knew safety was the first step towards healing after trauma. But I had thought that simply meant pushing my assailants out of my life and locking the door behind them. Done.

I hadn’t understood that was only the beginning of the beginning. Safety is not achieved by the absence of the perpetrator. Safety is not a negative state but rather an additive one.

As Dr. Judith Herman writes in Trauma and Recovery, the first stage requires a safe environment as well as control over the body. Which meant, as well, control over my mind and its constant, frantic terror.

*             *             *

The first obstacle to that was men looking at my body.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk documents in his book The Body Keeps the Score that trauma survivors generally struggle with being looked at. Brain scans have revealed that when strangers look at them, survivors’ brains…

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The Stations of the Cross

MC Easton

Nothing, other than chronic illness, has acquainted me more intimately with death than trauma. Through the violence that one body can do to another, trauma demonstrated my fragility, my transience, my mortality. It showed me, too vividly, that my bodily autonomy, and even my life, could end at any moment if a man decided to end it.

On the other side of trauma, too, there is another kind of death. The death of the self that is PTSD. Trauma, like slash-and-burn agriculture, sets the fields of oneself ablaze and leaves nothing but ash. New growth can sprout from that. You can become stronger than you ever were before. But you will never be the same.

*             *             *

My intimacy with death, and particularly the death of my body, had a price. It disconnected me from life. It alienated me from other people. Up in my attic room, I sat…

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On Father’s Day Weekend

MC Easton

My father kept an old Yamaha acoustic guitar in his bedroom. Sometimes I ran my child-round fingertips over the strings just to see if it was still in tune. It was, then. I whispered secrets into the sound hole, and it always whispered back. It smelled of dust and spruce and something metallic, like a serrated steel file.

And I still remember the snug leather case where he kept his harmonica and the satisfying snap on its flap. I only saw him play these instruments a handful of times, and most of those were before he lost his job at Hanford and we moved west to Seattle. The harmonica ended up in the junk drawer, between spools of frayed thread and lost buttons and tarnished pennies.

My father loved Willie Nelson, John Denver, the Eagles, and the Beatles—that greatest hits playlist of white men born in the 1950s who came…

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