Sunday, January 2, 2011


I am allegedly working on a paper for my Buddhism course. It's not going well.

In the course of my learning this semester, I have uncovered a lot of things, both in the classroom and on the therapist's couch (I sit on the couch, it's not old-school analysis). And I have begun to realize some things on my own as a result of this other learning.

Like I was probably not nurtured much -- if at all -- in the first eight months of my life.

At eight months of age, I was abandoned.

And things got better. Mostly. Temporarily. For six or seven years.

When they got bad again.

The childhood stuff from about age four on, I remember that. It's the stuff before that which is causing me concern right now.

I have read the studies done on chimp infants who were not held or cuddled as infants. They grew up to be needy, psychotic freaks, unable to function in chimp culture.

I know what happens to children who are not nurtured or held as infants. It's not always much different from what happens to the chimps.

Now I know that I am not (most days) a needy psychotic freak like those poor chimps in that study, but I do know that I tend toward needy, that I crave approval and attention, and that I often do not feel like I function well in society.

I have grown a great deal in the past five or six years, but still, I wonder how much I can really expect to accomplish with such a deep primal wound. The literature on the subject is not encouraging.

Yesterday I read "Healing the Child Within," by Charles L. Whitefield, M.D. The book is subtitled "Discovery and recovery for adult children of dysfunctional families" and what is says about my particular situation is pretty grim.

The childhood stuff I endured has left me with a legitimate case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, which means I spend a lot of time fearing abandonment, betrayal and/or attack. From everyone, not just family members, but from colleagues, friends, they guy at the garage where I get my car serviced, everywhere.

Here's what he says about my situation:
The PTSD is said to be more damaging and difficult to treat it: (1) the traumas occur over a prolonged period of time, e.g., longer than six months; and especially if (2) the traumas are of human origin; and if (3) those around the affected person tend to deny the existence of the stressor or the stress.
We expect soldiers to have PTSD after combat deployment. Truly, it makes a ton of sense. But we don't expect children to have, or to get, PTSD. But looking at what kids go through, it makes as much sense, reading Whitefield's analysis of the trauma. I cannot help but think that the trauma in my life that happened before I was verbal and before I was able to think cognitively, must have left some pretty amazing trauma to my psyche.

So now I am torn. I am relieved a little bit, to understand why the Buddhist practice I tried this semester didn't seem to work for me. "As soon as you recognize a thought or feeling, let it go just as quickly" were the instructions. Really? Really? I've been digging around in my childhood and coming up with some very disturbing memories, feelings and understandings. To "let them go as soon as you recognize them" is absurd.

Let go? Let go of primal abandonment? Let go of the realization that I was neglected, abused and abandoned? Just like that?

Poof! All better!

Yeah, no.

These are old wounds, newly uncovered. They are serious, debilitating injuries that need more than a kiss and a wave bye-bye to be gone. These wounds need treatment, they need to have the old, dead scabs scrubbed off, the gravel cleaned out of the raw flesh, salve and ointment applied, and they need to be bandaged and nurtured anew, cared for in a way that never happened the first time around.


Then and only then, can that anger, that betrayal, that hurt, that rejection, be let go. And my gut tells me that this is going to be a repetitive process for the next couple of years: digging, scraping, cleaning, bandaging, healing. This is going to be a long process. It will take time, it is going to hurt sometimes, and it will not be pretty. My feelings and emotions may come out sideways and when the shit hits the fan, it's likely to splatter and be messy.

The only way I know to get to the other side of this mess is wade through it. And for now, standard Buddhist practices are not going to work. Not on this stuff. I can meditate, and learn to be mindful and other things, but hurts need to be healed before I can let them go.

Thus ends today's lesson. Tomorrow, I hope to get the paper done.

1 comment:

Robin said...

You know, if you're willing to put it out there, I think you've got a helluva hook for your paper here. It's on anger and Buddhism, right? You're angry at what happened, and very justifiably so, and that primal wound and the anger it left in its wake are keeping you from really delving at the heart of Buddhism right now. Anger and it's effect on the openness of the heart to healing and spiritual growth, specifically in the Buddhist tradition. Can one be open to enlightenment or even to understanding when anger blocks the path?

Could that work?

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