Trauma & Our Entangled Conditions
(What follows is an except from my book manuscript I have been working on for 3 years, entitled Feminist Life Together.)
Once, when I needed help with trauma, and I was feeling only a thin unspooled thread between my thoughts and my body, so fragmented I was, had been, had to be, to make it through something difficult, I sought help.
Trauma makes exhausting basic functioning. You feel dizzy and short breathed, vigilant and bracing. Your head might feel heavy and almost unattached to the rest of you, too. It’s like the world around you closes up and what you feel is a hundred pounds of dread in your lungs while your heavy head floats, barely connected.
It’s like that. It’s all embodied knowledge.
Thoughts spin on and up, mind and flesh pulled, language like a split shell. Words can only hold pieces of the sharp sensory memories of this deeper knowing.
This is what it feels like to be fragmented, trauma is telling you, us, me. This is what it feels like for the soul to labor to suture the self back to yourself: atom to atom, breath to breath, memory to the present, reconnected to yourself again and to others. These connections are our birthright, but there are kinds of trauma that do immense violence to these fundamental rights of our being.
It’s the hardest kind of work, this re-connection of the self, this extracting of the self from something that still feels like death, that maybe was a kind of death. And even if you, yourself, made it out, you know that others did not, so you are connected, to other dimensions, too, within life and death and memory.
Our trauma is held in our body, but it is not individual. Trauma, like life and dreams and our deepest hopes, is like capillaries, stretching across the earth’s body, linking time and place, continents and generations, diasporas and homecomings. There is one kind of trauma that is necessarily part of birth, living, and dying; but there is also another kind of trauma that is about annihilation of people, their communities, language, culture, and ways of knowing. All trauma is difficult, but annihilation trauma is of a different kind entirely.
Both kinds require reincarnation of yourself, like a part of who you knew yourself to be has died. You are birthing yourself anew. It is hard and unrecognized work.
It might even require soul metamorphosis if you are going to live in such a way as to know its full knowledge, to integrate what you knew before and what you knew after being shattered. And because so much of the trauma from annihilation in our world is on repeat, pulsing within our collective body, for some there was never a before and after. For some it has been known from the womb: from when they came earthside they knew this knowledge.
(Maybe they came earthside to us because they knew.)
Some hold in their cells and soul ancient trauma knowledge—that which is still asking for recognition after centuries. It is not healed because as of yet there is no collective process to heal.
This knowledge of old trauma is much heavier a burden for some than others. You might feel the somatic symptoms of that knowledge within you, but not yourself know how to recognize all you know either. You might be skilled at numbing yourself, at anesthetizing your knowledge, at surviving each day because you have this burden you carry within you.
It is OK to honor your skills at numbing. You needed them to survive or you wouldn’t have them. It is also OK to ask yourself when it’s time to know what you already know, when the time has come to feel more intimately your own truths, and to sense when the world around you is ready, too.
How to give birth to what our trauma knows, when the midwifery power of recognition is continually, persistently stolen by the overwhelming structures of cyclical violence and silences—I believe this is the question of our historical moment.
So we are each entangled—between what the body knows and how and when it is possible to recognize that knowing, and between who carries and knows and labors within our collective body’s agony.
Carrying trauma in your own body— surrounded by this systemic muting and misrecognition, with alarms yet going off— you cannot be sure, sometimes, what’s real. Are you crazy, others might ask of you with their look or their sigh or their silence?
But even as you question yourself— or are questioned, repeatedly— even as you try to decode which alarms to keep on and which ones to turn down and how to possibly do that, still you know. Even when you are seemingly safe in that moment but nor can you feel safe within your own body anymore, still you know. You know what you feel and sense.
Something in you knows too intimately, which makes it even harder to face your own inner truths. You know there is a social contract to deny its realness that blankets this world around us. You are negotiating the spaces in between the denial and the knowing.
However, to live in a state of on-going trauma—in this state of so much raw knowledge— is also too exhausting. It’s not sustainable because the body is in fight or flight, adrenaline coursing, your own being ready to defend yours and other’s sacredness from being annihilated, again.
Depending on the severity of what you know about this world’s pain, something in you might keep playing that endless loop that you are going to die because that is precisely what severe trauma feels like. It’s not just death itself, the death that is part of being alive. It’s a different kind of death, this kind that is murder and injustice, the kind that takes your flesh as though you are an object to shatter, destroy, consume, not a sacred, glorious soul in existence to create, thrive, and love—as is all your birthright.
There is violence that shapes our globe this moment that was always an attempt at annihilation. In severe trauma, you can feel those palpable forces because either your body felt them this time earthside, your soul did before, or such terror’s memories were given young to your flesh, in intergenerational trauma.
Trauma, when its not in a state of being forced numb, is viscerally loud and scary. It will ask persistently, for our recognition of what it knows, what it is speaking to us across time, place, and generations. It translates its truths through the body and asks us to listen to our body, to attend to the knowledge of our inner life, which is a different kind of perception than the world around us will recognize as legitimate.
For more resources on feminist theory and healing practices: Check out my podcast, Writing Feminist Life Together. And if you'd like to support the feminist labor of my podcast or writing, check out my patreon.