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"Memories" that aren't memories (originally written Sept 25, 2022)

Anyone who has dug into their emotional/psychological health enough to have realized (or been told) that they have a developmental trauma will tell you that there’s a place of emotional agony that is so empty and void it is impossible to put words to.

These highly confident and capable people, sometimes admired for the easy way they reside within themselves, can very suddenly and inexplicably become entirely debilitated by an innocuous series of events. And by “entirely debilitated” I mean that they suddenly find themselves in emotional and psychological crisis without the capacity to access reason, logic, or even ask for help. In fact, they can’t access words at all. That part of their brain has shut down. Those with few coping mechanisms will find suicide appealing in those moments simply because the pain is so intense they will do anything to make it stop.

Somewhere between birth and the first several months, according to theories in developmental psychology, a newborn child has a few big existential hurdles to overcome — one of those is the fear that their external support structures will suddenly cease to exist, leaving them alone and helpless in an overwhelming world. If one (or more) of these hurdles aren’t successfully navigated, that child will have a developmental trauma as an inextricable part of their personality development. Wired directly into their brain. This means developmental trauma is not a mental health problem, like depression or anxiety. It’s more like having a genetic disorder.

Circumstances of all kinds can unintentionally create this type of developmental trauma in an infant, and many of them aren’t anyone’s fault. They’re just circumstances. Of course, developmental traumas are more common in people who were raised in abusive situations; naturally a child would develop a fear of their supports evaporating under them if they had parents who were unequivocally neglectful. And there are other hurdles in this developmental stage that create other types of fears and other types of developmental trauma.

But I have this type of developmental trauma, that fear of dissolving support and isolation. It has taken me several years to wrap my head around it; I think it was 3 years ago that I first started to notice my body was reacting as though I’d experienced a hugely traumatizing event, but it didn’t make sense to me. My parents have always been a steady and supportive presence in my life. My own developmental trauma is one of those that is due to life circumstances and simply needed to be dealt with as best my parents could.

This is actually the origin of the “Dragon” I’ve spoken of before — my loss of voice, my inexplicable loss of capability, and why I have days like today where my Dragon tries to tell me I’m unsupported. Unloved. Tolerated at best. I’ve healed enough by this point that my logic can identify these lies but on days like this my emotions suddenly become very raw and sensitive and the emotional pain (caused by literally nothing real) is intense and exhausting. You see, intellectual knowledge can only carry me so far. The pain, with years of work, will both sharpen (in terms of clarity) and diminish (in terms of being more familiar and able to cope).

I don’t know if the pain or anxiety will ever go away because my brain, on those deepest levels as it was developing in infancy, was calibrated inaccurately. My emotional self will always crave more connection and support than another human can every possibly give me. Part of my healing has been learning how to support myself and “parent” my inner child.

I do know that learning how to express it helps. Art. Music. Poetry. Most of my wrestling this year has been learning how to put it into words, which is the biggest help. My friend, Tai, is a master at persevering with expressive words — they’ve shown me through action and encouragement and daily battles with their own Dragons what courage and tenacity can look like. I am indebted. Now, each time I’m having a day like this, I am choosing to write and choosing to take my voice back from my Dragon.

I’m actually pretty proud of myself today. Usually something this deep, personal, Real, has to be expressed in poetry or some kind of descriptive prose. Today it’s logical words. A first for me.

A win.

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Mar 16, 2023

I helped you? I'm the one who's honored. Words have an immense power in sifting, sorting, and stabilizing our thoughts while giving voice to our fears and anxieties. Words are what really separates us from animals and in words we have the bridge between helplessness and power.

You are amazing! Kia kaha. Fighting!


Beth Bellamy
Beth Bellamy
Apr 01, 2023
Replying to

They really do!

I think there's something in your story and your wordsmithing that resonates with something in my story - although I haven't been able to identify what it is. Maybe it has to do with that developmental piece. We carry wounds of very different types, certainly, but perhaps they share a depth. We've both spoken about how there are no coincidences

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