I had a professor in grad school (we’ll just call him the Hunmeister), who impacted the way I viewed humans in their most organic form. The form that is underneath all the niceties, and political correctnesses, the friendlinesses, and all the things that get us by at the superficial social level. The real one. There, under the skin and nails and blood and bones. That’s the one we don’t show to many (if any) people. That one contains all the pictures that make us us. It is vehemently protected by a number of mechanisms. We protect the pictures of this form with denial, repression, over-remembering, obsessing, depressing, forgetting and most of the other ‘ing’ words. David, the professor, stood at the front of TCM Theory class with his silverwave widow’s peak of a hair flow resting just below his shoulders while also sporting a complimentary, equally silvery, sagelike goatee and stated the following:
“As doctors, we are in charge of finding the force underneath. The qi of the person. Beyond the diagnostic pattern, who IS this person? We explore them to their depths of both the body AND the spirit by observation and technique. We diagnose from there. We relate constitution and pattern and spirit to the existence of one whole entity. And what we find is that everyone is just moving through their lives trying to navigate their adult selves around their fucked up childhoods.”
The statement was powerful. It changed the way I learned medicine from the bones out. It changed the way I practiced it. It changed the way I human’d. (I’ll shout here to express the deepest of gratitudes to you for teaching me much more than this, dear David.) Before then, I didn’t think I had suffered from a fucked up childhood and I resented the insinuation he made at first. I had what, for all intents and purposes, functioned in my memory as a nice normal nucleic family upbringing. I couldn’t relate to the idea of his childhood. He was open about his experience. It changed him. And, like all of us, it created who he is today.
Trauma LITERALLY digs a divot in the brain which most synapses fall into as age progresses because it is slippery and vast and easy. I’ll never attempt to speak for anyone here because I have no idea what another’s life experience has been after any traumatic incident and I have no business pretending that I can relate to anyone’s experience other than my own. What I will say is this: As I progressed in my medical studies, things about my own process began revealing themselves to me. I started to look at my childhood through the lens of my patients’ childhoods, and I found familiarity there. I found a human likeness that revolves around wanting all the same things–safety, security, love, belonging. At this point in my life, age 26, I still had not navigated the level to which I was abused, nor did I acknowledge that I had been abandoned by a loved one. I lost someone dear to me in every sense of the word, though this person didn’t die. They hurt me horribly during a time when I was supposed to trust the people who were around me to love me, to take care of me, to want me. This person left me. They abandoned me with no explanation. For whatever reason, I was not enough and I was never told just WHICH of my ‘not-enoughs’ it was that caused this. I can hug my little girl self and tell her today that none of what happened to her was ever her fault. I simply was not wanted. That was out of my control. I ended up becoming so Stockholmed into the situation that I couldn’t even see it all until many years later while in treatment for the very thing I’d used as a survival tactic in childhood, which was the same very thing that was killing me. I learned the nature of my abuse, the severity of it, and that a diagnosis of complex PTSD doesn’t take the fight away. I learned that people develop all kinds of protective tricks to help them feel safe, ok, and in control in the world. And they do this the only way they know how; they base how they take care of themselves on their prior experiences. They base this on their childhoods. Sometimes they create realities based on others’ experiences or what others perhaps convince them they’ve experienced. Gaslighting filled 90% of my childhood, the result of which was that I learned that my own perceptions were incorrect or untrue or crazy. What I have delightfully discovered in this recovery process is that our perceptions are never incorrect. Ever. They can SEEM incorrect when juxtaposed to the perceptions of others who’ve had experiences of the same event. But our perceptions are also not finite in their structure. They are ever changing, weaving and breathing themselves into thoughts, discoveries, memories, shame, happiness, and down the rabbit hole we go. Our opinions of our perceptions come from our self-inflicted comparison to others’ perceptions which can be just as skewed or aligned as ours.
So, if our perceptions are always correct, when does a human become human? She becomes human when she dedicates herself to being open to changing perceptions that might not serve her in their current form, to letting go of her past perceptions that don’t sensibly support her current thinking, and for granting herself the permission and love to waver between both. She becomes human when she makes choices from this place and creates space for mistakes. She becomes human when she mothers herself in all the ways she still needs to be mothered. Because, as humans, needing to be mothered never ceases no matter how much we tell ourselves it has.
We all have something in our childhoods or early adulthoods that was fucked up or fucked us up. It comes with odds and age. Math eventually happens. We have all overcome things that have rocked us to the core. We have all wanted to escape from these things, the discomfort they produce, and the perceived reality they create. Many of us try to do just that on the regular. We eat, we don’t eat, we binge, we purge, we starve, we smoke, we drink, we sex, we exercise, we social media, we news, we yell, we move, we accuse, we sleep. We escape. That divot in our brain continues to distract the synapse moving past it so that they join together in a giant force of thought that compels us to do something which maybe used to make us feel safe and calm but it is losing its effect. So then the divot searches for a different thought, a different purpose, a different compulsion until it is satisfied with dopamine content. Over and over, this becomes the norm. We can tell ourselves we are over the negative experience, that we’ve processed it, that it was in our past. But we continue to create patterns around which our perceptions in this ‘only-my’ reality are based. Some of these patterns are reserved for the mind alone and mental illness might take hold. Some of these patterns are emotional, behavioral, physical, organic. No two people structure their traumas into identical patterns of living. There are so many other biological and energetic factors at play that render this possibility moot. The point is that we all manifest. We all create our reality based on our decided perceptions and remembered experiences which hoard or discard memories in our minds that help us remember how to survive. It’s biology. And it’s all relative.
Trauma is trauma. Really, truly. I know, I know. That’s bold. But the severity of trauma and the ability to overcome it lies in the perceptions of the sufferer. Someone could perceive the same level of trauma after losing a cat as someone who has lost a brother. It is all relative to our prior life experience. Someone who has lived through their 5th bombing in their hometown may not be as traumatized as someone who was at ground zero for 9/11. For some people, visiting these perceptions and memories is simply impossible. They cannot survive going back to that in their minds. I say fine. Great. We don’t have to revisit our histories in order to figure out how to construct our futures. We can, of course, but we don’t have to. For others, dissecting their memories so they can better understand the reality they have created for themselves is unavoidable. It is the one thing they NEED in order to keep going, to keep surviving. I have held seats in both of these camps and I can tell you that neither one is a picnic.
So back to David. He taught me the value of looking at an entire person when I diagnose their pattern. Like, really looking. Eyes, skin, nails, hair, dreams, values, goals, failures, confessions, fears, histories. We go deep into those layers where we finally stumble upon that part of the Real Self that really needs the needle. I do this as a practitioner, of course, but I also do it as a human. I pull a ‘namaste:’ “I honor the place in you and the place in me in which the entire universe dwells. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.”
Imagine being able to meet each other at the Real Self level, beneath and also among the divots. We go deep down and far back into our life stories, all the while choosing the memories that we think still serve us, until we find each other on the same plane. We get to know each other from across this shared plane so we can learn to walk a little less crooked, or to sound a little less cross. We human from here. And we move forward in the knowing that all of what we have come to define as our reality can change in an instant, as long as we continue to meet change politely and offer it a warm beverage. We sit with it. We entertain it. We engage in it. And our Real Selves grin in their becomings as everything continues. Come. Bring your story. Open your memory box if even for a moment. Hug the Selfchild. Let the life live here. And then navigate. Manifest. Until you become the finest series of becomings that you can even think up, until the scars transform into stepping stones, until your True Human confidently shows itself to the world. We need you.