Trauma changes the human brain. My experience is that those changes are permanent. I used to be one of those people who believed in “getting over it,” but I’ve come to realize that’s impossible, at least for me. Other people’s anger, loud noises, and sudden movements near my head don’t cause me physical pain, but they cause a profound fear response. The muscles in my neck and shoulders tighten, rage spreads up to the top of my head, and my feet are ready to run. It’s a non-verbal surge, part automatic fight-or-flight response, part memory of black eyes, broken nose, split eyebrows, split lips, and welts inflicted on me decades ago when I was a child and a young woman.
Like a lot of women and girls, I was beaten because of my gender. The violence was personal, but it was also systemic. We live in a culture that accepts brutality against women. It’s been important to me, as an adult, to argue against this brutality, but sometimes, in conversations, the traumas I experienced have stopped me cold. I’ve been unable to reply to people who dismiss violence against women with phrases like “If it was so bad, why didn’t she leave?” It’s a failing beyond the sort of “I wish I’d said X” when we think of a snappy comeback to someone after the fact. The changes in my brain take over and silence me.
Accepting that my gut reactions can be beyond my rational control has been difficult for me, but talking with and helping other women who’ve been victims of misogynist violence has led me to a place of compassion for myself and my failings. The final chapter in the memoir I serialized this year on Medium is one story of arriving at that place. Here’s a friend link to the story that will get you past the paywall.