Friday, March 23, 2012

Triggered By The Silverware Drawer

Way back a long time ago, I was just a wee little boy.  Even before I could reach the sink, my father expected me to be able to wash dishes.  In order to do this, I had to pull up a chair to the sink and stand on it, so I could reach the sink with the dishes in it.  Getting dishes clean and doing it quickly was the only acceptable result, regardless of my age.  For some reason, my father would watch over me as a supervisor watches over their employees.  Keep in mind, I was a wee little boy.

One of the things that I would get in trouble for that is so clearly implanted in my mind was not getting a greasy pan clean enough or missing some other dish that still had food on it.  In those times, the punishment was severe and quick, usually being thrown into the cupboards or across the floor.

The rage in my father's eyes would haunt me day and night, as I tried to make sure I was as perfect as I could be.  The only thing I soon found out was that perfection was not enough because today's rules were changed in a moment's notice, often without warning.  It did not matter what today's punishment was for, because tomorrow it could be completely different.  In fact, it may be the complete opposite of what you were punished for, and that included the dishes.

The reason for detailing this story, is that I so vividly remember putting away the dishes one day which I was of course expected to do.  Again, my father would watch me as if I needed to be monitored every single second of the day.  He could have helped do the job, but then that would have made him equal with someone who was the worker and it would have been beneath him.

As I was putting the silverware away in the little compartments of the silverware drawer, I felt my little body slammed into the cupboard, shoving the silverware drawer in with utensils flying everywhere.  I was hit by the cowboy boot on my father's foot, that hit me harder and faster than a speeding train.  To this day, I still don't know what I did wrong, as you were expected to just know and never ask questions about it.  I just know that my little body hurt after that and all because I put the silverware away wrong in the drawer.  I'm left to ponder, how one puts the silverware away wrong in a drawer and it will be something I will never understand.

Now, here's why I am writing about this.  In our house, I get nervous every time I see silverware in the drawer that are not perfectly lined up by size, shape, function, etc.  If I see this, my anxiety level goes up, and in fact, it makes me angry.  For the longest time I could not understand why I would get so angry at the site of this.  After all, my father is no where near me, he does not live here, and doesn't know where I live.  Yet, it is almost as if he does.

See, I now am beginning to understand that even though the trauma event is over, my brain and body have not fully comprehended this fact.  When your little body is slammed and thrown into the cupboards, you don't forget what caused this punishment.  So, when I see something wrong in the silverware drawer, my immediate reaction through the neural pathway in my brain is total and complete fear.  I fear that someone is going to get hit, beat and body slammed if the silverware drawer is seen in the state that it is in.  As the fear goes up, I get angry that anyone would allow this to happen because surely they know what happens to little boys that mess up.

While this may sound too far-fetched and as if it is something I should just be able to let go of, my body and my mind replay the trauma over and over, as if it is happening right in this moment.  In my mind and body, there is no difference.  It took me several years to begin piecing this together as I drove my partner nuts!

Trauma is trauma and even though the event is no longer happening, it programs the mind to behave as if it does.  It short circuits the brain so that you can not tell the difference between reality and a past event.  It takes a great deal of healing and trauma release work to let go of these little things.  In all honesty though, trying to understand and recognize these moments that they exist is one of the hardest first steps required for healing.

I'm sure everyone could sit here and think, well it isn't hard to see why it triggers me.  I'm sure many could sit here and say, you just need to move on and not be triggered.  Again, to the mind that has been through trauma, the events seem to be one and the same.  The pains in the body and the fear in the eyes are all that is needed to permanently implant this forever in a young boy's life.

Fortunately, I constantly strive to learn and let go of these things.  I am working on myself all the time and trying to ask the questions I need to ask, observe what I do in my day and just allow myself to grow and evolve.  It is not an easy process resolving trauma in your past, but with hard work, courage and determination, you can do it.

To read more about how trauma induces the freeze response, click this link.

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  1. as adults we realize and see that, it was all about their own self and truly nothing to do with the wee self... and we hope they find peace ...somewhere...sometime...somehow...blessings...

  2. Don, I'm way behind in my reading so sorry I haven't commented sooner, but I have a sense of the trauma you experienced and can remember very similar experiences with my own father. Washing dishes and being punished without reasonable cause. Spanked mercilessly for crying from a bad dream... the list goes on. And you're right - the effect of those early years still creeps into my life today, if muted somewhat...

    1. It is amazing how these things still creep into our lives, but hopefully we've got our eyes open. Thank you for sharing Mark. I'm happy to see what you have done with your blog with cooking - one way of moving past it! I'm happy for you and proud of your progress as well!