Sticks and stones–they do break bones–but words send shivers down my spine.
Language has power. We all know this. If psychoanalysis can facilitate a cure for trauma, then language is the medicine, which when taken in measured doses, can remedy the most harrowed soul.
The Lacanian real, according to Bruce Fink, is “trauma–traumatic events…that have never been put into words, or verbalized. This real…has to be symbolized…has to be spoken, put into signifiers.” (A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis). This real is something we revolve around, finding it impossible to rationally access, and psychoanalysis is a mechanism by which we find entry.
In formal psychoanalysis, this requires the help of an analyst who can direct the patient’s interpretation. Through clinical experience and expertise, an analyst discerns when an interpretation has come in contact with the real, as “it hits what the analysand has been circling around without being able to formulate” (see linked Fink text). It’s a thing to which the analysand returns “again and again, approaching it from numerous angles, without ever feeling satisfied with what he or she has been able to say about it.”
I find this also occurs when as subjects, we re-enact past trauma in present circumstances. I believe this repetition is the work of the unconscious, attempting to gain insight into the initial trauma. Maybe if I keep experiencing the same thing, again and again, no matter how painful or damaging it may be, I will eventually understand the experience itself. Of course, we are never consciously aware this is occurring. (See On Trauma)
Thus, we need some sort of mediator to help us access the trauma that burns in our core. It is the role of the analyst to moderate the investigation.
Is it possible to access the real, without the professional guidance of an analyst? I argue yes, but it does require a sort of fortitude and the desire to understand must outweigh one’s desire to please (or rebel).
For me, I’ve found healing for two distinct traumatic kernels (borrowing this term, if you will, from Slavoj Žižek) without the aid of a psychoanalyst. In each case, awareness came from engagement with texts, which offered me language through which I could, finally, articulate my own experience. The first text to challenge my self-perception was God is Unconscious by Tad Delay. The second immediately followed the first, as it was listed in Delay’s reference list, and it is called The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.
In the case of the Delay text, I retrieved language to articulate my experience of religious trauma as a devout adherent to evangelical dogma. I hesitate to use the term religious trauma, because in relation to the other trauma I’ve incurred (sexual) it is really rather mild. Nevertheless, I was bound by ideologies, and my desire to meet the demands of church authority led to many failed attempts, which in effect, reinforced other, earlier traumas. Likewise, my religious devotion enacted a repetition of former imbalanced relationships. My unconscious reenacted original trauma in my religious experience. Interaction with Delay’s text gave language to my pain–the pain and confusion inherent to trauma–thereby freeing me from the desire to please religious authority, altogether.
The practical effect of this experience was that I quit church altogether, without a shred of guilt. This led to further intellectual exploration of philosophical and psychoanalytic principals, which would then enable further healing.
In the case of the Fromm text, it gave language to my experience of sexual assault, enabling me to finally, after twenty years, articulate the sadomasochistic nature of my high school relationship. To anyone listening to my account of the progression of that relationship, it was obvious that it was riddled with abuse and duress. Nevertheless, I circled the trauma, failing to identify the appropriate signifiers to give voice to the experience. After reading the Fromm text, I wrote a narrative recounting the first time my ex assaulted me. The process of writing–bringing detailed imagery to the experience as an outside observer–allowed me to acknowledge (at last!) that I was never complicit in the event that unraveled me.
For so long, I knew I needed to insert my present self into that past moment. On some level, I knew it would lead to my freedom, but I feared. I resisted because the abuse and the assault that followed in the wake of that initial encounter increased in severity and I feared that to revisit the one, I must revisit all. Regardless, I dove in, and what I found not only freed me from the slavery to that moment, but it freed me from slavery to all that was to come out of it. By writing the narrative of my first experience of sexual assault, I articulated the elusive kernel of trauma which radiated through the entire relationship.
I am free.
The effect of this experience is manifold. My husband says I am coming into myself–that even though we are approaching forty, I am in full bloom. I suppose my favorite effect of this whole analytical experience is that I’ve a Who Gives a F**k?! attitude I’ve never had before.
I haven’t embraced hedonism or nihilism. On the contrary, I am more resolved in my ethical convictions than ever before. It’s just now, my convictions are just that–they are mine and not the ethics I’ve adopted in effort to please some Other.
In the end, this is why I write–to share what I have learned with others, and hopefully encourage my readers in hope. I guess I am an evangelist, of sorts.
My good news is you can do it. You can free yourself and find healing. You just have to really want it–more than any other.