I think I’ve begun to realize why trauma is so difficult for the human mind to process. I believe this is due to the fact that each traumatic experience has embedded within, some form of contradiction. To clarify, I will use my own experience.
If you follow my blog, you already know I’ve experienced sexual trauma. I dated a young man in high school who abused me on the regular. While the assault snowballed over the course of the two years we dated, I always find myself returning to the very first experience I had with him. This is because it was the initial shock–the earthquake itself–and while the events to follow increased in severity–this one has had the most impact, as it is the source of all that would follow–the aftershocks.
In this particular scenario, several things occurred. For starters, he slid his hand into my pants, uninvited. Then, I physically attempted to extricate his hand, but he was stronger than I was, so I could not. I pleaded with him to stop. He wheedled in my ear, asserting that I was aware of the physical sensations associated with pleasure. Then, that pleasure certainly billowed, and from that moment on, I became his slave, for I could not reconcile the feelings of violation with the feelings of pleasure. I found myself suspended in limbo between two opposing ideas of myself: on the one hand, I felt trapped and unsafe; on the other hand, my body seemed to like what it was feeling.
Why did I choose to believe I enjoyed the experience? Why did I choose to believe that I was a sinner, a slut, a reprobate, rather than a victim?
Todd McGowan says “Reason is our ability to grasp contradiction rather than just being destroyed by it.” I believe that at sixteen, I was unable to grasp the contradiction between my body’s physical response to (unwanted) stimuli and my clearly articulated desire and lack of consent. I felt bound to the boy because, since sex things happened between us (I grew up believing in the value of virginity before marriage) I would have to marry the guy. The moment his fingers crossed the threshold of my undergarments, I became his prisoner because of the moral code to which I subscribed.
No one taught me about consent. No one told me that it’s natural for a body to respond to stimuli with pleasure, even if it’s unwanted. Thus, I was left to process the contradictions on my own. The nature of my moral code was clear cut. There was no room for ambiguity. As a result, I was left to decide for myself: Am I a whore or Am I a victim?
If whore, this was something I could fix. All I had to do was get married–that would cancel all the sin. If victim, there was nothing I could do; I was scarred, blemished, unlovable and unworthy of any potential future mate. I chose the path over which I felt most control.
Herein lies the power of trauma over our lives. I suspect that every traumatic experience contains within it some contradiction. There is always a disconnect between the things we believe about our relationship to the world and the impact of the experience in itself. How do we reconcile these things?
The only way is by accepting the ambiguity inherent to the experience–the ambiguity inherent to life itself.
It can be both.
It is both.
However, it is not until we access this truth that we can fully understand the gravity of our own experience.