Sunday 29 June 2014

Healing trauma memories

I've come to the end of my therapy for post-trauma stress - for 2 reasons: firstly, the cost (private treatment); and secondly, because I can probably do just as well with self-help books, etc from now onwards - plus the techniques I learned from the therapy sessions and the general overall awareness of why the mind and body responds to trauma in the way it does. Knowing that I am 'normal' and not going totally bonkers is a massive help!

One thing that came up during the sessions was other trauma that I've experienced during my life, one of which was the terrible experience of giving birth to Ben, almost 21 years ago.

The medical help - in a small-town hospital - was appalling and it was touch and go as to whether both of us would survive. I should have been offered a C-section, but I wasn't. I had gestational diabetes. Ben was 2 weeks late. The birth canal turned out to have an unusual kink in it. And Ben was HUGE.

During a long and traumatic labour, he got stuck. His heart-rate plummeted. The epidural didn't work; the anaesthetist had been called in from a Christmas party and stank of booze and cigarettes. It was too late for a C-section because Ben was stuck in the birth canal.

Eventually, I was literally dragged screaming into theatre where I was roughly held down by a team of medical staff while an individual, who I later discovered was referred to by midwives as the "Butcher of [Town]", performed a massive episiotomy without anaesthetic, then attempted to deliver Ben aided by virtually every device known to baby-delivery-kind while I screamed: "No! No! No!" and struggled to get free from the people forcibly holding me down.

Then I was stitched up, without anaesthetic. The huge wound got infected. It was like medieval torture. The ward staff were all 'old school' i.e. strict, with a no-nonsense approach to mothers. There was zero sympathy.

I am not exaggerating. It is the main reason why Ben is an 'only child'. I couldn't face the experience again.

A bit like dealing with an eating disorder in your child, mothers are supposed to face this kind of trauma bravely and sail through it. It's 'just one of those things' about being a mother; you have to take the rough with the smooth and put up with it. When you make the decision to become a mother, you accept all the extra stuff that can come with it. Or at least that's what I've been telling myself for all these years.

Curiously, last night I woke up screaming "No! No! No!". In my dream, I was in hospital. The anaesthetic hadn't been effective and someone was heading towards me with a sharp scalpel. I had been drugged and my screams weren't being listened to.

It appears that the therapy resurrected other old memories that need to be dealt with, just as the eating disorder memories need sorting out.

Following the therapy, I can look at this kind of trauma memory and realise that it is 'normal' for the mind and body to react in this way. Rather than fighting it or blocking it out and pretending it never happened, I can accept that, yes, it did happen. And my reaction was, and is, normal. Accepting it in this way is part of the healing process.

Also, part of the healing process is to 'explain' to the hippo campus area of the brain that the danger is NO LONGER PRESENT. Yes, it happened. But now it is gone. And it's been gone for almost 21 years. Or, in the case of Ben's eating disorder, a couple of years.

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