The Realities of Trauma: Autoimmune and Grief
“...A few days later it was Christmas, and we were moving about the sun-soaked dining room and kitchen preparing for the Christmas festivities to come. Back within their Oregon home I easily sunk into my preferred role of helper. Cooking, cleaning, and organizing. I was the quiet, respectful, guest who you never had to fret after. I always provided more than I was given. Mastering the art of being both necessary to a situation, for all I extended, and so hidden nobody would be able to remember exactly what I did. A conditioned role that allowed me to never be questioned, and truthfully never be known.
The event was normal, unquestionably so, and I was able to assimilate without a hair out of place. A small gathering of my aunt, uncle, and their three elder children passing around presents with joy and gratitude. Everything made sense, and I was in control of my facade. That is until my aunt joyfully reached around the tree and picked up a package with “Skyler” written on it.
“It’s from your parents,” she had said with glee, “we wanted it to be a surprise.” I assume, at that moment, my face drained of blood similarly to how it’s draining of blood at the simple memory of this event. My heart thumping louder than my thoughts, and my ability to choke out words an act of bravery that I still feel privileged to hold today. Brushing off the overwhelming panic as much as I could, I politely sat the present beside me and asked if they minded that I opened it alone in my room instead.
To this day, I am so thankful I did.
My guest room in that small, significant, period of time became my sanctuary. Despite that no piece of it was my own, I developed a sacred routine there that felt as close to the comfort I heard people received from returning somewhere special to them. I never understood that before; even to this day it feels awkward in me. I never had a home to miss, I only ever had a home to fear. I wasn’t accustomed to making anything “mine,” because my abuse conditioned me to believe everything was theirs. Nothing was off limits to my family, including my body.
Closing the bedroom door, I placed the present on the bed and stood before it. Time stopped then. I was touching something they touched. It was like they were there with me. Rushing forward in a mass of energy that took all the air from the room. Every part of me was numb and alert, hyper-aroused and broken open by grief.
I opened the letter first. Bile rises in me now in remembrance of it. Resting within an envelope laid coupon cards written in crayon that I had made as a child, presumably during school for a holiday. “I owe you one kiss.” “I owe you ten hugs.” “I owe you three cuddles.” The innocence of that little girl breaks me open in ways I didn’t know I could be broken again. Ways that somehow take what was broken by their insidious cruelty, and re-break it. Maybe in hopes that it can somehow mend if broken by love instead. Restore my autonomy. Reclaim my choice.
Her handwriting was the first piece of her that I was privileged to hold again. I wish I kept it, but the other contents made me trash it all. Get it as far away from me as I could. Distorting and manipulating her innocence, my father’s simple words read: “I can’t wait to receive these.” Followed by a set of black lace lingerie, and a jewelled necklace.
The bile in my throat didn’t stay there for long…” -Excerpt of Chapter Two, All of Me Believed
I’ve told that story out loud recently, and the visceral impact on my beloved friend’s face was gut-wrenching. However, I think it was my partner’s response that truly spoke volumes. They said, “That’s nothing. That’s nothing compared to what they have done, and how cruel they are. That’s surface level shit. You have no idea.”
Words like that make me feel so known, and recently Sara and I have been navigating some deep waters in regards to our partnership in correlation to that. My inability and willingness to move from hyper-independence into an authentic union. It’s devastatingly difficult. I’ve reached these points before in my journey where it feels like each day there rests moments that bring me to my knees in such vast and unrelenting grief that I truly cannot stand. Currently, I am not only there mentally but physically as well.
My health is undoubtedly the worst it has been since I was diagnosed eleven years ago. It is as if some part of me has invited that 14-year-old little girl to manifest herself in this adult body, and although there is such stunning strength and privilege in my ability to offer that...I don’t know. I am confused. I am overcome. I am overwrought with mourning, meeting it with all my privileged internal resources, and the oceanic grief still persists. Sobbing to sleep most nights, with breaks of stillness where I push myself through physical therapy, find happiness in cooking, and sink into the warmth of a heat pack. I’m dreading the start of school and commuting, so I am revamping my website in an act of hope. Of commitment to my future. I don’t know how I’ll do it, the school bit, and I need to. The *need* bit is the scariest. Not only need to to keep my visa but need to do it and hold straight A‘s to keep my partial scholarship.
I’m so capable. I often used to utter words like “I have survived what should have killed me,” and yet in these seasons of great agony it is as if that “thing that should have killed me” is still attempting to. If it was just health or just trauma, I would feel differently I suppose. I’ve mastered the compassion and resiliency of living in partnership with one or the other. But both? It feels so...fragile. More human and less warrior. Like my privilege of healing has met its match, but maybe it’s just my privilege of survival. Maybe this is an invitation to again uncover more of who I can be versus who I was forced to be.
Welcome to life after abuse. Your experience is heard in me. Your choices undoubted. Your truth, the noise, the mourning, the resiliency, the survival, the tender...believed.