Autoimmune and Trauma
The connection between autoimmune disease and abuse.
My partner can attest, despite my effusive and poetic vernacular, that I am quite logical when it comes to love, life, and emotion. I see things differently than most, due to the way I was demanded to see them from the start. When your abuse begins at 18 months, and you’re raised within it as you cognitively develop, healing isn’t so much a restoring as it is a rewiring. A rewiring of the neural pathways that were formed within hostile environments, but still exist outside them if you’re privileged enough to be free from the hostility. A valid, honest, raw declaration that represents the horrors we have known, through the way we operate even outside of them. My illnesses are a physical manifestation of that.
I am no medical doctor, nor do I educate from a space of clinical practice. I speak solely in regard to my autonomous experience, as I simultaneously invite vulnerable discussion around the complexities of trauma and abuse globally (that takes study and research). When I say that I believe my autoimmune diseases are manifestation of the emotional response to my abuse, I mean that that 11 years ago I used to pray every single day to die in order to be free from the hell that I was living in, and my powerful body didn’t just hear me...but she responded.
My particular body’s response was to develop a disease within the sympathetic nervous system that is directly correlated with the human bodies response to danger; also known as “Fight or Flight”. A disorder so hard to diagnose, like many autoimmune diseases, because although there are telltale signs each development of RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) is autonomous to the individual. My individual was a teenager who was being raped, sold, beaten, coerced, manipulated, and molested daily by her immediate family and strangers. A situation which calls for a reflexive response within the sympathetic nervous system, regardless. However, because of the situation, I was existing-where no fight or flight response could be sustained or even conducive to escape my body got stuck like a scratched record and malfunctioned within the heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline. A very common theme within autoimmune illnesses present in any human who has known trauma.
RSD was first referred to as the “Injuries of Nerves and Their Consequences,” a monograph published in 1872 by Dr S. Weir Mitchell, an innovative Philadelphia physician who was also a popular poet and novelist. The third stage of RSD, which is what I have, is doctorally referred to as the one that is incurable. There is really nothing to do but monitor your body as it deteriorates from the chronic heightened fight or flight response, nerves misfire sending constant and abnormal signals for pain even when you’re brushed by air, and your muscles atrophy leaving you more and more immobile. When you step back and think about what type of illness someone who endured 18 years of insidious sexual trauma would have, it would be this one.
Lately, my health has been veering more and more on the side of terrifying. My emotional body is safe enough to experience and relive the years of initial diagnosis, when I was (as aforementioned in my last post) bedridden, wheelchair-bound, on a bedpan and still being raped. I laid on the carpet in the bathroom the other day, in tears of agony, and felt as if I was forehead to forehead with that little girl in me praying daily to die. I told her that I am meeting her there, in that darkness, without doubt, or need to change her mind. I am meeting her there to believe her, and to recognize that we now have another option. However, that option does not come with a magic eraser. Why she prayed those prayers was because what was happening was not okay, and nobody helped her. So all she could do was survive, choose to fight again, and then endure more. Because it didn’t end. In truth, it still hasn’t. Because I am free of the fixed parts, they are not mine to be burdened with. I do not hold responsibility for what happened, nor am I retraumatized by it daily. I feel the privilege of that in all of me. Nevertheless, because I am not chained I am free to feel, and in the feeling, in the residual impacts of my own autonomous responses to what I endured, the freer I become the more honestly I meet the reality of what was done.
Today I am making peace. Making peace with the reality that I cannot control the outcome of. I gave permission long ago to those little girls in me to be known, and each time I meet them in embodiment I feel breath and loss of breath simultaneously. I can only meet this life where I am able. Without force, and with each passing gratitude, less and less survival. I don’t know what to do, but I do know how to meet her, meet me. Vulnerable, tenderly, and without expectation or demand. Educating along the way, as I choose continued research and university on top of it all. It’s my life and my honour, but I am not too sure how long my body can withstand it. That is okay. That is valid. This is what I tell her now;
You’re allowed, baby girl.
You’re allowed to pray those prayers and feel this pain.
You’re allowed to break open, on repeat, silently and loudly and viscerally.
You’re allowed to be logical.
You’re allowed to have another fork in the road open up and not know what to choose.
You’re allowed to exist, and you’re allowed to never want to exist again.
I believe you.
I am here.
I am not leaving.
In order to not leave I need to take care of us, even when it’s scary and you don’t understand these new choices we are making. I invite you to trust me, as much as I invite you to educate me on what you need.
You’re not alone anymore.
And she whispers, with her eyes, the same back to all of you.