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November 30, 2012

What I Realized While Running: Thoughts on Trauma and How I’m Wired

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 5:45 pm

A Description:

This brain I have? I do not have it because of trauma. My thoughts and desires, my strengths and weaknesses, my proclivities and sensitivities and personality quirks are not simply the result of damage. Not really. Not any more than pulling a sculpture out of marble is a process of damaging the stone. (Which, of course, it is.)

Still, my brain is not the standard model. Nobody’s is. “Sanity” is a myth they use to sell you stuff or to lock you up when you’re too poor to pay. And when I fail to treat myself with the particular kind of tender loving care that a non-standard model brain needs to function at full capacity, I do that because of trauma.

This feels a little bit like when I realized there was a difference between my mother being “crazy” and her being abusive.* Which is to say that, when I was growing up, she was both “mentally ill” AND abusive, and the particular mental health stuff she struggles with did shape the details of the ways that she hurt me. But that doesn’t mean she was abusive because she was crazy — nor does it mean that the fact of her mental illness, and the fact that it wasn’t her fault, meant the abuse was okay.

I relate to the world how I do because I have, in some ways, an extremely sensitive psychology. That’s fine. That’s who I am. It’s a blessing as much as a burden. I have an extraordinarily resilient psychology in other ways, and that’s both a blessing and a burden, too. But when I interact with those sensitivities and resiliencies and atypical capacities and unusual curiosities in ways that derail my ability to “be okay”, that’s trauma talking.

I could easily take this post in some kind of prescriptive moralizing direction or other, but I’m not gonna.

. . .

* Aside: I recently had a conversation with my grandmother in which I opened up to her about the history between myself and my mother — her daughter. It was a hard conversation. Mostly good came out of it and hopefully more good will continue to come. But one negative piece stuck with me, too: She tried to shame me for talking about my experiences on the Internet. “Even if it did happen that way, I don’t know why you have to tell so many strangers about it! What if your mother saw it? And what if a future employer Googles your brother and sees HIS name attached to all this mess?? I’m embarrassed for you.”

I told her that I share my story with strangers in case it reaches others who are facing similar struggles, because when I was going through it myself, I thought I was all alone. (And that is certainly part of it. Trying to explain to my grandmother, tech-savvy as she might be for an 83 year old, that the Internet is my home and an extension of my mind seemed like too much for that particular conversation.) I realize this kind of “don’t air your dirty laundry in public” silencing is pretty de rigeur in conversations with family members about abuse. But that’s because it works.

When I started writing this post, remembering the conversation with my grandmother gave me pause. “Maybe I shouldn’t mention this. Maybe I don’t need to keep using the word ‘abuse’ so publicly. Maybe I can make this point a different way. What if Granny sees this and it upsets her? Is this really necessary?” But I’m posting it anyway. Because that’s what is most true. My mother is not a bad person. But she hurt me very badly when I was a child. And the word for the way she hurt me is “abuse.” That’s not a moralizing prescriptive. It’s an accurate description. And I need an accurate understanding of what I’m dealing with if I want to heal from it.

Which I do.


November 29, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 12:17 am

Here’s an important thing about me. This is something that a very small number of people in my life understand, but I know it has confused many other readers, friends, and even lovers. This is the most succinct way I can explain:

I hate most of what BDSMers do.

But I hate it because I think they’re doing it wrong, not because I think it’s wrong that they’re doing it.

Most people who hate BDSMers would hate me, too.

Oppressions can be like Russian nested dolls. The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.

November 27, 2012

Epistolary: What the Heck is Epistemic Trauma?

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 9:16 pm

I’ve been talking with Dakota about epistemic violence and thinking to myself about the process of healing epistemic trauma. I want to write about it, but know that if I wait until I’ve got all my thoughts sorted out, I won’t. But I had this conversation today that I liked, so for the time being, I’m just going to drop it here and let it exist in the universe.

To start, I believe epistemic violence is a concept that comes originally from Postcolonial Theory, and the Wikipedia article on Postcolonialism describes it like this:

the term epistemic violence [describes] the destruction of non–Western ways of knowing the world, and the resultant dominance of the Western ways of perceiving, understanding, and knowing the world. Epistemic violence conceptually relates to the Subaltern, wherein the “Subaltern must always be caught in translation, never truly expressing herself”, because of the colonial power’s destruction of her culture, and the marginalization of her way of understanding and knowing the world.

(“[T]he term subaltern identifies and describes the man, the woman, and the social group who is socially, politically, and geographically outside of the hegemonic power structure.”)

In other words, epistemic violence happens when the dominant culture strips a subaltern of the ability to “be who they are” by trapping them in a knowledge environment in which their authentic selfhood is not knowable and therefore not possible.

I also want to mention, in terms of context, that I work from Durkheim’s notion that suicide can result from a lack of integration into a society or community — and also from the gut sense I have that suicide is not always pre-meditated and that even pre-meditated suicide is not necessarily “chosen.” (At least for some definitions of choice. Blah blah pedantic philosophy major blah blah blah.)

. . .

So, I was at the park, on the swings, thinking about recent themes in my life, and then I said some stuff on Twitter:

. . .

Shortly afterwards, I got an SMS from a friend. It said:

FRIEND: True for sho

FRIEND: Binary opposites usually unreasonable

ME: *nods* But commitment to them often caused by some painful past personal experience that’s hard to shake.

FRIEND: But I would say trauma generally not epistemic per se but you should say more about epistemic trauma

ME: I think of epistemic violence as the experience of having one’s life [well-being, safety, etc.] threatened by the knowledge environment rather than by a specific individual. So epistemic trauma is the lingering unresolved after-effects of that threat experience (if one doesn’t die from it.)

FRIEND: Can I have an example?

ME: In other words, epistemic violence is the elements in a person’s environment that are likely to drive them toward suicide. And epistemic trauma is what’s left over when you narrowly avoid killing yourself.

FRIEND: You doing okay love?

ME: Oh. Yeah. I’m fine. 🙂 This is all academic today. (Tho rooted in an analysis of past xps — my own and others’ — of course.) But thank you for checking. ❤

ME: I think I’m actually on this path cuz I’m noticing how much better I’m doing than I have been for a while. 🙂

FRIEND: Examples though… Failing to see why you calling this EPISTEMIC rather than factual. Not just psychic conditions…but knowledge related… I’m confused.

ME: Most obvious one is self-starvation i.e. the knowledge environment to which I have access as a young girl lacks information about or models of bodies like mine (simultaneously fat, healthy, & desireable), so my immersion in this knowledge environment results in me taking self-destructive actions (starving, cutting myself, making weight-based suicide pacts, avoiding exercise out of fear of ridicule, beating myself up psychologically, etc.) It’s not another individual or even a conspiracy of individuals directly harming my body; it’s an overall knowledge environment inducing me to harm myself.

ME: That’s a really obvious example [because it’s specifically about harm to my body] but there are lots of other, more subtle ones. I’m sure you can think of some. Consider the epistemic violence against people w atypical neurologies. What do we “know” about what “crazy” people are like? What does this encourage crazy people to do to ourselves?

ME: I dunno. It’s an idea I’m still fleshing out. Happy to have any input. 🙂

ME: Also, d’you mind if I post some of this convo somewhere? Articulated some things in it in ways I like.

FRIEND: Feel free to share

FRIEND: Webs. They are freaking world wide.

. . .

As an aside: I really like it when people ask me if I’m okay in the context of a fairly academic discussion, because the intellectual and the emotional are often so tightly bound for me. As I’ve said to this same friend in the past, “Thank you for being intuitive, compassionate, and philosophically literate enough to understand when I’m upset.” 😉

But, in this instance, I really am doing okay. 🙂

. . .

Later, Dakota and I were talking about a creative non-fiction piece they’re writing on violence. It includes a number of intense vignettes from their life and the lives of loved ones, stories ranging from rape to child abuse to racial slurs to people having guns pulled on them by cops. Their aim with the piece is to expand our conception of what “violence” can encompass. We discussed the importance of sharing our stories about committing violence as well as our stories about surviving it, and the fear that comes along with both those vulnerable positions.We talked about opening up space for compassion as a necessary part of a feedback loop for creating self-awareness around our own capacities for violence.

“So, here’s a thing I said on Twitter today that you might find interesting,” I said. “What if binary oppositions are markers of epistemic trauma? Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, that totally makes sense. I mean, binary oppositions themselves are often used to perpetrate violence.”

“So, it’s kind of a cycle of abuse thing. If I see someone being violent, I can think they’re a shitty person, but I can also think about the fact that they probably learned how to do that by having violence done to them. So, if I see binary oppositions showing up strongly in a given social space, I can notice that the people who are clinging to them are committing epistemic violence, but have probably been epistemically violated in some way, too. That’s valuable. It tells me there are roots to look for.”

. . .

I want to think more about the idea of resolving epistemic trauma, somatic methods of resolving trauma stored in the body, and how those two things relate to each other (if at all.) But them’s my notes for now.

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