The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Wounded Child

I 100% agree with what this article says: that behavioral dysfunctions are a form of PTSD, often related to childhood trauma.   This is one reason that the “Morning Ritual” concept incorporates both the “Ancient Child”, heartbeat meditation,   physical motion, and focus.   Why I believe so strongly in dealing with the fear that lies at the base of all negative emotion.  Sigh.
I can tell you the first time I realized how bad it was, and how I needed to trust instinct rather than the surface or presenting stories.   I was a GOH at a convention in Texas, and teaching a morning Tai Chi workshop.  There was a lady on the periphery of the workshop, trying to do the movements.   She was extremely obese, and more, her teeth were rotted out.   My first impression was that she was like one overweight person pushed into the middle of a second one, a very sweet small face and bright eyes in the middle of a puffy cocoon of fatty tissue.   Over 300 pounds.
I am always very connected to the people in those workshops.   All kinds of odd subliminal information pops into my head about them, their emotions, sex lives, all sorts of stuff.   It isn’t esp.   It is that our bodies reflect our histories.They store our emotions.
I worked with her a bit, and in adjusting her body, something horrible happened, horrible because I didn’t know how to handle it.  Suddenly, I saw the sweet face as a trapped child within the massive protective cocoon. The bright eyes calling out to me from within a prison of flesh: HELP.   A fear of being seen sexually, combined with a deep, desperate hope that someone could see her, and love her, and help her free itself.    
And I knew.    The teeth.  The body.  This woman had been terribly, horribly, serially abused as a child.  And her brain had done what a brain is supposed to do: do everything in its power to prevent her from ever being seen as a sexual being again, to obscure the secondary sexual characteristics.  Yes, I know it is illogical.   But that’s what I saw.

Too damned clearly.
After the work shop I went to my room and cried.  Just...sobbed.    Something had opened inside me, and I felt like I was watching personal histories, not just physical bodies, in that convention hotel.   Millions of individual behavioral choices arising from values and beliefs connected to emotional and physical pains and pleasures.   If I respected them, I had to believe that they were doing the best they could.  There was no laziness, no lack of wish to be healthy and strong and happy.
This was something very different.  Post-industrial society has unteathered calories or immediate survival from physical performance for the first time in our evolutionary history, and we are seeing something extraordinary.    In a few generations we will have figured it out, but right now...dear God.
I wanted to leave that convention, and if I hadn’t been GOH I would have.  So I put on my face and went back down.
And...she followed me.   Showed up at panels and signings.   Always on the periphery.  Smiling shyly at me.   And finally, on the last day, she asked me if we could talk.
We had coffee.  She said that she didn’t know why she was talking to me.  Just...that there was something about me.   She felt that I had seen HER, not just her body.  And was driven to speak to me.
And there, while I sipped my latte, she changed my life.   With only a tiny bit of reassurance and coaxing she described a history of abuse that precisely matched what I had seen.  Her stepfather.  Her stepuncles.    A mother who pretended it wasn’t happening.
Abusive relationships.  And a near-suicidal threshold that led to a solution: to become invisible in plain sight.  Years of being unseen.  And now a heart-wrenching urge to find a way out of the prison she had built for herself.  Was it too late?  She wanted to know.
And I remembered something that Leo and Diane Dillon, the great, great artists had once said to me when I asked if I had lost my way as an artist: “if you can even ask the question, it’s not too late.”
That was twenty-five years ago.  I had nothing specific to offer this lady except hope, and love, holding her hands as we both cried.
But I changed that day.  I knew that I saw things that were contrary to social narrative, and needed to trust my instincts more than the popular wisdom.   And I knew that I had to find a way to understand what we are as human beings that we can be smart, and good and decent and still hurt each other and ourselves so badly, and remain in denial about it.
That was, in many ways, the beginning of my awakening.    
I don’t remember her name.  I don’t know where she is or even if she is alive.   All I can say is that I hope I touched her as deeply as she touched me.
Whereever you are, my love, I see you.  That perfect little girl who deserved to be loved, and held, and cherished, is still within you.  And I pray you found a way to both keep her safe, and let her free.



Unknown said...

Hello Steve, is Bronze Nile still in the works? Do you have an update on when that may be coming?

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

Your blog's been dormant for awhile. I miss the frequent heady discussions it hosted years ago. Are you going to weigh in on Neil de grasse Tyson's Cosmos? Prominent blacks are as rare in science as in science fiction. Your views on the subject would be most insightful.

Christopher Caporal said...

As I sit here and read what you wrote back in July, many things come rushing to my mind; How you worded things, described your feelings towards this encounter and what you said in your closing. There seems to be more here than meets the eye, more than a man who is just a favorite author. There is only so many ways one can be shown a way down a path and it is at that point when a new way needs to be sought, or have the door opened to a new way as I think you have done for me.

Anonymous said...


Incidentally, I have heard of other survivors of childhood abuse turning to anorexia nervosa for the same reason: disguising secondary sexual characteristics.

This is not to blame the lady you spoke with for her weight!

It's just to say that people in different kinds of situations, all of us really, still have more in common than we think at first.

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