Trauma comes from the Greek word traumat, meaning wound. Trauma comes in many different forms. You don’t have to be a Vietnam Vet to experience it. You could have a loved one die on you suddenly, you could be injured in an accident, you could be exposed to verbal abuse, neglect, or physical abuse. Abandonment qualifies, as do natural disasters, debilitating injuries, and all forms of domestic violence.
When you become traumatized, you wake up to the dangers in the world. You realize that at any moment those that you love can be struck down by senseless, random events. In a heartbeat, your entire life can change, the people you trust can turn on a dime, and betray you. Nothing is safe. It’s a bit like the Matrix, when you take the red pill and wake to the painful reality of the world.
A traumatized person lives outside the normal experience of living. Always on high alert. Unable to turn it off. This is the legacy of trauma. Not only does it awaken us to our deepest fears, but it also destroys the normal notion of how we experience ‘time’ on a conscious level. A fancy word for this is phenomenology, and it is something poets, monks, and philosophers have spent centuries pondering. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, victims of trauma become stuck at the still point of the turning world; The still point between time past and time future.
The simplest way to illustrate this is as follows. We are born and we die. In between these two events, we live a life that stretches in a long, continuous line that we call ‘time’. But trauma breaks that line. It destroys everything you knew of time, in terms of it being concrete and stable, and blows all of that apart. The trauma becomes magnified, or freeze-framed into an ongoing, eternal present. Just like the loop in a vinyl record that skips, the trauma becomes stuck in its own time. Your daily time line, the one stretching between birth and death, falls back into place, but now it has weaknesses in its foundation, hidden like trapdoors. Any trigger, that reminds you of the trauma (however abstract it may be), can send you shooting back in time to the freeze-framed moment of devastation. Your nice, neat time line is suddenly gone, collapsing under the weight of your memory. Past becomes present, and present becomes past, and the future loses all meaning. In fact, there is no future, there is nothing but incompleteness. You return back to your time line each time a little more weary. You begin to tread carefully, never sure when you are going to fall through. This is the nature of life with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.