Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lessons from Trauma Therapy

I recognize I’ve been talking frequently about trauma these days. Part of treatment involves me recognizing precisely how many events that were painful in my life that have been suppressed for years. Now they’re beginning to be remembered, one by one. Some of these are more intense than others. They all have a common thread, but some were pushed into my subconscious because of a learned, protective behavior. Having been through the worst, my brain takes no chances with even banal memories. Should I feel the tiniest bit raw and exposed, they are concealed or otherwise pushed back.

The source of the pain and the trauma that I’ve spoken about most was more retributive, I believe, than a genuine source of sexual attraction. In only one other time in my childhood and early teenage years did I come in contact with an older male who I believe genuinely desired me. That is, that I remember up to the present day. I was fourteen and gawky, insecure and not especially sure of self-worth and physical attractiveness. At the time I was an athlete, a football player. My father very much wanted me to follow in his footsteps, even seeking to assuage my discomfort by paying to have me attend a private gym. Along with the fees came daily guidance from a personal trainer, and a tradition had been long established wherein children and adolescents involved in every conceivable sport were encouraged to train there.

I think because of this fact alone, one such trainer sought employment there. If it had happened now, I think I’d be able to spot it a million miles away. I’ve had men for sexual partners and I’ve engaged in such flirtations myself. He was immediately interested in me and kept a constant banter going on between the two of us. Most men in such situations are rarely inclined towards much in the way of conversation, beyond the perfunctory. I just assumed he must find me strangely fascinating for some reason. Why else would he keep it going at it day after day? Nothing he said, subject wise, was particularly offensive, but I found his attention odd and not especially comfortable.

I remember asking my father about the behavior of the trainer, but I wasn’t old enough to properly articulate his conduct. My father stated that the person must be deeply interested in me. Ironically, Dad was right, but not as he assumed. Working class men with mustaches have always unsettled me from then going forward. Factor in a drawly Southern accent and the creepy factor only increases. I’m aware that I’m automatically making a judgment about a whole group of people, and I’m not being fair about it. By the end of therapy, I hope to be able to forgive and move on, but for now, I can’t escape a visceral, purely emotional response.

I’m not sure what happened, but the man was there one day and gone the next. Problems in the South are usually resolved in private, unless they are too excessive to be kept from the police and the press. Though I have no way of knowing this for certain, I think he was probably asked to leave. I may not have been the only adolescent boy to been the target of his affections. He may have crossed the line verbally, or his very public conduct towards relatively young boys may have been finally tolerated only so long. No one ever mentioned him again, but curiously none of the other trainers who worked there, including the owner, had ever thought to bring him up in conversation.

We know that such conduct has no regard for class, race, sexual orientation, and many other factors. But yet again, my mind made and has made broad associations based on an unpleasant experience. There was a time where I assumed that there was something inherently sinful or even evil present among the working class people I came in contact with on a frequent basis. This is not to say that I believed the inclination was true for all, but that it thrived there and not in the sterile suburbs I called home. I never romanticized my own middle class upbringing, of course. The older boy who caused me the worst trauma was also raised in similar circumstances.

With time, I’m beginning to put all of this together. I hadn’t thought of this anecdote in years. Even then, I remember how my brain deliberately sought to willfully forget his behavior. I had no say in the matter. The decision was made for me. The memory was quickly filed elsewhere and did not come up very much in daily thoughts. Today, if a man comes on to me too strongly, I’ll resort to the very same survival technique. I will feel extreme discomfort, I will seek to escape, and the memory itself will not be retained beyond the immediate. Part of my treatment involves bringing these images back and putting them together in their proper context, along with braving the light of day.

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