Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hidden Trauma

What breaks your heart?

That was the journal prompt I was working with the other day. I wrote a series of short paragraphs about a number of different things that break my heart, and the one that struck me the most was this:

It breaks my heart to think of that little-girl-me who was uprooted from almost everything she knew...in one fell swoop she lost her home, her beloved Nana, her toys and books, all her friends, her favorite foods...the only things she didn't lose were her parents and her brother. Is it any wonder she was a terribly anxious child? And has grown into an anxious woman with a mind capable of extrapolating even the most innocuous occurrence into tragedy?

It's funny how I've only recently become cognizant of what a trauma that move from England to America must have been for three-and-a-half year old me. I've never thought of it as a traumatic experience before, seeing as I don't recall any of the emotions involved, really...just pictures of the different things--the plane, the hotel room where we stayed for the first three days, the furnished townhouse we lived in for the next three months...

My parents' story--the one I was fed from the moment I could understand--was that we were so much better off here than we would have been in England, and that there were so many more opportunities for my brother and I here than we would have had there.

But until now, I've never really stopped to consider what my own story was, and what a deep and terrible loss that move would have been for such a little person. There must be a raw wound buried deep inside me. A wound so well hidden that I don't even remember it and don't consciously feel it. A wound I suspect has been there all along, colouring my life in various and subtle ways.

What if is a dangerous question But I sometimes wonder, what if we'd never made that move? Who would I be now?

15 comments:

Gianna said...

I bounced back and forth two times between Italy and America growing up. It was hard for me too.

When I came back from Italy the first time I no longer spoke English and the children I played with teased me.

I can only mostly imagine the difficulty as I have no memory. My mother just tells me I would cry when the other kids made fun of me.

Being uprooted from everything you know and love is difficult at any age (as I've learned from moving away from California where I spent most of my growing up years and all of my adulthood until age 36)

But I think for a child it has got to be harder even if we don't remember it clearly, simply because we can't understand it.

Jazz said...

My thoughts exactly...just because we don't remember a trauma doesn't diminish its power over us.

I remember being teased a lot because of my accent. My mother tells me it used to break her heart when I would go into my room and close the door so I could practice "talking American." It is so sad, because my husband adores my English accent (apparently I slip back into it without realizing it when we are with my family...both my parents still have a strong accent).

Gianna said...

ha! you know what's funny. the second time I lived in italy I was older and I went to an international school and picked up an english accent!!

I got teased for that when I got back...and that i remember...I had to work hard at speaking "american"...it was mostly a handful of common words that I had problems with ---I didn't have a complete accent with all my vocabulary...

that's so funny..i had completely forgotten about that, but I was quite sensitive about it at the time.

Jazz said...

And it seems so different these days. My kids have such a diverse mixture of children in their classrooms that they don't think anything of accents. There are quite a few Russian immigrants in our community and I know there was a set of English twins in my daughter's class this past year. They don't even think anything of kids who don't speak any English. My daughter said there was a new girl in one of the other fifth grade classes who spoke Spanish, and she and my daughter got along marvelously even though the other little girl spoke hardly any English.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz and Gianna,
Isn't that interesting that you both share the experience of having been uprooted in childhood? I can't imagine a more significant loss for a child (aside from the death of a parent, grandparent, or sibling).

Well, I've got to tell you I was born and raised in Los Angeles and so were my parents. My grandparents came here in the 1920s.

Still, there are other loses, but I'm feeling so good and it's my son's birthday and his first day of work that I don't want to think about them today.

Susan

Jazz said...

Susan--
We've discovered some other parallels, too, like Gianna is an Italian woman married to an Englishman, and I'm an English woman married to an Italian.

It must be nice to have roots. To be able to drive by a place every week or every month and say, "That's where my grandmother lived" or "That's the church where my parents got married." I have nothing like that except the neighborhood in St. Paul where I grew up. All my roots are in England, and I imagine by the time I get my butt over there, everyone who can tell me what my roots are will be gone.

naturalgal said...

Moving is very, very hard on many children. It was a defining moment in my life. There were a couple big moves in my life.
I can't imagine knowing someone since kindergarten. I have a cousin who married a man she knew met in kindergarten... I can not imagine even knowing someone who I went to kindergarten with.

Two times, I cried and cried, because I missed friends.

Bipolar Wellness Writer...you are a true Californian....I thought just about everyone moved there from somewhere else.

On the other hand, lots and lots of people in America move all the time.

Gianna said...

I am myself a true Californian...I was born there and lived there my whole life excepting two separate years in Italy....and we returned to the same home when we went back to CA.

My roots are in California....totally...and my maternal grandparents came from Italy to CA and I spent time on their farm growing up...my mom returned to that farm and still lives there...so I do have a sense of roots and I miss them terribly...

my father immigrated here...so I'm an american of Italian descent....who spent the vast majority of my life in California...the last 6 years I've been missing it like mad here in NC.

I don't imagine whatever trauma I felt bouncing back and forth is the same as Jazz's leaving her home forever...

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Okay, guys, I can join this club. My husband's family is from Italy too, although his grandparents moved to Ohio in the late 1890s I think. There was a huge migration to Ravena and Wooster, Ohio (which is where he's from).

Yes, it is great to grow up knowing people. For 40 years my mom wrote a neighborhood column in the local newspaper and we were like "celebrities" because she touted all the local restaurants and theaters.

And when I married my husband, he owned a house that was five blocks away from my parents and 20 blocks away from my maternal grandfather, who was still alive then.

Susan
P.S. Jazz, I hope your "Italian" husband cooks as well as mine does! And my 91-year-old mother-in-law still makes us meatballs and Braciole.

Annie said...

jazz-what a well written and thoughtful post. It was interesting to see how each of you wrote about it. I am afraid I am a plain Native American. Good journaling! Annie

Jazz said...

Susan--
Oh, lordy, I can only wish my Italian husband cooked! His limit is stir-fry once a week. He does make a mean stir-fry, but the legendary red sauce and the lasagne are mine, I'm afraid. He does make awesome homemade pasta to go with my legendary marinara sauce, though!

Naturalgal--I think that my parents always figured since I couldn't remember much, it wasn't a big deal, but I think it was.

Annie--It's funny...I could wish for roots...but then I wouldn't be who I am. You have to go through that and be there to get here, and I'm kind of fond of my "here" at the moment.

Coco said...

That 'little-girl-you' must have been heart-broken. I'm sure that whole experience contributed hugely to your anxiousness. I strongly believe that 'forgotten' or vaguely remembered negative childhood events can have a huge impact on us as adults. The hurt is still there, and I hope that journalling about it, and sharing it with us helps start some kind of healing process. Hug that sweet litte girl that was/is you.

Jazz said...

Thanks, Coco...that's one of my projects is to work on releasing some of that childhood unhappiness through journaling.

Clueless said...

Moving is one of the top five most stressful events in an adults life. For a child who doesn't understand isn't a big jump for it to become a trauma. I've come to view "hidden trauma" as things that I wasn't ready to face until the time I remembered or realized it was a trauma. I was identified with PTSD in 1992 with no identifiable trauma. And, again in 2004 with very identifiable traumas. In 1992, I wasn't ready and I guess I am now. Sometimes, it is something we remember, but in our denial think it wasn't that bad in fact it was a good thing. Or sometimes it is a bunch of little stuff all together that makes it a trauma. Sorry to go on... Take care. It sounds like you are working hard.

Jazz said...

Clueless,
Oh, yes, moving is incredibly stressful! Between college, grad school, and jobs, hubby and I moved ten times in the space of eight years...and four of those moves were from one state to another. It's a wonder I'm still sane! We've been in our current house ten years in November, and I told hubby when we moved in that the next time I move, it's gonna be feet first! I've only recently become secure enough to start throwing out my moving box collection!

I don't think I have any PTSD stuff going on...but I do believe that these traumas have surely shaped who I am and how I respond to certain things.