On Trauma Brain

I miss the rain in the holler. This new house is beautiful, but there are so many boxes that need to be unpacked. Meanwhile, I need to make revisions on my book. In a grand, symbolic gesture, the vintage doorknob to my office has come unscrewed, and I cannot even get into that room.

My mother tells me to slow down. To relax. She tells me not to push myself so hard


I never once saw my mother slow down.

She has always been the fiercest person I know.

She, too, is a trauma survivor.

Both of her parents died when she was a child, and I have no idea what she endured beyond that, though I can make some guesses.


I sent an email to a former friend (of mine and Caleb’s) recently.

I wrote:

I saw that you’re still friends with Caleb on Facebook. How does it feel to be friends with the wife abuser on Facebook? It’s just you, —-, and —-, so you’re in good company.

—- tried to add me as a friend recently. I turned his request down and messaged him that I don’t “friend” people who have raped my friends. The entire process (for me) was super easy. Unfortunately, rape is really hard. That’s why I’ve dedicated myself to supporting survivors   (and not their rapists).

I hung out with —-at AWP. Now that guy is a real man–not afraid to support a survivor of assault when she tells him she needs it.

I guess what we’ve learned from this is that no woman will ever tell you what to do. I mean, even when a woman has loved and valued you and told you that she needs you to not be friends with the man who almost killed her, you just go your own way and stay friends with that man.

Fuck all of the bitches who try and impose their needs on to you, right?

I think The Onion wrote an article about you recently. You probably posted it ironically. I always loved your ironic sense of humor.

Like when you claimed to be a feminist, that gave me the biggest guffaws of all.


I don’t know why I felt this need to persist with this friend after he failed me. My trauma brain makes me fixate on certain people who have “wronged” me. My trauma brain doesn’t let those people go.


Trauma brain makes things from the past feel so present.

Trauma brain also erases so much.

Trauma brain leaves the highlights, and the rest feels like background noise.


When I think of Reed’s childhood, I feel, so vividly, Caleb’s fist cracking on to my skull, but I barely remember Reed’s first steps.

Still, that memory of Caleb’s fist fades a little more every year.


Trauma brain is the great equalizer. I remember little of my child’s younger years, but I also remember little of the abuse.

My therapist has explained to me that my trauma brain is part of what keeps me sane. My trauma brain is erasing the memories because they are too painful for me to live with.


Still, I miss the memories of my baby.


I had such a terrible fight with my parents on the day that I got divorced. I have written about this here.

The next night, my mother, father, and I drove to the Texas Roadhouse to eat, and in the car, I said that I hope that Reed gets a good stepmother. My own mother told me then that she had a stepfather she loved, and my father said, “What?

My father who had been married to my mother for almost forty years didn’t know she’d had a stepfather.

She only had that stepfather for a year before her mother died, and then, she lost him too.


My mother has kept her own losses closed up tightly inside of her.


For the past few weeks, Reed has been lamenting how he doesn’t want to go to his dad’s for the summer.

On Friday, he went to his dad’s.


Today, on the anniversary of my wedding to Caleb, Reed became a brother.

Caleb finally got that second child that he wanted. The child that I almost had with him–that I tried to have with him–until I held my hands over my stomach and thought “If I am pregnant with Caleb’s child, I will cut this child out myself.”

That was just before I left Caleb.


 When I left Caleb, people said to me, “If you met the right person, you could still have another baby!”


People have stopped saying that to me now.


Reed texted me updates of his stepmom’s labor all day. I know that he did this because he was excited, and I also know that he did this because I am the most important person in his life.

Even though the baby is his father’s, he wanted to share this with me because this is about him. His sent me a picture of the baby.

His final text said, “I am a brother now.”

And he will be the best big brother that little girl could ever have. I am so proud of him every day.


His teacher sent me an email the other day about Reed. She wrote, “As for Reed overall,  he is fantastic!  He is a great, well adjusted young man.  He always takes responsibility for his actions and is truthful, even if it is hard to do.  And yes, he is a very hard worker.”

I felt grateful to have such a great son. Later, I thought, “He has those qualities in spite of his father.”


I am glad that Reed wanted to include me on his journey of becoming a brother, but I am not glad that he included me on that journey.

He does not know this, but it has hurt to have to go along on that journey with him.


Sometimes I wonder how different my life would look now if I wasn’t still so tied to Caleb through Reed.

How much further in my recovery would I be?


Would I still be trapped inside of my trauma brain if I didn’t have the constant reminders of what was–and is–and could have been?


I got an email back from that former friend. He said that I had been right, that he had been making decisions out of stubbornness rather than his principles. He said that he had defriended Caleb as well as the other guy. He also indicated that he also had no desire to be friends with me again, then said that he didn’t want to seem patronizing, but that he hopes I have found some peace and happiness.

He did seem patronizing.

I thought, “You have finally chosen to live by your principles so many years later–at a time when no one cares anymore.”

I thought, “How convenient for you to maintain your status as a faux feminist by defriending an abuser that everyone else has already defriended.”

I thought, “This is all about your principles and still has nothing to do with what I needed from you as your friend.”

I thought, “At least I can finally put you behind me.”

I thought, “This, at least, is something I can have closure on.”


On days like today, it feels as though I will never have closure on my relationship with Caleb.


More than that, it feels as though he has completely rewritten his story, yet I am only writing the same story over and over again.


I gave a presentation at a writer’s retreat in New Mexico a while ago about writing on trauma. The presentation had to be short, so I focused on some questions that I thought would help writers assess whether they are ready to write about their trauma.

My final question was “Are you writing your way out of your wound or back into it?”

My own answer now is that I don’t know.


Today, it feels like Caleb has been doing so much living, and I have only been writing. While he has been remarrying and having new children, I have been writing.


When I was growing up, I thought of my mom as the fiercest, strongest person I knew, and that wasn’t always a good thing.

While I was packing, I found an interview that Reed had conducted with me in the third grade. He had asked me who my hero was, and I had said, “Grandma Kathy.” It was true. I am in awe of her strength.

I have never been strong like that.

Until now.


I am strong.


I started jogging after I left Caleb. I was, and am, terrible at it, but I have increased my intensity while I have been writing this book because getting my heart rate up seemed to help combat my trauma brain.

One of the themes of my book is that I was always someone who ran. I ran away whenever I wasn’t happy, but with Caleb, I didn’t run. I stayed.

I should have run.


Now, I actually run–not long or hard–but I run. And I have developed what my doctor diagnosed as DOMS–Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness–which is when the breakdown of the muscular tissue manifests later to cause physical pain.

DOMS is only supposed to last for up to 72 hours, but it has been plaguing me for over a month, and I keep thinking of how much this pain is like trauma. I can forget about it when I’m relaxing, but movement makes the pain so sudden, and sharp, and unexpected.

And I can’t escape this pain. The only thing that brings relief is when I run enough that I no longer feel it.


So I keep running.


The OED lists trauma as a noun, but, to me, trauma is not a noun.

Trauma is my verb.

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