Thinking of both my grandfathers this morning and how now, after spending 6 months reading trauma literature, what it must of been like on their return.
On my mums side (North Island Maori), my grandfather was blown up in battle and sent back quite early. He lost fingers and had bodily and burn injuries. Nearly 40 years after the incident, little bits of shrapnel was still coming out of his body.
On my dads side (South Island Pakeha), my grandfather was made a prisoner of war. I never heard what it was like. His stories are buried with him. But my uncle told me that he would wake in the night screaming that someone was coming for him. Night terrors.
Both never spoke of their experiences. Both drank heavily.
Trauma is insidious. The body does its best to hide itself from re-living the experience. The experience gets split off and hidden in a dark corner of the mind and the soul. It takes the body a lot of work to keep it hidden. Numbing, dulling, disconnecting, disassociating, drinking, addictions, aggression, depression – trauma manifests in many different ways. Most of this is done in the unconscious. Behaviours are unconscious because the trauma doesn’t want you to know about it, doesn’t want you to remember it.
The research overwhelmingly proves that trauma is intergenerational. It is passed on in a number of ways. Epigenetics shows that is passed on through our DNA. This means the children of the traumatized are already predisposed for inherited high levels of stress. Family studies, show trauma is passed on through parenting. Traumatized parents have a harder time deeply connecting with their children. The children of these parents become disconnected adults, and the cycle is set for the next generation, and the next. Society also passes on trauma. Our institutions, and culture that kept war trauma hidden, don’t allow for its healing expression and grief to emerge.
Trauma effects creep to the next generation in ways we do not even realise.
I challenge all readers to question how trauma has been passed on to you. For me, alcohol and binge drinking has been a passed on trauma in my wider family. Many a time as a child I saw other adults drinking till they were passed out at the table. Sometimes this was even celebrated. We grew up in a culture that admired those who stayed up for days, drinking. This was considered hero-ism. Other expressions of trauma include short fuses, lashing out, aggression, and physical violence. Trauma will express itself in many ways. Unfortunately, cutting off from one trauma experience, also cuts you from more positive emotional experiences – joy, delight, pleasure and happiness. A cut off trauma experience keeps you from meaningful human connection with the self and others.
I like this quote given by Molly Castoelle, “What is overwhelming and un-namable is passed on to those we are closest to. Our loved ones carry what we cannot. And we do the same.” For some, we are now carrying, what our loved ones could not. But that what we keep silent and hidden, we again will pass on, in some way or another, it creeps into our loved ones. For what we cannot cope with, what we cannot identify, is picked up by our children.
We are still bloody living the effects of war trauma. It time for us to talk about the trauma.