Beginning a thread on Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) has been a goal of mine for some time. It wasn’t my original plan to start it here in TDB, but it seems pertinent enough. The human journey is from ignorance to enlightenment, and bringing our hidden wounds into the light of consciousness is an essential first step.
Because of a sequence of cathartic events between 2012 and 2017, events that aren’t necessary to detail here, I was finally compelled to seek out professional counseling at the end of 2017. It was a humorous beginning, which I took as a good omen. I instantly recognized my counselor as the “crazy lady” who used to live in the apartment next to us. We shared a laugh over the synchronicity of the event and plowed right in.
I told her that I had long suspected the presence of deep and pernicious unconscious, negative conditioning that was holding me back from fully exploiting my personal potential. I described my tumultuous upbringing and the patterns of my adult life with candor and concision. At the end of the first session, she told me, in no uncertain terms, “You are deeply, deeply, deeply conditioned!” A triple deeply. I was pumped.
It took no more than one or two sessions before she referred me to “The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, the flagship work of this subject, and “…the most important series of breakthroughs in mental health in the last thirty years.”
I devoured the book and quickly realized the relief that comes from finally being understood. I’ve lived most of my adult life as a self-help junkie with a self-destruction complex, an absurdly bewildering path that meanders back and forth between the passion for learning and the terror of being alive.
I would have likely remained just a run-of-the-mill, dipshit underachiever had I not been born under conditions that many Dao Bums are probably familiar with. According to Chinese astrology, I’m a Metal Rat, an armored little fucker, first one off the ship and out the gate, along with not one but two Water elements in my chart (and no Earth element, a different sort of problem). Bruce Lee was fond of saying, “Be water, my friend,” but what he didn’t mention was that the emotion for Water is fear, and I got a double dose. I was terrified and helpless by the end of my first decade, hopelessly disempowered by the end of my second one. I remained in a state of learned pessimism and underachievement until the age of 57.
While taking an online course in Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory a while back, I consulted the Enneagram for character typing and found myself a solid 5, the Investigator. I’ve always had an unquenchable curiosity but I learned that this comes from a desperate desire to make the world more comprehensible, and therefore less frightening. It was a sobering discovery, and although I’ve learned that curiosity, creativity, and spirituality are often the same process, the insight still stung a bit.
What can I say? The human nervous system is profoundly vulnerable to conditioning, bad as well as good. My own dose of childhood trauma was greater than some, less than others – being stripped naked and whipped by an alcoholic was my own story – but the results were the same as detailed by van Deer Kolk; a bewildering assortment of dysfunctions, addictions, phobias, underachievement, an obscenely wilted identity crippled by self-hatred, the conviction of unworthiness and irreparability, and the daily, chronic stress of keeping other people from finding out. The psychological effort required to maintain an imposter identity is unsustainable and ultimately terminal by one means or another.
The Water element goes EVERYWHERE. It leaves nothing uninvestigated, remains tireless in the pursuit of information, knowledge, wisdom. A consequence of this was that I found myself wandering from one adventure to the other, investigating as much as I could. My dysfunctional programming would inevitably see to it that I burned down just about every bridge I crossed.
The trick for Water element types is to build up Waves of courage and strength, not just tiny brooks and streams. The goal of the Enneagram Investigator is competency, the acquisition of knowledge refined into skill. This has been my experience evaluating my own struggle with childhood trauma. Obviously, Bums of different character types will investigate their own history of trauma in their own way, but the symptoms of DTD are well established.
Toward the healing of DTD, Bums are in for some good news; as the title of the book suggests, the Body Keeps the Score, and the body is the instrument of healing, which should come as no surprise to those of us who have pursued physical fitness and body-mind fusion with the passions of madmen. Yoga, chi kung, tai chi and martial arts are indicated in the healing response of a traumatized body and mind. The damage exists down deep; our burden is to reach down to the marrow and positively recondition our nervous system. But you all knew that already, right?
I am personally happy to report that on some level, call it a higher self or just a deep but silenced intuition, I’ve stayed extremely healthy for the past forty years. I remained fucked up in the head but somehow managed, in spite of my worst instincts, to keep the carcass ready for the day that true healing could seize hold. My nei kung practice starting in 2009 was extraordinary, but once my child was born, it collapsed. I’m still in athletic shape for an old fucker (59) but I can’t wait to begin nei kung again soon.
I also managed to get a decent education, not unusual for Enneagram Investigators or Water elements. I have absolutely no Earth element in my astrological chart, but I ended up with a graduate degree in geography, so I must have somehow plugged a hole or tended an imbalance without realizing it. I’ve just about fucked up everything I’ve ever done in my life but I just might be able to grow up before I grow old.
I hope this inspires others to explore the role of DTD in their own lives and form meaningful bridges between their childhood wounds and their internal alchemy practices today. Chapter 10 in Van Der Kolks book is “Developmental Trauma: the Hidden Epidemic” is aptly titled.
Many thanks to Taomeow for an astrological reading that has proven remarkably insightful over the last decade.