The internet is full of advice on how to deal with trauma, or even PTSD (which is an extreme version of psychological trauma). Writers tend to be a little crazy, so when you come across a writer who had been through some trauma, you sometimes wonder which came first, the trauma or the madness.
I do not believe myself to be an adrenaline junkie, but some of the happiest moments of my life was when I was beating the crap out of each other with my friends in a parking lot in a sort of pre-Palahniuk fight club when I was eighteen years old. You know you have to have a few screws loose to find joy in something like that.
I grew up with the kind of father that Will Hunting had in the movie Good Will Hunting. But unlike Will Hunting, I caved. When my father got violent, I squealed like a pig in a vise, and confessed to every fictional sin that I was accused of and apologized profusely just to make him stop. I begged him to stop the interrogation and skip to the punishment. To this day, the shame makes my bones ache.
But it is not my cowardice as an eleven year old that I am most ashamed of. When you are suffering from trauma, you do many embarrassing things way down the line. You lie, make up stories about yourself, you make a fool of yourself. You are constantly on the defensive, trying to puff yourself up to make you look bigger than you are. Each and every instance of those embarrassing actions chew at me more than the cowardice I displayed in the face of violence.
Maybe that was why it was so much fun fighting barefoot in the parking lot. I was a bad fighter, but at least I was fighting. My weak, skinny body in full display, not even caring that the other guy could feel how weak my punches were. I was out of my shell and daring to expose myself. I was naked and I felt free.
Writing has the opposite therapeutic effect. I can tell any tall tale I want so long as I make it clear in advance that it is a work of fiction. It is an outlet for the pent up war stories.
A friend sent me a link to a YouTube channel by Terrence Popp, which is series of hilariously misogynous rants. But no goofy clown is ever just a clown. Terence Popp is a Purple Heart decorated combat veteran suffering from PTSD and his barrage of political in-correctness is, for him, a kind of therapy. His repeated message is “I am just a dude. You are just a dude. Make peace with it.” It echoes the words of Tyler Durden in Fight Club “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact.” But while Palahniuk’s character agitates for anger, Popp urges that you accept it.
The reason we want to see ourselves as millionaires, movie gods, and rock starts, (of the future if not the present) is not only because “advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”, we are trying to compensate for the humiliations, the rejections, and the embarrassments of life. At least some of us are. We want, most of all, respect. And it is not coming from anywhere.
Behind all his overblown misogyny, Popp presents a time honored wisdom; “Have respect for yourself, or people won’t have respect for you.” When trauma becomes unbearable, we stop respecting ourselves, yet start seeking respect from others in a futile search for compensation for our humiliations and losses. This leads to all sorts of relationship problems and obstacles in life. So we should accept the fact that “you are just a dude” and stop seeking respect from anyone but yourself.
If you respect yourself, and show it, and the people around you still do not respect you, whether they are your girlfriend, spouse, subordinate, or your boss, they do not deserve you. You must draw the line right there.
It is not easy to grow out of the trauma. You think you were out of it when you catch yourself puffing you up like a peacock again. Your insecurities drive you but your accomplishments never satisfy you. On top of that, if you are a fiction writer, an activity that demands that you live in your imagination for at least a portion of your day, you are playing with incendiary material.
And then, when the dust you kicked up turns into a sand storm, you wonder, did my trauma lead me to this madness, or did my madness court the trauma?