Jack in the Box – Part One

The first thousand days 0,1,2,3 years of age and for some additional delight let’s throw in age 4. Making it the first 1460 days (this excludes the ‘count down days’ of pregnancy and the development of the fetus in utero). We know the experiences in these years are critical for a child’s development. The research is clear on this and I for one as a case study can confirm this. If a normal trajectory of a healthy, loving, and nurturing development goes as planned the brain’s wiring and circuitry performance often leads to some healthy childhood and adult outcomes. Good choices, safe decision making, positive relationships, and a close secure attachment.

If those experiences differ and the child is marked by predicted or unpredicted challenges the brain takes a different route, unpredictable, challenging, and is crafted with differing detail and mechanics. It does not route two or three or even double or triple-figure route numbers. You cannot put a ‘number’ on such an incredible and significant complex phenonium as the brain and trauma (especially for children with limited memories). Scaling Questions so often used in strengths-based therapy can be traumatic (a weakness I believe not documented in such approaches literature – theoretical advantages & disadvantages).

In later years (much later) such a question and approach in therapy became a trigger for re-traumatization. Numbers may help some, they may be concrete and goal-orientated but with trauma numbers of great size and proportion can weigh heavy, demotivates, may lead some to suicide and further deterioration while others will smell motivation and action. The quote depicting ‘A journey of a thousand miles starts with one small step’ again can gain a similar reaction for some. A size seven shoe does not fit all. Some journeys are just different. Pragmatism and Eclecticism are key to healing.

You have a choice in your healing – don’t be put in a box by theory, quotes and western or eastern philosophical ideals, however trendy, contemporary, modern-day, ancient, or romantic.

This story, broken into digestible short parts is a personal, non-academic piece of one person’s experience of putting together a jigsaw, joining up the dots, looking for clues, a Columbo, maybe a Sherlock Holmes, a modern-day Geordie Vera, DCI Tom Mathias (Hinterland), Detective Jimmy Perez (The Shetlands), or finally Detective Harry Ambrose (The Sinner). You see, extreme trauma in the first 1000 days can leave no memory, no trace (or so it appears). One calls this dissociation. A separation and severing between incident/s and the child. A detachment from reality. The suffering and pain are so frightening and traumatic the child must find a ‘somewhere’ a place to hide, recovery, shut down, space out, away from the undeniable shock, fear and injuries. A narrative, a story of such significance must be captured, remembered by those close to the child. Therapy and support must follow but what happens when this does not? What happens to that child then?

Memories, and the basis of an accurate story I have not. Clues, looking back now, yes, in abundance. A chronology defining significant moments within a lifeline that illuminates trends, patterns, themes, and consistencies. The jigsaw starts to form, take shape but it’s still a long way from completion and an end to what were the real stories about an early trauma history. Actions, behaviors, experiences, judgments, and mistakes. Relationships that were always going to end badly, the gut instincts of ‘I told you so’ and the inevitable trauma upon trauma which played itself out when relationships ended. The pushing of people away, the control, the insecurities, the fear, and those moments and experiences which trigger, set off, and ignite the past. The body remembers the mind recalls those traumatic moments and fires off the ‘past’ into the ‘present’. You just don’t know or understand this at the time if you have no insight. You keep on making the same old mistakes until one day a rainbow appears followed by an unexpected and traumatic weather storm. This combination proves critical.

It was not until my forties that I recognized that what happened in those first 1460 days of life would play a large part in directing and guiding me, harming and re-traumatizing me repeatedly. It was no fluke I ended working in child protection…it could have been predicted. It was the 1970’s trauma was not discussed, and therapy was certainly not on a menu. Children did not suffer from PTSD and complex trauma, that was only for war veterans and worryingly there are a few professionals out there practicing with vulnerable children and adults that still think that is the case. This has now quite rightly been put in its place as a ‘myth’. A new truth has emerged.

The memories of those specific traumatic events in those first 1460 days, 1973 age 22 months, 1974 age 2, 1975 age 3, and 1975 age 4, resulted in vague short memories from the latter two experiences but ‘family secrets’ and forbidden discussions in all of these scenarios only served the purpose of the adults, not the child. The child was left scared, hurt, confused a failure, with destructive behaviors in later life. It was a traditional way of parenting and a form of thinking that somehow you were doing it for the best. Not unlike closed or forced adoptions, it was simply wrong not to tell a child about subjects such as their adoption, identity, and cultural background. Fortunately, we now have an open adoption process. Openness and transparency, the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’ need to be heard by children in an age-appropriate and developmental manner. A diary, objects (toy), photos, names of people, professionals, and family members involved need capturing as memories from the traumatic experience will aid the child as they grow. Call it a Trauma Recovery Memory Box…

In part two of this reflection, I will move onto the ‘showers’ (the gentle but also hard-hitting periods of rain) and the bouts of sunshine as bits of the past started to ‘come out’ to destruct and challenge me but also soothe and teach me. It includes reference to ‘resilience’ a two-sided coin, strength but also a camouflage covering over the past, hiding it, putting it out of sight. Inseparable and interwoven, this concept can aid but can also halt the inevitable.

Then we turn to the ‘hurricane’ (a force that stripped me bare) and the trend-setting patterns of ‘knockouts’, and ‘bounce backs’ until there was one knock out that floored me (This is when I met JACK…IN THE BOX) and left me, at last, having little option but to start putting the pieces together bit by bit (the jigsaw). The start of a long recovery. A marathon…not a sprint.


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