Complex Trauma

I suffered from Complex Trauma.  I’m here to tell you a bit of my story.  My story is one of many.  Children die every day from the likes of what I suffered, and if they survive?  Well, they turn out like me.  My difficulties are not biological or of character flaws. 

My neurophysiology is the result of inadvertent training.  I learned to survive from the moment I was born.  Every second was a question of do I step this way or that?  Do I run or stand pat? Can I breathe or should I hold my breath?

The rage on my mother’s face always twisted my torment with fear.  By an early age, I had learned to temper my fear by dissociating.  I floated my mind away from my body’s associations and drowned my fear with oblivion.  But I had to squeak out a bit to assure my mother she was hurting me.

My first real memory of terror was just before the age of two.  My mother stood across the kitchen.  She saw me and cooed to me with her arms held out—her face glowed with kindness.  My rubber pants swish-swished as I toddled toward her.  She gathered me up in her arms.  In a split second, her face twisted into an evil rage.

“I gotcha now,” she growled.

I screamed and twisted to get away from that face.  My memory goes dark then.  But I believe I was successful in my efforts and crashed to the floor—smashing my nose into my face.  I suppose she probably complicated the break by pushing a rag into my face to stem the bleeding.  No doctor—no hospital—just a devil trying to keep from getting caught for the damage she caused.  I lived with that nose for thirteen years.  My nickname was flatnose.



There was far far more to my suffering.  My story, The Pursuit tells more of the tale.



I was 15-years-old when my mother finally booked me in for plastic surgery to fix my nose.  She knew I knew she had caused it.  I went in for the procedure in which a plastic surgeon used a rubber mallet to smash what was left of my nose with a rubber mallet while I twilight slept to reset it.

After came the news in recovery that my beloved pet—a dog I named Waggles for the incessant motion of his tail—was dead.  They gave me some excuse for why he was dead, but I know they killed him.  For years I suffered guilt over the fixing of my face—selfish, I was—I should have stayed home and protected my dog.  All I have left of that memory is his collar.  But he was not the only pet I loved that met death because I loved them.

There were other injuries.  Loss of part of a finger.  That’s a long and terrifying story.  I was 2 ½ then.  It was my wedding ring finger and I grew up knowing there would be no pretty pictures with the groom hovering placement at any wedding I might have.

I was about two and a half.  I was wearing a pretty dress and my mother’s friend, Arlene, was over.  I loved Arlene.  My mother didn’t like the competition for attention and I knew it.  But I kept it up anyway.

“Go to your room,” my mother snapped.

My room was just off the living room.  I started crying and went.  There were two steps going down into my room and I stood on the top step still crying.  My hand was on the doorjamb.  You can imagine the rest.


I don’t remember doctors attending to my finger, but I remember being in the hospital.  Half of the bone in my ring finger had been crushed beyond repair above the top joint.  They manage to save my fingernail, but it curves over and around the top like a hat, growing downward.  I have to be careful to trim it or it grows into the skin of my finger.

At first, I was afraid.  The old-fashioned hospital cribs were like cages with a barred cover over the top.   I felt trapped.  A nurse was looking at me, her face angry.  It took me years to figure out she probably wasn’t angry with me.

The hospital was peaceful to me eventually.  It had a beautiful veranda that they used to give us air.  I remember my crib out on the veranda and looking out at the greenery and peace.  I remember not wanting to go home and wanting to stay there.  I felt safe.  Peaceful and safe.

They sent me home.  I suspect they sent me home with a warning.  I had two permanent deformities by age three.  That suspected warning probably saved my life.

The rest were broken bones.  And those were all by the age of 2 1/2.  I’m pretty sure medical staff served up a warning to my mother then.

When I was fifteen, my father informed me that the whole world thought I was a whore.  I was pure and told him so.   I believed my mother would kill me if I indulged such fantasies.   I think he wanted to scorch my view of myself because I had rebuffed his earlier advances.  Yet my mother sat in a chair to the left of me–a grimace on her face that told me,  of course, she is a whore.

What an Asshole my mind now grumbles.

All this resulted in a severe form of trauma.  It was a long time before I stopped living every moment in fear.  To survive, I was forced to think in the abstract.  Point is, I don’t think like most people.  Tests show I cluster rather than think serially.  In plowing through the dust in my mind, I see that if a point in the conversation with people that seems to not quite fit in, I tuck it away in a file in my mind for future reference.  If things come together as a result of later conversations—that one doesn’t fit—this one doesn’t fit, and epiphany!—they fit with each other.  It’s that clustering thing I do.  But it’s in the interest of determining danger.  I’m still surviving.

Educators gasped at my performance scores starting when I was thirteen—at least that was the first time I saw a teacher do so.  I was ashamed.  Those scores did not feel honest, and they weren’t. They were a result of the incessant need to survive.  To this day, my mind bandies about in the abstract, and though age has slowed me, my mind still tumbles around in abstract problem-solving.

It’s instinctive for me.

I suffered horrific injuries—both physical and mental.  Trauma is not treated here.  I had to treat my trauma on my own.  Trauma is barely recognized and is considered to be a real cash cow in the treatment world.  But when I look in the mirror, or my curved fingernail catches in my clothing, or the cold exacerbates an ache in a healed bone, I know it exists.

Copyright 2018 Joyce Bowen

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