This chapter of Author X Audience is about trauma.
Trauma is difficult to nail down. It’s difficult to know what it looks like, what will trigger it, and even who is suffering from it. The thing about abuse is that one often doesn’t know that they’re being abused when it’s happening. Women don’t stay with abusive husbands because they want to, they stay with difficult partners because they believe they’re the only ones who can help them. Similarly, I knew I didn’t like being hit by my father as a child, and I certainly felt it was wrong, but no one did anything to stop it, so I assumed it must be normal.
That abuse of my person left me traumatized, and it’s only within the last five years that I’ve really understood how much.
For example, my mother likes to playfully swat people on their butts when she feels they’re being sassy. Because my father beat me growing up and favored that area so he could justify it as “spanking,” this is something that she can’t do with me. She used to get defensive, telling me I was overreacting and that she was just joking. It wasn’t until I explained how my trauma with my father led me to feel that any strike to my buttocks triggered my fight/flight/freeze response that she started to understand.
When swatted on the buttocks, my mood would swing to anger. I would puff up, my voice would drop. I would get louder and scary. Because instead of living a light swat from my playful mother, my trauma flashed me back to when I had no bodily autonomy and my father felt he was justified in beating me. My mother was unintentionally forcing me to relive things that she didn’t mean to.
This chapter of Author X Audience is a very personal one for me. It deals with the trauma of being beaten by a parent as a child, and what it’s like when that parent still believes themselves justified.
My father and I are estranged the way that Alexis and her father are in this chapter. My father also believes he didn’t beat me as a child because he never hit me in the face and never left a bruise. My father also would rather argue semantics than deal with the trauma he caused his child.
In this chapter, Alexis deals with the very complex feelings that go into being abused by a parent. On the one hand, this person hurt you and left you traumatized. On the other, they’re your parent. Whether you wanted to or not, you spent 18ish years under their roof and hoped they would be proud of you, love you, and care for you. The struggle between wanting to fix things and have a close relationship with this person and maintaining your boundaries so they can’t hurt you again is a delicate dance.
We get to see Alexis emotionally struggle with those feelings over the course of the chapter. We also get to see how deeply her trauma informs her life. The way that she’s quick to respond about Philbrick and whether he used corporal punishment against Alex and Xander is a key example of how trauma informs her perspective. She was abused by a parent. She knows what a parent who does that looks like—and it isn’t the way that Terry wrote Philbrick.
She, like me, is also versed in self-defense. She knows that when you hand a child the tools to defend themselves, eventually they’ll use them. I was 14 when I told my father I would break his arm if he touched me. He stopped hitting me, but started breaking things around me when he was mad enough that he wanted to hit me. It was another form of abuse that told me just what he wanted to do to me, but I had scared him. I was big enough and capable enough to make good on my threat. So when Alex’s boxing is brought up, Alexis has an answer for that too. She took Taekwondo just like me. She made a similar threat to her father at a similar age. She knows that a parent who abuses a child would not willingly give them a way to defend themselves. Both Alexis and I are lucky that our mothers enrolled us in Taekwondo at young ages.
Mine and Alexis’s shared trauma also plays a role in the anxiety we share. Since small things such as who was going to take out the trash could lead to my father flying off the handle, my anxiety accounts for everything that could go wrong at any given moment. It’s part of why her anxiety leads to fight/action based responses instead of fleeing or freezing; the only way to be safe in my home was to be bigger, scarier, and stronger than my father. She might be scared out of her mind, but that fear leads her to act.
Hence why, when Alexis sees her father about to hit Terry (I speak from experience when I had Alexis say that if you’re hit enough times by someone you know what they look like when they’re about to do it again), she jumps between them instead of leaving the situation or freezing.
People seem to think that victims of trauma aren’t active. That they can’t reclaim themselves and are only acted upon. That fear and anxiety only lead to hesitance and timidity.
Part of the reason I put so much of my experience into Alexis in this chapter is because I need to combat those stereotypes. My trauma informs my life. I want people to be informed about trauma, how it can present, and how to be sensitive to it.
I also want people to be able to recognize their own trauma. It took me until my early 20s to realize that I had been traumatized by my father. It took me just as long to figure out that I had a mental illness because I was still functioning instead of breaking down and failing at everything I took on. It’s important to me that people realize that aggressive, action-oriented, and successful people like Alexis are just as prone to trauma, abuse, and mental illness as anyone.
I hope that for those like myself and Alexis, this chapter was a freeing one. I hope for those of you who have never encountered someone like me or Alexis, it was informative. Most of all, I hope you’ll tune in for the next chapter on the 15th where Terry gets to be a very good partner and we see Alexis recover some of her trust in men and fall even more in love.
Until next time, my lovelies! Stay well.