While traveling home from a writing conference this weekend, I stupidly packed my laptop charging brick in checked baggage. Little did I think about the unpredictability of travel. My departing flight was delayed, which would arrive too late in Chicago for me to make my transfer flight home to Missoula. I was rerouted. I had a five hour layover in Chicago, and nearly three hours in Denver. Yikes. It would be a long day.
In the Chicago airport, I bought a new cord to charge my laptop from the USB outlets at the charging stations. But, the outlets didn’t work. They were loose and overused, and couldn’t hold the cord in their pithy grip. I plugged my phone charger cube into an electrical outlet, then the USB cord. Still, no luck. I took a photo and sent it to my husband. He called me right away. “You have to use the laptop charger,” he said. “You can’t charge a laptop with a phone charger.”
I sensed his bafflement at my idiocy. I felt angry, deprived of knowledge. I had never heard this Rule of Chargers, and in revenge, I went back to Concourse C to buy a charging brick. They didn’t have one, and I was sent back, again, to Concourse B. I found the right charging brick at airport prices, and bought it, because it was the only way I’d be able to write during the long day ahead of me. And because, in my writing, I had a purpose.
Much of my memoir writing centers around trauma. I wish I didn’t feel so passionate about this subject because it is HARD. But by exposing my trauma, I’ve learned the greatest reward comes from others who have reached out, because they too, have experienced great pain. The wrong company holds great rejection. The right company holds great solace for trauma survivors.
During my writing conference, through a serendipitous force field that happens when writers unite to support each other, I unraveled a mystery that had been hiding beneath the surface of my writing. In my memoir, knowledge plays the monster under the bed. It is a scary concept, knowing too much about pain, knowing how pain manifests into other behaviors, knowing I had already survived what scared me most. The monster I’ve been trying to deny was my own rejection of everything I am capable of knowing. Gah! Let me say that again in a way that you can relate. When we shortchange ourselves, especially from self-knowledge, we deny our potential.
Mentally, I have beaten myself up a lot. It happened with the charger. It happened with my trauma. It still happens: with my writing, my social skills, my cooking. While riding the elevator down from the 15th floor at the writing conference, I was struck by a greater impact. Self-beratement was a conditioning I learned from growing up female, and this echoed throughout my life by countless voices who personified the monster under the bed. During my emergence into knowing my trauma, dismissal of my experience felt exacerbated. Speaking about it was hard, making it feel real and terrifying and too big to overcome. Still, I spoke about it, poorly, because I was angry and enraged, and empathy was not readily given. I was looking for solace, but solace was hard to find.
Over a lifetime, we acquire knowledge in bits and pieces, and memoir writing relies on every parceled bit of knowledge to form a cohesive strand about ONE THING. Memoir asks “What do I know that others don’t know they already know?” Typically, we want to avoid what we already know. That hard thing. We worry it’s too big, too hard, too painful. Before we even begin to think for ourselves and claim what we know, bias already has power over us. It victimizes. It berates and diminishes. It rejects. But the scarier thing is: It controls us. It shapes our worldview. It clouds our reality.
In the company of writers this past weekend, I felt as if I had plugged into myself. I recognized the bias of my trauma began with my own denial of its severity. “It’s not that bad.” “No, I’m fine.” But what hurts us, hurts others. My bias dismissed the severity of my experience, which meant that by way of association I also dismissed the severity of others’ trauma.
Trauma bias is pervasive. It has roots in combat, where men have dictated what and how we respond to trauma by way of war veterans afflicted with PTSD. Statistically, women are diagnosed with PTSD over twice the rate as men, with the most leading cause due to sexual assault, followed by child abuse and neglect, then domestic abuse or the sudden loss of a loved one. Despite this, women have received the message that their trauma is insignificant, unimportant, and less impactful than the trauma of men. This belief, based on repetitive messaging, hurts relationships, families, communities, and society. It hurts hearts. Every son and daughter intuits a sense of merit based on gender, which as adults, perpetuates opposition, and/or denies men from the context of the world their wives and daughters live in, and denies women from validation. By failing to expose the severity of female trauma, we are failing to provide a context in which we develop the empathy we need to support and heal each other.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Here’s a heartwarming video on bias.