Patronus

This whole first section is quotes; skip it if you find academic language/buzzwords obnoxious. The second section is all Harry Potter references that relate to the third section.

“Safe and protective early relationships are critical to protect children from long-term problems.” – page 156
“…Childhood trauma is radically different from traumatic stress in fully formed adults.” – page 157
“Adverse experiences are interrelated, even though they’re usually studied separately…Incidents of abuse are never stand-alone events. And for each additional adverse experience reported, the toll in later damage increases.” (referring to the ACE study) – page 147
“If you carry a memory of having felt safe with somebody long ago, the traces of that earlier affection can be reactivated in attuned relationships when you are an adult, whether these occur in daily life or in good therapy. However, if you lack a deep memory of feeling loved and safe, the receptors in the brain that respond to human kindness may simply fail to develop.” – pages 143-4
Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score (New York: Penguin Books, 2015)

“Early maltreatment has enduring negative effects on brain development. Our brains are sculpted by early experiences. Maltreatment is a chisel that shapes a brain to contend with strife, but at the cost of deep, enduring wounds. Childhood abuse isn’t something you “get over.” It is an evil that we must acknowledge and confront if we aim to do anything about the unchecked cycle of violence in this country.”
Martin Teicher, MD, PhD, Scientific American

“To fully understand how we become the persons we are…requires an understanding of the process of development, how all these factors work together in an ongoing way over time.”
Alan Sroufe, The Development of the Person: The Minnesota Study of Risk and Adaptation from Birth to Adulthood (New York: Guildford Press, 2005).

“Social support is a biological necessity, not an option, and this reality should be the backbone of all prevention and treatment. …all parents need help to nurture their kids. Nearly every industrialized nation, with the exception of the United States, recognizes this and provides some form of guaranteed support to families.”
J. J. Heckman, “Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children,” Science 312, no. 5782 (2006): 1900-2.


There’s this scene in the story of Harry Potter that’s burned into my mind. I felt it’s importance the first time I read it and visualized it. Even though I didn’t know why I loved it so much, I knew that I felt too much longing for that reality over this one: I needed to be ashamed! Failed! Bad! How broken I must be! Don’t let anyone know! They will be so angry with you if you ever tell! 

That’s obviously a terrible cocktail of developmental trauma encountering extreme religious training, disassociation, and skewed social perspective. Let that be for now.

When Harry needs his Patronus the most, he can’t manage it. It’s too much for him and he succumbs to despair despite his best efforts. At the last moment a bright silver light in the shape of a stag comes galloping across the lake towards the fray on the far side. The light causes the soul-eaters to weaken and scatter and Harry returns to consciousness. Whoever his savior is, Harry can’t quite place the figure he sees on the far side of the lake but he looks familiar. In fact, Harry thinks it looks like his Father’s old school pictures and could well be help from beyond the grave!

The only reason I tell this story is because of what happens later on. This particular story includes one night of time-traveling so the attack happens twice. The second time through, Harry has accomplished his mission and he has met his uncle who wants to adopt him. They are all walking back to the world and happen to pass by the lake on the far side. Harry is feeling hope, belonging, and connected for the first time in his life since his parents died.

He sees the attack from afar and responds with excitement. He quickly runs toward the spot on the shore where he thinks his father will appear to cast the Patronus but nothing happens. The fight goes from bad to worse and Harry sees his soul leaving his body. He’s so disappointed that his Father didn’t show, but he realizes at the same time that he needs to cast his own Patronus to save himself!

He feels different. He feels confident and safe. That feeling of safety, he knows, is attached to his uncle and makes all the difference. His Patronus is strong and swift in the shape of a stag. He realizes he was his own savior but he couldn’t cast the Patronus the first time through because he didn’t have the happy memory to draw strength from.

This hit me as astoundingly, viscerally true. It didn’t seem to relate to my life at the time because I blamed myself for my despair and was numb to pain of all kinds. Still, my body knew. My subconscious could tell. I want to feel safe.


“Was there anybody who you felt safe with growing up?”

No.
I guess.
Yes, maybeeeeee.
No.

Abused since birth, mother abused since before gestation, obvious problems, obvious denial. Isolated from friends, people, school, rules, anybody who might notice that something isn’t right here. Blankie was my only feeling of safety. Even my own body wasn’t safe.

I eventually learned that locked doors felt more safe than almost anything else. The most safe I’ve ever felt was during college: an all-girls dorm guarded by Hel herself, a heavily religious environment that treated sex as taboo, a circular always-lighted hallway and communal open bathroom that somehow sidestepped all of my fears, someone was usually awake somewhere, no one could leave or arrive silently, and a roommate who was sheltered and damaged like me. We forged a unique bond that felt safe. As safe as I could be; and I did experience a feeling close to safety with her. But, despite her compassion and my stubborn efforts, I wasn’t capable of the regular range of human emotions. I said and did things that I knew felt wrong, but I didn’t figure it out until years later. Who trusts their own feelings when they are supposed to be dying to themselves every day? How could I believe the stupid worthless hag behind my eyes when I know I need to defer to any and all male authority? Christianity was complicit in my abuse and I’m still not over it. My ignorance and numbness led me to hurt the people I loved and make choices I would later regret. My self-hate made me question every good thing in my life because something always felt wrong. It was me! It was me that was wrong! Relief and thoughts of suicide followed that realization.

I feel like I’m dying every day but I have this blind hope that someday I’ll encounter that Patronus from the person I could be. That’s the only way I can see myself surviving to become that capable, awesome person. I need that help from beyond. I desperately want to save myself, but I am very aware of my weaknesses: I’m a social animal but never learned to tend relationships for the long term. I love being compassionate but have a mental block when it comes to being nice to myself. I am great at explaining things different ways to others but can’t understand my own feelings of pain or happiness. I can become physically safe, but my body still feels in danger. I may never feel completely safe. Fuck no. I can’t think like that right now.


I’ve got a fictitious fantasy, and a brain malformed. I need resources that don’t exist here and I don’t fit in with the people with power and money. And it eats me up inside that there’s a lot of us with the same problem but we’re not as important as short-term profits.

I did not grow up feeling safe with anyone.

That house was obviously a dangerous place for me. He did his work so well on us. He was completely safe when we would stay with other people; I was a social pariah because of my problems, I didn’t know how to feel or form relationships so I was alone. I was constantly feeling unsafe.

I remember when I was about seven and I would incessantly call out for Daddy over and over and over unless I was physically touching him. Super annoying, but I remember feeling compelled to continue this  behavior. He was the source of my greatest pains but child-me knew he was the safest thing in my world. That’s how he gets you. That’s the real boogey-man.

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