Externalising Trauma in Tata and the Big Bad Bull

Illustration by Ann-Cathrine Loo

In order for healing to occur, [trauma survivors] must externalise their stories if their traumatic memories are to be reconstructed and positively transformedAmy Green

This is my favourite illustration in Tata and the Big Bad Bull.

The process of writing, rewriting and illustrating the book enabled me to externalise one of the most tragic experiences of my childhood. An experience that was, for many years, a source of great shame.

In the illustration, Tata [me] kneels before Nanny Dean. This character was inspired by my childhood goat, Sheila. I treated Sheila terribly, killed several of her kids. I did this because my parents, uncles, and teachers abused me. It is not unusual for abused children to relieve their anger by assaulting weak targets, which may include other children and animals.

In the book, Sheila is a wise protagonist who teaches Tata valuable lessons about compassion and forgiveness. The process of externalising this experience has helped me to find a measure of peace.

Externalising traumatic experiences often requires the baring of one’s soul. Without this ‘baring’ it is unlikely that victims will heal.

Many traumatised people believe they can control their pain by remaining silent. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk (2004), notes that “naming [wounds] offers the possibility of a different kind of control.”

                                    Wounds

The night she tried to beat me, I slept on the veranda
of the shop in the square. At dawn, a man hauled
me home. She dragged me to school, whipped me
with the principal’s cane.

Teachers clapped like congregants.

The day Miss Morgan burst my forehead
with the wooden duster,
I drew mother’s signature in the blood.

Some nights, she woke me with a belt
across my back, struck prayer from my throat,
told me others were merciless too.

Others, like my father, whose face I wore. Others,
like grandma, whose bosom was not a safehold.

My entire childhood was a study in revenge.
I tied my pigs in the sun, watched them burn.

First published in Interviewing the Caribbean.

Sharing emotions is an important component of mental health.

References

Green, A. (2011) Art and music therapy for trauma survivors. Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal 24 (2), 14–19.

Van der Kolk, B. (2014) The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin.

1 Comment

  1. This short account of externalizing trauma resonates strongly with me as one who has had adverse childhood experiences. I still have not found the courage to undertake this emotional work. Your article is telling me that this work needs to be done if I truly desire to heal. Your choice of words makes it reader friendly yet technical enough to be taken very seriously. I was really moved by the poetry at the end. I also like how short it is, brief and to the point.

Leave a Reply