Doni Shepard

Reliving: A Body At War


“Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on—unchanged and immutable—as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past.”

—Bessel Van Der Kulk, M.D in The Body Keeps the Score


I. Inverting // The Mind


My memory is muddy. Thick with regret and dissociation. I find it hard to remember age five, ten, fifteen. I come in fragments. Forget entire years, entire faces. My memory loses me by day and transposes entire portions of my life by night. Forget the phone bill, where I left my car, what it is to sleep. Forget what love is, feels like, what motherhood is.


In the summer of 1998 my father took me to see my favorite band, Barenaked Ladies. My mother in tow, we drove almost an hour to Mesa. An outdoor concert—my first. I could hardly wait to dance, sing, bury my toes in the grass. My father insisted we stop at the corner store first before making our way to the venue. He exited minutes later, brown paper bag in hand. Inside of the bag was a bottle featuring a cartoon peppermint on the label. Reads “schnapps”. The smell of peppermint wafted through the car as my father slugged back the entire bottle in a matter of minutes.


I remember waiting in line. My father’s body sluggishly creeping closer to mine. I remember his advances, his sloppy, slurring speech—forgetting I was a child. Forgetting I was his. I remember the pathway the crowd made as paramedics navigated their way to his half-lifeless body. I remember his face, piss drunk, as he lay prone in the summer heat. I remember nightfall. An ambulance. Sometimes I still listen to their albums.


II. Calamity // The Body


My body is the closest thing to a catastrophe I know. At fifteen, I spent every morning bus ride hoping not to vomit before I pulled up to school. My mouth served as a hollow home for alcohol, anti-depressants, and teenage rubbish. At twenty-one I began to bleed. Really bleed. I felt my body giving up on me. At twenty-eight the portion of my anatomy that cast me a mother decided to succumb. Sprouting entities that do not belong. My uterus makes space for strangers, tries to shed itself. Tries to shed its owner. Uterine leiomyoma. Adenomyosis. Endometrial dysfunction. Dysfunction. I must find her a new home.


For three straight years I desperately sought escape. The diagnosis was trigeminal neuralgia. I was nearly forty years younger than any other patient Dr. Eross had treated with the condition. We would try a medley of neuro-cocktails in our time together. One always more or less zombie-like than the next. I began to lose track if this was a good or bad thing. For me, the haze began to feel natural. Instinctual. Gabapentin. Lamotrigine. Amitriptyline. Stop the nerves from firing. By the summer of my eighteenth year I was a full-blown Oxycodone addict. I medicated to love, to fuck, to sleep. I came down alone. They say opiate addiction is as bad as it gets. My bones have yet to settle.


III. Phantom // The Soul


I have lost faith in faith. Felt the distance between my family and I grow vast. I am the child of a religious upbringing. Two separate aunts and uncles run two separate churches in my small hometown. Jesus lives in their homes, their hearts—every interaction is an opportunity to accept his love. He captivates any and all occasions. He is their savior. Not mine. I have played the Baptist. The Catholic. The Christian. I search for ways to play human. I feel a ghost with my own kin.


My grandmother was a lover. Not the good kind. The kind of lover that leeches on to any man with an answer. The kind of lover, the kind of mother that lets predators into her home. The men that beat my aunts. The men that molested my own mother under the same roof. My grandmother wanted love at all costs. My grandmother taught me faith. Showed me God.


Forced me to kneel at my bed each night. Recite, recite. Ask for forgiveness. Pray for my family. She taught me faith in men. Faith in love. Faith in the partner who stole the innocence of her first grandchild. Faith so durable it doubled as denial.


Bessel Van Der Kolk writes, “Trauma affects the entire human organism. In PTSD the body continues to defend against a threat that belongs to the past. Healing from PTSD means being able to terminate this continued stress mobilization and restore the entire organism to safety.”


Still                               I am at war.


Doni Shepard is a poet, mother, and lifetime learner currently residing in Phoenix. She spends her days managing content for a popular startup, mommying an extraordinary three-year-old, and serving as Lunch Ticket’s Poetry Editor. Upon nightfall, you can generally find her in an insomniac haze binge-watching Shameless with a fluffy orange feline named Doobie. Her work has been featured by Dirty Chai and can be found in the love anthology Spectrum 3: LoveLoveLove. She is currently an MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles, concentrating in poetry.

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