By | May 9, 2018 3 Comments

After the sociopath, managing how my brain manages trauma

By Eleanor Cowan

I felt heavy as I awakened this morning. A toxic punch followed by a few slaps of self-recrimination are tossed with tuning forks—all delivered by myself to me.

“No!” I say as I have for the past thirty years. I swing my legs out of bed and onto the solid oak floor. My gold filigreed daily planner is right where its supposed to be.

I will never erase my actual history of having married a pedophile who molested first his siblings and then our children. His crafty, conscienceless siphoning of my time, energy, money and support for fourteen years can never be expunged. I can never, ever erase his small daily cruelties that sadly, I got used to tolerating, little by little, more and more.

While I’m not in charge of the unbidden thoughts and feelings that rush in like default’s deluge when I awaken, I do hold myself responsible for them. I’m in charge of the time I spend on such unwanted, useless, habitual and self-defeating personal assaults.

Recently, at Walmart, I saw a little boy cry when his father said he could not have the treat he wanted. That part was okay. But when I saw the Dad screw up his face and mimic his child’s distress, when I saw the child’s humiliation as his father mewled in front of him, I was reminded of my ex-husband. Mean people don’t differ much. In the checkout line, I told the father, in front of his child, that I thought his imitation of his son’s distress was unnecessary, disrespectful and cruel. He told me to mind my own damn business. I said that I was doing just that. His son heard me. He listened. I hope he tucked my comment into his heart. Mine thumped with heavy memories on my walk home.

And so, back to my routine. Along with a hot cup of tea, every morning my agenda book rests on a colorful pillow on my lap. I plan my new day of life, far preferable to re-living yesterday’s trauma over and over again.

Today, at lunchtime, I’m mailing special books to a dear friend—one of them is my own memoir. I’ll walk along the beautiful river pathway to the post office. This evening, I’ll prepare a tasty strawberry pecan salad to share with a guest. Carol loves my cooking, so I have an extra container set aside so she can enjoy a second helping at the office tomorrow. There are three worthwhile objectives on today’s list: one for others, one for me, one that just needs to get done.

As I accomplish each goal, I may not feel great—but at least I don’t feel worse. And, so often a lovely little surprise occurs, a tiny unexpected meeting or a fresh idea that propels my energy to a better place.

Once, while attending a healing conference, I shared with a psychiatrist that sometimes at night, just as I’m drifting off to sleep, I’m jolted awaked by harsh images of murder and mayhem. Sleep is chased away. The doctor nodded in full comprehension and explained this phenomenon to me in the following way:

“Once you’ve been hurt, your brain makes a life-long pledge. It commits to protecting you for the rest of your life. From that time forward, its most important full-time job is to make sure you’re always completely secure.”

She continued, “Would you agree that nodding off to sleep leaves you vulnerable…as you once were as a child? Would you agree that in this defenseless state, you could possibly once again get hurt, just as happened in the past? The sudden jolts and awful images are your brain’s clever way to wake you up, so you can defend yourself if necessary.”

The doctor said these distracting flashes of violence are calculated to keep me awake and vigilant. She added, They will never stop: A commitment on the part of the brain to protect you, is a forever deal.”

“So, what can I do?” I asked.

Without any hesitation, this generous analyst spoke words I’ve treasured for years:

“Make sure that your creative life is passionate, that your day-to-day is well-lived, and that your waking hours are as meaningful to you as you can possibly make them.

“Your violent images will still occur,” she added, “but you can arrange to be so pleased at the end of a well-lived day that they won’t last as long—and your own satisfaction at having done your best each day will soothe you as fall to sleep.”

Now, my images of murder and mayhem alert me that my dedicated brain is simply loving me as best it can, in the way it knows. I counteract the stressful images by counting, like sheep, the many moments of pleasure that occurred today.

Each day, I repeat the prescription. There are no days off for me. Today, just as my brain has its ways to protect me from potential harm, I have my fun ways too…not by recoiling into perpetual victimhood, but by living my best each day of my life.

Eleanor Cowan is author of “A History of a Pedophile’s Wife,” which is available on Visit her at


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Thank you Eleanor. This too, can steal your future, when you can’t let go and sleep is not restful. Now I will say, ‘thank you brain. Ssshhh’.


Eleanor, the man at Walmart made his business YOUR BUSINESS by doing it out in public!


When I’m under a lot of stress, I have trouble sleeping. I never made that connection that falling asleep leaves us vulnerable to danger, but it makes perfect sense. I LOVE the advice given here – to cultivate a life of passion and meaning. The more I’ve done this, the less identified I feel with being a lifelong trauma survivor. Sometimes I surprise myself by just swimming in the ocean of life, forgetting to be scared and guarded. It catches me by surprise and sneaks up on me when I’m least expecting. Swimming, dancing, helping others with their healing, writing, and most recently teaching and learning languages all seem to raise my joy level. Thank you for this reminder.

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