In this extraordinary book, Meera Atkinson explores the ways trauma reverberates over a lifetime, unearthing the traumatic roots of our social structures and our collective history.
Using memoir as a touchstone, Atkinson contemplates the causes of trauma and the scars it leaves on modern society. She vibrantly captures her early life in 1970s and ’80s Sydney and her self-reflection leads the reader on a journey that takes in neuroscience, pop psychology, feminist theory and much more.
Searing in its truthfulness and beauty, Traumata deals with issues of our time –intergenerational trauma, family violence, alcoholism, child abuse, patriarchy – forging a path of fearless enquiry through the complexity of humanity.
Traumata (UQP 2018) is an important work of non-fiction that traverses the notion of trauma from every angle – physical, psychological, emotional, historical, intergenerational and inherited. Author Meera Atkinson delves deep into her own personal story and the legacy that trauma has left on her life, and places this into the wider context of societal wounds such as family violence, addiction and child abuse. She connects and views these themes through investigating philosophy, feminism, neuroscience and pop psychology, and comes full circle by illustrating these broad issues with anecdotes of friendship, family, love, relationships, art, work and growing up. This is a book almost forensic in its dissection of trauma, and its intense and detailed analysis of the causes, interpretations and results will satisfy the most curious of readers looking for an in-depth, measured and well-researched exploration of this issue. But she manages to translate the often dense and dark subject matter into an accessible and highly readable story by combining threads of her own history throughout, along with keen observations, thoughtful inquiry and scrutiny, and careful and empathetic assessment. Traumata is truthful in a way that is painfully honest and candid. Atkinson pursues uncomfortable questions, even when she knows they throw a harsh light onto her own actions. And she is brutal with details of her life that are difficult to read, and hard to hear. On the opening page, she writes of herself as a young woman after being raped, naked and standing by the side of the road covered only by a cardboard box: ‘Is it even necessary to tell that story? Haven’t we heard enough? It occurs to me now I don’t recall this rape ever coming up in therapy. It had some competition.’ And with this we know we’re expected to do some heavy lifting. She continues: ‘Course, not everyone lives in the slipstream of a familial clusterfuck of trauma, but even the most well-adjusted and loving of families aren’t immune to tragedy, freak accidents and diabolical developments…’ She speaks of shame as: ‘…part of what drives alcoholism, addiction and abuse…in doing so it reproduces and is transmitted…often, paradoxically, by shameless acts, acts in which one person’s avoidance of shame demands another carry it.’ And she notes that many who grow up in an atmosphere where shame or violence or general bad behaviour is the norm, ‘…come to the realisation that they are profoundly traumatised only after decades of suffering…’ She speaks of the ‘…crushing loneliness of being misunderstood, even by oneself.’ And yet she lightens the mood with her easy turn of phrase and her sense of humour, speaking to the reader in a conversational tone or making a joke or a quip just when we least expect it, bringing us out of the darkness and settling us back into ‘normality’. Atkinson discusses the beauty myth, patriarchy, memory, education, #MeToo, poetry, anxiety, self-help gurus, body modification, cultural norms, coming of age and intergenerational trauma, all within the framework of her own troubled family relationships. She shares stories about her enigmatic mother, and her (mostly) absent father, whom she was always trying to please: ‘…if I had a father…there were moments when I thought he would be proud of me too, especially about the dancing, so I danced harder…with my family, if I had a family, in the audience, applauding, and the sound of that applause was the sound of being good enough.’ So poignant, especially when viewed with the included photographs of her younger self.
Not sure if I will be able to come back and write a full review in near future, so just a very quick update upon completion...
Meera Atkinson's book is written with incredible self-honesty, skilfully weaving her personal history with insightful contemplations on it. Those contemplations are both supported and informed by research and writings of relevant work, which she generously refers to throughout. As a result Traumata does not fit into any neat categorisations, but for me that was a plus as it strikes me as much more authentic to lived processes.
Review in progress. Anticipating I will end up rating this 4-5 stars.
I'm only in early chapters, so far, and have been utterly absorbed, underlining so many familiar, beautifully expressed lines and passages, scribbling notes through margins. This one is clearly a keeper.
I need a break, though, not like with other books where I am disinterested and annoyed, but because Meera Atkinson clearly knows the territory. To read a work that so clearly and intimately articulates that territory, by a fellow traveller of the complex trauma underworld, is unsettling, disassembling and painful as much as it is a comforting, deeply satisfying relief. It's not often I come across others describing experience in such familiar terms, drawing such similar connections across multiple fronts from the personal to cultural and more.
Atkinson is, among other things, a poet, and that way of relating to language is very present here. It's beautiful to read. And I will continue reading. Atkinson clearly has some very raw and pointed insights to share about the collateral damage of our culture, and I'm very keen to see how the rest of the book unfolds. Even if that needs to take me a while.
As far as reading on the topic of trauma - what a wonderful departure from the usual expert-texpert textbook or self-help formats this book is.
Traumata, by Meera Atkinson (UQP, 2018), is an informed and passionate critique of patriarchy, woven into a braided narrative, where the author’s life story is the weft woven through the warp (the formative structure) of patriarchal society in all its forms and deformities. Atkinson’s weaving of her life story with theory is powerful, for every experience and incident she relates is material for illuminating the traumatising influence of patriarchy; hence the plural title. Her self-exposure is searching, nakedly honest and compelling, but it is always in service of her intent, which is to create a three-dimensional picture of the society we are born into, deeply and generationally wounded by the institutionalised, polyphonic, medusa-headed curse of patriarchy. Atkinson has achieved this searching picture of the wounded culture into which we are born with great skill and a remarkable command of the many discourses that inform this deconstruction of ‘traumarchy,’ her word for the traumata caused by patriarchy.
Meera, as a little girl of four, was abandoned by her father when he and her mother separated, and from then on, her childhood was beset by a succession of dysfunctional men, foils to her mother’s narcissism, one or two with paedophilic tendencies. The worst setup was when she and her school friend arranged a meeting between their parents, and the result was a blended family, traumatised by violent quarrels between the adults and a very unsafe, chaotic domestic scene. Meera dropped out of school before she was fourteen, and her teen years were a sequence of failed attempts at finding herself, road journeys, underage drinking progressing to poly-drug use, overdoses, detoxes, failed co-dependent relationships, and finally, in her late twenties, shaky steps towards sobriety and tertiary study, and the relatively safe, but still wounded space, that she occupies.
I was about a third of the way through the book before it really took hold of me, and as I read I became more and more engaged. This slight resistance on my part was to what I saw as an eclectic toolbox of psychology, social commentary, psychoanalytic theory, feminist theory, media, neurophysiology, genetics, and more. I found myself skimming some paragraphs. But as the life story tightened its grip on me, I began to see the need to switch back and forward between different lenses, to shine light on this mass, this mess of a life. There are no romantic happy endings in the story of a traumatised life. Atkinson describes herself now as ‘a high-functioning agoraphobe,’ with a fear of flying, a tendency to panic attacks, and OCD-like symptoms of the need for control and order, which was masked by self-medication in her earlier years.
But there are good things. Her relationship with her father is mended, so that she can say ‘I have a father now.’ She understands his failure to be the father she needed, which triggered her desperate search for a man who would love her as she was, in a stable place of safety and intimacy. She is able to say ‘I have never loved him more than I do now.’
Can the traumata of patriarchy be transformed? she asks. Despite ‘bone-deep cracks and bruised vulnerabilities and injurious trauma-bound habits,’ the challenge is to ‘dedicate your life to changing what it is in your power to change… to love life despite the ugliness, the unfairness, the injustice… [to] meet traumata in tenderness.’ And though there are ‘moments of grace,’ most of the time ‘I still struggle towards those elegant hours.’
This is a profound and deeply felt reflection on the issues of our time and their patriarchal roots, arriving at a compassionate, intelligent understanding of self and the challenge of not just surviving, but living intensely, with love and tenderness.
It deserves to be read by all thinking men and women, and to be on late secondary and tertiary reading lists, for its significant contribution to intelligent, informed, compassionate discussion of how we can address the traumata of our civilisation.
In TRAUMATA, Atkinson has landed the difficult trick of pulling together the personal and research materials in such a way that readers can't help but reconsider their own experience. This book is generous and unafraid to look at difficult topics, with thorough research and beautiful prose to back it up. Thanks for your insight and sharing your journey, Meera.
* takes you on a rip roaring roller coaster ride * keeps you page turning way beyond bed time * ignites every feeling you never knew you had * educates the heck out of you * makes you want to share and buy it for all your friends and family * gifts you with a woman's true, raw story laid bare I have wanted to read a book like this all my life. Meera Atkinson correlates educational info that perfectly pairs and relates to her own haunting, juicy, fascinating life along with photos that clearly demonstrate her life including those that shaped it. It is simply GOLD period. Every person would benefit from reading it. I certainly have. There are parallels that intersect with my life. It made me laugh, cry and fascinated me from start to finish. It is a book that can be read in any order, however I read it start to finish, glossing over some of the in depth trans general trauma bits because I like the juicy story. However, I am so interested in the educational component that I will read and re read bits from time to time. Male and female will love it. It also has a big picture message that could have an impact on much needed change on our planet. I wish it was on audible and mainline bookshops. I will be buying it for my daughter and recommend it to all my friends. You are a very brave woman Meera, I take my hat off to you
Powerful combination of memoir and social commentary. Atkinson relates very personal events and emotions from her life to the context of the time and place. She has read widely and understood deeply the intersections of trauma, sexual abuse, addiction, systemic racism, patriarchy, capitalism, colonisation, human supremacy, and other destructive systems and beliefs.
It was fascinating for me to read a psychological/socio-political memoir by an Australian woman my age, with some very similar and some very different life experiences.
An ambitious, circular narrative that embraces research and historical context along the way. A book for the brave who want (or need) to explore their traumatic experiences outside of themselves in an academic and sociological context. I can't say it was an easy read, but it was certainly worthy. Perhaps if more people interrogated their own family legacy, we'd have less violence and more tolerance in the world.
I bought this book months ago, but was reluctant to begin it. Narratives of complex trauma are challenging but seductive and I wanted to give this one time. In the end, I didn’t need time as such - I devoured this in two days and about three long sittings. The mix of memoir and confessional writing with theory and philosophy is compelling here, and generally beautifully balanced.
This is brave writing - not because of the intimacies of memoir (although she is frank about tough subjects and her own flaws and mistakes) - but because Atkinson is not afraid to strive for nuance and to court ambivalence. One strong section deals with the legacy of the beauty industry and the patriarchal gaze whilst acknowledging the complex nature of these. This is feminism that tries to do more than reiterate the position of a ‘wave’. Instead, Atkinson nods to intersectional identity politics whilst critiquing late capitalism and also finding a way to think generously of other women. In fact she references other writers with less knowledge and nuance than herself (such as Clementine Ford) without ever being tempted to be dismissive or ungenerous.
In fact, I think it is generosity that underpins this book in unexpected ways. Although she doesn’t subject readers to such new age platitudes, it’s clear that part of her own healing is wrapped up in kindness and forgiveness. The generosity she shows her family members, even those who abandoned or harmed her, marks this as a particularly intelligent memoir.
The strength of this book lies in its use of non fiction and theory. It gives what some other trauma narratives (such as Gay’s Hunger) do not — a systemic analysis underpinned by more than hunches or sociological observation.
For those who like memoirs that blend and bend form and genre this book has much to offer. And despite its gruelling subject matter (and obvious triggering material), for those with complex trauma histories, it offers clues to healing even amongst its grim chronicling of this age of traumata.
Oh how I tried. Firstly I acknowledge the courage and conviction of the author to share her story honestly. She also has utilised some great resources (and cited them) which I will look up. It was good to read something in this genre in an Australian context. However. It rambled. It jumped around. It was repetitive (if I heard patriarchy one more time). I tried SO hard to read it all, but gave up at page 200. There is some great information in there - but it was just SO hard to find. A bit like going into a bookshop when nothing is indexed and trying to find something you like. Random. It also felt like a first draft. As well as veering to academic language (which made my eyes glaze over) and made it feel more distant.
This book was amazing. Meera weaves together personal stories with evidence, questions and theories. She brings together experiences from others, and shows how patriarchy, toxic masculinity, environmental destruction, and more all have profound impacts on many of us. She helped me to really understand CPTSD much better, as well as explained things like anxiety, substance abuse, memory gaps, past-as-present and more. I know someone who has DiD so would have welcomed a bit more about that being mentioned in this book as something that is trauma-related.
Brilliant. I’d say it’s a very academic memoir that theoretically applies what the author studies to her past trauma. I like the way she expands personal trauma to a broader horizon of patriarchy and societal trauma. It is very feminist though, I marvel at how the story concludes. Nietzsche’s “will to power” beats miseries and this suck world. The fact that you survived is a miracle. Take the trauma with you. Feel it. Be with it. You continue being, and becoming.
I found it really boring. It's repetitive, clinical (almost a textbook) and it was of no interest at all for me. This being said, maybe someone who is interested in childhood trauma can find it interesting, but honestly... I'd just go with textbooks and articles, if childhood trauma is what you are interested in.
Traumata is as comprehensive as it is delicate: a searing, introspective look at all of the wounds an unrelenting patriarchy remains determined to slice into its subjects. Atkinson considers her own plight, and cushions it neatly into the world-at-large, considering how trauma is felt, executed, carried and medicated.