Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Oscar Pistorius: Neither Innocent, Nor Guilty
By now, most everybody knows who Oscar Pistorius is. We know without a doubt that he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14, 2013. Many people have strong opinions and beliefs about the case as the world waits to see whether it will be proven that he shot his gun with full intent to kill Reeva (knowing it was her behind the bathroom door), or he fired his fatal gun with the intent to kill an intruder. What will the verdict be?
I've followed this disturbing story closely because I have my own underlying curiosity about it that comes from my deep interest in the study of "Body Memory." I have read so much recently about how the mammalian body has a completely separate memory system from the mind, that it's given me a whole new perspective on human responses and a complete paradigm shift in how I respond to people's personalities and circumstances.
When the details of the crime began to surface and as the trial began to unfold, I was deeply repulsed by Pistorius because I have a strong feeling in my heart that he knowingly shot and targeted Reeva. But as I started to make connections from what I've been recently learning about childhood experiences and body memory, I began to see things differently in this case. Heck, I began to see everyone I know differently! I feel like I've had a major breakthrough in my understanding of people. Everything about the theory of Body Memory makes so much logical sense that I'm really astonished that there has been very little serious interest and research on this science in the psychological and medical fields that closed-mindedly continue to insist on its pseudo-status.
According to the short and limited Wikipedia description:
"Body memory is a hypothesis that the body itself is capable of storing memories, as opposed to only the brain. This is used to explain having memories for events where the brain was not in a position to store memories and is sometimes a catalyst for repressed memory recovery. These memories are often characterized with phantom pain in a part or parts of the body – the body appearing to remember the past trauma. The idea of body memory is a belief frequently associated with the idea of repressed memories, in which memories of incest or sexual abuse can be retained and recovered through physical sensations. The idea is pseudoscientific as there are no hypothesized means by which tissues other than the brain are capable of storing memories."
When humans are in infancy and before verbal expression develops, body memory is most dominant because there is no verbal memory yet. That is, experiences can't be stored in words, but they may very well be stored in our living cells. Thus, negative experiences in childhood often manifest themselves into adult physical symptoms or mysterious psychological struggles.
As I researched Oscar Pistorius' childhood and particularly the circumstances surrounding his amputation, my verdict on him changed. And if I was his defending attorney, I would seriously look into a completely different strategy for his defense, because even though I believe Pistorius committed this crime in full mental knowledge, there might be enough to prove that it was actually his body memory's response which took over and made him knowingly pull the trigger. I would argue that this physical memory of violence and trauma triggered a REFLEX in him which is completely not in his mental control.
The story goes that when Oscar was born, he was missing the fibula bones in both legs. He had feet and two toes on each foot, but his shins below the knee were congenitally deformed. This beautiful baby boy was not "perfect" enough, so his parents quickly set out to "fix" him.
After an obsessive search for expert doctor opinions by his parents (bordering on the Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, if you ask me!), the decision was made to amputate his legs below the knee sooner than later. The reasoning behind the urgency had nothing to do with any danger of deterioration of his health, he could have lived with this deformity for the rest of his life. The reason the parents and surgeons decided to amputate in infancy is to give him neat stumps and no chance to experience anything but prosthesis legs to walk on from the beginning. I recognize this flawed mentality. In modern education speak, they call this impulsiveness to act on human imperfections BEFORE problems arise "early intervention." The child will learn better if we try to fix him sooner. In my opinion, this rush to "fix" Oscar was a tragic mistake and an injustice. The amputation could have been, and should have been, postponed until this baby had the verbal ability to decide what he wanted to do with his body, and a verbal ability to express physical pain and understand its source and purpose. In his autobiography Blade Runner (published before the crime) Pistorius writes:
"Basically if I had a double-amputation before I learned to walk, I would never know what it was like to walk on my own feet and so would not suffer from the trauma for having lost them."
And so his legs were amputated at the age of 11 months.
But trauma he did suffer at this most tender and impressionable age. His body must recall this operation as a gross act of violence against it. In the first chapter of the book Pisorius tells us that his father (the same father who traveled the globe to collect dozens of expert opinions) was out of town on a business meeting when the amputation surgery took place. When he returned early, feeling guilty for being away, he found infant Oscar alone in a cold recovery room in the hospital "wailing in agony," because no effective pain medication was administered to him. Just imagine this infant's terror and pain. Where does this horrific memory get stored if it doesn't verbally get stored in the mind?
I haven't read Pistorius' entire autobiography, but believe me, I will soon. These are just little clues I found by looking at the book's preview on Amazon. Predictably, Oscar must have spent the rest of his life hearing messages of "you can achieve whatever you want," and that is likely why he achieved his athletic successes. But he also must have heard over and over, that his legs were amputated because his parents loved him so much and wanted him to be perfect.
I have read biography after biography of historical figures, criminals, artists, and all kinds of people with tragic life endings. In all these lives--all of them-- an injured childhood is unquestionably the root of the violence. The body memory is separate from, and uncontrolled by, the mind, yet it probably defines half of our life's responses. A more serious study of this human phenomenon is overdue and it has the potential of breaking ground in the way we view everything, from medicine to education to criminal law.
I'm not a judge, witness, or lawyer, but I don't believe Pistorius' recent emotional breakdowns in the courtroom are an act. I think what we are seeing instead is the image of a baby trapped in his injured body who cries for the lonely violence he endured in the name of love, and lost in his confusion by his own fatal reaction to his girlfriend. I also don't think that Oscar believes his own story. He simply cannot verbally explain what happened to him in that insane moment, but he knows it was wrong, and no other defense is available to save his life except to convince everyone (including himself) that he meant to kill an intruder. In the mind and heart of Oscar, he didm't intend to kill Reeva. Only in his BODY, did he intend to. The person on trial here is the injured infant inside Oscar, not the adult Oscar. Hard to prove in a court of law, but personally, I rest my opinion.
So there's your doze of Pistorius during the recess. Until court resumes on May 5,
Keep your ears on...