The secretly wrong thing

Sometimes I think I will never understand my own mind.

So Lonely Child cries every day in assembly. Today, Angry Boy did too. Maybe something set Angry Boy off. Or maybe he’s going through the same thing as Lonely Child. I have no freaking idea. Life seems like such a mess sometimes. I think C has parts. On Tuesday, when she asked for a voucher, I think it really felt to her that she was not her. I think I have been seeing that for a while and not realizing it. Trauma dissociation lies on a continuum. I think she is farther along on it than I thought—as far as originally feared.

Yes, the parts kind of line up with the Modes from Schema Therapy, and they aren’t about the level of dissociation that I experience or that I think C is experiencing. But I think she has more than just modes. I think they are more fully dissociated.

I have felt a lot of grief and sadness about that this week. A lot. I don’t even fully know how to explain why. Just how do you hurt a child so much that it does not feel okay to be herself, and these parts must be entirely cut off and denied? It forces me to confront a very, very deep sadness. It’s not a simple or easy thing to do.

I think it forces me to start to confront things in myself that are hard to confront. I do not think that C deserves what is happening to her. I don’t think she deserves either the abuse from her parents or the indifference of society to her trauma-based needs. Last Wednesday, when the other teachers wanted to drink and enjoy themselves on the way home, it was very hard for me to cope with the idea that their pleasure was worth more than the pain I knew she was feeling at trying to manage a separation from her caregiver.

Of course, they didn’t know. But they also don’t really want to know, and that’s very hard.

It is harder still for me to see my own attitude. My attitude isn’t purely based on a wish to rescue her. It’s not just a reflex: It’s not just, “she’s suffering, and I feel uncomfortable with my own feelings in the face of her suffering and I want to get rid of my feelings fast.” That is not what is happening.

I think it’s wrong. I think it’s easier to build strong children than fix broken adults, and it’s wrong to allow children to suffer in this way. It’s wrong not to help children being raised within families that cannot cope with the responsibility of raising children, because these children are hurting. Their pain is absolutely profound, and it does not go away when they grow up and get out of the position of being entirely dependent on people who can’t take care of them. You don’t grow out of a shitty family.

That’s my attitude.

That attitude extends to my own understanding of myself as a child. It hurts. It hurts so profoundly to feel that there are other ways of seeing things, and there is another way of seeing myself as a child—that I was a child who needed help.

Because really I always think there is something secretly wrong with me. Whatever happens, I always expect it to come back to that. Deep inside, there must be something secretly wrong. And, of course, I have faults. Lots of them. I have trauma-based struggles. It isn’t hard to find that secretly wrong thing once you start down that road. I suspect for many of us, a lot of life is a search to find that secretly wrong thing and fix it. Of course, there is the trauma to fix, but that isn’t the secretly wrong thing. It’s unrelated. There was never any secretly wrong thing that made my parents hate me. They had their own problems.

Understanding

C sent a text last night as though she were someone else. I couldn’t really tell whether it was C or not at the time. For a second, I felt angry.

“Madam can you put voucher.”

Well, I hate when she talks to me that way. It’s very rejecting, and I think it’s also scary. I really felt I was talking to someone else. It felt so much like I was talking to someone else, that I did not know whether I was talking to someone else or not.

And then I thought how scared she must be feeling if she felt she needed to pretend to be someone else, and how unsafe it must feel to be herself. My eyes just welled with tears, thinking what she is going through right now.

There are all these people in my life who have the same kind of trauma. VP Ma’am has it. There is this little girl—Lonely Girl—in my class 3, who has begun to cry in assembly the way C used to do. How did that happen? There is an instinctive shame about it, because normally people with trauma behave badly. They can keep it together and then, like VP Ma’am, they randomly attack you. So there is this connection between abuse and mistreatment in adult life and childhood abuse. That happens for lots of reasons, but I see it still happening now, even as I function better, even as I am more clear-headed and can make decisions better. I know that little girl in class 3 is crying at assembly because of me, she feels drawn to me. She has a very caring class teacher, and she is not crying about him.

It’s because I get it. I have trauma and I get it, and from time to time I meet the needs of other people with trauma, because I get what those needs are. I recognize them from struggling to meet my own needs, and sometimes I can meet other people’s trauma-oriented needs just as I can sometimes meet my own trauma-oriented needs. I looked at Lonely Child for about three weeks, and I thought, “Why is she playing in class all the time?” I was annoyed by it. And I reflected and reflected and reflected and finally realized she is lonely. And I began to meet her need for attention and connection. I started giving her my stuff. She had no ruler, so I gave her my ruler. She had no pencil, so I gave her my pencil. I gave her transitional objects so that she would not feel alone. I went to her desk and looked at her work. I made sure she could keep up in class. I noticed her. She was lonely, and I saw she needed attention, and I gave it to her. I understood her perspective and what it was like to be her, because I remember it, and I accommodated her. It was not difficult to do—rulers are about 10 cents. And I did it. But someone without trauma, doesn’t have that inside to draw on as a way to understand people who have been traumatized.

With C last night, as I wondered who I was really texting, I could feel that. I knew the kind of melty brain I get, and how it feels so terrifying even to exist, and I thought she might be feeling that. Instead of reacting from that place of rejection, I acted from a place of gentleness. I acted from a place of thinking this is a child who wants to reach for comfort and feels so much terror and shame about being herself, that she can only reach for that comfort by pretending that she is not her. I might not have handled the situation entirely skillfully—this morning, I feel certain I was texting her, but last night I didn’t know, and I asked which friend I was talking to. (She said it was a friend.) I gave a particular name. She never answered that, and I kind of concluded that it wasn’t her. I told the person she made me really worried, and C asked why. I said because C would call me madam if she was really upset. That voice of concern was probably a good thing. The tone of gentleness was probably a good thing. I might have been more directly soothing if I had felt certain it was her.

But I think how I might have reacted had I not understood at some level how terrified C might actually be, and I would have thought, “Who is this person who won’t even tell me her name and is asking for money from me?” I would have been annoyed. I would not have responded kindly or gently. C would not have gotten her need for that little bit of comfort and contact met, and she would have had no way to get it met. My response would have further dysregulated her, as it has in the past when I did not understand her as well and was not so well attuned to her. The attunement comes from understanding the trauma mind. Without that understanding, I would not be able to do anything to help her.

It also makes me think about how we end up with parts, and it’s that terror of being oneself and of feeling that one’s own needs and feelings—all of them, not just feelings connected to trauma—are immensely dangerous to have. That’s why you make up little parts to be, who have these needs that feel terrifying to have. It is the only way to start learning to meet those needs until life starts to feel safer. That’s why it works to think in terms of parts and modes, even when you did not invent that coping strategies yourself. Thinking in terms of parts is not a bad habit. It’s not a denial that needs to broken through. It’s a way to start learning to regulate your emotions when it still does not feel safe to have emotions at all.

I was thinking something else. I was thinking how I could not meet my parents expectations of me. Kids want to do that. They want to please their parents. They want that feeling of connection pleasing their parents gives them. I could not do it, because my parents did not have realistic expectations of me. They expected me to meet their needs as though I were the parent and not the child, and they were also flooded with emotions they did not understand, and it made their expectations unpredictable. They expected behaviours from me that were not developmentally possible, and their expectations changed by the second. There was no way for me to connect with them.

We were playing with a balloon at the workshop, as a teambuilding activity. It involved holding hands while keeping the balloon in the air. So we had to respond to each other’s bodies, much like dancing. We had to be able to sense—this person is going to do this, I ought to do that, and they had to be able to do the same thing. That’s where the feeling of connection comes from. It comes from anticipating each other in that way, and adjusting to accommodate one another in a mutual way. I could not do that with my parents. I couldn’t figure out what they wanted, and what they wanted was beyond me to do. I failed.

That thought I have sometimes that I have failed, I am a failure, that’s what it is. It is the recognition that I have fallen short in something. As an adult, this is okay. It’s okay to fall short, but I remember it in the way that I do and it comes back to me in an intrusive, flooding, overwhelming way, because when that happened I completely lost my right to exist. I crossed the line over into the other side where my parents treated me like I wasn’t even human anymore. It is really hard to grasp the full extent of that, and how terrifying that was for me. At any moment, I am going to fail to meet their expectations, and when that happens they will treat me like a piece of wood they would like to vent their frustrations upon.

You know this kind of thing, but you don’t know it. I didn’t know it for a long time. When there is crazy shit in my brain, it’s a precise memory of what happened. I went to look for my usual messenger this morning to give a note to C, so that she gets at least a little reassurance that I am still here and still love her, and couldn’t find her. The lady at the shop downstairs said she wasn’t there and some other stuff I didn’t quite catch, and I walked back to my house feeling very exposed and ashamed and then terrified. And then I thought, “Oh, yes, that’s what happened. That’s what would happen.” I was just rejected. I didn’t get what I wanted. I wanted C’s friend KT and she wasn’t there and I don’t know where she is. If my mom rejected me, she would rip me a new one. She would thoroughly shame me and then do something terrifying.

A direction and purpose

I hate being this way.

I get flashes of hating me, of absolutely hating everything about myself. The more I come out and connect to other people, the more that feeling is prompted. I am angry. I am angry at me for being me and I am sad that I am angry at being me. I want to be me, but I am angry at having to be me.

A lot is going on for me today. It’s not very organized in my mind, but I’ll try.

I was thinking that I didn’t learn to meet my own needs, because I wasn’t allowed to have them. I wasn’t allowed to have the feelings that tell me I have needs. I wasn’t allowed to have the feelings that allow me to form perceptions of reality either, and so I did not form a coherent, cohesive views of situations which account for all the facts. My views of the world have always been in pieces, as I shift between disconnected facts and unprocessed emotions.

So there is a saw going outside, or some other kind of power tool. I am terrified. I cannot calm down because I have not until now been able to feel that emotion of terror fully in my body, mentally link the sound of the power tool to the perception of danger, acknowledge why a power tool would indicate danger to me, know that it is not an indication of danger now, and then calm the emotion.

I have not been able to complete any of the steps involved in learning when I am safe, because I was not allowed to do the first step in the process and so I never learned how to do any of the other steps in the process.

I am listening to the power tools now and thinking I have to be able to feel the terror. I know the other steps now. I have been practicing them. I am not always that good at them, but I can do it. I can keep my mind working long enough to create linkages between sensory information in the past and in the present and form perceptions that would include the perception that power tools were dangerous in the past and I am not in any danger now, and I also know how to calm my body down. If I can do the first step, I can do all of the other steps and I will eventually learn that power tools are not dangerous anymore. So I have to be able to let myself feel the terror in my body, while keeping it at a level that lets my mind go on working instead of shutting down and going into reptile brain. It’s fucking hard.

It is starting to feel possible. It is starting to feel possible and worth doing. It is going to take time. There is going to be a period of hell. I am not sure how long hell will last. Certainly the rest of the week. Maybe the rest of the year, but not the rest of my life. That’s the good news.

So I have a direction and purpose now, because I can see this is working. I had to educate myself a lot about trauma and spend a lot of time reflecting in order to know for myself that it would actually work. In the past, I have trusted others to tell me what will work, and they have repeatedly been mistaken. But I know now.

Meeting needs

The last few days have been really, really hard. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I go to school and things go pretty well and then I come home and after a while the emotions hit me again. There is just a lot to process, and it is so painful.

Being safe does not mean my needs are going to get met. Society is designed to meet the needs of the majority of people, but I am not like them, and sometimes it does not meet my needs. I was thinking about this because of the 1-hour drive home from the workshop that my friends managed to stretch into 3 hours. That met their needs. They were not ready to let go of the experience of being with this group of people and working closely with them for 5 days, and so they extended the goodbye. They extended the goodbye because it met their needs.

It made me feel helpless and terrified, because I needed to meet C. I needed to know she had weathered the previous 5 days acceptably well, and I needed to do it before 8 pm when study time started.

They didn’t give a fuck. They didn’t give a fuck that I did not want to ride in a vehicle where the driver had been drinking, nor they care that a child with an attachment disorder was waiting for me. And they didn’t give a fuck because these things were rather out of their range of experience or knowledge, and they were not interested in learning. They are not terrible people. Mostly, they care about me.

But not that much.

And that is kind of typical of society in general. This situation was essentially Country X, but it happens. Society is arranged to meet the needs of adults who don’t have attachment disorders or severe trauma. It is not fair. I was traumatized in childhood when I did not have choices and now must deal with the painful consequences of it with sometimes very little flexibility or understanding about it.

I had gotten this idea that if I could get it together to trust other people, I would discover that my fears about trusting were all distortions and people were not trustworthy in the past, but they are trustworthy now. They are not.

The thing about healing from an attachment disorder is that I have not a lifetime to discover how much to trust people, who to trust, or under what conditions I ought to trust. Because my mind has not had good connectivity, I have switched between these states of trusting too much and trusting too little. I have not accumulated knowledge and experience about trustworthy people are. There are going to be bumps in it. It is not about just opening up. It is about opening up gradually, and having that process of opening up be full of experiences like this, where I my trust is betrayed, and then having that betrayal of trust spark intense feelings I have to cope with.

The thing about being safe is that I am no longer going to be attacked just for existing.

I still have to take care of me in a society that is not designed to meet my needs and sometimes makes it difficult for me to even try to meet my own needs.

Overwhelmed

I am totally overwhelmed. I don’t know that this has ever happened to me exactly before. Not like this. I have been overwhelmed when I had catastrophizing thoughts running through my head scaring me. I have never had it like this when my brain isn’t doing that. It’s kind of sitting there, waiting for me to find the on button. I mean, it is doing things, but it’s doing things like mentally writing a blog post about how it feels to me for this to be happening. It is commenting on how lonely it is to be overwhelmed with no one safe to talk to. It’s in this very reasonable state. I mean, those are fairly reasonable things to be doing. But my emotions are anything but reasonable.

I woke up in the night around midnight. I guess I fell asleep around 10. What I felt at that point was just awful. I guess maybe it was a longing and a sense of being frozen at the same time. It was wanting to reach and not being able to reach, and it was so intense it was absolutely torture to be in it. It didn’t go away for a long time—I guess maybe an hour and a half or so. I didn’t know what was causing it or what to do about it. I did know I needed to sleep, but I couldn’t calm down. No amount of deep breathing could get the feeling to subside.

I did after a while start to imagine hugging C, and that helped. It brought the intensity down inside.

With the intensity of the emotion down a little bit, I suddenly realized what it was about: it is about being placed in care and about being removed from care. It’s about the feeling of being kidnapped. I kept it together throughout the workshop, and it’s hitting me now. It’s hitting me harder, because C is really insistent on my not meeting her in the hostel and because the matron is wigged out or was wigged out over something I don’t get and I don’t want to keep stepping on her toes.

So there is a separation. I don’t perceive it as abandonment. I see it as getting stolen. Abandonment would trigger different memories and different feelings. Getting stolen is scary in a different way, because there are people there, but I don’t trust them. I desperately want the previous people, who aren’t there, and I have to keep it together in front of these other people, because they will hurt me.

It is hitting me now because I had to leave. I chose to leave Y-town for a few days at the start of midterm holidays, and I came home and it took me maybe a week to recover. Then I was forced to leave Y-town for five days and I came back to a situation where it feels that C is being stolen. The matron is stealing her, because she has scared C into insisting I not meet her. She has made C feel even more unsafe. C would be having a hard time right now anyway, but the matron has made it worse.

I desperately need my brain to work to think how to help C with her feelings around not being safe and I need to know how to handle the matron, and my emotions are doing this right now. They are reliving being stolen. It is absolutely fucking awful. And I have to do this, because without my emotions, I cannot think. They are too overwhelming to think while I am having them, and without them I am missing all kinds of important subtleties. So I have to cope with this. I have to cope with the emotions I have so I can get through to a place of rationality.

It is so fucking hard. And it is also so incredibly lonely. I do wish I had someone to talk to about what I am going through right now, and I think there probably isn’t anyone. There might be. I need someone to talk to who won’t engage in forecasting the future, because the last thing I need is to start thinking about what the future might hold for C. I need someone to talk to who doesn’t have an unreasonable degree of certainty about their opinion. In other words, I need someone who won’t tell me that everything will be fine. I don’t want anyone to tell me that because a) absolutely the last thing I need to be doing is weighing the question of whether things will be fine or not and b) you know less than I do about the situation and I don’t know. The only conclusion I can draw from someone who thinks they know the future you have no idea about is that you can’t be bothered to think or to understand.

Full human potential

I am angry. I am so angry it feels absolutely beyond words. I can’t even describe how angry I feel.

I think it has something to do with coming into a sense of worth. The lives of abused children are worth intervening in. They are not wrecked by the abuse. They are struggling, but it is not hopeless. They are not destroyed by it. And they are also not being abused because they deserve it. They are not bad. They behave badly sometimes because they are struggling, but that isn’t where things started. It started when they were young children like other young children, and their parents lacked the skills to take care of them. They lacked the coping skills or the empathy or the practical skills to meet their needs.

I was abused because my parents lacked skills. They could not take care of me. My mother couldn’t regulate and my father couldn’t give a damn. They couldn’t. They were damaged adults and they damaged me.

My future could be saved and it was worth saving. I am middle-aged and I am hard at work saving it now. The hard part about healing is seeing that it is possible to heal and maybe if someone had intervened earlier, I could have been saved decades of pain and also just lived up to my full human potential.

The hard part is thinking that I wasn’t helped more as a child, because it was sort of inconvenient to help me. My needs were absolutely crucial for me, but the adults who might have helped me and didn’t were mostly trying to remain comfortable. They were trying not to question their beliefs. They were trying not to make the extra effort. They were trying not to move out of their comfort zones. My mother got melty brain and lost her mind, and she couldn’t take care of me. Other people might have helped me, but it was difficult. It was difficult and uncomfortable and it was easier to look the other way—not necessarily about my situation, but about child abuse in general. I needed things, but many adults simply wanted to be comfortable.

I know it was possible to help me, because some people did help me.

I also think that if all adults saw the next generation’s welfare as a collective responsibility and worked together earnestly to address the problems traumatized children face, child abuse would probably disappear almost entirely within a few decades. That is my personal belief. But many people don’t see it as their responsibility. If they do, they don’t see it as an urgent one.

It is less uncomfortable to spend money on prisons, to rely on inadequate school programs and blame other people than it is to earnestly try to make a difference in society.

And that is why I am like that. That is why other children are growing up to be like me, with my pain and my coping deficits right now, as I write this.

It is easier.

My parents are deeply damaged individuals. They could not take care of me. Other people were not damaged, and they chose not to. Instead of helping me reach my full human potential, they chose to be comfortable. They had other choices. Their choices were not constrained by their colossal deficits in functioning. It was their choice to do nothing and that continues to be the case. Periodically, there are shocking headlines about child abuse cases and people are in a tizzy for a while and then they forget all about it. Meanwhile, they do nothing.

It isn’t everyone. It might not be you. If you are working on your own healing process, you are doing something.

But the majority of people are doing nothing, and they are doing it because their comfort is more important to them than meeting the needs of children who lack capable parents.

That is part of this feeling of worthlessness I have that I am grappling with now. The feeling of worthlessness comes from my parents’ treatment of me and from their distorted views of me, and it also comes from a society that was perfectly willing to throw me away, and who did not see my future as one that could be saved or ought to be saved. They might have felt pity for my state, but nothing actionable.

I am so angry.

Fiasco

I am trying to deconstruct last night’s fiasco. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the fiasco before C left Y-town in December, but it was still bad. It was bad in the sense that I lost control of myself. I got melty brain and I lost control, and I lost control with her, in a situation where I needed to be adult.

I am mulling that moment over, because it stands out in my mind as being very emotionally laden in a way I don’t really understand.

She was telling me again and again, “Mom, don’t come up.” Meaning, don’t come to see me. I didn’t know what to say. If I agreed, I didn’t know how she would feel. If I refused, I didn’t know how she would feel. I said I don’t know what is best, and I need to think about it. She was crying the whole time. Not giving an answer seemed to be the worst possible answer.

Eventually, I lost it, and I don’t really know why. I was just flooded with anger, but not really at her. I didn’t have any sense she had done something wrong. Maybe it was being called mom repeatedly. Maybe I was frustrated I didn’t know how to help her. I don’t know.

I stood up and took a step away from her. I don’t have any idea what I had in mind to do. I felt very much like punching something or someone. I imagine I might have taken a step or two and realized what I was doing and sat down again. I don’t know. But I felt a very firm hand gripping me by the sleeve of my National Dress and I was forced to sit down again. C grabbed me by the sleeve and made me sit down.

It leaves me with an almost unfathomable sense of being cared about. She did not let me make a scene and embarrass myself in front of all the girls in the hostel. She held onto me and contained me in a moment when I really did not deserve any kind of care. It was not my finest moment, and she responded in a way that felt caring to me.

It’s extremely painful to think about this, but it gives me a felt sense of having value. It feels like it is safe to behave as though I have value, because my value can be felt inside me. It is not just something I am telling myself about. And it makes it possible for me to feel that the sense that I don’t have value is a distortion, rather than a painful truth I am trying to protect myself from.

Anyway, then she scolded me. She said, “You did this at my house. You told me you wouldn’t do this again.”

I said I was sorry. She said some other things and I just said sorry again.

After a while, a thought kind of crossed my mind about what she might be thinking, and I said I am not angry at you.

“Then why you show your anger to others?”

“I am angry at your matron.”

I got a flash of abused child then, “Why you angry at her? What did she do wrong?”

I had an idea I didn’t want to get caught up debating it. “I don’t know. Maybe nothing. I can’t think straight.”

Then she flipped into punitive parent, and I got a series of threats about what she would do if I came to see her, including suicide and dropping out of school.

I don’t really know what I said to that. After a while, she burst into sobs. I had a feeling while she was crying that was really awful. I tried just to breathe, and it was really hard. It felt impossible to calm down at all, even a little bit. I think there was a sense of connection at that time, but it was terrible. The feeling of connection was really terrible. There was nothing nice about having it. It was like being in hell.

Remembering that moment, I think now it was the sense of wanting connection and the pain of not being able to get it. I think we were both having that feeling: we couldn’t figure out how to connect to each other, and it hurt. We couldn’t figure out how to connect to ourselves. I think that is what it was. I have had that feeling in other horrible, dysfunctional relationships before. I have always associated it with the dysfunction and with those relationships. It makes me think now it’s not specific to having a shitty relationship. It’s about something inside me. It’s about that core pain, a memory being re-enacted in the present of being unable to get the connection I desperately wanted.

After a while, she said something about my leaving. She has started walking me to the gate, so she got up and put on her sandals. I sat there for a minute, feeling unresolved and not sure it was okay to leave her, but she seemed to be serious about it. I am struck now by the decency of that gesture. Here she had just raked me over the coals, hating me with every bit of herself, and she wanted to walk me to the gate.

I hugged her at the gate. She let me hug her, and she was soft in my arms. I said something about, “I am listening to you,” and her body became hard, like she was angry.

That was last night.

Worth

I met C last night in her hostel. It was more or less as terrible as expected, maybe worse. I had hoped to avert that kind of thing, but I couldn’t.

I will have to deal with that, and with any fallout my lack of ability to cope well with it might have triggered.

Meanwhile, somehow it brought to mind that I do have worth. The workshop made me feel very connected to other people—partly because I am just at that point where I can connect better to other people, and partly because of the nature of the workshop. It was all about cooperative learning, and so I worked in a group most of the time, and I did experience connection with the group.

I came home last night very late after meeting C, and went to sleep without eating dinner because so exhausted, and then woke up in the morning with that screaming feeling. And after about an hour of struggling with it, it sort of coalesced into actual thoughts and feelings. The thought was that I am worth something and the feeling was sadness. I spent a lot of time sorting through different things in my mind—many of them not pleasant—and I came around to this idea that I felt very deeply in my heart that I am worth something, and I owe it to myself and to other people to take care of myself. The trauma distorts my personality, and I owe it to myself and to other people to take care of those trauma symptoms so that I can be me, because I do have something special about me that I can appreciate and other people can appreciate. I have to do it without a lot of help from anyone, because no one else really knows how to help me. They don’t know about trauma, and they don’t know what helps with it, and they really don’t know how to help me.

I think the sadness is that I never saw this personality before. I was not whole. This person I might have been was someone I really have not been able to experience before, and other people have not been always been able to experience it. I keep telling C, there is a little C spark inside you that makes you just C and not anyone else, and I have said it enough times that I have started to get that there is a little Ash spark that makes me just Ash and not anyone else, and other people would like me to be Ash. I would like to be Ash and they would like me to be Ash. None of us are wild about Ash with melty brain, but Ash without melty brain is pretty great. I have to take care of melty brain because no one else can. So there is this deep sadness at the person I have not gotten to be for 43 years and that I did not know existed. I knew a more calm, but fairly joyless person who had shut down her emotions for the most part, and I knew a very unregulated person, but I did not know this Ash. I did not know I could be special or wanted. I am wanted, but I need to take care of my stuff.

Taking care of my stuff is really fucking hard. It’s terrifically hard unfair that I have so much stuff and that it is so hard, but there it is. Life is tragic and unfair and I can’t really say anything else more sensible about it. It’s just like that, and it’s awful.

And I still have to take care of my stuff, because taking care of my stuff lets me be Ash.

Screaming

There is this sensation that happens from time to time that I have been working to understand and also to calm. It often happens at night. I wake up in the night sometimes—it is not always at night, but it often is. It’s often on those nights after I have come down from seeing C. I come down feeling very settled and go off to bed and sometime later, I have this feeling. I thought it was fear.

I started to think the night before she came back (and I left again), when it was coming on very strongly, that this is crying. It’s an infant crying. There isn’t any single emotion attached to it—just muddled distress—but physically, in my body, it is that intense muscular contraction of crying.

Then today, at our workshop, I had it again. It sort of drifted in while I was trying to manage the other stuff on my mind and also kind of halfway pay attention, and I realized it’s screaming. It’s a small child screaming at the top of her lungs. I was missing C a lot today—it’s Sunday, I always see her, and today I can’t. I am also at a boarding school right now, and boarding schools in Country X are somewhat the same. The routine is very much the same. It reminds me of her, and of what activities she would be engaged in on a Sunday. So I knew that was the trigger for what I was feeling, and I just tried to take time when I could to manage those feelings. Anyway, I could feel that sensation in my body, and I realized that was the feeling of screaming.

It just makes me sad.

Consequences

I have started to have a different approach to things. I hadn’t realized I was drifting in this direction, and it’s really helping. Rachel’s blog I think has kind of inspired this.

It’s simply to look at what I am doing from the perspective of the likely consequences: the good ones and the bad ones. Instead of judging the behaviour as bad or good, healthy or unhealthy, I am thinking about the pros and cons, and when I am not sure of what the pros and cons are likely to be, I am noticing them as I try things out.

In one way, this is very freeing. I am freed up of judgment about the behaviour, and I am also freed up from this idea—a fear, really—about judging my motivations. That used to be very automatic, to wonder what the underlying motivation was, and to make decisions based on that. I have started to think it doesn’t really matter what my “hidden” intention is. It matters what actually happens. I am not worried about whether I am really trying to sabotage myself or not, or whether I am unconsciously trying to hurt anyone. I think I got this idea in therapy—obviously filtered through that core sense of “badness”—that what was really inside me, my deeper self, was very dangerous and had to be carefully watched and controlled. Which, of course, would make everything worse. It would make it harder to know what I really did think and feel, because it would raise the overall level of fear in me and with it the degree of dissociation. It’s nice to stop seeing myself as something dangerous, and just think about consequences.

I also thought about what the need was, and whether what I was doing was actually meeting that need. For example, I kept looking at my phone, to see if the texts I had sent to C had been delivered and I also called her a few times. I realized I was doing that to get control. I was frightened, and I wanted to get control. But looking at my phone wasn’t giving me control and calling her wasn’t either, because it was switched off.

So, yesterday, when I was getting all melty-brained that I didn’t know where C was, I took that approach with what I was doing. Really, the trigger might have been that I was about to see her, and the approach, the reaching for connection that was about to happen, might have made me very frightened.

I looked at my phone to see if the texts had been read, and I recognized what need I was trying to meet, and I saw that this wasn’t meeting the need. And I saw what it was doing instead was repeatedly re-exposing me to the trigger, so that I couldn’t calm down. I had melty brain, and I kept ratcheting it back up again by re-exposing myself to the trigger. It was like going and firing up power tools just to give myself flashbacks.

I did know that I didn’t need to do anything—actually that I couldn’t do anything. That was kind of the merciful part. If I had really needed to make a decision about how to intervene in the situation, I don’t know how I could have managed to think straight enough to handle anything well or make any kind of good decision. All I needed to do was wait. She would either show up or not show up, and there was very little I could do or needed to do except get through it.

It crosses my mind now, writing about this, that that is how it got started in my head: There was this small indication of a problem—the texts not getting delivered—and I needed to consider that and assess it, and the connection was too triggering to think straight. I think people sometimes get to that point and the distress is so great, they want to immediately rid themselves of that feeling. Either they stop thinking about it altogether and use some selective denial: “Trust the universe,” is one of those. Or they frantically look for some immediate solution. But that isn’t going to be skillful in many cases. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter that much. The problem resolves itself anyway. Or the impulsively selected solution is fine.

I feel I can’t do that with C, because I am responsible for her. I am her guardian, and she also trusts me to be there to help her cope with life’s ordinary problems when they are too much for her. I need to be skillful. That’s probably good for me, to have this really strong motivation to be very skillful and to manage decisions under stress better. Anyway, there wasn’t anything I needed to do at that moment. I got that far anyway. I took a walk and looked around in the bazaar and asked her cousin about her and went back to my house, and it did help a little to get outside and asking her cousin about her probably was what I could do. I found out what time the students needed to report to hostel.

Then I got home and I realized that while finding out about C was just a matter of time, I did need to finish my marking. So I did my best to do that. I tried to keep the idea firmly in my mind that while I didn’t know what the outcome would be about C, I did know what the outcome would be if I didn’t finish my marking, and that would be very bad for me. I did manage to get some things done.

Around 4—reporting time—I sent a text to one of the other girls and asked her if C had come. After a while, she answered, so then I knew. I knew that C was really there. I felt better, and then a while later, began to feel paranoid that maybe she wasn’t there. Maybe there was some conspiracy to spare my feelings and not tell me that C is not here. I recognized that as being likely because I was still scared. I know the phases of the relational trauma now: fear is one of them. So I shifted my attention elsewhere.

I only had to survive two hours of melty brain. It’s nice to know better how my mind works: I can recognize when the relational trauma is at play, and that makes it less scary to me. It isn’t trigger upon trigger, of being scared of my own feelings because I don’t understand where they are coming from. And it helps to think about decisions purely in terms of effectiveness—whether it meets my needs or not—instead of judging it.

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