A double bind

There’s hardly any time to write these days. There is not even much time to think. Someone talks to us for 3-6 hours a day depending on the day. Then there are social activities. The suspicion is that they are deliberately keeping us busy and that that is the main purpose behind what we’re doing, although why they think we need to be busy, I can’t work out. Do North Americans need to be busy all the time?

Perhaps. But it’s driving me crazy.

I am bored out of my mind and it worries me also. How will I be prepared if there is no time to think?

It’s driving me crazy that there is no time to write.

In between, I have had two thoughts. One of them is a discomfort at being different. Now, I don’t know that I mean much by different. I assume we are all different and that I am as different from the others as they from one another. This is not the dominant view. The dominant view is that it takes a certain kind of person to want to live in a place like Country X and we are all that kind of person. But I look around and still see diversity.

So that is one thought. The other thought that comes out of this is that I am not afraid of difference for the reasons I have been told I would be afraid of it. I am not worried about rejection or social disapproval. The group is my link to my home culture and it will be an important source of support, so I will need them. But most people don’t like you or dislike you based on who you are. Their opinion of you comes from how you treat them. Mostly.

The worry is about rejection by God or something else nebulous and abstract. I must “fit in” the way I was raised to. And yet I can’t fit in with these people. They are “outsiders.” From them, I have to be separate. It’s a double bind. I must fit in. I can’t fit in.

And what I feel most commonly is an uncomfortable sense of contempt for the group, although I like the others in the group, or at least I like most of them. I think they’re good people. But I was raised to view all other groups of people aside from the Two by Twos with contempt.

You stop believing in all these things, and yet the familiar responses don’t disappear. We believe that thoughts and feelings are linked and yet they aren’t with feelings and thoughts triggering one another. We are more like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating before our meals. The thought and the feeling and the action are all part of a response. You can take out one piece of the response–the thought–but the feeling remains.

There are some theories of psychology that see us as immensely complex and our problems as very “deep.” As time goes on, I see myself as less and less complex. I am merely an extremely intelligent primate. What I can do better than a chimpanzee is think about the future. I can also remember the past better. And I can better control my impulsiveness. But in other regards I am much the same.

Change is difficult not because we are so complex, but because we are so simple. Very often, we are not behaving or thinking purposefully–and by purposefully, I mean in a way that is directed towards a goal. So we are not attempting to defend ourselves against pain or because we want to maintain a positive self-view. In many cases, we are behaving more like biological machines.

So there isn’t any deep meaning behind my sense of contempt. It’s conditioned and no more meaningful than saliva.


Staying home from the movies: culture shock and the 2x2s

Today, everyone went off to a movie. I wanted to go. I even bought a ticket, but then I sort of hit a wall and I couldn’t. I was just really too tired. I know that watching a movie only involves sitting in a chair for a while–in this case, for four hours–but even that was too much.

I’ve had a cold, so I blamed it on that, but it’s really not that. Because after an unsuccessful attempt at a tub bath (there is a beautiful, deep tub in my hotel room, but only lukewarm water at the moment) and a cup of tea, I burst into tears.

There is really very little down town in the schedule here. When there is unscheduled time, I feel like I need to be doing something. I still have a cell phone with no SIM card and a laptop with no dongle. I have a bedframe in my house, but I don’t know what size it is, so I don’t know what size mattress to order. I don’t know what kind of heater to buy and I haven’t bought anything for the kitchen, although we’ve seen plenty of dishes and cookware.

The money scares me too. Everyone else is busily converting to dollars–whatever kind of dollars they have in their country, Canadian or Australian. But we’ll be making less than 300 dollars a month. You can’t really do it that way. We’re earning in local currency, not dollars, and so we’ll need to be spending in local currency also.

So I’m anxious about all this, but more than that I’m anxious that I don’t feel clear in my own mind. And gradually it begins to dawn on me: I’m not like everyone else. Among other things, I’m dissociated. I need more time to process new information. It doesn’t just go tumbling nicely into my head. On top of that, I feel anxious when my mind is disorganized. First, because if it’s not organized, I don’t really know if I can function very well. Second, because I feel that old pressure to always make the right decisions as if choosing wisely is still life or death.

That’s why, instead of watching a movie this afternoon, I’m sitting in bed drinking tea and crying over nothing in particular.

This is, in fact, what culture shock is like for me. Culture shock is that point when I’m overwhelmed by too much newness that I don’t have time to work out and I crash in some way, like I did today–just hitting a wall of exhaustion. It’s not shock at Bhutanese culture: we are hardly a part of that. It’s the shock of experiencing our Western culture bubble in the midst of Bhutan.

For lunch, we went out for pizza. Who goes to Bhutan to eat pizza? But it was the first place I’d seen other white people. We aren’t alone in our choice. But I don’t understand it. For various kinds of supplies, we visit a Western-style supermarket–there are several of these–and a few items other people buy you can’t get other places, but mostly they are common items available at any store and in some cases sold elsewhere for lower prices. So why here? Because it’s designed in a way that’s familiar for most people. It’s large, clean, organized, well-lit and has nearly everything you could want.

While TJ says to me at lunch time that he feels calmer and calmer here, I am more and more stressed and anxious. And it’s partly this. They look like me, more or less, but I don’t understand them. I am not like them. I’d rather have a cramped Indian supermarket where the shopkeeper would gather up my items for me. Bhutanese shops here are somewhat in-between: small and cramped, but laid out so that you can pick out your own items. For me, they don’t really take any getting used to for that reason.

At night, I watch English-language television before bed. I need to acclimate to Bhutan soon: At the moment, I need to understand the Western bubble I’m in. I watch them in hopes that I’ll come to understand.

At the same time, it seems I’ve always lived in my own bubble. Two by twos are a collectivist group: they don’t value or appreciate autonomy and independence in the same way that the mainstream culture does. Some of this is in support of a grinding uniformity that prevents independent thought and reasoning. But some of it is to fill the gaping need that wounded people have for connection. In other words, collectivism isn’t all bad.

What makes my head explode is the parts: I don’t believe that collectivism is more comfortable for me although it is. I was told too many times that I stand out to believe that I can carry it off. So I see myself as highly independent, a free-thinker, almost a loner. Consequently, I also behave that way. But I’m not sure how authentic that is.

At the same time, I do feel like an outsider in the group to some extent: I don’t know that that’s accurate or not, but I don’t think that really matters. What’s stressful is feeling, on the one hand, that being an outsider is not allowed. One must always fit in. One must preserve the unity at all costs. And on the other hand, I am not allowed to be a member of this group. They are, themselves, Outsiders. They aren’t the faithful. I should not engage.

Those are the pieces. Maybe I can start putting them together now.

Disturbing the unity: leaving the Borg

sevenLast night at dinner, at the long table they’ve set especially for us–the “Canadian teachers” although most of us are not Canadian–I felt different in a pricking, intermittent kind of way.

I pieced something together just then, eating my noodles and vegetable kofta. I know I am different. I am, perhaps, even more different than average. We’re all different. That’s nothing new, but what I understand is that they see themselves as different too.

The uncomfortable feeling I had was that of being an individual.

In the 2×2 church, and probably other controlling religious groups as well as many dysfunctional families, you are not an individual. Behaviour that speaks to your individuality “disturbs the unity of the church.” Your job is to “fit in.”

What I hadn’t put together is that those around me also see themselves as individuals. In the West, we are proud of our uniqueness. We want to be special. Whenever you are anxious about something, someone will tell you, “Just be yourself.” But I didn’t grow up in the same culture as those around me did. I grew up in the Borg. I was assimilated. Resistance was useless.

Day 3: Country X thoughts

In the bus with the rest of the teachers—laughing and joking with them–I began to feel I was real. It seemed like a new feeling, or maybe it just hit me more intensely.

That sense made me realize something about being in parts. I’ve always been able to be social in that way—to talk and laugh easily and without anxiety in groups of people. But if I also believe I don’t exist—if I have the sense of myself that Ghost has—then when I do that, it also seems to me that that isn’t possible. I must be someone else. So that’s the source of this part of the dissociation: these self-views are so incompatible that they can’t all be the same person. And so the most reasonable explanation possible is that I am actually several people.

Except the idea of being several people is crazy-talk. That’s one part of the amnesia: it’s the result of a deliberate denial in order to maintain some sense of sanity.

Another part of the amnesia has to do with a phenomenon similar to the hot-cold empathy gap, whereby it’s just difficult to remember what it’s like to feel or think differently than we do in the present moment. If I feel calm, it’s difficult to remember exactly what it’s like to feel angry. If I’m angry, I may not be able to imagine what I will think when I’m calm again. We learn how to function in spite of this gap by remembering what to do in those situations rather than by remembering how it felt.

However, it’s not so easy to do that with parts. Without the feelings or the self-views of one part, it’s difficult to understand the actions of that part. Again, it’s crazy-talk. If I feel I do not exist, how can I understand fitting seamlessly into an unfamiliar group? That’s very difficult. So perhaps I just didn’t.

That was my idea today anyway. Maybe I’m wrong.


At night, when I should be sleeping, I want to write. There is too much crowded up there in my head and I can’t fathom sleeping up there with all that mess. It needs to be organized first.

Mostly, I’m looking at myself. One of the parts I called Ghost has been a great deal on my mind the last few days. This business of accepting where and who I am—instead of focusing mainly on where I want to be and how to get there—has made a great difference for us.

In explaining why that’s come about, I also have to mention my idea about parts: they involve memories of how others saw us.

I had a therapist once who used to tell me on a regular basis, “You need to feel seen.” Or, “You need to feel heard.” As if that was something special or unique about me. She was wrong. We all need to be seen and heard. What I was articulating to her—what she noticed—was my experience of not existing in the eyes of other people, including her eyes.

Ghost is the embodiment of that experience. For the pedophiles who paid for my services, I did not exist as a real child with real feelings and real needs. I had only the wishes and emotions of their fantasies. For my natural parents, my pain did not exist. For the state of California, my need for protection and nurturing did not exist. For so many people, I simply wasn’t there. Someone else was there, but that person wasn’t me. Ghost is what it feels like for no one to recognize or understand what it’s like to be you.

As I simply accept where I am in my life and how I feel about things generally, Ghost is seen again. I am seeing myself. It isn’t all sparkles and rose, this seeing myself thing, but it’s honest. When I wrote last night that I think next year will be hard, I felt better because that’s the truth. The truth in many ways is easier and more straightforward to deal with than wishful thinking.

In all probability, next year is going to be a hard one. But I could stay at home in LA and have a hard year for different reasons. It’s being alive that’s really so difficult for me. Because of that, I’m always wondering, “Will I make it through this one?” It’s always by the skin of my teeth that I make it. So the next challenge that comes around, I wonder about that too. Just as I’m wondering now if I’ll make it through a year in Country X. But the wondering is at least honest.

Ghost is honest. More specifically, Ghost is what it feels like to be honest when everyone around you is trying to uphold a complex web of lies. Ghost is what I lived through all that for, the reason I kept going afterwards when escape did not end the pain.

I think I’ve assumed for many years that I wanted to be happy or to enjoy being a fuller person—like whatever happened after I had “healed” would be a lot more fun. But my goal all along has been to be able to tell the truth, not just about what happened to me but what it’s like to be me—the sublime, the ugly, the hideous, and the ordinary. I just want to exist. Like everyone else does.