Cannot

Like my blogging friend Ellen, I cannot do it either. I don’t know how I will teach today. I have two periods of 7A and no plan and I just really don’t care.

I went to class 5B though. I told them people drink alcohol because they have decision-making problems. Whatever we feel about the present is stronger than what we feel about the future and that they need to be prepared for the seduction of this. I told them to think we were going to bunk the next few periods. The boys would all play football and the girls would skip rope. Did they feel happy? Yes, they were happy. Then I said, now pretend we are not going to do that today. We are going to do it only after two weeks. Were they happy? Yes, but not as much. That’s the problem. We all know the problems drinking alcohol causes in the future. Having a good time now is too seductive. Some people can’t resist the pull of the present. They need to learn how to make their feelings about the future become larger in their minds, so that their feelings about now do not become too seductive.

I did not say it like that, but that is what I meant. And maybe they understood some of it.

Suicide is very often a decision-making problem as well. I figured this out only after the second time one of my friends died that way. The first time I don’t know what I thought, but I am sure now I didn’t understand why she did it.

I don’t have decision-making problems. I have no trouble imagining the future or imagining the feelings I might have in the future. I have no trouble imagining things like permanent brain damage and a life of constricting disability that could come with a botched suicide attempt. If I had decision-making problems I would be dead already. Or being fed through a tube. One or the other.

My problem might be that the future looms a little too large, but I don’t care about that either.

However, maybe my feelings now have to do with the past after all. There is a sense about it of promises having been broken, and I wonder if it has to do with promises I made to myself. “Just get through this. Just survive. Just get out. Everything will be fine if I can just get out.”

Everything was not fine, and I wonder if that’s what happened. I made a promise to myself about the future: After all, it must have been feelings about the future that kept me going for 20 years, in those long years before I was really and truly out. Afterwards, perhaps I looked around and said to myself, “No, it isn’t fine. I am out, but it is not fine. It is a long ways from fine.” Maybe I am still trying to tell myself that. Maybe I am trying to tell myself, “You lied to me.”

I didn’t lie. But I was wrong. And there is nothing really that I can do about that.

Maybe I also didn’t explain to myself that there were really only three choices: complete destruction of my soul, the roulette of a feeding tube, or this kind of life. From an objective stand-point this is very clearly and obviously the best of the three options.

So I’m sorry. Maybe I did lie a little. But I didn’t know how else to get you (me) to do it. I really and truly did not.

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Not strong (trigger warning—suicidal thoughts)

The hard part of feeling as wretched as I do right now is not really the wretchedness. It is not that everything feels so unbearable I think about death. In fact, that is nothing really new.

The hard part is recognizing I feel that way.

I am not supposed to want to give up on the whole enterprise of living. I am supposed to be strong. And some of what I feel is a hatred of myself for not being strong.

I am not strong.

Torture broke me into pieces. I am still in pieces. I will be that way for a long time. That is the truth.

I’m just sitting here, trying to take in the extent of my despair. I have been told for so many years that everything is fine now. No, it is not fine. No one who has ever spoken to me about this has any idea. They have no idea how tired I am. They have no idea how frustrating it is just to get through the day. You do, but no one else does.

It is supposed to be a relief to be out and to be safe, but all I can think is now I have THIS to deal with. The problem is now in my head, and my head I can’t escape from. The problem has become who I am. This isn’t the intensity of a crisis. It is the grinding, demoralizing pain and limitation of a chronic illness.

How do I cope with the loneliness of having problems that are too personal to share with most others? Meanwhile, I am isolated too much, because a part of the fallout is that I am so afraid of everyone. How do I cope with that? I could stop being afraid, but the problem is that in some physical way I can’t. And anyway, I’m too tired.

There is a sense of finally having an honest conversation with myself about this. Mentally, I give myself permission. Yes, it is that bad. If you really want to die, you can. And some part of me does want that. Some part of me thinks about the swollen river and how many warnings we have had to stay away from it and the fact that one boy has already died in it this year. I think of throwing myself in, and the brief terror, the pain I would feel in my lungs and in my bones as they bashed about on the rocks, and then with luck in might be over forever.

And I think about the people this would hurt—both people here who could not comprehend why I did it, and the people elsewhere who might. I find I don’t really care. I have been in so much pain for so long. It seems like a very small a form of selfishness to do this. They’ll cope.

For me, the real reason to live is the risk involved in trying to die. I can imagine throwing myself in the river and ending up with permanent brain damage instead, or any of a number of other problems that will only make things worse.

The real reason to live is that it’s not something you always have a real choice about, and I can’t afford for life to be any worse for me than it is.

But no, I am not strong. I am pragmatic, but I am not strong. I have only been strong because I could not be anything else.

The walls are coming down in my head. I can see why they couldn’t come down earlier. I don’t know what I would have done if they had.

But the honesty is like a cool breeze.

 

 

Getting a handle of things

In the day, I am normal again. I cry for a long time in the morning before school, but I cook my breakfast and lunch, I wash the laundry. No marking gets done, but my lessons are planned, and I struggle through the classes—two of which do not go well. But I lived.

In the afternoon, an administrator comes to the class. He is the Assistant Principal, as opposed to a Vice Principal. I don’t actually have the vaguest idea what his responsibilities are, except that he would step in if everyone were away at the same time. Regardless, he tells me to go to the principal’s office immediately. So I am terrified. I smacked a boy with a stick on the hand for the first time in months. I’ve stopped hitting them. I did for a while—thinking I needed to do what things the way they do them here—then I stopped. I think we all stopped for about three days. They want us to stop. But no one has any training whatsoever in classroom management. As soon as the teachers stop hitting kids, the kids go wild. Or the teachers just ruin their voices yelling at them to behave, which is not much better. This boy makes a habit of sexually harassing the girls. I’ve complained to his class teacher already who “would speak to him.”

For a moment, I think maybe it’s about that. But rumours don’t spread half as fast as I think they ought to here. Sometimes, I know more now of what is going on in the school than other teachers—despite the fact that I can’t understand what anyone is saying half the time. So it can’t be that. No one would know yet. And anyway smacking a kid on the hand is not going to be grounds for complaint when others are beating the children with sticks thicker than my wrist.

And I try to calm down, realizing that I can’t know what I am being called into the office for, whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, or something neutral. I might as well not worry until I get there.

It is the high school principal. He has come to ask me to give a talk to his students on Wednesday at their assembly. Last week, coming from the vegetable market, he stopped and asked me about it. He said he would comet the school and confirm. So he has done that. That’s all.

Which isn’t really the point of the post, but it happened today and sometimes I like to think that you want to know what else has gone on in my life aside from the crying.

I think I have mostly just shut down.

But a few things remain.

Understanding that it is me that all this has happened to—not someone else, and that it is not a smaller trauma than it is—means that I am in this for the long haul. I think I had not completely taken that in. There are always periodic crises—a memory crops up and is overwhelming and I just can’t cope for a while—but essentially this is a marathon, not a race. In the past, maybe there have been too many times when I set everything aside just to deal with my head, as if this would all be over in a few weeks or a few months. This is not a short process. This is going to take years.

Some things have happened slightly more quickly: I am less amnesiac now than a year ago, and I don’t forget certain, upsetting things the way I used to. But mostly I need to be prepared to do what I am doing for a long time. If you were to classify what is in my head as an illness, it is not an acute one. It is chronic. It is not incurable, but the cure requires a different approach.

I think this is part of why, not long ago, I was ranting about the unfairness of it. Accepting that what I remember really happened and that it truly happened to me means that the damage I need to repair is extensive and will take a long time to repair, and I didn’t want it to be like that. I wanted it to be easier. And some part of me thinks this is okay. The nice thing about reality is that it means you can plan better.

In the meantime, I have to keep getting through the day. At the same time, I can’t just keep trying to get through the day by shutting things down or telling myself, “This just has to get done,” which no longer works anyway. I have to get through the day by somehow knowing how to deal with it all, by balancing my life, and meeting as many as my needs as I can. It’s terribly difficult to know how to balance my life, but that’s what needs to be done.

Here is a list:

  1. Daily life (eating, sleeping, cooking, brushing my teeth, washing my clothes, keeping the house clean)
  2. Work (marking, planning, submitting plans, a million other small things)
  3. Social life (talk to people sometimes)
  4. Actual social support (talk to people who care about me in a deeper way)
  5. Safety (things like sitting under a warm blanket with a hot drink)
  6. Feeling (if not all the time, then in concentrated pockets)
  7. Organizing (my head)

Everything on the list has to be attended to. Some of it can get done badly. I can do badly the things that will make the least difference—either to me or to others.

This isn’t really a different list than the one I’ve been carrying around in my head, and I can’t really think of what I can afford to do badly that I’m not already doing badly to start with, but maybe it lets me abandon guilt over the things I am not doing. I have less of a social life than I wish I had and less of one that I think I ought to. A social life, I’ve decided, is supremely important, and yet without time to make myself feel safe again, I just become more and more stressed, because people scare me. I know there are no man-eating tigers anymore, but the fear hasn’t left me entirely. There might be one I hadn’t noticed around

Maybe it also makes it okay that I have not done half of the things I wish I had done in my life. I wanted to write things. You know, like books. Books other people might read. And I could do that. I am capable of it. But I don’t need to write books. I need to not be in pieces. I am not nearly as good of a teacher as I might be. I think I am okay. I could be wonderful. I don’t need to be a wonderful teacher though, I need to get my head back. I could be angry at those things also: My dad took accomplishments away from me. He took achievement. The best I can do is try to get a handle on my pain. I may never do anything beyond that.

However, I feel a little okay with that now. I am not dead. I am not mad. I am not without conscience. And this is what I need to do in life.

It happened to ME

I dreamed last night about having just moved into a very large house with a lot of other people. I don’t know specifically who these people were. It didn’t seem to be important to really know. But there were two dogs and a cat—maybe several cats. I don’t remember exactly.

I remarked to the others that this was the perfect house for us. There was a space for everyone. Even the dogs had a kind of annex to play in where we kept their toys, and the cat had her own little space as well. No one paid any attention to what I said, so I remarked, “It’s okay. No one listens to me anyway.”

Awake, I know that this is a dream about the parts. There is now, it feels, a space for everyone. No one gets crowded out. And I think it has something to do with a kind of freedom I feel now, as if I am free from the tyranny of having to protect myself from invisible man-eating tigers. I am less constricted, and so there is space for all the parts.

But I still don’t feel heard, it seems.

Understanding that all of the things I remember happened to ME and not to someone else or to some imaginary person has removed an important piece of how I have been able to cope. Without it there, I also have to address the pain more fully. Denial protected me. Maybe for the first time, I feel afraid of everything I have to face. It’s not that the knowledge is new, or even that the feelings are new. But the feelings aren’t diluted anymore. And I suppose when it gets too much, the wall will just come back up. I will retreat again into denial. That’s how it works. When the stress gets too much, you fall back on the old coping strategies that have worked for many decades. It’s not that you abandon them permanently when you start to set them aside. You set them aside for as long as you can. When you can’t do it anymore, you pick them up again. That is why trauma work often feels like a dance: one step forward, one step back. You are getting somewhere, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

Nonetheless, I don’t want to retreat again. I want to live my life—cook, clean, mark my papers, teach classes, talk to the kids, talk to my friends—and also maintain an awareness that the hell I grew up in was my hell. Not anyone else’s. Not something I imagined. Mine. And I don’t know if I can do it. I couldn’t yesterday. I have tests to mark. They have needed to be marked for weeks now. I couldn’t do it. Instead, I cried most of the day.

I am also realizing something else: you don’t go back and revisit the pain just to get it out of your system. You don’t do it to construct a narrative so that you can tell your story. You do it because the pain you felt is a part of you. Those memories are a part of you. And the only way for someone like me who is in parts to be whole is to feel them. Other things need to be done also. I need to change my views of other people. I need to change my responses to stress. But mainly I need to feel what it is to be me.

In other words, there are no shortcuts to this.

Something else: the feelings cannot be made okay. No amount of self-soothing is going to make me feel fine again. There is no comfort great enough to overcome the pain that I feel. All I can do is make it bearable. I can only dial it down to something I can tolerate. That’s the best I can do.

I also think no one can help me with this. Maybe that’s the particular fall-out of the trauma. I can’t feel supported and also feel safe enough to have the emotions I need to have. If someone is there, I feel frightened. Sharing my experiences with others—all of you—reconnects me to humanity. It undoes some of the damage. But it doesn’t change the pain of the trauma that I need to manage. It is my pain, and I alone will have to feel it.

I don’t know how I can do it. I don’t.

A dream

In the morning, just before it was time to wake up, I dreamed about a kind of camp. They were all men and boys there, except for one woman who had fallen on the pavement nearby. When someone spoke to her, she got up and ran away.

I was walking on the sidewalk—this was not in Y-Town, but Los Angeles—and I came across the scene without understanding what I was looking at. At first, it looked like some kind of scout meeting, except so many of the participants were grown men. There were boys there of all ages, but more than half looked to be over the age of 15 and there were even more men who looked to be over 20. Everyone was in uniform though and they all looked like Country X-ers.

When I came closer, I saw one group of men with a small boy—maybe four or five. He seemed to be in a daze and might have been either drunk or drugged. It was clear after a minute that the men were intending to use him sexually. One man looked uncomfortable and another man said something like, “If you think this is wrong, we don’t have to do it.”

But he said it’s okay.

I woke up soon after that, before anything terrible had happened, but the sense of foreboding was so great, that I woke up in a state. I wondered why I had to dream such things. Then I realized I was dreaming that because I had lived it. Not exactly like that, but something similar, and much of the dream had been taken from my life.

It was hard to get up after that. I felt so intensely sad. I know much of what happened to me—the broad strokes—but the emotional impact is often still very far at a distance. There are things that are too painful to take in that I know and things I don’t want to know. There are things I want to not be true and that I want to be able to say about them, “No, that didn’t happen. It can’t have happened. I don’t need to have that memory and I don’t need to come to terms with that.” It’s not just one unbearable memory, but years of them, in a few different types.

I don’t want the parties to be true—the ones that went on when I was a small girl, where I was passed around to different men to be used.

Lying in bed in the darkness, I thought about these memories, and then I suddenly began to think about other things. I began to think about various people who care about me and what it feels like to be cared about-which was really, really painful. And I began to think about people I wanted to talk to about this—is there anyone? Who could I unburden myself to? I began to think about connection and who I might connect to.

Because an overwhelming part of the emotional memory is the fervent desire for help: I wrote about that before, in reference to ritual abuse, but it is part of other memories also. I was in such distress, and for so many years there was literally no one to help me. There was not even anyone to whom I could safely reveal my desire to help.

I realize sometimes there is no way to make these memories okay again. In therapy, sometimes the therapist would talk about learning to soothe myself. There is no way to soothe this. I can take the edge of the pain, but I can’t make the pain disappear. I can’t even really make it bearable. If nothing else, this is in my past, but it is some other small child’s present.

The best I can do is admit the intensity of the horror and be with myself while I remember it.

Honesty

First of all, I have to apologize to everyone who has commented during the last few weeks and gotten no response from me. I can read your comments and I appreciate them, but replying seems to be a no-go. I don’t know if it’s the holidays or something else, but connection is especially spotty these days and I can’t seem to download enough data to make everything on WordPress (or anything else) work. But I truly appreciate your thoughts.

Things keep coming together in my head these days. I am not entirely pleased about this. Progress doesn’t always feel very good. This does not feel good.

In an earlier post, I laid out habits and behaviours that were the result of my temperament and contrasted them with other habits and behaviours that were the result of trauma. I did that because I’m starting to see that there is inside me a single personality that constitutes an “authentic” self. This personality, however, is not a single personality. It is tucked into away into various “parts” and must be knitted together out of them. This authentic personality is very, very different from anyone I ever thought I was. It may not be so different from the person other people think I am: I probably conceal more from myself than from others. I don’t really know.

But some parts do not want to be this person. Some parts are scared. And some parts just don’t like it. I am those parts, and so I feel scared. I don’t like it.

In the past, I would have tried to stop being scared. However, I am reminded that that is one of the habits I am trying to break. Integration means feeling everything inside me, even if those feelings make it harder for me to do what I need to do. I don’t stop feeling something that is inconvenient, or unpleasant, or doesn’t accord with my plan. I don’t rush to “fix” things. I don’t shut things down. I feel. In the long run, feeling my own complex, contradictory experience will propel me towards my main goal better than anything else.

If part of what I feel is that I don’t want to be the person I believe I really am, then that is what I need to feel. If I don’t want to be myself so badly thinking about it makes me cry, then that is what I ought to do.

When you were raised in a controlling church as I was, you come to believe the only way to do things is to believe in the right things. In the recovery world, the “right” thing to believe is that you have to “feel good about yourself.” You have to have “self-esteem.”

A third piece of the puzzle in me is that I find it difficult to trust that I don’t need to like myself in order to move forward. I don’t need to “feel good about myself.” I don’t need “self-esteem.” What I need is honesty.

Honesty means acknowledging the pieces I see scattered throughout the parts are me. Honesty means acknowledging that this “me” scares me to be. Honesty means acknowledging she feels like an unacceptable, shameful, hideous person to be. Honesty means feeling the fear, the disapproval, the shame, and the disgust.

I was raised in a church that called itself “The Truth.” Having left it behind many years ago, I realize the truth is usually slippery. It is hard to tell what truth is most of the time, and the people who claim mostly loudly that they know it are usually lying. But honesty is not slippery.

I need honesty more than I ever needed truth.

More

There is another layer to this or something to put together at least.

I used to think love was something that hurt people. Not in all of me, of course, but some part of me thought it. It’s always hard to explain this. I thought it and yet I didn’t think it.

Nonetheless…

Maybe I got this idea because the people I knew who talked about love thought of it as a kind of greed. It wasn’t a desire to care for someone, but a desire to own.

Or maybe it was that people hurt those I loved in order to hurt me.

Or maybe it was both.

At the moment, the second one is playing a bigger part in the understanding that is coalescing in my mind following the fist fight incident (which turned out to have played out differently that I had thought, incidentally, but that’s for another day.)

My memory of Natalya being murdered is jumbled. Some moments are clear, but many are not. And it may not be complete.

I do think I screamed. There is a feeling of screaming in my throat when I think of it. I also know someone held me by the arm for a while, so that I could not move to go to her. I went to her only later when nothing much more could be done. I think I did not struggle against that person holding me—against my father. I may have. I think I didn’t.

But I also think I had the idea that she was killed because I loved her. My father would have done that. However, it may not be the reason the real motive. She could have been murdered for any number of motives that I might not be able to even guess because I did not know as much about my father’s friends and I don’t know how they thought.

So there was this idea that my love killed her. Not only could I not help in any way, but my desire to help harmed her.

It’s hard to get into my head the idea that I was just small then. I might have been 45 kilos. And I was only a child.

It’s hard to get it into my head because, despite my immaturity, I was the only one that really could help her. I was the only one with a conscience, or empathy, or compassion. The men involved were all monsters.

I think of them more like tigers—creatures that don’t know enough to care for a human being. So what would I think now about the situation if I had watched her torn apart by tigers? I think I wouldn’t think the same way. I think I would have said to myself, “Well, they were tigers and I was just a child. What could I have done?” And I would have thought about how it affected me to watch my friend torn apart. I wouldn’t have blamed myself or held myself responsible. I would have thought of it as a terrible accident. There we were and there the tigers were, and they did what tigers do. I wouldn’t have thought I should have known how to control the tigers or how to outsmart the tigers, and I wouldn’t have thought my desire for my friend to not be torn apart by tigers is why they did what they did.

Now, in reality, my dad made me watch in order to hurt me. But that is what sadistic psychopaths do. They hurt people. I could not stop him from doing it. If he had not been able to hurt me, he would have hurt someone else. Anyway, I was just there—like someone walking through a jungle, not knowing that there are man-eating tigers in that particular jungle. I was born into his household. There was no place else for me to be. And Natalya was there for her own reasons—probably because she was innocent and not very educated and, again, someone preyed on her.

So you could say that is what innocence is. We were innocent, and the man-eating tigers came and they did what man-eating tigers do. They ate one of us. There was really nothing either of us could have done about it.

Meanwhile, I did what human beings do. In the same way that they did what man-eating tigers do, I did what human being do. I loved my friend. When the tigers came for her, I tried to help her. I screamed, because usually this gets other people’s attention and sometimes they come to help—unless you are in the parking lot of a cheap hotel where this kind of thing is always going on, there is always screaming and always violence and no one comes because they don’t care anymore. They don’t think of the fellow screamers as human and it doesn’t occur to anyone to help. They see the victims as well as the perpetrators as another set of creatures who ought to be left alone to die. (But that’s a larger societal issue.)

The point is the murderers acted like man-eating tigers and I acted like a person.

I did not kill her and the failure of any help to arrive because of my screams is not any failure of mine.

So that is one thing.

The other thing is that life is different when there aren’t man-eating tigers around. It is different also when others, who aren’t man-eating tigers, see you as another human being and not a non-human member of a criminal and a-moral class. When I pulled Madame Kay away from her husband, there was a third person there: the man I had been dancing with. He saw what I was doing and loosened Madame Kay’s hand from the collar of her husband’s shirt, which she was still clinging to. Whether that made any difference, or not, I don’t know. But he saw what I was doing, and he tried to help me.

That is what human beings do. Mostly. We aren’t perfect, but mostly we try to help each other.

And that is why I could do what I did on Blessed rainy day night. That is why nothing happened to Madame Kay and why I was able to try to help her. There weren’t any man-eating tigers there and no one wasn’t a tiger saw me as a member of a criminal class not worth helping.

So, two things have changed: There are no sadistic psychopaths in my life and I am not being forced into criminal activity by anyone.

It’s easy to say it was the past, but what is important about the past sometimes is knowing how not to repeat it. I am quite certain, in the same situation, the same things would happen. Being an adult would not save me. Weighing 50 kilos and not 45 would not save me. Maturity would not save me. What keeps me safe now is the absence of close relationships with dangerous people. Not repeating the past is a simple matter: stay away from man-eating tigers. Stay away from jungles that might have man-eating tigers in them. Mostly, this isn’t difficult. There aren’t that many man-eating tigers in the world. There are a lot of tigers, but most of them will not actually kill anyone. They might talk you out of your life savings. Or steal your identity. Or any of a number of other confidence tricks. But mostly they aren’t so dangerous that I need to keep watching my friends to see that they still aren’t dead. It won’t happen again.

It won’t happen again.

It won’t happen again.

That’s a second thing.

The take-away messages from the two events, Natalya’s murder and the Blessed rainy day fistfight, are that life unfolds differently when your life is controlled by sadistic psychopaths and when it isn’t. Now that my life is not, I can expect that the people I love will not be hurt just because I love them, and I can also expect that my love can instead manifest itself in helping them. I suppose it’s hard to really know this until you are brave enough to try it out and see what happens. It’s hard to be sure until you can do it and also take in that you are doing it. Which I suppose is what I have done. Some. The taking in is a slow process. I can do it only bit by bit.

There’s something else: a third thing

What I experienced on Blessed rainy day—that people helped, that I helped, that my love didn’t hurt anyone—is more typical of what happens when there are no sadistic psychopaths around. This is more or less how the world works a lot of the time, and I can expect it to continue in the future.

I have so much mental rearranging to do now.