Self

I wake up too with that feeling of being loved all over. I wake up with that tingly feeling all over my skin.

I am starting to think that this sensation isn’t only about the experience of being loved. It’s not just about the physical memory of being kissed and touched and held. It is connected to that, but it is not only that.

I am starting to think it is about the person who felt those things. I am trying to integrate a person who feels loved, who feels safe in the world, who feels alive.

It’s difficult to do this, because I feel afraid that those feelings can only be there if the person who brought them out in me is there also. I am afraid it is only a memory, and like all memories it will eventually have to fade, and the fear keeps me from engaging with it too much.

But the feeling keeps returning, demanding that I do engage with it.

I keep returning to it and also returning to the worthlessness and self-contempt I feel when I think of my sister. I keep returning to them because my sister hurt the same person Natalya loved. I felt different, but I was not a different person, and I am trying to grasp that.

It seems, in some way, the sense of love in my body is the person—that is me. Worthlessness is a perception of something that happened to me. I don’t know why this would be—why the good feeling would seem ongoing and permanent, while the negative feeling seems temporary. Maybe I ought not to question that. Maybe I ought to just let that be.

But I’ll tell you what begins to happen if I begin to be able to hold onto both experiences at the same time. Natalya loves the hurt of my sister’s violence away. That is what happens.

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Another piece

I woke up this morning thinking that sex is not about love and love is not about sex. (I know this is obvious, but I am confused about some very obvious things.) Sex is about sex.

But people have sex in the same way they do other things. If they lack empathy talking to you about changing the cat litter, they will lack empathy when you aren’t wearing any clothes too. If they love you eating blackberry jam on toast, they will also love you touching you in the most intimate way possible.

I remember Natalya’s love when we had sex because she loved me all the time. I remember my sister using me sexually because she used me at other times also.

And somehow this makes everything okay. Not, perhaps, okay with me, but I can live with it

Still trafficked

The next part I must put together hurts. It hurts so much I don’t want to do it.

And that is to see how being trafficked has lived on in my adult relationships. The next part is to see how I lived as if Yuri were still there long after I had escaped.

Natalya, in a sense, made the choice for me about how to proceed, or I allowed her to choose. But she showed me how choices ought to be made.

She looked at my face. She looked to see how I felt. She looked at me as if what was inside me mattered. It did matter to her.

I don’t matter to everyone. I matter to some people more than others. I don’t always matter enough.

She died and I stopped thinking I could matter to anyone.

She died and I stopped thinking I had any choices.

She died and I stopped thinking I had any right to my own body.

I retreated. I kept myself safe by not getting close. When I did get close, I did whatever I thought was required of me. It’s more complicated than that. But, in a nutshell, I lived the rest of my life as if I was still being trafficked.

There is no one in particular to blame for this. There is everyone to blame for it. There is my father, there is Yuri, there is my sister.

There is everyone who didn’t rescue me.

There is myself for not being strong enough to hold onto the idea of love when it hurt too much to remember it.

It is no one’s fault. It is everyone’s fault.

But it hurts.

One piece

This is only one corner of the puzzle. It might not really be the most important. It is not the bit that is screaming again in my head that I want to die. But it is at least a piece.

Natalya is a yard stick.

I have mentioned I had one very dysfunctional relationship. The others were dysfunctional, but that one won the prize. I spent many years trying to rescue it. It could not be rescued. It turns out there is no cure for selfishness. That is just a matter of character, and it could be changed, but why try?

In the process, I sought out a lot of psychotherapy. I had couples therapy along with my partner. I had individual therapy. In hindsight, this was even more harmful. I learned a lot of things about life and relationships that are untrue.

I learned everything is my fault. I learned how and for what reasons it is all my fault. I learned I am a deeply defective person.

I learned I had shortcomings that I don’t have.

I learned also to understand myself in a way that is completely useless as a framework for change.

Psychotherapy seems to help a lot of people. In most cases, I think psychotherapy kept me from getting better, and it kept me from getting better as long as I “trusted the process.” When I stopped “trusting the process” and began to use it as one tool in my own process—in a process I directed and controlled rather than allowed to unfold on its own or at someone else’s direction—then I got better.

Make of this what you will.

I learned in psychotherapy that people have relationships in which they are generally treated badly because they don’t see themselves as separate people and because they are so dependent on others that they don’t feel they can exist on their own.

I have a lot of problems, but those are not among them. I am very clear that others are not me. Most of the time, the rest of the human race was an absolute puzzle. It’s worked out now a little, but in those days—and this was more than a decade ago—it was like dealing with space aliens every day. Or at least a different species.

And my problem is not dependence. It’s the fucking freezer. It is Yuri. I do switch into a compliant mode, especially if you are angry and bigger than me. But not because I think you won’t like me and will leave me. It’s the freezer. It’s the shattered hand. It is Natalya’s shattered body.

So.

My point is that my problem was something other than what I was told it was.

I was told I am supposed to set boundaries and enforce them.

All well and good.

But I had no idea what reasonable boundaries might be between two people. I had no idea how to consider my own internal experience in the process. There is a balance between expecting the world to respond to you and expecting it to revolve around you. What is that balance? I had known mostly extremes.

I did not always even know what that experience was. Too many things were split up in parts, and I had to make decisions but others were taking in the information. There wasn’t a smooth communication process. My problem was the communication process inside me. You can say there wasn’t a communication because I had no self, but I had a lot of selves. Everyone thought they were the self. I was fractured—not vague.

And what I had learned in childhood is that my feelings are never part of the equation anyway.

Oh, and also, there is this idea of enforcement. What does that mean? In a lot of cases, that seems to look like punishment. You don’t do what I want, so I hurt you. It ends up looking, in what I see others do as a vindictive, hurtful approach to relationships.

Natalya makes me see what the rules ought to be.

She also makes me see that sometimes, when a person doesn’t follow the same rules, you just don’t get close. Other people can live life however they want to live it. I don’t need to tell them to live their lives differently. But their way of living isn’t going to work for me.

Life in parts

In the evening, I have a feeling that what I’m trying to put together is really, really difficult—it’s like a 1000 piece puzzle with a timer ticking loudly in the background—but that I’ve almost got it.

Then the phone rings. I am reminded I have a life outside of what is going on in my head and there are people who want to talk to me. I have relationships now too. And I have them beyond what I have here. Which, I realize, are very satisfying and very sustaining despite the lack of any real depth or intimacy. But that is a conversation for another day.

The puzzle disassembles itself and I have to begin again. In the end, I go to bed, still confused. My head is a complete mess.

So it’s not really a surprise that when I wake up, it is the same mess I went to sleep in.

In some ways, the hardest part of this process is this stage: when everything is out, the wall has been knocked down and there is shit lying around everywhere that hasn’t been put away. That’s the period when it’s the most difficult to function and get through the day. Usually, I end up easily triggered—the trauma is on the surface, raw, easily called up. So I frighten easily, or I have other intense emotional reactions to day-to-day events that are draining to manage and control. I can’t concentrate. I dissociate easily: I switch into parts and become amnesiac quickly.

Although it’s more painful, it is easier to sit at home alone and sort through it all—even if it makes me feel like dying—than it is to try to get through the day when I’ve taken it out but have had no time to put it back in its proper place. It’s easier too when the wall is still up, when things are at least organized and I have a way of dealing with life that works to fall back on.

This stage means I nearly set fire to my house sometimes. Last night, it meant I burnt dinner and it was too late to make anything else, and so I ate what I would like to call “roasted” lentils. That kind of thing.

Consequently, I went to bed feeling desperate, but there was nothing I could do. There is probably still nothing I can do. It took almost four hours to organize my head to the point of “almost” getting it sorted. I don’t have four hours before I have to deal with the world before I go to school. Today will probably suck.

But that is part of life in parts. I plan very carefully so that I can be as stable as possible, then life intrudes and I can’t cope anymore.

And again possession

There is a feeling from Natalya that I am still struggling to articulate and understand. I began to think of it in terms of possession because falling in love felt like being consumed by something not myself.

But I am not really struggling to understand that kind of possession. It has more to do with connection and belonging—belonging with, belonging to. It seems to be the struggle of someone accustomed to ownership trying to understand relationships.

It seems like the opposite of enslavement ought to be freedom, but evidently in my mind that is not the case. Evidently, the opposite of enslavement is connection.

I have been trying to pin this down. When I think of Natalya’s kisses on my body, there is a sense of being tattooed, of being branded. There is a sense about it of being marked. I feel about it as though it she did it not just for fun, and not just because it felt good, but to make a point. I have that sense about many things she did, and I don’t know that that’s an accurate sense. What I think is accurate about my memory of it is that there was a point. The way she touched me adds up to something.

So I’m struggling with this, and what I get from my struggling is a sense of myself as property—as an item that is transferrable. I grew up thinking of myself as a time share, rather than as part of a family.

My father owned me, and he sold the rights to use me after church. He made a deal with Yuri and sold him some of my nights and a part of my weekends. Yuri sold my minutes and hours to other men and sold my image to yet others.

I have a sense of being owned as a condition of my life—I was going to be owned by someone—but not necessarily owned by anyone in particular.

With Natalya, there was a sense about it of permanence, as if whatever I did and wherever I went, I was still hers. Her possession of me was not transferrable. There remained, in a sense, a rightful owner. But by owner, I don’t mean someone who demands, that I must comply with. I’m just putting that sense of permanence into the structure which already exist in my mind. The structure assumes I am a slave, but acknowledges this is a kind of slavery. I’m trying to understand only this one piece of my confusion right now, and not the whole thing. That much is enough for one day.

Because the thing about the sense of permanence is that it makes me feel safe. I want to feel that kind of possession. The permanence seems safe not so much as a protection against loss or abandonment or uncertainty, but as a kind of motivation.

No one cares that much about a library book, but if it is your book, you take better care of it. If you loan that book to your friend, you expect your friend to take care of it too, because it is yours. I am not a book, but what I am saying is that relationships mean you care. No one cares much about transferrable property, except to avoid any fines or other negative consequenes.

Natalya makes me feel like an old and very dog-eared, worn-out book that is tied together carefully with string so that the pages that have fallen out don’t get lost and that is kept in a special place—away from small, dirty fingers, away from heat and dust and damp—but taken out again and again to read. Because it is a special book, it is a treasured book, it’s a book with important things to say that you cannot hear enough times.

I know I am not a book, but I am just trying to understand the sense of permanence better. Because, as I said, the safety I feel about the permanence is not about not having to experience loss, but about having someone to protect me. It is about having someone to protect me even me from herself.

I mean, we do that, don’t we? We care, and so we don’t say every stupid thing that comes into our heads, because that might hurt them. Some people keep a civil tongue just because, just out of a sense of decorum, but with the people we are close to, we do that so we don’t hurt them. It’s so we don’t damage the relationship.

At the same time, I know most of us are kind to others just because. You wouldn’t beat a child half to death even if she weren’t your child.

But still. I think there’s something to this idea I’m struggling with. I can’t seem to quite say it so that it makes sense.

Natalya’s kisses make me feel I am hers and so no can hurt me. No one is allowed to. They did, but I feel that way anyway. I am too small to say no, but she can say no for me. She can say that hurts, don’t do that about me. She can say that is not good for her. She can say that is not in her best interest.

And I think, in considering this, I am starting to understand the role of a parent in a child’s life. I know Natalya was later my lover and when she came she was only 13, but my experience of being parented was so brief and so long ago, that the next caring relationship I encountered had to work overtime to help me understand how to be in the world.

So, I think Natalya did something for me that parents normally do for their children, which involves making the rules. The rules aren’t just about how the child is allowed to behave, or how other adults behave with the child, but how the parent behaves with the child. Parents have rules for themselves in how they act toward their children. So did Natalya. Her rules meant she nurtured me