When I woke up in the night, I was holding a marble.

Keep in mind I fell asleep holding a broken earring. The marble was in my coat pocket. (I have begun sleeping with the coat, because it makes getting out of bed a lot less painful. The coat is there. I put it on. Back to warm and toasty within seconds.)

I must have lost the earring in the sheets in the night—I usually do—and gone after the marble as a replacement. I needed to hold something.

The earring is important because it reminds me that I can no longer be stolen.

This is the story that has fallen outside the frame all my life. There are, it seems, certain acceptable tropes. There are certain narratives we can understand and believe.

Bits of my life have fallen within the confines of those acceptable narratives. Many things were extreme or bizarre, but the extreme and bizarre are not really so unheard of. They can still be placed within the frame of what can be understood.

But, in the past, even in situations where I ought to have been heard, this whole strand of my life that was Natalya could not be heard. When I have alluded to it—puzzled by it myself—it has been ignored. It has been disallowed. It has been treated as something that is either irrelevant or untrue. This has happened in every setting where it might reasonably come up. It has been true in psychotherapy. Decades of it.

Fear of abandonment is not unusual. Fear of rejection is pretty common. Fear of being unwanted seems to be everyone’s secret fear. Fear of being stolen apparently doesn’t happen, or it’s not its own problem.

And that’s only one bit of the impact.

Your parents are assumed to be your model for all other close relationships. My parents are not. They are my model for authority figures, but not for relationships with people I actually choose to be with. Natalya is my model for the people I want to be close to, which has created its own (and quite different) issues.

It’s hard to get a handle on those problems when they come from somewhere that’s outside the frame.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I cannot understand myself without understanding that part of my life. I cannot understand my struggles or my problems or the sources of my strength.

My dad made my head into custard. He was indeed a problem. But that’s only one strand of my life. It is only one set of traumas. And it doesn’t simultaneously present any potential solutions along with the difficulties. My dad is inside the frame, but he isn’t all there is. Yuri even is inside the frame. He’s not all there is either. My abusers are inside the frame, but so much of how the abuse played out is not.

I am realizing more and more how much I have felt that my story could be heard only if it could be crammed into a frame where important pieces of my life had to remain invisible and unheard, certain kinds of pain could never be addressed or resolved, and everything, absolutely everything else could only be understood in a diminished, distorted way.

And so in that way my sense of not being the equal of others—not even other abuse survivors—has been retained. Other people have lives that fit the frame. Other people can speak about their lives and their feelings and be understood. I could not.

Other people can be helped without having to cram themselves into a box they don’t anywhere near fit into.

That’s been my experience.

Over the years, what I have learned is to begin to speak only about the parts of my experience that did fit the frame. I have learned to tailor my truth, to massage it into something where I don’t have to see what is disallowed by the hearer, because that disallowance is simply too painful to keep doing all the time.

I don’t blame anyone for this particularly. It is human nature to use the frames of what we already know and understand to process new material. It’s not that there’s anything terribly wrong with having an important relationship with an older child within a sex trafficking ring. It’s not really that it’s impossible. It’s just not a part of how we commonly talk about or understand child abuse. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind.

But that does suggest that sometimes we need a different frame for addressing survivors of childhood trauma.

That frame is: What were your resources? What are your resources now? How can those resources be used now to help you cope with the pain of both the past and the present?

We do need to look at the deficits that trauma has left us with, but we cannot address them without looking at what assets we have. And we do have them. We must. Or we never would have made it this far.

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