It’s one of the most important holidays of the year here. Holiday as in holy day.
So the last two days, I’m woken at three in the morning to what sound like bells. Although I don’t waken right away. Today I fought the bells for maybe an hour until I finally got up at four, and yesterday I woke up and then fell back to sleep.
This isn’t relevant. I just thought I’d tell you. Tomorrow is the last day, and then I suppose life will return to normal for a while. Until the next holiday, when the monks will begin chanting before daybreak and this will be broadcast over a sound system for all of us to hear.
It sounds annoying, but this is just the rhythm of life here. Religion will wake you up, especially at this time of year, when there is one holiday after another. But even at other times, I sometimes wake up to drums and a horn that sounds like a sheep bleating from someone’s own personal prayer session because there is sickness in the family or it is time for their family’s annual spiritual house-cleaning or someone died.
Religion is for me now like the sound of traffic was for me in Los Angeles.
But I wake up and Hannah says, “I want Nata,” and begins to kick her feet and cry.
Separation anxiety—if you want to call it that—seems to be the worst, most painful, most intractable form of the trauma I need to deal with.
Nothing seems to have prepared me for this, but Hannah helps me understand it. Because she is very, very little and she is this living, breathing, walking, talking time capsule of myself. When she is out, or even close to the surface, I get to feel how I felt when I was a year old.
And the first thing I learn is that it is terrifying to be a tiny child and have absolutely no protection from anything. It is terrifying to really feel, even at that very early age, that there are no competent, capable, trustworthy adults. The adults are either dangerous or incompetent or both. I know from my own memories, that when I was either very little or very sick I did turn to my mother, but it’s with this attitude of fear. I turned to her because I couldn’t help it. The instinct to turn to someone for help was just too strong to overcome. But there’s no sense of being safe at the end of it. The whole time I’m close to my mother, I’m just afraid.
Then Natalya came along, and there was suddenly a safe person in my life. There was suddenly someone who can be trusted, who doesn’t hurt me. She did, in fact, hurt me, but I didn’t seem to have perceived it that way. I seem to have perceived the hurt as inevitable rather than as something she was causing. It was something that had to happen that she helped me with.
Which is about right.
After that, after she appears in my life, I want that safety again. I want to be with her. I’m sad or lonely or worried or scared or cold or sleepy or any of those things children feel when they want their mommies and daddies, and I want Nata. Only I can’t just have her when I want her. I’m separated from her more than I am with her.
So this terrible thing happens for me. I want her, and she’s not there, and I’m helpless. I’m helpless against the feeling of wanting her, and I have no idea of what to do. There’s no comfort for it. I’m unhappy about something anyway—or I just feel vulnerable and in need of protection—and then with that I have this dreadful feeling of, “I can’t get to safety again.” It’s dreadful.
It’s probably not so different than what other children feel when they are separated from their families for more normal reasons. They are summer camp or away at boarding school or whatever, but a part of the difference is that they know what to do. They have these little things that remind them of their parents and of their safe, safe homes. They have a picture or a special blankie or something, and if they are really upset they might be allowed a phone call, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t have these things, and I don’t even have the concept: when you miss someone, you do little things that bring that person close to you in an emotional or mental sense. You look at their picture or you touch something that makes you think of them. I don’t have this feeling about anyone else, and so no one has suggested to me that I do these things. All I can do is shove the thought out of my mind.
I’ve come to realize through this process that trauma is not really about dreadful, horrifying things happening. It’s not just about events. It’s about whatever emotions have been called up in you that are beyond your ability to manage when you first had them.
The separation was something I couldn’t manage. I was too little, there were too many triggers for it, and I didn’t have any tools for managing it. Managing it did not even seem permissible.
So the separation is something I keep having to try to manage. Every time I wake up and I’m still sleepy and in that vulnerable, sleepy state, it’s a trigger. Every time I go to bed, it’s a trigger. Every time anything is not quite right and I am lonely or hungry or sad or cold or anything, it’s a trigger. Because I want to get to safety again, and she’s safety. But I can’t get to her.
And I have to manage the feeling of separation in the same way I need to manage flashbacks of actually being harmed; the way to manage it is different, but the need to do it is exactly the same.
I do it, but it has not really penetrated my custardy brain that this is what I am doing. I just feel desperate—I have to do something because this just hurts too much. I can’t live with it.
At the same time, I think I’ve not been comfortable with this. After all, she’s dead. I don’t know if what I’m doing is just a way of trying to keep her alive a little. Am I just stuck in a bargaining stage?
No, it’s different. It’s a different problem. Her death triggers the separation too. The whole fact of being alive in the present triggers it—I am alive because she is dead and the fact of her death makes the separation permanent—but this is something different from grief. Separation is the trauma I experienced when she was alive.
Maybe the hard part is that other kinds of trauma I have control over now: I am not trapped in the powerlessness of my childhood. I can protect myself from being assaulted. I can protect myself from sexual violence. Even cold I was able to start and stop and see that I can now control.
I can’t make her here. I can’t make her not dead. I cannot freely choose to be with her, and so the comfort for that horrible sense of separation has to come in a different way. I’ve tried to do it with little bits of her—the earring that looks like hers, the smell of her shampoo, her favourite colour. I don’t know if it is helping or not. It must be helping some, because I can sleep. I don’t wake in the night crying anymore. I think it’s not helping enough. Maybe it’s just very, very difficult, but it’s not like the colour red, which is no longer terrifying to me; It is not even frightening anymore. It’s just a colour. I still miss her—I still miss her so much I end up wanting to die.
The little girl next door knocks as I’m writing this. She asks if I’m going up to where the festival is. I say no, not just now. I don’t know why she’s asking this, and I have a little twinge of guilt. I ought to go, but that’s not why she’s asking.
The little twinge of guilt is a trigger too. I might have done something wrong. I might be punished for this. I want Nata. I want safety again. I don’t think all that. I just feel it. I feel the little twinge of guilt and the wanting and then I feel like wanting to die.
And I know I have to do something more. I can’t go on wanting to die 20 times a day.