Oh, and there’s a baby.
Hannah, of course, thinks this is wonderful and now that she’s not scared of her own shadow anymore goes about taking charge of Baby and showing her the ropes. One thing she does that is very helpful is, in some way, blend with her enough to give her access to language. Which is really invaluable, since Hannah has moved on to the multi-word sentence, and without that my knowledge of Baby would consist of Mama and No.
But I have to admit my first reaction is laced with profanity. On the one hand, since the parts seemed to have been receding, full integration seems tantalizingly close. On the other, Hannah has been a handful—the little ones are really, really exhausting, especially when they’re deeply traumatized which, naturally, they are or I wouldn’t have them.
I need to backtrack for a minute though. One thing I have learned through this process is that my life has occurred for me in slices. One part of me has this slice of it, another part has a different slice. No one ever has all of the information, including whoever you might think of as “me”, and very often the conclusions you draw based on only part of the information are different from the ones you would draw if you had all of it.
As an example, I was looking at an old post from October, and I realized that when I began to more vividly remember Natalya, one of the first slices that came back to me was a Charlie slice. And Charlie is there as a protector and as a nurturer, so he is there with Natalya when it seems to me that she needs that. The image I get from him, from that slice of my life, is of Natalya as someone who is very fragile, someone who is very close to being destroyed. And that’s not actually true. He is there in those moments when she is fragile and when it does seem like she’s absolutely going to break—that’s largely the reason he is there, is to shut out the other parts of me that are freaking out about it, so I can just concentrate on taking care of her when she needs me to. But those are just moments. She somehow patches herself up and I help her patch herself up and she’s strong again. She is colossally strong. That’s the full picture: she is strong, and sometimes, when the abuse is just really too brutal, she almost breaks. But she never does.
So Baby, like all the other parts, has a slice of my life. And what she thinks is not what I would think given all of the information, but whatever she thinks in her baby-way is based on what she knows of my life from that slice. And, more than that, it is probably a slice I need, that I don’t otherwise have access to.
The second thing I have realized about this is that mainly what I need to do is keep the emotions down to a dull howl—not by shutting them off, but by calming them. I need to take the edge off the fear or the pain or the sorrow in some way, by doing something soothing; that is what brings the dissociative wall down and allows the information to mix. Mostly, after that, my brain does the rest of the work automatically. It doesn’t require effort. It looks at the new information and sorts and organizes it and comes to new, more accurate conclusions and that bit all happens pretty easily. The hard part is just creating some sense of calm.
The third lesson of the process is that the little parts can’t always think symbolically let alone linguistically. If you say, “You are safe,” it’s all nonsense to them. They will act like you’ve not said anything because it does not compute. The more scared they are, the more compromised cognition becomes, and the less this is going to work. It never works with a 1-year-old, but it also won’t work with a very scared 10-year-old.
Instead, They need real things. Sam was almost three, so he could hold a sparkly bit of earring and use that to remind himself that Nata was dead and therefore safe. He could do that because he could think symbolically. But for a while he couldn’t hold onto that idea. He kept waking up and asking all over again where she went. It took time.
Hannah could not even do that much—not for a while. She needed things that were more real than that to help her calm down. She could hold onto a bit of shawl or a blanket and feel more safe because the feeling of holding that and of holding a hand were similar enough she didn’t know it wasn’t a hand. She could sleep with a prayer card and not be afraid of demons because she assumed the picture of Mary really was Mary and could protect her. Little parts need things that are physical, that automatically and primally invoke a sense of safety.
So the last day and a half, I’ve mostly been trying to help Baby feel safe. Baby likes to look at a picture of a Russian singer who conveniently has dyed blonde hair and blue eyes and something of a similarly shaped face to Natalya. She looks at it and says “Mama” and calms down a little. She likes to be warm to the point that I’m sweating, so I’ve been keeping the hot water bottle going all the time, although it has magically turned into spring here and is no longer cold. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
At last, Baby, via Hannah, burst out with the idea that “Mama” didn’t leave her because she was mad at her. Rather, Natalya is out there somewhere in the ether as a soul watching Baby and keeping her safe and she is not mad.
And I started to consider the slice of my life that Baby might have. Baby was there, undoubtedly, for Nata’s kisses and cuddles. Babies live for those, and Baby would have surfaced for it. But I don’t know that she was there for anything in between. There were kisses and cuddles and then there weren’t any and for all she knew Nata just abandoned her.
That’s one bit of the slice.
I start thinking something else. So, when I was about a year and half or at the most two, my mother hit me over the head with a chair and then went upstairs to the bathroom to slice her wrists open. I was home alone with her. When I woke up later in a pool of blood, I went to find her and that’s how she was—either unconscious or groggy in the bathtub and bleeding into the water.
I went next door to the neighbor’s house and got help, and it’s after that that I was taken into care.
Baby doesn’t mention any of this, but it seems to me Baby was there for that—I do remember suddenly lacking the language skills I needed to tell the neighbor what has happened. There was just a lot of urgent pointing. And that would make sense if I switched into a younger part. Not that my language skills would have been phenomenal at that age, but Hannah could manage “Mommy hurt.” Baby can’t.
After that, there was (as I recall) a parade of men in big boots, and I was taken across the street to a different neighbour’s house and cleaned up prior to the arrival of the social worker who came to investigate and then whisk me away.
But the point is that Baby doesn’t know how all of this panned out. Baby doesn’t know that my mother lived through it, she doesn’t know that my mother—who certainly blamed her rage on me in that moment—is just mentally ill and what happened was never her fault. She doesn’t know any of those things, because she’s not there in that slice of my life to discover them. I know them, but she doesn’t.
She just thinks someone got mad at her and then died. Who did this is all a little muddy because Baby’s not out enough to really sort out who Natalya is. Natalya is someone who hugs her and makes her feel safe in a very mama-like way, but beyond that Natalya’s identity is very unclear. Nonetheless, the idea still gets preserved. It gets preserved and then transferred onto the fate of Natalya. Natalya must have gotten mad at her and died too.
There’s more to this, but my grown-up time seems to be over for a while. I have little ones to take care of. I best be off.