I posted a few months ago about Holland—Holland being this place that you didn’t intend to go to. (Sorry, Netherlands. It wasn’t my idea.) I was thinking about it again this morning, because I’ve emerged out of abuse into a world that has all the same problems that led to my abuse. I am not so personally affected by them anymore, but they’re all still there. They are just happening to someone else now, which doesn’t count in my mind as a huge improvement.
I mean, some things are better. I think they might be better. However, the basic problems are still there. They haven’t changed.
And I think I had this hope that when I grew up, it would turn out that my experiences would turn out to be a one-off, or that I would be able to fix them. Of course, the problems are too big to fix. They are too big for one person to fix, or even 1% of the population to fix all working together. They are very complex and very deeply rooted in our society and they are going to take a long time for a great number of committed people to change, and I may or may not be able to be one of those committed people. I am, after all, in pieces. Getting through the day is still a bit of a challenge for me.
On the one hand, I feel an enormous relief, like the burdens of the world are off my shoulders. I can’t fix these things, because they are very complex, because they are stubborn problems, and because they require changing many people’s assumptions and not just one or two. So it’s okay that I haven’t fixed them. It’s okay even if I can’t try to fix them, if my own life is more than I can manage.
On the other hand, I feel an enormous sadness. It feels like a teenage grief, because as a teenager sometimes you have all these ideas about what can be done, about what’s possible, about what you can do, and being an adult sometimes means the shattering of these ideas. It means understanding the limits of your power all over again, in the same way that maybe you wished for infinite candy as a two-year-old and then you began to understand you did not have the power to make that happen. Even screaming about it wasn’t going to make the candy come.
The only upside is that I’m developing a lot of skills to regulate my emotions. So the world hasn’t changed that much. It still horrifies me—and it horrifies me in a way I can’t avoid as much as other people can. I am faced with horror every day, because it’s a part of my traumatic memories that surface throughout the day. I can’t just not think about it, which is how a lot of people cope with the horror. They look away from the screen and the news on it, and they go on with life as normal, as if it is not happening. But I go into the kitchen and chop vegetables and the position of my neck looking downward reminds me of certain kinds of sexual abuse. I sweep the house and I’m suddenly two feet tall, and I am reminded of what happened when I was that size, and I have to think about being trafficked. Instead, I have to regulate my emotions about it. Avoidance as a strategy is out of the question. Fortunately—and because of a lot of hard work—I can. At least some.
So that’s one thing. Holland involves all of the same problems as the place I grew up in. I didn’t entirely escape them.
There’s something else on my mind this morning too. Last night, no one noticed it was time to go to bed. I’m not sure why, but all of a sudden it was nine o’clock, and bedtime for me is eight. There seemed to be no one around to take charge of bedtime even when she noticed this. I don’t know where I was or who was out. Just that no one was doing anything. Finally, she said, “I have take charge.” And she began to get us all ready for bed.
It was hot last night, the weather is changing. Not truly hot, but the night before I slept under a quilt and a blanket, and last night was sheet weather and still not feeling very comfortable. She said, “Mommy, I want open window.” Then she realized she could open the window herself: usually, she just tells me things, then she waits for me to do them. Or at least she perceives me as the one doing them. She is noticing the need, but I take care of it. That is her perception anyway. She’s just a signaler, not a doer. This idea that she could open the window herself was very new.
In the morning, I was just drinking coffee. I didn’t drink any water. After a while, she noticed this. She told me we’d better drink some water, or we’d end up all dry-mouthed and dehydrated, which I felt anyway from lack of sleep somehow. I told her, “You don’t have to wait for me. If you want a drink of water, just get one. You don’t need to get my permission.”
It seemed to indicate a different mindset, something happening on her side of the dissociation that was bringing her closer to integration. She waits for me to do things, and she also blames me for things when they go wrong. We were getting dressed—she was doing it—she stabbed herself twice with a pin in the process. At first, she blamed me, “You have be more careful, Mommy.” Then she realized what was happening. “I have be more careful.”
It’s enormous as evidence of growth, and I think it’s a part of what has to happen for integration to take place. She has to see herself as someone capable of taking care of herself and of all the rest of me—because that’s my view. We can’t be on opposite sides of the pole and be one person: one of us a caretaker and the other of us helpless and needing care. But it’s also something that can’t be forced, that could not have been forced. It has to develop out of reality. She’s less dissociated now, and it’s allowing her to see more of what is really going on. She’s capable of caring for herself, and before she wasn’t. Before the need for care and the ability to care needed to be split apart so that the need for it didn’t overwhelm my capacity to do it.
That’s Ruthie right now. She’s growing up.