It happens in the early mornings. I woke up very early two days in a row trying to work on the final exam, but I also know I have to get my head together at least a little to have things go well in the day and to concentrate on my work. So I end up waking up early mostly to think and then scrambling to get the work done in an hour or two.
The upside of doing this is I get time more to think in the morning when I am fresh and not tired and it goes a lot better than trying to work on anything in the evenings, when I am tired and the tired is triggering me.
The “safe to be me” feeling seems to come out of language and culture and really very deeply with Russian. The songs I have downloaded—from before YouTube started closing the loopholes on copyright infringement—are all connected to grief and loss, because that’s what I was thinking about then. When I listen to other songs—which I can’t that often, because one song is about a fourth of a recharge voucher and not only does it get expensive, but the raised eyebrows at how much I spend on this gets too much. Actually, no one really does raise an eyebrow, but I know what they are thinking.
Anyway, in the morning, I have been listening to another song that is less weepy, and I connect so deeply to it—to the sound of the language, to something in the song that seems to be a way of being. Posture or an interaction. Or something. The feeling that this connection is allowed and is going to be okay to have is so freeing. It is like finding a kind of homebase inside that wasn’t permitted before. Not just that it’s safe to be me in front of other people—and maybe that isn’t even worked out—but safe to be me when I am alone and it’s just me and God.
My identity is really deeply rooted in a culture. It’s not just an individual identity, but an identity as someone who is and was a member of a group. It wasn’t safe to be me at home, not in any way. Later, it wasn’t safe to be this person. For so many reasons.
Americans are individuals. They have to be unique. They are members of groups, but part of that group identity is the belief that we are all different. Membership in the group becomes invisible, because the group is focused on the individual as separate from other individuals.
Russians are members of a group. So part of my identity is as a member of a group, because that is the way the group understands itself. The girls who were my adopted family are really important to this—it’s important I came from somewhere—and so is the culture they belonged to.
I don’t know where I wanted to go with that, but it’s important.
And maybe it means I hear Russian and I see Russians and there is a very deep resonance within me, like “that’s me.” I can see myself in it in a way I otherwise don’t.
At the same time, I think it means the approach to healing is so different for me. I have been positioning myself as a member of a group, rather than trying to “let go” of who I was in the past. Rather than separating myself from what was, I am changing my relationship to it. If you are focused on developing as an individual, this isn’t going to be important. Because of that, I can imagine I sat in therapy for something lie 15 years, and felt prohibited from doing that repositioning, not because it really wasn’t allowed, but because it wasn’t on anyone’s radar as something that had to be done so urgently
There are these other things: boundaries They are really important in Western culture. Maintaining individual autonomy is really important. Holding onto one’s own and respecting others’. People who are relationally impaired violate the norms of their culture—they aren’t interested in respecting those rights–so children growing up with parents like that have no sense of what their rights should be. I grew up with that, then I also grew up with people who respected the rights of others, but had a very different sense of what those were, and for whom group coherence always trumped autonomy. Again, I went to therapy, and got more confused. That internal sense of a “homebase,” what felt safe and comfortable and “normal,” was so different from what the goal seemed to be. It seemed like I had to give up my homebase in order to survive. But I don’t. I have to adapt, but what feels good to me can remain the cohesiveness of the girls.
And then there is this approach to emotions. Americans like positive emotions. They think you shouldn’t dwell on the past or on negative emotions. Then you’ll get depressed. Actually, you don’t. How you move through negative emotions depends on what you do when you have them.
Russians spend a lot of time on negative emotions. They brood. Studies have been done on this and it is not just a stereotype. Russians really do that.
I have found brooding to be enormously helpful. I get better because I brood. But I am doing something with negative emotions I learned from the girls. I don’t know what it is, I think maybe it’s connecting to others over those negative emotions—and I am doing other things I learned later too—but it’s deep in me now. It’s homebase.
I was thinking also of the sense of public and private. Russians are really private. They don’t trust people they don’t know well. It’s all zipped up, stiff upper lip in front of people you aren’t close to. And then when you are private, everything comes down. Walls dissolve, feelings come out. The difference between public and private is enormous. It’s not like Americans, who express emotions in front of pretty much everyone. Well, I am like that. I mean, in that way, I am Russian. I have trust issues, but my sense of what one can and should express or emote in front of others isn’t American. I am not just fucked up. I have a very deeply embedded sense of boundaries that is different than in mainstream culture.
I can adapt to my own culture—to American culture—but it won’t feel like my “own.” It will never feel safe and warm and comfortable. And I don’t have to pretend it is.