Choices

It helps a lot to write about the girls. It establishes something of a moral rightness again. They are worth remembering. Despite what happened to them, they are not disposable. What happened to them was wrong. Wrong on every level.

Their memory brings up for me the impossibility of explaining the bleakness and the futility I felt as a child. In psychotherapy, I have talked about some of the very least horrific abuses and been told I am safe now, as if my safety is at issue. There are moments when it does help to be reminded we are safe, when we are talking about horror, but so many times comments like that have been mistimed, clichéd responses I suppose, and not matching up with my real experience.

Which comes down to thoughts about the world I live in more than my fearfulness of it. I am safe as an adult, but what is the world I live in really like? What are people really like under the social niceties and the politeness and the things that could be lies?

It creates a deep inability to trust that goes beyond merely being afraid. If I really knew you, would I hate you? Would I hate you, not because you are flawed or weak or merely different, but because you simply don’t give a damn? Would I?

That’s the question I was left with as a child.

As an adult, I know the answer varies. People care to greater or lesser degrees. They are more or less altruistic, more or less empathetic, more or less concerned with contributing to a greater good rather than simply adding to their own pleasures.

What I have also as an adult are choices. As a child, I didn’t have a choice. Not just because I was small and weak, but because I was developmentally immature and could not control my impulses: the impulse to comply and keep myself safe, the impulse to please an adult, the impulse to behave in ways that would get my needs for safety met or my need for warmth. I couldn’t control them. I couldn’t control my fear, which made me do things that horrified me even in the absence of overt threats of violence, because the memory of unbearable torture was always implicit, always remembered. I couldn’t control my wish to dig out of my father some kind of real warmth or affection for me. I couldn’t control the world around me, and I couldn’t control myself either.

As an adult, I can control myself at least a lot of the time, and that gives me choices. I can’t make bad people better, but I can choose who I am. I cannot change the people who simply do not care about others, but I can choose for myself to be someone who cares. I cannot save all the victims. I cannot make everything in the world right, but I can choose to care. I can choose to be that kind of person. And I can choose to act in caring ways.

There is tremendous power in that. It is a power I never had as a child. I could not choose my actions. I could not choose to make them, whenever possible, actions that respected the dignity and rights of others and recognized the inherent worth in each individual. I can choose now.

It isn’t safety, but it makes my own head a place I can live in.

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8 thoughts on “Choices

  1. nissetje January 8, 2016 / 8:51 pm

    It’s interesting that you mention mistimed / irrelevant comments from therapists about “being safe now.” One thing that has often struck me when I’ve been the recipient of those types of assurances is how untrue they are. It’s like someone saying “Don’t worry; everything will be okay.” That is not something that can be known with certainty, so it’s glib and patronising to say it. And the safety thing? Sure, in that moment in the therapist’s office, the abuser isn’t physically present, but that does not actually mean one is safe. After abuse, we carry the abuser in us for a very long time, and so safety can be an issue even when we are alone.

    I really like how you frame the problem of who to trust / who cares not as a puzzle to be solved looking outward, but as a choice you make looking inward to your own life and actions. You are choosing not to be the monster, even though that’s how you were trained. Integrity. Compassion for yourself (?) and others.

    • Ashana M January 9, 2016 / 7:52 am

      The hard part maybe is figuring out how to be safe from your brain which seems to be overloading your system all the time.

      • nissetje January 9, 2016 / 8:26 am

        Yes! Exactly! And when the overload is happening, you’re not actually safe. At least that how it feels for me. As if that’s when I’m the most dangerous to myself, whether deliberately or not.

      • Ashana M January 9, 2016 / 8:29 am

        Yes, and I think that is sometimes so hard for someone else to understand, but that is why psychological torture counts as torture. It is the nervous system overloaded that is hell, and not the physical experience of torture. You can’t feel safe until you figure out how to calm your nervous system down, and it is so very difficult to learn how to do, there are so few guides to learning how, it takes so long, and it can seem while you are trying to learn there is so little support or encouragement for it.

      • nissetje January 9, 2016 / 8:38 am

        And if self-harm is one of your methods of calming down, then you’re opening a whole new barrel of stigma and judgement, even from therapists. The calming down piece is so crucial, though. Whatever it takes.

      • Ashana M January 9, 2016 / 9:12 am

        And then you have to calm down all over again…

      • nissetje January 9, 2016 / 9:16 am

        Oh god, haha, that’s so true I don’t know if it’s sad or funny!

      • Ashana M January 9, 2016 / 9:19 am

        Both. 🙂

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