What is frightening about connecting to an authentic sense of self is the feeling of exposure. It is reminiscent of eyes on me, watching, appraising. That’s scary, I think. It’s scary for any kid. But if those eyes are watching you when you are terribly vulnerable, when you are naked and performing repugnant sex acts, well…
There is no connection between those two experiences, having an authentic self that might be seen and having a body that is being seen too much, aside from the feeling of being seen. The only connection is exposure. But the memory of exposure is very powerful, and so the emotions I have when I feel “seen” (even by myself) are very intense.
Among them is a feeling of unreality and disbelief. I have decided that unreality and disbelief are feelings like other feelings. My response when they get overwhelming ought to be the same as when other feelings get overwhelming: calm down. I don’t need to try to reason it through (but it did happen, these are the reasons it happened, this is really me, these are the reasons it really is me). It’s just a feeling. Reason is not called for. I just need to bring it into the range of what I can work with in terms of intensity. If I can do that, something will happen.
Once I do that, I start to realize that those feelings were reasonable. What child expects to be videotaped having sex with adult men or with other girls? I went to school, I went home and ate dinner, I played with other kids. Then my dad dropped me off for a porn shoot. What the hell?
Yeah, it is unbelievable. It happened, but it defies all common sense. Especially, maybe, if I did not realize dads can be sociopaths, and my dad was a sociopath. Some dads don’t tell bedtime stories and discipline their kids. Some dads look at their kids and see an opportunity to exploit them. Wow. What 7-year-old imagines that? None of them. I didn’t. I could not, for a second, fathom my father’s mindset. It is difficult to fathom now, with four decades of life experience under my belt. It was impossible to fathom when it happened.
So that’s part of what I am dealing with now. I notice my authentic self on display and feel exposed and it feels intolerable. It quickly slides into “I want to die.” That’s because the pornography made me want to die. Exposure, in my life experiences, is awful. It’s a form of torture. It cannot be born.
I have to regulate that.
I have been missing C. As I settle back into a school routine, I really notice her absence. I notice her absence when I am cooking and washing dishes, because that is when we would chat. I notice her absence at school when the students are forming lines and she is not there controlling them. I noticed her absence as they practiced a dance for the King’s birthday celebration today. I have been thinking I ought to miss her. I should not be trying to shut that down. Feelings are a part of how you know things. You keep shutting feelings down, and you never know anything.
To explain more, what is happening with “missing” is I notice her absence. I get this sense of sadness and longing. It’s this feeling like “go find her.” Something is wrong. She is missing. The thing is she is supposed to be missing. She is at the high school, where I want her to be. If I feel all of the emotions that go with “she is missing,” I will understand that she is. I won’t have to keep noticing it every day and feeling it anew. The message will have been received and I can move onto the next thing: she is at the high school; she is safe there; she grew up, which is the whole idea here, for her to grow up.
So I have been thinking about that, and it makes me reflect on the reasons I miss her, on what I used to do. I realize as I think about this how consistent I was, that I understood instinctively the need for consistency. I always saw her when she came to school and at that time I said something to her. I always saw her after school at prayer, although I did not always speak to her then. I always saw her at least once during the day and talked to her about something to do with studying. The day was always a sandwich. Before, after, one thing in the middle. It was always clear I was on hand. I did that purposefully, because I know children need that. They don’t need someone to cuddle them all day, but they need someone to be there, at arm’s length maybe, or sitting on the playground bench watching. They need the sandwich. What I am not sure I realized is that I was giving myself the same experience. I gave myself a sandwich of connection also. The attachment I wanted to offer to her also affected me, and it’s probably why I feel so intensely for her. I wanted to offer her an attachment, and what I did made me attach to her.
What comes to mind and gives me that feeling of exposure is the adult sense of care. I am very aware of my more childish feelings of need for her, but not my adult feelings of care. The adult feelings of care are suppressed and what I am left with is an almost mechanical sense of needing to do things, an urgency and a need to “do” as though C has been item #3 on today’s to-do list. That is really how it felt last year, but it felt that way because I was suppressing other feelings. I was, I think, suppressing a warmth and an adult desire to nurture. It probably came out, but I didn’t see it and I didn’t feel it either.
I didn’t suppress more vulnerable feelings because they are less “me.” They are me, but less so. I have feelings of need and longing like everyone else does, but they are not connected to my adult sense of myself. They don’t trigger feelings of exposure. You would think they would because they are so much more “vulnerable,” but vulnerable is in the eyes of the beholder. It was still hard to cope with those feelings, but not as difficult as the adult desire to protect and nurture her. Anyway, that is what I think.