I woke up in the middle of the night—I guess it wasn’t that late yet, around 11. The neighbour kids were still up, making noise.

I woke up in a state of terror. I was, in my mind, running around the hotel looking for someone. I wanted my mommy. I couldn’t find her. I must have been dreaming about this. My mommy was lost and I couldn’t find her.

It’s interesting to me that my mommy was lost. I was not lost. My mommy was lost. But I was in a familiar place, so I suppose that is why.

It seems to be part of a very specific memory. There was someone, a very specific person, who was my mommy, and one day she disappeared and I could not find her and went running around the hotel in a panicked state until I did find her. And I am fairly certain the next part of the memory is that I found her dead. But at the moment the fear is so great, that I am stuck in the moment with the fear until I can cope with it or process it or whatever.

It was the middle of the night, as I was thinking about this, and I needed to sleep. I really needed to calm down. It helped to think about C. So I did. I know where she is. She is in her bed. I know where her bed is now. I know what the sheets look like. She is in her bed, and she is very, very likely not dead. I remembered how it felt to hold her the last time I saw her, because she was crying then, and so I held her in my arms. I remembered the way her hair smelled and how it felt to touch her cheek. And then I was okay enough to sleep.

But I was so scared.

The other thing that happened is that in the morning I found out my 8th grade English and History teacher had died. I was really, really shocked—not that he had died, but that he had been alive all this time. My classmates responded to the message on Facebook about it and it was the same thing all over again. They are not dead.

It is as though putting them out of my mind entirely as though I have grieved for them fully and totally saved me the terror of wondering if they are alive or not. I imagined them alive: Most of them are. We are middle-aged now. People generally live that long these days. And it was like imagining the theater in Aurora just before James Holmes walked in with all the guns. All of these people poised to die. It’s terrifying.

In so many ways, my experiences are just like everyone else’s with a shitty family. And then there are these differences. The terror is the same as anyone else with parents who didn’t care for them, but the pictures in my head are different. I have broken bodies in my head as the most likely undesirable outcome. I have the feeling of needing to save everyone, because they might die.

I am not worried what will happen to me, because there isn’t space to think about that. I am worried about everyone else. I will probably get around to worrying about me, but when I think of people I care about being alive, I am scared for them. They are lost. I don’t know where they are, and they might die.

It seems as though I have cut off my connection to almost everyone to some extent or another at least in my own mind in order to save myself from that kind of terror. They might be dead. It is better to think of them as already dead and save myself the terror of wondering about it.

I do this to myself too. I realized this last night. Part of why I start thinking I am worthless is that it saves me from the terror of not knowing what will happen to me. I am worthless. Therefore I deserve to die. Therefore all other possibilities are foreclosed. I don’t have to wonder. I am going to die. It’s much less scary to feel certain I will die than to not know.

I anticipate this might be hard to understand. It has been hard for my therapists in the past to understand. When one person dies, you experience the death as the loss of that person. When many people die, it becomes less about loss and more about horror. Death, for me, is an overwhelming sense of horror and terror, that isn’t about anything in particular. It is about the fact of death, the awareness of the fragility of our bodies. It’s something different entirely than simply being left behind or alone by that person.

One aspect that is hard about this is the aloneness of it. My classmates can join together in their sadness that a beloved teacher died. There is really no one to connect with in experiencing the shock that he was alive all this time, or what it means for me that I am shocked. No one automatically understands my experience, because no one I know personally has lived through the same experiences and when you imagine something it is often quite different than what it is really like. It took me a long time to realize this. “Why doesn’t anyone understand?” Because they don’t have similar experiences. Because I have to learn to explain them.

For a long time, too, I think that made me believe my experiences didn’t count. No one automatically or easily understands what life is like for me or what my perspective is because of it. Sometimes it’s hard for others to even accept that I feel the way that I do or think the way that I do. Therefore, it must be that my perspective and my feelings are disallowed. Not so. It’s just difficult to comprehend.

A shitty family is, in many ways, a shitty family. They come in a few varieties, but the effects are sometimes eerily similar. A broken body, however, is unlike a parent passed out drinking. Some kinds of dysfunction are just not the same, and my dad was a murderer. Being trafficked is different than being sexually abused by a relative or even a few relatives, and being trafficked in organized crime is different from being trafficked through independent means. It is different, and it is possible for it to still count.


5 thoughts on “Fear

  1. Victoria March 16, 2016 / 8:28 am

    When I go for walks with my dog, I’m sure I’m going to just come across a body in the woods or just inside the door of this dark basement I sometimes pass behind the apartment building.
    There are differences between my story and yours. A really important one is that you personally knew the people who you saw die. My parents just got random girls from other cities. I have been around a lot of death, though.
    I was writing earlier today about what it will mean for a person with an exceedingly horrible past to become well and connect to others. There is a distance from others if you are a person who has witnessed murder or if you’ve been trafficked or in child pornography. People can feel far away from your perspective because they are. Its lonely to acknowledge and process this stuff. Of course I’m not saying my experiences are the same as yours. They aren’t. But I have a little of an idea what you’re saying.

    I joined a sexual assault survivors group and I know I don’t belong there. You can’t really just throw out “My parents are serial killers!” And have someone respond in a way you might need them to respond.

    I wish I could explain how much your thoughts here have helped me and will probably always help me.

    • Ashana M March 16, 2016 / 9:00 am

      Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s two people or several people, and there is something need them to give you and a way they need to react in order to make sense of things themselves, and it just isn’t the same. Thank you for sharing that. It ends up being hard to believe that someone in a similar situation would respond in a similar way, even though it makes sense, because there is no one to check that with. The idea that death just seems like a constant possibility to you as though a corpse is like a newspaper, we share that. But it isn’t like that to someone else.

      • Victoria March 16, 2016 / 10:33 pm

        You’re right about your brain being normal and the things that happened to you not being normal. Its the experiences that make you sort of cut off in some ways, not YOU. But right, who can you check with? I definitely try to find people to check with. What can I type into google to find someone who can say, “Yea. Me too.”

  2. nissetje March 16, 2016 / 7:46 pm

    This makes so much sense. The kind of traumatic experiences you have had are so rare (although obviously not rare enough, ffs) that there isn’t a framework for other people–even therapists–to understand. My great-uncle survived Bergen-Belsen, and I imagine that might be a similar experience in terms of setting you apart from a world that just can’t possibly understand the horror you went through.

    And yet you make the connection to other shitty families and traumatic childhoods. I keep seeing this urge toward health and wholeness in you. Even as you avoid connection and think of people as dead so you don’t have to think about where they are and whether they’re dead or not, you are also making connection between your life and other lives. It’s really an amazing process to follow.

    Of course most people are not going to understanding your experiences–not automatically, and likely not even when you do explain them. But it is sad to me that some people than go on to invalidate your feelings and perspective simply because they don’t understand. I mean, understanding is great, don’t get me wrong–but it’s not a prerequisite for empathy.

    Take care, you.

  3. Rachel March 17, 2016 / 12:26 pm

    I am so sorry you were so afraid.
    I imagine death brings up sheer helplessness too. Death is permanent and you can’t do a damn thing
    To help anyone (or yourself) if they are dead. No wonder you feel completely overwhelmed.

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