Grief for the bond

I have been almost constantly triggered since Friday. I wish I knew why, but wondering about it seems to push me into a totally unproductive way of thinking. It seems to invite distorted thoughts to come and take up residency in my brain. So I try not to. That means I don’t really know. I have determined that any contact at all with C, even an indirect contact, triggers me. And I have been making more contact with her, because I feel like she needs more support right now. She has four more exams left to take, and she is then facing a separation from me and a reunion with her abusive parents. Yes, I think she needs extra support.

It triggers me, but I am an adult, and I need to suck it up and figure out how to cope. She’s a child, with no background knowledge of trauma or how it affects the mind other than what I have told her. She can’t cope. So I am doing things I know increase the level of challenge in my life, and I do not feel at liberty to just stop doing them.

I have just been cycling through trauma-inspired emotions. It isn’t fun, and I have that feeling like I am doing it wrong. I am in pain, and my response to the pain isn’t helping me, but I can’t think clearly enough to do it differently.

Anyway, this morning, I had a thought. I was thinking about my mom. I was thinking I felt I could not live up to her expectations: there was this feeling I had about being rejected by her, that I had failed, I wasn’t wanted. I hadn’t succeeded in being someone she could want or like.

And then I began to think she reacted to me in the way that she did because when I could not meet her expectations of me—whatever they happened to be—I touched her wound, which matched the would she was inflicting on me, of feeling she could never be liked or wanted. She got very angry, and she rejected me and abandoned me. She punished me for being myself, for being a child, and for being traumatized and angry and wounded.

It helps a lot to understand that. It doesn’t excuse it, but it explains it, and it makes it not feel personal to me. It was not my fault. I did not create that wound in her. It wasn’t my fault she reacted that way to me. I understood it wasn’t my fault before, but understanding the dynamic in a more specific way gives it emotional resonance and makes it feel real, like I can believe it, instead of it being something that is kind of like the revolution of electrons around the nucleus of an atom which it turns out does not really happen.

I was thinking this and a truck started up. I hate this. I really, really do. There are two triggers that seem to really get to me. They just assault me internally with terror in a way I cannot soothe: trucks and saws. I don’t know why the trucks do this to me, but they do. And they are both fairly erratic. There will be frantic sawing every day, all day for a few days, then tapering off, then nothing. I never really know when they will start again, or if they will work briefly or for 14 hours at a stretch. The trucks sometimes idle outside my house every day in the morning and again in the evening, and sometimes not at all. Sometimes it is also in the afternoon on weekends. They will idle for 10 minutes or for 30 minutes at a time, at different times. It is not necessarily the same time as the day before, so I can never prepare for it.

It’s difficult when I am deep in thought about some other trigger and already in a painful place, and they start up, either the saws or the trucks, and I have to deal with the present trigger in addition to the pain I have let into my mind because it felt momentarily safe.

That happened this morning. I was already in a painful place, and then the truck started up. I felt really angry. It is like someone comes into my house and assaults me. internally, it is an assault, and I have no control over it whatsoever. It might as well be a separate person: I have so little control over what happens to me even though it is entirely inside me.

I just sat there, and fortunatley it did not idle that long. Maybe only 10 minutes. It helps sometimes if I go into the kitchen, and work there instead, but other times I just strain my ears trying to hear if the truck has stopped. It felt like a morning when it wouldn’t help to go into a different room and so I just sat there, trying to cope with the truck.

I had the thought while I was doing this, that this is about my parents. This is about my parents not even providing me with basic protection, not even protecting the physical integrity of my body. They allowed other people to put things inside it. They placed me intentionally into situations where my basic, physical safety and integrity would be threatened.

This is not just about what happened, but about the bond with my parents. My parents are assholes, but that doesn’t mean I had no bond to them, or that that bond with them does not need to be grieved. My parents did not and could not care for me, and I think I had this idea that I ought to be able to face that without it hurting or without having to grieve. I had the idea that because the people themselves were so terrible, I would not have a bond with them to grieve, and that if I grieved it was a grief for something that never existed. But there was a bond. I am not grieving for my parents as people. I am grieving for the bond I had with them. Even though the bond did not allow me to get my needs met as a child, or to be loved and cared for, a bond was there. It still existed. There is sort of no way around having a bond with your parents. And it still hurts to grieve for it.

One of the problems I have had in recognizing this has been because of the frame I learned in therapy: that the pain is about my perception of myself. I think now it isn’t. The pain is about the bond. What I have in my head is a feeling of worthlessness. It’s the memory fragment from most traumatic experiences with my parents, in which I perceived that I did not have any value to them. The wound is not to my ego or to my feelings about myself. The wound is to the bond, and the actual emotion of it is most akin to loneliness. The bond meant I ought to have been of value. Normally, when we have a relationship to someone, they value us and are interested in us. They care what we think and make some attempt to understand what our experiences are like. My baby trauma flashbacks are memories of that not happening, and of having a bond with someone who was not interested in my experiences and did not care what they were like.

It’s a grief that could not be resolved when I was a child, because I needed to have a bond with my parents. There was no way around it. It was not possible to simply let it go. The problem in adult life has been—among many other things—that I expected not to have to grieve. Since I knew my parents were assholes, I expected I would not need to grieve for a bond with them. But there is a difference between the person and the bond you have with them. It is one thing to come to terms with their total inadequacy as human beings, and it’s another to grieve for the relationship you have to them. They are not the same thing. And I didn’t know that. I expected that I had come to terms with their personalities and that was the end of the matter.

I am never going to have a bond with a parent. It is too late to make one—I cannot go and invent other parents—and the bond I had with my own parents was devastatingly harmful to me.

I expected this not to hurt. It does hurt.

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Loneliness and grief

It kind of seems like, after I have held the feeling long enough, something becomes clear about it. I suddenly think, “This is called loneliness. This feeling is loneliness. I know what this is.” And it helps to know. I don’t know that I am lonely in the present, but this is a memory of very, very intense loneliness—the loneliness that comes from being unable to bond with or connect to my primary attachment figure. I think it helps to have a name for it. It becomes something I can talk about. It gives me a degree of cognitive control over it. Not actual control, but like I can manipulate it. I can imagine it. I can transfer for it via my imagination to another person. And it isn’t so scary. It isn’t just wanting to die and punish myself or having thoughts about never being worth anything to anyone else.

This feeling is loneliness.

I have also been thinking that much of the cycle is the stages of grief: denial, anger, sadness, depression. The suicidality that comes over me is anger—a mix of anger and despair. I have realized this. It’s like little-person anger, where it is unfocused and has no particular target, because I was little. I just feel mad and want to hurt someone.

Sometimes things feel unreal. I feel unreal or C feels unreal or the situation feels unreal. A week ago, I was walking home and I began to feel like it’s all unreal, and it occurred to me I had a sense of a switch being flipped, as though I had done something that made it start seeming unreal to me. Maybe I had stopped feeling or something, but it was though “not real” was a way of describing this thing I had done. So that is denial.

The one missing is bargaining. Anyway, the problem with a child’s grief for an attachment figure is that the attachment figure is necessary. You cannot just come to terms with not being cared for. You need the care. It is like coming to terms with not having food. You might feel like giving up for a while, but you have to go out there and look again, even if there are lions prowling around and you are scared. I had to keep going out there and trying to get some warmth and care from my parents, even if they were abusive and scary to me.

The trauma is repetitive, because you have to keep trying.

Fear

I was afraid most of the night. I am not sure why this happened—if something is very strongly triggering me right now, or if I just feel safe enough to really feel the fear.

I am starting to see that any contact with C—even an implied contact—leaves me scared, and I cycle through the trauma reaction of fear, sadness, anger despair. I sent her a text message via a friend and I cycled through it. I took her phone to a different phone to bring to school for C and I cycled through it. Any contact at all does it.

Anyway, I got home from visiting C and there were kids waiting for me who wanted help with maths. I let them stay for maybe 20 minutes, and I then I sent them home because I was tired. I went to bed around 8:30. After a while, C’s friend called me about a recharge her friend had asked me to get for her and I hadn’t gotten, because I got a lift and I didn’t really know who I was getting a lift from, so then I didn’t want to ask him to stop at the shop for a voucher. It would look really odd. Anyway, she called, I talked to her and lamely explained my paranoia, and then I asked to talk to C. C was very quiet. I could barely hear her, but I told her good night and I love her.

So that was a second contact. Then I lay in bed awake and scared, I mean really feeling the fear in my body, all through my core, and I kind of told myself, “This is fear. This is what fear feels like, because I have the idea that is what my brain needs to know. That is what it is trying to do—match up the entire sensory experience of fear with other fear-related things. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s something to do when you are lying there feeling fear in your body and you don’t know what else to do.

I think I might have just dropped off to sleep when I got a text from C about her phone, asking me to give it to her on Saturday, which I planned to do anyway. So that was a third contact, and I lay in bed awake again for about another 2 hours.

I am really, really frightened.

I felt somewhat different in the morning. More despairing and angry and less frightened. Suicidal and worthless, actually, which is not really my favourite way to feel. It’s part of the same cycle though. It’s a reaction to separation. I’m just in a different place in it. The idea popped into my head that I have the emotions, which are baby emotions. Literally. I mean I think these are trauma reactions from when I was an infant, and there was not a lot of actual cognitive processing going on. None, I would guess. Much of what I have going on in my head when I have the reactions are memories of later attempts to make sense of trauma that occurred before I could speak or think. Feeling worthless is my two-year old interpretation or my four-year-old interpretation or my 13-year-old interpretation of something that had happened years earlier.

Instead, it’s a memory of what I thought about a memory. It made me think that people with baby trauma have layers and layers of interpretations of emotions they cannot identity or imagine the source of, because the real source is too deceptively simple. I experienced trauma, and I had no thoughts about it. I just felt scared. I wanted my mommy and my mommy wasn’t there and I felt scared. That is what is going on in my head. Many other things are going on also—I have experienced decades of trauma. But this really basic, core, intense one is from a time when I had no thoughts and no way to form narrative memories—only impulses and emotions.

I think I have other trauma memories that are more complex. I have a sense of being discarded that is one form of rejection—a sense like someone got what they wanted from me and now they are done with me, like I am disposable. I think that is from a bit later, from being four maybe, and I think it comes from my mother wanting me to meet her attachment needs. VP Ma’am does this to me, and it triggers a very intense anger for me. On the days when I am most stressed, have the most work to do, and feel the least able to regulate, she will instruct me to sit and drink tea with her. “Always better.” No, it’s not. I’m a mess and need 30 seconds of downtime before ploughing on with the day, and now you are putting me in a position of directly rejecting you and probably hurting your feelings. I think my mother did that: sometimes, she needed company and insisted I stay with her or talk to her or give her attention. Then she was done with me.

And then there is another form of rejection that is about my lack of importance. I just don’t want you or like you, and I am not interested in you. That’s more like from being six.

C triggers both of those sometimes, because she can’t display her vulnerability most of the time. So she asks for things. She wants contact and it comes in the form of a request for a particular material object. What she wants really is reassurance that I am there, or that I still care about her. Sometimes she wants attention. She wants to be important to someone and she is hoping she is still important to me. I know what it’s about, but it might be that my parents behaved in exactly the same way. Only they were responsible for trying to understand my needs and meet them. C really is not. I am responsible for my own needs and determining for myself if they are getting met or not, for setting boundaries, and basically for negotiating a relationship with her that meets her needs and leaves space for me to meet my own.

So that’s my thought. And now the whistler has started up again. The singer fills the gap. I wouldn’t mind the singer, because he doesn’t hurt my ears, but the whistler has me in a state already. Time for a walk around the campus perhaps.

The garden

I wrote a long post about this and then lost it. I am kind of trying again.

I was helping Maths Ma’am in her garden the last few days. She had built a low stone wall behind her classroom, because there is a slope there and the rain washes mud into the gutter. Then she had planted a hedge. She wanted to move the hedge for some reason. I guess it was too close to the edge. There were four of us working together on this. The idea was to level an area that belonged to one of the other teachers and to rebuild this wall and move the hedge. Of course, what really happened is we finished the other portion, and Maths Ma’am’s portion which is a harder piece of work, never got finished. Not even close. I felt sorry for her, that there were four of us working on this project together, but the other teachers dropped out of the project after the first teacher’s got finished. So then I suggested working on it yesterday, only then VP Ma’am wanted company on a trip to the phone office and wanted me to go with her. So, actually Maths Ma’am still got stuck with working on her project mostly alone.

This was a story in itself.

Anyway, that first day, I was doing something or other kind of quietly on my own, and I began to have what seemed to me to be a memory of working in the garden with my mother. Maybe it wasn’t really about the garden. Maybe it was something about what I was doing that triggered a memory of being with my mother, but the trigger seemed to be the garden. The memory was implicit: it was just the feeling that I ought to be quiet and not make too much noise or attract too much attention. I might be tolerated if I didn’t make too much of a presence of myself.

It’s sad.

I was thinking about this in the morning today again. I couldn’t risk having my mother’s attention on me. VP Ma’am’s attacks on me lately have been very helpful in elucidating this. I really don’t want VP Ma’ams attention in any way. Particular things that she has attacked me for I feel sensitive about: the National Dress she attacked me for wearing too short I couldn’t wear today at all. I started putting it on and I realized I was too distressed to tie it the way it is supposed to be tied, and I wore a different one. Actually, when she is angry, she will attack me for anything she can think of. She is furious, and she just looks for something to attack. If my National Dress were worn perfectly, she would just find something wrong about me. There were four attacks yesterday and the long walk up to the phone office (because she walks slowly and stops frequently). One was for my message alert (it’s loud—C gets panicky when I don’t answer, and so that is how it is set), a second was because my National Dress got wet (it was raining), a third because I came to a point on a slippery path where I wasn’t sure which side of the path might be best, and a fourth because a car was coming and I was walking in the road. These might not have been as deliberate as some of her attacks. They might have been attacks that came out of a simple failure to see my perspective: that implying at 43 years old I don’t have the sense to get out of the road when a car is coming might attack my sense of competence. I mean, she might simply have experienced me as being vulnerable and gotten angry that something could happen to me. (Three of the attacks were like that.)

C gets worried about me too: it’s raining, it’s dark, the dog might bite me. But it comes across in a different way. Maybe because she feels safer. She might feel more able to reveal her worry in a less defended way

Nonetheless, VP Ma’am makes me think about my mother’s attacks. Many of these were similar—about my competence, actually. And they might have had the same source: my mother’s fears about my vulnerability, but without being tempered by any understanding of how her expressions of them would make me feel.

It’s puzzling to me, that she doesn’t realize it makes me not want to be around her or talk to her, because I don’t know when she will suddenly feel angry and attack me for almost no reason. But it also makes me see how it cuts off any possibility of connection. I really don’t want to reveal anything about myself, because then she might attack me over something important—like C, which is why I rarely discuss C with her anymore. I am sure it made me feel the same way about my mother; when I was small, I needed my mother. I had to find a way to still be around her. But when I was older, and had less need for proximity to my attachment figure, I actively wanted to avoid being around her.

These two things together have been making me think though: that my mother’s attacks made me feel I needed to try to be invisible and at the same time that no one would really be interested in me or want to connect with me in any way, just a profound sense of not being liked or wanted.

And I was thinking children need attention. Everyone needs attention, and I could not ask or want my mother’s attention. I think C feels this very keenly, and it was probably one of C’s needs that I met very early on that helped our relationship, because I gave her a lot of attention. Not fussing, or narcissistic supply, but just attention. Just, “Did you do your homework?” Just watching her at football practice or dance practice.

More later.

Today

So it was fine. Other years, exam period has not been fine. I really have not been able to calm down the entire day in the past. Today, I went outside in the rain (the reason I was trapped) and stared at nothing in particular for about 10 minutes. Then I went into the room where my Class 3 students were taking their exam. I realized it was peaceful. I realized I felt fine again.

I might have come back in the staff room and read for a while.

It turns out that I didn’t like being trapped. That’s kind of all it was. Once I wasn’t trapped, I felt okay again. Also, I have realized, it is 3 people in my staff room of 10 people who trigger me. One is simply loud, and it scares me. She is my friend’s cousin, and she likes me and we have a fine relationship, but she is loud. Her laugh is too loud. Her speech is frequently too loud. She scares me. One man constantly makes noise and talks to no one in particular. I have a theory about him that he needs to know he is still there. He attended Jesuit boarding school. I assume this fucked him up good. The third man is just arrogant. If he feels like listening to music, he plays it. If he wants to walk slowly (and, believe me, he does). He is the type of person who stands in the doorway when people are visibly wanting to walk in or out. He’s young and arrogant and that is really all. If they trigger me, everything else does too. And I think the main thing about it is feeling that I am supposed to like what they are doing, and I don’t. It’s that feeling of not being able to conform to the group, because no one else seems to mind.

But it’s those three. Everyone else upsets me only if I am already triggered. It is not Country X that is the problem. It is three people out of ten—one third of them, which might be a higher proportion of loud, scary, inconsiderate people than average. Or not.

The other thing is that I have an assumption that there ought to be an “inside” voice that is different from “outside” voice. Country X-ers don’t have this concept. I keep expecting them to conform to my idea of “inside” voice and they don’t. They have an idea, “we are being loud and obnoxious,” but not that there is a time and place for obnoxiousness. It’s more like we won’t get caught.

I also have an idea of professionalism that they don’t have either. I have a sense that work and play have some degree of separation. You can be relaxed at work, but there ought to be a veneer of professionalism, a distance, and a politeness, because this is work. And they don’t have that either. So that’s the bit that has to do with Country X. I have these expectations they don’t meet, and they probably don’t have those ideas because they don’t have a culture in which there has been a large number of near-strangers crowded into a place all trying to do different things and trying to get along. It’s a village-based culture. The population density is low. Professions are a fairly new concept, and mostly people are doing the same things.

But it crossed my mind that it is my expectations about work that are causing problems for me, because I go to C’s hostel and at dinner time they yell and run around and play, and I think, “What delightful, spirited girls.” Time and place. I don’t think they should be using inside voices, and it’s too loud, and I don’t feel scared. They aren’t breaking my rules, nor breaking the rules of society in my mind. (Frequently, people who break the rules of society will not be considerate of me either. They are generally not free-thinkers, although they may claim that. They just don’t like to consider how their actions affect other people.)

Later I went and helped my friend in her garden, had lunch, and spent some more time in the garden. (Mostly carrying stones to build a wall.)

It was a lovely day. Then I came home and cried and felt worthless again.

TW came to my house and I helped her write an essay and made pancakes simultaneously. And now I’m writing this.

Venting

I need headphones. Mine broke and I was idiot enough not to invest in new ones.

I will tell you what I hate about Country X.

People yell. All the time.

They argue about everything, because they take everything personally.

They make noise for no particular reason. Drop a stack of books, start banging on the table, sing, whistle.

That upsets me for my own reasons.

However, then they tell you how peaceful their country is and how happy everyone is. People are killing themselves either quickly (suicide) or slowly (alcoholism) at what must be the highest rates outside of the former Soviet Union. Domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse are rampant. But they are happy. They are not happy. They have never actually been to a place where this is not going on.

This has got to be the most miserable, violent place I have ever lived. And it’s not just because it doesn’t happen to suit me.

Something is really, deeply wrong. That is a different issue.

I just hate exam period, because they have free time, and I spend my days in a state. No matter what I do, I am trapped with them. And I cannot calm down or get any work done. All day.

I am going to lose my mind. I have to buy headphones. That’s my own fault. But I hate being trapped in a room with all of this noise and all of these emotions. And I hate that I cannot calm down. All day long.

In a hole

So it’s one of those days where life seems to be just a black hole.

I don’t really know the reason for this. C got very angry at me last night for about 3 minutes and lashed out. This is happening more. It used to never happen. She was frequently Angry Child, and Angry Child is vulnerable and sad and not threatening. Last night she was Punishing Parent and wanted to hurt me, and it has crossed my mind this scares me. It scares me when VP Ma’am switches into that part, and it scares me when C switches into this part. I felt very hurt and sad at the time. I had that very trauma-based confused feeling, “Why does she want to hurt me?” Well, she wanted to hurt me, because she felt rejected and unwanted, and Punishing Parent is a less vulnerable way of expressing this than Angry Child. Vulnerable Child and Angry Child are vulnerable ways of expressing feelings, and Teen Mode and Punishing Parent and Detached Mode are more defended.

Anyway, last night, she lashed out for a second. She said, “After midterm, I won’t take money from you. I will ask my mom or my grandmother.” We were talking about money, because what is happening now is not going well. I have spent about 200 dollars on her in 2 weeks, and it is too much. I knew I was spending too much, and I knew it couldn’t go on, but what I had in place as a solution to that isn’t working. It is making her feel scared and ashamed.

I asked her why. I said, “Because you think I don’t want you?”

No answer.

“Because you think I don’t want to take care of you?”

I think she did answer that. I think she said, “You don’t want to take care of me.”

I said, “I really, really do. I like taking care of you.” I said this in a very sincere and heart-felt way, and I think I said it more than once. I think I also said that she feels very scared asking her mom for money. I don’t think she feels as scared asking me. It’s better if she asks me for money. I think I said that.

I said some stuff about it not working. I said what we are doing now is making you feel scared and ashamed. I explained again how when she has no money, she feels very scared, and I don’t want her to feel scared. And I also said I think it’s causing you problems with your friends, and I explained about that, although perhaps not that well. I said I am trying to avoid that scared experience for her. I said maybe it’s better if I give her money every time I see her, just a small amount, so that she always has a little bit of money, but when she really needs things I can buy it for her, or she can do her shopping and give me the change. Now, she has lots and lots of money, but she spends it, and then it is gone, and she feels scared all over again, and she also feels ashamed for spending it.

So I said all of this, hopefully coherently, and it seemed to me tears came to her eyes. She didn’t make eye contact and in between someone came and sat on the bed opposite from her wanting something. This is the kind of thing that drives me absolutely mad about Country X. There is frequently a feeling of talking to fleas, that attention cannot be sustained on anything, and no thought is given to sustaining attention on one thing. I mean, it’s not a priority.

People complain about short attention spans in the US, but you should see what people are like in an undeveloped country. Life is basically a series of wandering meanders. The idea of having an opinion and supporting it with evidence is a completely unheard of concept, because no one can sustain attention on anything long enough to do that. Disagreement is inevitably something like what my sister and I did when we were 6. “Yes, you did.” “No, I didn’t.” People just repeat themselves, sometimes louder and more aggressively. Because linking ideas together is simply not done. Meanders.

Anyway, she wrote a note to her friend. I guess they had been fighting. She gave it to the girl who interrupted our conversation. It might be that I had said more or less what needed to be said anyway. C blew her nose into her National Dress (as she does). I think she had had tears in her eyes while I was talking to her. Her head was down, but I think she took in what I said, and I think she took in the idea that what I was saying came from a place of care, and that I cared about how she felt.

More later.