I have been missing C a lot these days.
It’s quite amazing to me: I wrote that sentence, and immediately felt this intense dislike of myself. I am ashamed of my vulnerable feelings. It’s quite intense.
Anyway, I have. Probably because I have been busy. I don’t have much time to think about her or to do those caring things for her that I normally do. I send her food every day. Every single day. And I like it.
One thing I have realize is this is my goal. This isn’t someone else’s goal I am complying with. I want to take care of her, and when I get to do that I get this feeling of connection. She wants to be cared for. I like when she is cared for. It works out to everyone’s advantage.
But it has been hard for me to know what to make of my choices and my behaviour. Someone might behave the way I have been behaving and not have caring for someone as a goal. If I attended to VP Ma’am the way I attend to C, I would be trying to keep her from lashing out at me. Codependence isn’t about what you do, I think. It’s about doing it for someone you are afraid will lash out at you, because they lack empathy for you when they are angry, and that punitive instinct we all have doesn’t have any reins on it. That punitiveness can take the form of abandonment or simply removing support, but the fear is about reprisal.
My experience here has made me realize that. There are times when people do get angry at not getting what they want, and they want to hurt me. They really, really do. This isn’t my overactive imagination. People feel this way, and they sometimes feel it about me. It kind of shocked me when I realized this was reality and not my past leaking into the present. I couldn’t really understand why people would want to hurt me, but they do sometimes. I think that’s a core experience of childhood abuse—this shock that your parent really does want to hurt you sometimes. They want to see you in pain. When VP Ma’am is angry, she wants to hurt someone. She sometimes directly criticizes me, but often times I can feel that anger in her body and she will suddenly turn and say something nasty to someone else. It is sometimes concealed in a joke and more often in vicious repetition of gossip. But it’s there. I can see the anger in her body and I can see what she is doing about it, and I can see that the feeling and the action are connected.
It happens in the classroom. The kid who won’t stop talking, won’t stay in his seat, won’t stop making some small, irritating noise sometimes is angry at me and wants to hurt me. That’s not always the case, but it sometimes is. I don’t know what to do about the things kids are going through as they learn to have relationships, but I know that it happens. I know the main thing is that I don’t become reactive, and I also don’t leave them. I set boundaries. I don’t let them destroy the class, and I don’t leave them. I continue to care and to show that I care. Because of the trauma, I didn’t have this kind of connectivity in my own mind before. All of the pieces of this were there, but it din’t come together.
Anyway, I don’t feel this way about C. When she gets angry at me, she does feel punitive and she does want to hurt me, but she can’t. So many times I have sat with her while she struggled with this. She was angry. I could see the anger in her body. And she absolutely wants to hurt me. But she really can’t. A few times she has. She has said really nasty, hurtful, punitive things to me, but basically she can’t. Unless I am reactive, she can’t hurt me. She struggles for control of herself and she gets it, and she comes out of that angry state on her own, without my doing anything except being with her.
The things I do for her are not out of fear she will leave me or that she will want to punish me for not doing them. I like doing them, and I haven’t been able to do them, so I have been sad and missed her.
Walking to school, I felt really sad and I really, really missed her. I wondered about that. I wondered why I was so sad. I have this new theory about my emotions, that I haven’t been able to process them before: the core problem was that I didn’t recognize all of the parts of emotions and I wasn’t able to accurately connect them to the events in my life, which meant I didn’t know how to evaluate their basis in reality or how to address the needs the emotions came from. What happens then is the emotions are stronger. The signal keeps getting sent, because it isn’t recognized, until finally your brain gives up on the whole matter and shuts the feeling down or closes off awareness to the thing you have a need in relationship to.
So it’s okay that I am walking to school and feeling absolutely, overwhelmingly, tragically sad. It’s fine. This is just new, and I don’t know how to interpret it yet, and I don’t know what to do about it or how to understand it, and that is adding to the intensity of the feeling. The feeling will begin to subside when I understand it and I know how to address the causes of it.
I thought I am sad today because it’s coming to the end of the year, and the end of last year was very intense for me. It was very intense, very full of hope, and very special, because C was feeling very, very hopeful about life. She was all lit up inside, due to this cared-about feeling. It was really, really special to be a part of that, to be a part of her coming to life in that way, in terms of opening up to life and feeling safer and having optimism about her worth and her future. It was wonderful. We were both full of wonder that this can happen for a child who hasn’t been cared for. Despair and loneliness and trying to hang onto to life when you are always too afraid to feel any pleasure is It was wonderful for me as well as her, because it addressed something deep in me about how my life isn’t inevitable. It isn’t inevitable that you keep a stiff upper lip and keep going through a life where you feel too frightened to connect to anyone or to enjoy anything without switching off half your awareness. It is not necessary for C to grow up like I did. Things can be done, and life can be different. And I think this had a lot of meaning for me. Childhood abuse need not leave permanent dysfunction in the person. It doesn’t have to be like that.
So I miss her. I miss the wonder of the last few weeks of school, when C felt a lot of hope for her life and for her own potential to be someone who can be cared about. It was magical.
This year is different. She is at a different school, and I don’t really know how she feels about her own future or herself. It feels to me that there is less hope, although the future is not actually bleaker. The hope is just less new and fresh and WOW, and it has also yielded to complication and reality. I have to go for a year. I can’t solve the problems of her original family or remove her from them. A year ago, I think she didn’t know that. I think she felt every problem would be solved. And I think she doesn’t yet know that having someone consistently care about you does solve a lot of problems. It gives you that insulation to cope with setbacks and life generally, and very often that’s enough. It’s enough that you are worthy and valuable. Everything else is a detail.
I suppose that’s what I need to do. I have been wondering how to help her with the fear she knows she is feeling. I don’t know how to help her that much. The strategies that would help her self-soothe I think she can’t take in. “Take care of yourself,” still reads too much as rejection and as “I don’t want to take care of you.” But this perspective might help. No matter how far away I am, she can still feel cared about. I will still care and there are still ways to make her feel that care, and it will make a difference. Life can continue to be different from what it was.