It hurts so much.
I went to see C in her village on Wednesday. I didn’t know what to do—she says “don’t come” quite regularly and then is very happy once I get there. Once she gets through the initial moment of pushing me away. Disorganized attachment is hard to figure out. But Wednesday morning I woke up and I thought, yeah, I should probably do this. So I sent her some texts about it. One thing I have learned is that when she really and truly doesn’t want something, she will answer. No answer could mean anything, but a no she clearly articulates.
She didn’t answer and I wrote I will call your grandmother and ask if you are busy. Nothing back. Okay, so maybe if I do that, it’s fine with C. Who knows. I don’t want her to be an object in her life. I don’t want it to be like that with me, but I also know “don’t come” means many things, and not necessarily “don’t come.”
I went then to get help from Maths Ma’am (grandmother doesn’t speak English). I had to wait for about an hour, because someone else happened to come at the same time to pay the water bill, and she took an hour to chit-chat.
This is the part I hate about Country X, actually. I can’t cope sometimes with the meandering, directionless pace of life. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded to slow down, but that sense I have at times that no one has any goals or purpose in life, nothing urgent that needs to be done, it kills me. And at those times, I need to remember life requires compromise and they like this. They like standing around (or sitting around, as the case may be) doing nothing in particular.
I think the existential sense of it totally destroys me. It feels like sniffing psychic death.
Finally, she left and the call was made. Yes, it was fine.
So I came.
When C came in the room, she was very angry. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t connect it. She had been at a meeting, and I couldn’t figure out what kind of meeting she was in. Part of this was an English problem. I asked a meeting with whom (via text)? “Wit villager.” Well, to me that’s precise. A single villager is there. For her, speaking a mother tongue that without articles or the plural, this is the concept of villagers. I said, “About what?” “So many things.” So what I have in my head is C is meeting with a single villager who has a lot of complaints to air. WTF.
Anyway, I dropped it, but later I realized she felt criticized.
Getting back to the point, I could see she was angry. I was really happy to see her and I could see she was angry. She was angry the last time I came, but that time it didn’t last. After a few minutes, it evaporated. This time, it didn’t evaporate. For five or ten minutes, in every exchange we had, she was angry. Not in her words, but in her body language.
She asked me if I wanted to go outside, which was confusing also, because she said, “You will go outside?” Which to me sounds like she thinks I have a plan to go outside, and she is confirming the plan. It is not an invitation. How did I indicate I intended to go outside? English is so confusing.
Finally, I realized. It’s a nice day. Let’s go outside. Thank God that is sorted out.
We went outside. I said show me things. What should I show you? So we are getting into some kind of normal conversation. Thank God for that too.
Tell me whose house is house, which is your friend’s house, which is your cousin’s. That kind of thing. She did.
But she was still angry. It was so evident in her body, this kind of tension, like she was prepared to slug someone at any moment. I stopped trying to pretend things were normal, and I said, “You are so angry.” I said it softly. “Why are you so angry?”
“I am not angry.”
I said, “You are.” It’s a hard thing to argue about, and it’s hard to make it sound like it isn’t an attack or an accusation. I said, “Something happened. What happened?”
Finally, she told me. There was an argument with her friend before coming back to her house from the meeting. It was fine, but that angry feeling can linger. I said, “Everyone feels angry sometimes. It’s okay to be angry.”
That is, incidentally, the anti-Country X. You shouldn’t be angry. You shouldn’t be sad. It’s weird. Hit people, and that’s fine, but don’t get angry. Do they never connect when they hit people, they are angry? Or that when they complain about what other people are doing, they are angry? I think they must not know.
She settled down. I ate lunch with her. It was very intense. The last time I saw her, she was talking about going next year to stay with her parents, that if her grades this year weren’t that good, she would go and live with them again. I don’t think she ought to do this. So I reminded her of different things that she told me last year, that she isn’t happy living with her parents. The thing is that her relationship with her parents has probably been much smoother this year, because they are not continually with each other. Every trauma isn’t transmitted between them. And she might think that things have fundamentally changed.
She said I don’t want to remember. The past is really, really painful for her. Pain is not something she wants to reflect on and understand. It’s something to be purged from her awareness as quickly as possible. I said you can’t go through life like that. You can’t make good decisions like that.
She said, “I’ll stay here.” Well that isn’t the point. I suppose she went into the kitchen soon after that, and when she came back she said, “My grandmother is saying you aren’t happy, and I should go back with you and come back tomorrow.”
So she came with me. It was a nice evening. I think I’ll write another post about that—it was nice. Maybe not very interesting to anyone else except me.
When she left the next day, it was hard. It was hard partly because I had to go to school the next day and leave her alone in the house with not much to do. I think after a few hours, this felt overwhelmingly triggering to her. When she wanted to leave, at that particular moment, it looked like I would be allowed to come home, but we did that Country X thing of standing around doing nothing for an hour. Some people had things they did need to do, but mostly it was standing around aimlessly. Maths Ma’am said, “Wait, let’s go together.” So I waited. Then someone said we are supposed to go up and do this other work. Finally, we decided he didn’t mean us. A committee had been appointed to do this work, and we left. Only, we didn’t leave. We stood around some more.
Finally, Maths Ma’am said, “Miss, you can go.”
I came home and told C we had been standing around doing nothing for an hour, and she kind of smiled. I have had in my mind the idea that it’s okay to be more human with her. It’s okay to say what is on my mind. I didn’t really realize I wasn’t doing that, because actually figuring out what is going on internally is totally mentally consuming. I often don’t have normal thoughts around her.
When the question of the taxi back came up, we entered into some disorganized attachment fun that I couldn’t really figure out how to handle. We were talking about seeing her relatives, who live where the taxis come.
I had to go to the bank and get more money. When I was walking there, I began to think how it was to feel caught between emotions and impulses. Wanting to go and wanting to stay at the same time, and the feeling inside that being caught between those two impulses feels intolerable. We were both in that state and not really aware of it. We were talking about relatives, but the relatives weren’t the point.
So I came back and I talked to her about what she was feeling. She said she didn’t feel anything. I believed that. It is not in her awareness, but it’s there. I said, “Look at your hands.” They were continually moving. “What emotion do you see in them?” I touched them and I asked her. She didn’t know. I said, “They look scared and angry to me.”
She got up then and called taxis. No one was going to where she wanted to go. She called her grandmother. I hadn’t realized she really can’t see this. She can’t see, “I am terrified. I feel like I have to run away.” She runs away without realizing how it feels inside to need to run. So much shows in her body and face, I never realized she can’t feel or see what that is. She really does not know.
She sat down again and I talked to her some more. I said, “Why do you think I am telling you this? Why am I talking to you about this?” Because she was feeling trapped and attacked. She couldn’t see my intention.
She said “Because you care me.”
There was a lot of anguish on her face. I really got it then. She feels so bad inside. She feels like she is so bad, her feelings are so bad, that she cannot feel them. She can’t know what they are, because they are bad. I choked up. I told her that. I said, “You are good. What is inside you is good.” I hugged her. She accepted the hug.
I went and got a taxi then. It was the same one she had called, but I guess she wanted a group taxi, which was much cheaper, and I said she can go reserved (meaning alone).
I came back to the house in the taxi and said it is here. I gave her money for the taxi which would be enough to go reserved to her village. She was going to go to a town in between, and change cars there. She has a cousin or something there, or she would get a group taxi or I don’t know. I said you can tell him to go to your village directly, and I told her how much it would cost.
She said thank you. And we went to the door together. She said, “Stay here.” Okay. Whatever.
I said again, “You are good.”
When she left, I fell into total exhaustion.
The thing I thought later, much later, was that in situations of abuse, the child (me), feels several things very strongly. One of them is the parent’s perspective: you are bad. You did something very, very wrong. The child experiences this not as a thought, but as a felt state. The parent’s anger is to the child a felt state of shame. It isn’t just fear. Because the parent does believe the child has done something wrong. So the child is sorry, and wants to be sorry, and wants to be forgiven, and wants to reconnect to the parent. The child feels in her body, “I am bad. I did something bad.” And that remains as a felt state inside the body until it can be integrated with other experiences. And the child also feels angry. The sense of injustice and confusion is one feeling. (It wasn’t that bad. Why am I getting punished so severely?) But there is a real sense of needing to defend the self, of absolute rage, because the child is being attacked and rage is what we feel when we need to defend ourselves like that. That is not about injustice or anything complex. It is just the feeling that goes with needing to defend yourself from attack.
The thing is what is felt by the child in situations of abuse is nearly the full range of human emotions: anger, fear, sadness, shame, remorse. And when these feelings are connected to events and situations which cannot be understood or acknowledged or even thought about without feeling emotionally overwhelmed, life cannot be understood.
I know when I feel angry, it is supposed to be the past, but it isn’t the past alone. It is the past and the present together. I do need to defend myself in the present sometimes, but felt states, impulses, thoughts, and memory of what worked before in similar situations don’t connect, because the felt experience has never been integrated with normal life, and that’s why it feels like such an intrusion. It isn’t really an intrusion. I do things wrong as an adult also, and I feel shame about them. That’s human. It’s the foundation of conscience. It’s not like I never do anything wrong, but the jagged sense comes from that past experienced that couldn’t be integrated. It also means things like shame and anger never become smooth, effective responses that takes into account knowledge of many different situations in which you needed to defend yourself. It’s like I have an impulse to lash out, what do I do with that? I feel like destroying myself, what do I do with that? And it takes time to get to a point where the impulse to lash out becomes something more effective.
I have realized there is a lot of this going on in the present: when I feel terror in my body, I am often thinking, “This might not be okay.” And indeed it might not be. It’s a small unsafety, not a catastrophic one, but it’s the same emotion and some part of my brain needs to get that. It needs to get that these experiences connect. The life-threatening, overwhelming one from childhood is the same felt state as the adult one where maybe someone took my pen and I ought to ask for it back.
The insight for me at the moment is realizing that these strong states—rage, fear and shame, but especially rage and shame—are a part of what happened. One branch of therapy believes that the thoughts in the past need to be “corrected” and I vociferously disagree with that approach. It has happened already. That is what I felt in my body, and it is okay that I felt that way. It is okay to remember I felt that way. It is okay to know what that felt sense in my body was. Because the past is over. It already happened. I am merely acknowledging what was.
It’s okay that what I felt when my parents abused me, I felt ashamed. That wasn’t an error. I was noticing my parents seemed displeased with me, and in my body and in mind that was recorded as the emotion of shame. Shame was just information: They didn’t like that I did that. I don’t need to go back and change that perception. It has already happened. I don’t need to go back and remove the feeling of rage at them. That was information also: I am in danger, I need to defend myself. That’s all that feeling was.