I’m going through something. It feels good, but it’s also hard to handle.

It’s hard to explain, but I want to reach out and have that connection, so I’ll try.

There is a holiday in Country X and C has gone to her village and she has actually chatted with me. I have been getting a real sense of the fear involved in trying to connect with me. This relates to my understanding of my trauma-based feelings of fear about reaching out. It’s really quite primal, like we were administered electrical shocks. So I started to understand as I was chatting with her that the times when she internally flees, it is not about me. Really and truly, it is not about me. She kind of knows this, but I am still catching on. She wants to reach out to me and feels maybe my grandmother will disapprove or my friends will tease me or everyone will stare or the matron won’t like it or….This is against the rules, but I don’t really know why.

And it really started to sink in. I’m loveable. She loves me. And there is just all of this other stuff.

If the most likely explanation for someone’s behaviour stops being I am worthless or bad, if that’s not the default, then things look really different.

It seems to relate to some idea that I can be me.

C’s stepmom had a baby recently, so we were chatting about that. I told her that her dad misses her. I said at happy times, we miss the person that can’t be with us. She didn’t believe me and I asked in a few different ways why she thought that, because I wanted to know how she feels and what she thinks about things. I didn’t get any real answer. I made a couple of guesses and she kept saying no.

But I thought how it’s like that for me. There are always these ghosts, all these people that feel like should be there and aren’t there, mostly because they are dead.

And the thing is many of them I feel are dead because my dad killed them. I don’t know what to say about that.

There is an important point to this: it has really seemed more real to me that I can be myself. This can be my experience, and it’s okay. I can feel that there are people missing from important events and feel sad about that, and that’s going to be okay. I think I have in the past believed, however unconsciously, that the only way to get on with life was not to experience any impact of the past on the present. I did not believe I could be my unique self with my unique past. The only way to get on with life was to bury what had happened.

That might have come from a lot of places, including infant neglect and trauma, but I think it also came from others who might not feel comfortable knowing what has happened to me or that these things do happen to people, even if they happen rarely.

I am beginning to feel it’s okay. I saw dismembered bodies as a 5-year-old, and life somehow goes on.

However, there is sometimes an expectation that trauma can’t or shouldn’t change you and that the only way to survive being the child of a serial killer is to put those memories in a box and try to be as normal as possible. Or, alternatively, to feel triumphant about having survived that. And there is often nothing to be triumphant about. I struggle with the consequences of my past on me psychologically. I can’t say those struggles aren’t real. Things don’t stay in a box, and no reasonable person can say in good conscience that it all worked out for the best. That’s just insane.

That said, I don’t think there is any way to live through those things and not have horror intensify your search for meaning. I don’t think there is any way just to return one’s attention to ordinary life and become caught up in everyday concerns. I don’t think it’s possible to survive it without developing some kind of sense of deep purpose. There is no way for the meaninglessness of the violence I witnessed not to lead to a stronger sense of meaning.

It’s hard to explain how I have felt a sense of shame about this need for meaning, and I think it comes from just the general human tendency to see difference as defectiveness. I had my own schemas, but I also think many people do just feel an active social life, a decent job, and family relationships ought to be enough. Success is returning to a life you might have led had none of the tragedies in your life happened. I really can’t do that.

I was looking at something yesterday about torture and I realized other people can’t either. It was like I had never noticed that before. Other people sacrifice many aspects of what is taken to be a typical, full life in favour of something that has more meaning for them. It’s not a defect in me. There are many reasons people get involved in helping others, but it also restores one’s sense of meaning following tragedy.

So if I went to the shops today and bought a card for C that says “Only a very special girl who is loved very, very much can open this,” then it’s because I find meaning in addressing her profound deprivation of warmth and affection in infancy and early childhood. It’s not because I am so broken it seems easier to fix someone else or because I am trying to avoid attending to myself, nor is it because I am trying to manipulate a child into addressing my unmet needs. I do see her deprivation because I was deprived as well, and it takes a lot of internal work with myself to connect to that deprivation within me so that I can understand what she is going through.

There is this pressure I feel sometimes to be defended, to reject others and “work on myself,” and I have found, within limits, I can’t work on myself without being in relationships, and I can’t effectively attend to others without attending to myself. I have to be able to cope with myself.

The main thing is there is an emotion about feeling like it’s okay to be me. This realization that I am uniquely myself, it isn’t just a sentence I repeat in the mirror until I believe it. There is a feeling—it’s a difficult one to feel and I think I have to manage a lot of shame to get there. I think the feeling is basically wonder.


3 thoughts on “Wonder

  1. Rachel February 27, 2017 / 5:51 am

    This is going to be a LONG comment – I am copying and pasting a passage from a newsletter I subscribe to, but this phenomenally emotionally intelligent therapist who works specifically around grief. Megan Devine (she has a website, Refuge in Grief). I think the words fit nicely with what you are processing through in this post:
    I’ve been talking with a lot of people this week about “getting back to life.”

    Have you heard that phrase from people outside of your grief? Even people who truly love and care about you might be pushing you to get back out in to the world, live your life. They may even tell you you have so much to live for.

    The thing is, the people who often say these things actually do have a life to go back to. They may be deeply impacted by the death of the one you love, but if their family is intact, if there is no gaping hole in their daily life, they just aren’t going to be affected the same way you are.

    I don’t necessarily mean that you had to live with the person you’ve lost in order to be the most impacted by their death. Not at all.

    What I mean is that, for many of us, the people we’ve lost were such an integral part of every single day, every single facet of our lives, there really is no “normal life” without them.

    There is no part of our universe, our daily lived existence, that they didn’t touch.

    There truly is no life to “get back to.”

    Eventually, perhaps, new things will begin to grow around the crater that has erupted in the center of your life. The hole itself will remain. I don’t mean that as a downer, either. I mean that a central loss, a loss that shifts the axis of the universe, is not something that simply shrinks over time.

    We – you, me, all of us – will not return to the life that was. That’s simply not possible. What we can do is bow to the damaged parts, the holes blown in our lives. We can wonder what parts of ourselves survived the blast. We can come to ourselves, and our irrevocably changed worlds, with kindness and respect.

    That’s the real work of grief – to show up with kindness, every day, many times a day. Somehow, if we don’t see it as “fixing” your grief, or “getting back to life,” it makes all that just a little bit easier.

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