Boredom

I mentioned before in a previous post that I felt a kind of painful tug towards C’s dad when I was in his home with him. I’ll just wander from the point for a minute to describe a few differences between C’s two parent’s houses. Her mother’s house functions, but there is an aura of decay. It is full of things–toys, furniture, blankets, a washing machine (C’s father is an accountant for something like the county and they are well-off).

C and her younger sister are in their mother’s village, so only two siblings are there–the girl entering tenth grade and the boy who is four and the only son. They do not like each other. There is a lot of hitting. Cs aunt, who had a baby a month ago, does not like the boy either. She hits him too, and then he cries. The daughter mostly watches recorded serials on her father’s laptop, and the son goes to play with his little friend.

The dishes aren’t washed after meals, no matter what meal it is. They are washed only after sitting a few hours or overnight. There are cockroaches living inside the appliances: cockroaches like warmth, I think. Or maybe it’s the electricity. Country Xers don’t believe in killing pests, so populations flourish once they are established. Because they believe in feeding the ghosts when they eat, people usually put a bit of rice or juice or tea or whatever on the floor or the table or whatever before eating themselves. This is picked up later, but the residue of sugar or oil that is left behind is not.

After I was there a few days, people began to sweep regularly. The clothes piled up on top of things were put away. I don’t know if it was my influence that made them tidy up a bit more, or whether they were returning to a more normal routine after a period of temporary overwhelm.

It makes me sad to write about. I don’t mean to criticize them, and yet I remember how ashamed C used to feel of her house before I came there: “It’s so muddy,” she said. And it is.

Her mother drinks every day. She isn’t ever drunk, but she goes out with her friends in the afternoons to drink and comes home and drinks more. Her husband or the aunt do most of the cooking, and her daughter or the uncle do most of the dishes.  Her husband says he always has to scold her to do the things she needs to do, and even then she doesn’t listen.

In contrast, C’s father’s house is spotless. This may be because the house is new: it takes time for the grime of daily life to built up. The dishes are washed after meals–never left to pile up. The children put their things away without being asked. Because of this, the burden on the mother is much less. Her 9th grade daughter does the dishes and sweeps. Her 5th grade son has no real chores, but he doesn’t make a mess either. There is a baby brother, who is closing in on two, and he does make a mess. C’s father helps with the baby and with cooking when needed, but he is clearly not an equal partner at home. His is probably the more traditional home, and his air in talking with the children and his wife is one of clear authority. His wife smiles and laughs a lot, although I don’t know what she talks about, because she never went to school and my Regional Language is less developed than her baby’s.

Although the father is only a driver and makes probably a third of the step-father’s salary (neither mother works), they have all of the things a middle class family might be expected to have: a refrigerator, a washing machine, a sofa and chairs, two flat-screen TVs. They don’t have a lot of toys, but they have a few.

The mother’s house has an air of despair and loneliness, and the father’s is orderly and calm.

What I meant to say, before wandering onto my sense of their homes, was that I felt this tug toward her father–attachment pain–and I also had sexualized thoughts in that moment. Now, given my history, I know better than to simply assume what might otherwise be logical–that I felt a romantic attraction to him. I may have simply been thinking I want to be close to him, and the way to be close to men is sex. Which is not necessarily true.

I know he does have romantic feelings for me, because he has said that, but he didn’t express them. There was never anything inappropriate about his behaviour with me.

What it did make me think is that I need to deal with the abuse in my past. I need to address the abuse from my father and I need to address the trafficking.

So, since coming home, I’ve done that. On Sunday, I got the bare minimum done, and since then I haven’t. I am immersing myself in difficult material. I don’t know that it’s wise. I’ve run out of toilet paper and not gone out to buy any. I didn’t go for a run. I haven’t had a vegetable since Friday. I was asking myself about the things I could do which would make me feel better–why am I not doing them? And I had no satisfactory answer. I need to meet C in her village soon, before my next trip to visit Son in his far-away village. But I also know you don’t process abuse in three days.

I watched a lot of videos, sharing victim’s stories as well as some of the perpetrator’s, and one of the perpetrators explained his behaviour as being motivated by the thrill of doing something wrong and not getting caught and another described feeling empty at the time he groomed his daughter. Well, that’s something I remember.

I want to say again that my father seemed to some things out of anger and other times it felt more like what those two men described, which sounds to me like boredom. My father was closed off to the normal, everyday thrill of human interactions because he was so completely defended that he wasn’t processing emotional or social content to a large degree, and it left this void in him, which he filled with this thrill of getting away with something. When I think of him, I remember a sense of tremendous emptiness, as if he were filled completely by an emotional Sahara.

This “getting away with something” seems to me to have to do with an undeveloped Theory of Mind in which it still feels surprising that people can not know something which you know. On top of that, having “secret” or “special” information–even of your own creation–can bolster a sense of grandiosity. “I am better than everyone else, because I know” (for example) “that my landlord is really an alien.” Of course, it just means you have delusions.

I thought this and I wondered how I felt. I spend a lot of time processing what I witnessed and still often do not know what I experienced. My dad was seeking a thrill: what was I feeling?

And I think I was terrified, because there seemed to be no constraints, no limits to his behaviour. It wasn’t just that I was hurt or might die, but that I didn’t know what to expect or how bad it would be. A horror I had to learned to cope with could, at any time, be replaced by a new horror I didn’t know how to handle yet. I don’t know that the horrors were really always different: in reality, they repeated. But it was a sense about him.

I felt hopeless too. I couldn’t manage the horror, because (at least seemingly) because there was always a new horror, or even if the new horror had not materialized yet, it might at any moment.

I think it affected my view of what people are motivated by generally: getting away with things became significant, so if I lacked protection or social standing, if I was a “nobody,” then I became a target for the evil lurking inside of people. The take-away was that people will hurt you if they can, because narcissists typically hold negative emotions in until they run across someone unable to defend themselves. My father was no different.

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Disorganization and abuse

Before I left Y-town, I had the thought that at night when I am trying to sleep and I feel attachment pain, this is actually because I am frightened. I am frightened of the bed or of sleep or both, and my attachment system is activated, so that I feel like seeking protection. Whether that’s because it seems like a good strategy in the present or because I am remembering a strategy I used in the past, I don’t know, but that feeling when I go to bed that I really miss Nata or whoever (it is not always her I think about) is in reality the result of fear.

I thought of this again when I came back to C’s father’s house and I began to feel a kind of painful tug toward him. I thought I want to be closer to him, because he is actually making me afraid. Not that he was necessarily doing anything inherently frightening, but relationships may frighten me. I don’t have the best childhood memories of men or of their intentions either.

I had that thought in passing, but it stayed with me–just how disorganized attachment works, whereby the person threatening you is driving you into their arms, because they seem to be the best chance of protection that you have.

And then–this is mainly about my father–there is a pressure to take that person’s perspective, because this is the person who might, for example, know what to do when a lion attacks. But what if what that person wants to do is to exploit you?

 

My father

I think my dad actually hated women and girls, and that he was motivated to exploit me by peculiar fantasies of revenge.

I know very little about my father’s growing up. I know that his mother was schizophrenic. She successfully graduated from college with a nursing degree. She did for some length of time work as a nurse: there were points in her life when she could function. I don’t know at what points she couldn’t or what schizophrenia looks like between episodes of psychosis.

There is an intersection between schizophrenia and narcissism, however. I don’t know the reason for this. I don’t mean to say that schizophrenics are likely to have narcissistic personality disorder, although they are likely to have a personality disorder of some kind during stable periods. However, they have difficulty with social interactions because they lack accurate empathic processing skills.

Maybe that has nothing to do with anything.

My mother told me until my father was five or so his mother dressed him as a girl, because she didn’t want to have a boy. She had wanted a girl. My father was an only child, and my grandmother had wanted a girl so she simply made him into a girl, as though what was in her mind trumped reality.

For my father, I imagine both the degree of rejection this represented–to actually reject the child’s gender and attempt to forcibly change it–as well as the degree of humiliation my father felt in the sexist 1940s. Along with that, I imagine–but don’t know–that my grandmother probably abused him. If you so lack understanding for your child that you think you can make your son into a daughter by putting a dress on him, then I think you are likely to disregard his wellbeing in other ways.

I have very little to go on with my father, but I imagine all of this and I think he held his mother’s delusional “girl” of himself responsible for his mistreatment. The girl she imagined him to be, although not real, may have been in his mind the source of his pain.

At the same time, I also think he found girls and women dangerous and frightening: his mother may have been dangerous and frightening, but it may have also seemed to him that femaleness might be something one could just become, because his mother had believed that about her son. I imagine he may have felt both vengeful and afraid of femininity.

And I think that’s why he did so many of the things I think he did. It’s all tenuous, because very little of what I think I remember seems solidly real to me. I don’t know what was real and what was metaphorical–just me thinking, “Well, it’s like this. It feels like this. It isn’t what’s happening, but the thing happening now is the way I would feel if it did happen.”

That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but much of it is hard to believe. It may not always be like this for me, but these days it means I have to live in a space of not knowing.

I do know my father exploited me. I am fairly certain I was trafficked.

I think my father did it intentionally to humiliate me, and that he really only felt comfortable being sexual with someone he felt such confidence in being able to control that he could persuade them to demean themselves to a point where people generally no longer know what to make of you.

And I think this had to do with an assumption of ill intentions and a feeling about himself in the mind of others that he was so bad other people would want to hurt him should they have the chance. It became, then, very important to show that he was in total control of anyone he might have an intimate relationship with, because these were the people who had the opportunity to hurt him.

In other words, his wife and his children.

My father hurt me intentionally, because he himself was so frightened.

This is very, very difficult to write about–so difficult, that I mentally wandered off in the middle of it and burned up a bunch of data uselessly just to escape watching YouTube. And only after a good three hours or so of mind-numbing escapism could I come back and finish the thought.

My father didn’t abuse me because of who I was: this sense of myself that I developed as being someone who was disposable came later, as an effect of how I was treated and not as the cause of it. He abused me because of who he was.

That’s obvious, but I find the specifics really help. When ideas are merely known and not linked to sensory information or real experiences, they don’t have the same impact–I am not sure they have much impact at all.

This is what I mean by “balanced” thinking: one type allows us to link to emotions and sensations which in my case has to do with remembering my father’s contempt and disregard for us as well as the sensory experience of talking to my mother about my father’s transgender babyhood; the other type allows us to understand sequence and causality and in my case it is the connection to the declarative knowledge of what my mother actually told me about him as well as an understanding of what happened first (I was exploited before I felt dehumanized).

I should tell you also in the middle of that, when I was taking my 3-hour mind-numbing break, I thought about shame quite a lot. I thought this is actually my family I am talking about. I am talking about my father. No matter how independent we might believe ourselves to be, our families make up some part of our identities. My family was and is very, very ill. It’s difficult to talk about it. I feel so ashamed of having such very, very ill relatives.

I thought, too, about the difference between shame and guilt. It’s so much easier to be guilty than to feel ashamed. Guilt is about your behavior: it’s something you did. Things you do can often be fixed. You can make amends. You can change. At the very least, you can be sorry.

Shame is about who you are. It can’t be escaped so easily. The thing is if you lack empathy, if you are trapped in your own mind like my father was, you can easily displace this shame onto someone else. You can say this other person I am close to is shameful, but I am not. He could humiliate me and not feel humiliated himself, because he lived in this completely disconnected way where my feelings or status in society had nothing to do with him. My humiliation provided a safe place to put his shame, because I had nothing to do with him.

But I actually can’t. I feel a degree of connection to him, even though we have had no contact whatsoever for more than two decades. I came from this. His illness has something to do with me, because he was my father. And I can’t consider his illness without feeling something about it.

I don’t know actually what to do with that, but I had to be able to connect to those feelings of shame in order to come to the conclusion that I did: which is that my father exploited me because of who he was, and not because of who I was. I wasn’t born to be a trafficking victim. It wasn’t my destiny or my personality. It wasn’t my father’s destiny either, but it’s the person he became.

 

 

Resolution

I am home at last, in Y-town. I may, at this point, pause to mention that all the dogs on my street turned out to welcome me. One dog barked–I was walking home from the “bus station” (a restaurant where the buses depart from, and which also sells the tickets) with my huge backpack filled with too many things, because I didn’t quite know how I would dress. Dogs tend to bark at luggage. I looked at him, trying to decide if we were friends or not. He decided we were. Then they all came, and walked with me in crowd of raucous barking and a certain amount of whining and fighting, because they don’t all like each other.

It was weird.

There are a few dogs among them I consider to be my little friends: One who was blocking the path when I first moved in five years and I decided I didn’t want her to bite me and three others that used to hang around the building because the kids next door played with them. The others were just along for the ride, I suppose. I wasn’t really surprised that those four came running, nor was I surprised that they caused a commotion, because the first one is jealous and body-slams the littlest dog to keep her away from me. I was surprised at the others, although maybe I shouldn’t have been.

Country Xers generally don’t like dogs, but they believe you get karma points if you feed them. This leads to odd-looking relationships with dogs where they essentially encourage them to beg and then throw rocks at them for being annoying, not realizing they have just taught the dogs to be exactly that. Behaviourism has not hit Country X yet.

I rarely feed dogs, and never when I am actually eating. I pet my little friends though, and this has led to other problems. Such as being followed home by a pack of barking dogs, some of whom want my attention so badly they grab my hands with their teeth.

dog friend

It’s the new year, so like most everyone else, my mind has wandered to where I would like to head in the near future. This year, I would like to chip away at the most difficult triggers that plague my days: waking up, going to bed, squatting to wash things (I have a different red bathroom, coincidentally), water running in the sink (in other words, washing dishes), and writing.

The sad thing about reading my list is that’s a lot of my life outside of teaching. It’s survival plus a bit of what I actually enjoy.

I do actually get through them. The dishes don’t pile up, I do get out of bed even if I struggle the rest of the day, I do sleep (although it helps to go to sleep before I’m terribly tired), I do the laundry and mop the floor event though they make me suicidal. I know with some of them, I may need to work a lot at the most intense traumas associated with them, so that my mind doesn’t have such bleak material churned up every day. I can cope with them. But they make an enormous dent in the quality of my life: if I could make these experiences even a little easier for myself, it would just make an enormous difference.

 

Stuck

So I am waiting for the bus to leave. It happened to snow last night, and although it did not stick to the road here in the Capital City, there is a high mountain pass just outside the city where the road is completely blocked.

He said we might leave around 10 or 11 or even 12. I suspect we may not leave at all today. There is a student with me–she just happened to be going at the same time. I didn’t teach her, but she used to message me last year when I was in the US. We went for a coffee and to get warm and I kept having to go to the bathroom because, helpfully before a 10 hour bus ride, I am getting diarrhoea and my period just started.

Then we came back to check on the status. No real update on this and I can’t even remember what the driver looked like. Departures unsettle me, I can’t understand all of the social exchanges (the guy on top of the bus loading the luggage is not the driver), so I miss out on a lot.

Now I am sitting here know the bus, just waiting. Passivity in Country X works out a lot of times: this is one distinct difference. Not all the time, but often enough I try it. It’s second grade all over again: “my mind wandered…what is everyone else doing?”

Meanwhile, I have time to post. I think the key to integrating parts is to create an experience of safety reliable enough that the mind can be restored to a balanced mode of thinking in which your instinct to act and what you believe consciously to be wise are both accessible.

An experience of having parts, I think, occurs when the indicator (or trigger) of danger is so strong and so unavoidable that the only way to stay in control of your behaviour is to imagine someone else might be hurt.

The personality of the part is built up around associations you have in your personal emotional lexicon about what kind of person this experience might be happening to and to completely turn your attention away from the trigger. This comes from having dangers you could not escape.

I will give an example. It’s a parts experience, so like all parts experiences, it’s disjointed, because in a situation of perceived danger, I lose my ability to make mental connections. In an anxiously attached state, you make too many connections and are overwhelmed by the negative experiences called forth willy-nilly–all at once. In a dismissive state, you make too few: there aren’t enough past experiences to suggest a way forward.

So I don’t make enough comnections and I can’t even remember the circumstances clearly: just my mental state. To get to the point though, I was in the car leaving somewhere–maybe C’s mother’s house. I felt very old. I felt to be in the character of an elderly woman, widowed, with an austere quality. It’s not the first time I have felt this way. I have never thought to give this person a name, but she’s shown up enough I could.

Because I have come to believe there are only so many feelings we can have and that trauma feelings are no different from normal feelings–not necessarily sensations, because states like dissociation do feel different than anything else I can compare it to.

But anger feels like anger. Sadness feels like sadness. There is a difference in intensity, of course.

I began to think I felt sad. Sad and possibly lonely. Well, that makes sense. I was imagining an old person who’s a widow with perhaps no children. No much in the way of human contacts or pleasures left and I imagined this in the person of an elderly widow, because that’s how I imagine someone like that might feel about life. It’s entirely possibly she wouldn’t, but it’s my imagination–not actual reality.

It’s a part, because I am experiencing a sense of loss I am not sure I can handle, and if I am not careful I may reach out for help. In my life, no one has been there to help me cope with difficult situations. And, as a child, neglect was enforced via abuse. As an adult, I can do this. Not just by benefit of getting taller, but because I have worked extremely hard at it.

I think this cannot be emphasised enough. Being fully grown does not mean you can cope nor does it mean you can go it alone and to say that you can cope is shaming.

There is an element of bpd in which people underperform socially in order to ensure people are available when you need them. Why do you feel so anxious about it? Because people have been unreliable and because your ability to cope is unreliable. To feel less anxious, you need to experience more reliability.

To return to my moment of having parts, I thought about circumstances in which I have felt lonely and sad and like I had lost everyone. In foster care and after Nata died. It seemed to mesh with Nata dying.

So I knew what I felt and I also knew why it was so upsetting. In this case, I didn’t need to do anything. I just needed to sit in the car. But being able to consider the connections I was making to past experiences without being overwhelmed lifted the sensation of being a part, because I had mentally removed the shame: shame creates fear because being isolated is the most dangerous state a human being can be in. It might be true that people do perfectly fine alone, but that’s not been our evolutionary path. Life has only been safe enough in the last few hundred of our 200,000 year existence for this true, so it is hardwired in our biology to respond to threats of isolation. We become more inured when we can maintain connection to someone else–reinforcements on the way, so to speak–or our ability to overcome this person who has now become a threat. But relying on dominance strategies is risky: it prompts conflict and also is kind of unlikeable, so it can exacerbate the isolation.

I didn’t directly reconnect to anyone, but this mindset of connecting feelings and facts comes from the blog, and the readers on it which I imagine at least support what I am doing. It could be your therapist.

I may have skipped over the details: I had quite a few other thoughts about my childhood traumatic losses aside from what I shared here. And maybe it seems too simplistic, but I think this is how you heal parts. I don’t think you heal parts by performing integrating rituals or making a conscious decision to not have them. You connect them, but without going into a black hole of pain. The most traumatic moments of my life I am still working at these

The Buttons

I read an allegory about attachment which featured mice in houses with buttons which provided food. I am sorry I can’t provide a link–I lost it. The first is a mouse who lives in a house with a button that works. He pushes the button and food appears. So he pushes the button when he is hungry and doesn’t push the button when he isn’t hungry. This is obviously the secure mouse.

There is another mouse with a button that works only sometimes, so he feels compelled to check whether it’s working all the time. This is the anxious-ambivalent mouse.

Then there is the button that never works so the mouse learns to find other ways to be fed, including storing food and stealing it

Finally there is the mouse with the button that works erratically and sometimes sends electricity through the floor. He’s obsessed with the button.

Something else I have noticed here is that children are scolded and rewarded for the same behaviours. You want the truck? I just gave you a truck yesterday and you lost it. How dare you ask for a truck. Oh, but now you are going to pout and cry and kick me. So here’s the truck. He has just learned if he kicks you, then you will give him a truck.

It’s beyond me as a parenting strategy. It’s not the first time I have seen this here, but I am in the middle of it.

I think it distorts the child’s conscience and teaches the child you don’t want to give him anything, but he has the power to force you, because you are afraid of his displays of aggression. I see it in adults as well. Ask your boss for a day off and the answer is often no. Whine a little and the answer is yes.

I wonder about this because not every boundary is carved onto stone tablets–permanent and fixed. How hard do we push for what we want before it’s a violation?

Children do push. They are supposed to push. If they never pushed, they would give up at the slightest obstacle: it’s not meant to be.

But maybe being punished and rewarded for the same behaviours is the source of disorganized attachment.

I recognize the storm of guilt, shame, sadness and anger as coming from this interaction. But what do you do instead?

Family Dyanamic

I am still with C’s family. I feel really anxious to leave, party because I am depriving them of their own comforts–I am sleeping in the parent’s enormous bed, which leaves them on a thin mattress in the living room and C’s sister on the narrow couch. Now C’s aunt is already sleeping in what is probably the sister’s usual bed and her husband sleeps on a rug on the floor. I would guess the sister was sleeping on the mattress on the floor before I came. I know they have to do this for a guest, but I don’t like it. I feel like dead weight.

The reason I am still here is that C’s stepfather wants to take me back to the Capital City where I will take a bus back home, and first there was the 3-day ritual for the town and then I said let’s hold off until the weekend so he wouldn’t have to take the day off and now we realised Sunday is New Year’s so even tomorrow I may not be able to leave.

So…

I am rejecting the gratitude the family feels for helping them with their daughter because I don’t trust it. I supported them when their family was really struggling, not to mention having the friendship of a foreigner might provide a kind of staus.

I know this is as least partly my issue.

One thought is we protect ourselves against potential losses we feel we don’t have the resources to cope with. I don’t feel I have the resources.

I am learning a lot from being here about what life has been like for C, but I am not in a place to really make sense of it yet. C used to warn me her stepfather was really strict and might also be harsh toward me, but it turns out he is the nurturer in the family, doing a lot of the cooking, preparing morning tea, patiently helping Little Brother to eat. I don’t know how he treats C. It’s possible he is only attentive to his son, and that he displays more frustration when there isn’t a guest in the house. He has liver damage from alcohol, but seems to be drinking like a normal person rather than a maniac.

His wife is clearly an alcoholic though. I feel sad writing about this, but she drinks every day. I don’t know if it’s real or imagined, but it seems to me the allure of special occasions is that she can drink. Her husband says she drinks with her friends until late and then comes home and drinks more. I don’t have any comment. I can’t judge a situation I don’t understand. I am addicted to coffee, for sure, but I don’t think it works the same way. Maybe it does…Maybe it reminds her of happy times.

The whole family sat down the other night to drink something they firmly believed to be non-alcoholic–including 4-year-old Little Brother. And, boy, it had a kick. So maybe that’s where it starts: those are the happy times sparked by drinking in later life.

She attends to the physical needs of her children–more or less–but experiences no joy in them. Little Brother moves in for a cuddle and she is either irritated or seemingly oblivious. If she doesn’t like cuddles because there is no shot of oxytocin for her due to lack of trust in her children’s positive intentions, then she’s not going to understand how good it feels. It’s just one more demand on her. Her first reaction to seeing her children is usually anger. I don’t know what that’s about. I was writing yesterday that Little Brother’s anger may be about aggression–pushing in rather than away. I don’t know if the mother’s anger comes from the same source. I’d like to say it doesn’t and the her experience with her children has been that they offer little reward. It’s something to think about, because I think my mother may have greeted me with the same hostility. I don’t remember, as with a lot of things about my parents, because it can’t compete with swallowing a handful of pills or breaking all the glasses we owned, which she once memorably did. Grumpiness can easily be taken for granted.