Middle Ground

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I’m in a bad place. I don’t know why this is.

I find that frustrating. I find myself cycling through longing, shame and hopelessness without actually knowing the reason. Mornings are hard, but not normally quite this hard.

I went downtown yesterday to once again visit the cathedral. I had in my mind consciously, while I was there, this is Ksymcia’s church. I’m here because I am coming to terms with her in some way, or trying to.

I felt very emotional, tried to calm down, and then the security guard started talking to me. He had quite a lot to say. It was surprising. There have been days when I seem to appear to be more open and random people do talk to me, but I think it’s somewhat rare. It is LA, and I am not friendly.

I lost my sense of grounding after that, and didn’t really return to a place where I felt centered again or in touch with what I had come there to work through. Next time, I guess.

I went for a coffee after that. I had fallen asleep on the train on my way there, and naps in the daytime always leave me in a strange place. Coffee helps with that. So I found a Starbucks I remembered as being fairly quiet and having a decent space for seating. There are a thousand places for coffee around there, but hardly anywhere is actually set up for people to sit. You are expected to grab your stuff and go. There was a new place I hadn’t seen before–new since I used to live there–and I wondered about that. Lots of young people in there–it’s a college area–and I thought their coffee is probably shit.

Anyway, I got my coffee and wrote in my journal for a while. A group of teenagers came in wearing bow ties and amazing dresses–Quincenera party? I don’t know. I wanted to take their picture and felt it was too weird to ask. It made for a change.

Then I went on to a second-hand shop because I have this hope of actually getting a job, but I have only one blazer I can really wear. I dropped it off on Saturday for cleaning–there’s something on it, like I brushed off a crumb with dusty hands. It made me think it creates a crisis if something happens to that one particular blazer. It seems wise to pick up one or two more. So I did that. I bought one almost identical to the one I have, and another one that’s more stylish (I think), but I can’t imagine how to make a shirt with a collar work under that. I don’t know what you’re really supposed to wear with it. Still, it was $6.95. I’ll work it out.

There was a dress on the new items rack and I thought that looked interesting–just for fun. One of the staff members came up to me to talk about the dress: she liked it. She said I had good taste.

So that was a second stranger to just randomly strike up conversation with me that day.

That was yesterday. I woke up early to a student messaging me. “How are you?” “Still sleepy.” “Ok sleep maam.” But C’s father was online and I said something to him. He said he was at the cremation grounds: normally, men need to stand watch over the body until the body can be burned or the dogs will eat the corpse. Everyone will go to the grounds and view it, I suppose–I’m not sure, people have always told me not to go places like that. I’ll fall sick. They excuse me. Anyway, someone had died.

I asked him what happened, and felt a surge of terror for his kids. He has a new baby. I guess the baby must be six months old now.

After a while, he said his cousin died and we chatted about that for a while. His cousin was 34. I think he might be 32 himself now, maybe still 31.

He said he felt he didn’t know what to do, and I could remember that feeling. The sense of confusion about it. I remember it specifically about not understanding physical aspects of horrifying, traumatic deaths, but it’s more generally about being unable to take in or process the cessation of life that’s completely unexpected. It was startling to recognize my own experience in his and to know that they actually connect, despite the differences in circumstances.

It reminded me too of C’s response to my leaving–when I used to live there and would visit her at school. The times she didn’t walk me out, she would get tears in her eyes and then seem to fiddle with things.

It seemed the same kind of thing: abandonment felt just as shocking. Not my leaving, obviously, but the core, early abandonment. The break in attunement must have felt just as shocking as a death for her.

I ended up in the kitchen this morning at the same time as my friend. I was unloading the dishwasher and she was making a cup of tea, having just woke up. I cast about for topics to talk about. Not my job situation–she’ll just get anxious, and that will make it harder on me. Not the dad’s cousin death–she can’t seem to handle death.

I don’t think I mentioned that: one of my colleagues committed suicide. This was three years ago, but I hadn’t known, and the assumption was it was related to workplace bullying from the principal. I told my friend about it, because I felt rather shaken by it. Her response was puzzling to me, but most closely seemed to resemble disgust. Distress and then disgust, like she needed to quickly get the discomfort away from her.

So she can’t handle death.

Finally, I talked to her about her son’s suit–she had mentioned this to me yesterday.

It really struck me how I couldn’t bring up something related to myself, because I felt too vulnerable and I couldn’t bring up anything which seems to me to be actual life, because she can’t handle the strong emotions that goes with it, and that kind of left her and lite. Such emotional impoverishment. I wanted so badly to have someone enter into my emotional world with me, and it’s so much harder because most of the time, I am just dealing with trauma, but even other things I did not want to connect over, because she is randomly critical and I have too much going on already to want to invite that.

And then I thought about my own struggles, how intense the longing is, how it cycles through guilt and shame. I thought how it feels so overwhelming I don’t know that I always think about how it affects other people to be around that.

I thought of it recently in the context of my friend’s cat. It was acting strangely, sort of limping, sort of just wobbling. It was unclear if she had an injured leg or if she was just confused. My friend took her into the vet, but in the process, I could feel my friend’s terror about the whole thing. It was hard for me to cope with later, after she left. She didn’t do anything overtly expressive, but I could feel it. I know she felt that.

Anyway, I thought I am struggling with these feelings. I can’t even identify what’s setting them off, but I miss C, and she is sleeping or studying and the last thing she really needs is to have her own separation distress activated.

These are difficult feelings. They are difficult for me and they are also difficult for other people. I don’t know what I might take away from that, but just that they can feel so loud and so overwhelming and yet the rest of the world is still there, still needing various things from me, which might include keeping it together.

Fragments

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Falling asleep last night, probably feeling something quite difficult–it’s usually difficult at night–and I suddenly made this connection between the pain I felt and bullying.

I thought this feeling I have of being worthless and unimportant, this is about someone enhancing their feelings of status by bullying me, and it’s not processed or understood, because it’s so impossible to understand why your parents would do that. It’s clearly about my parents.

Narcissistic wounding is, “Someone is enhancing their sense of status by degrading mine.” At the time I thought this, it seemed immensely profound. Maybe it isn’t.

But it made me think someone who has been bullied by their own parents is likely to be hyper-alert to indicators of status: things like being excluded or not considered (as though you aren’t really part of the group and don’t need to be considered), these are all indications that someone might be intentionally lowering your social status in order to enhance their own.

Status has biological consequences: people with less status in society have higher levels of cortisol. Just like standing next to someone I feel cares about me enhances my feelings of well-being, automatically and without effort, perceiving oneself to have higher status decreases anxiety.

If I am both very alert to that and unable to make sense of it, well, that explains some things.

Then I was also thinking about my friend and her daughter. Daughter reacts to ordinary problems as though they are an imposition. Her dog has been vomiting a lot lately. Actually, since my friend asked me to leave. Since then, the dog began to vomit and the daughter’s rash flared up. Her wedding is in a month. No one around here sees this as a stressful life event, but it seems to me obvious it is.

Anyway, the dog vomited in my room once and once early in the morning when I was in the kitchen, but no one else seemed to be up. In both cases, I cleaned it up. I mean, it’s a dog. Pets vomit from time to time. It was 5 minutes out of my life at most. If I were so busy I didn’t feel I had 5 minutes to give to a dog, that would be different, but I have 5 minutes. It’s not a big deal.

But the daughter seems to be very bothered by this, as though dog vomit is the last straw in an already overwhelming life. She was quite–apologetic?–about my cleaning it up those two times. Surprised, anyway.

This kind of thing gives me the impression that ordinary life struggles and setbacks don’t seem to figure into either of their thinking about life, that unpleasant things will happen and these things are part of life and things you can live through.

I was talking to my friend the other day and there were catfood dishes and cans sitting in the sink soaking. I was cleaning out my coffee maker, which always leaves this horridly big coffee-grind mess in whatever was in the sink. So after washing the coffee maker, I rinsed the cans out and put them in the recycling bin and rinsed the two plates. It might have taken two minutes. Anyway, I was just standing there talking. I wasn’t exactly overburdened with things to do.

My friend was anxious about this, and very apologetic. I just explained the coffee makes a mess and if you leave the grounds in something, the coffee becomes difficult to remove. But it struck me. These are people for whom rinsing out two cat food cans and two plates is a big deal. It’s strange. To me, that’s just lazy.

I am sure there is some kind of meaning attached to it for them, maybe something to do with unfairness. It’s beyond me, but I know they probably aren’t the only ones like this.

I don’t know if this really connects, but I thought about the dog vomit and Daughter’s entrenched view of life as something that ought not to involve cleaning up vomit. It made me think of Nata, and how for Daughter, it seems like life would be fine if all of these little things were perfect, and I think life would be fine if Nata would just come back. Just a she feels life ought not to involve cleaning up vomit several times a day, I feel life ought not to involve murder. For most people, it doesn’t involve murder, but people are murdered. You can’t go through life unable to accept that it does happen when it has.

I know the comparison is extreme–they are hardly on the same level. But it does make me think.

Bad grades

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I have been staring at the screen on and off for a while now. I mean, hours, broken up by reading or watching fairly meaningless scenes.

I’m still here, in the house where, a week ago today, my friend asked me to leave because it was intruding on her family time and because she wanted the space for the daughter she feels resentful of and, at the same time, does not want to leave.

My friend has stopped agonizing and handwringing and yesterday felt somewhat normal. Today she seemed angry when I said hello to her, just shockingly angry. Maybe she wasn’t, but I also did not think any of the tension I felt in the house had anything to do with me. So who knows.

I got C’s grades a few days ago at last, but she had left off her grade for her elective class, which is agriculture and has a textbook, but I think consists of keeping a garden. C’s grades had gone down in every subject except for English. In English, she showed improvement.

I felt very sad. I don’t know what happened. Everyone had told me how well she is doing. I don’t know if she actually had seemed to be doing well and lost it at exam time, or if she tells people she is doing well and they believe her. Overall, she went down by about 7 percentage points. She was middle of her class last year. This must put her near the bottom.

I was just so sad.

I think maybe I missed being able to talk about this with her. There is a problem, and we are each alone with it. I don’t know.

I felt strange the rest of the day, just sort of unwell and maybe sensitive–not myself, inclined to drift off into washes of hopelessness and unworthiness that don’t actually make sense to me when they happen.

I went for a coffee in the afternoon, just to get out of the house. I thought I had better write a letter to C, even if my thoughts about her grades might not arrive for several weeks, when she has already picked herself up and moved on from them. I told her find a way to feel hopeful again. When we don’t feel we succeeded, we feel hopeless and we don’t want to try again, but the students who succeed in the end are the ones who keep trying. Find a way to be hopeful. When you have small successes, notice them and try to remember them. They will motivate you towards more success.

While I was writing, there was woman in the coffee shop speaking Russian to her two children. I didn’t immediately notice the language. I just felt better. I saw her speaking to her children, and I thought of buttery cookies and hugs.

I was in a coffee shop and trying to write a letter it was difficult to think about anyway, and I didn’t have a lot of emotional space to consider what was happening. I felt something and didn’t dwell on it. But later, after I left, and began to walk home and felt slammed by feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, I wondered if that was why. I left this reminder of loss and loss can feel hopeless. It is one of the stages of grief.

I have an appointment with the therapist for Monday. Let’s see how it goes.

 

Connections

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Yesterday, I felt less sane than I have in a long time.

What I find difficult is that I don’t know why my thoughts and feelings are there. I don’t know what in the present is bringing it on exactly–although I have general ideas–or what happened in the past that it is connected to. It makes it hard to really know what to do or how to approach it, and it’s disconcerting to have my brain just not make sense.

My idea about it is that distortions arise as a result of dysregulated feelings. Emotions affect our thoughts. When our emotions are intense, our thoughts become extreme and based on less actual evidence. When the emotions are calmer, the thoughts become more reality-based.

I don’t think the majority of problems that show up in complex trauma are intrusions from the past. I think the larger problem is dysregulation–which I think shows up as an issue for three different reasons.

The first is that the children are abused by parents who lack regulation skills. They have little to teach. So the child does not learn the emotion-management and coping skills that adult life requires.

The second is that traumatic experiences are by their nature emotionally intense and confusing. They are all the more confusing because you are alone in them–no one is on your side. Which also means no one is in there with you making sense of the experience alongside you and working with you on the best way to manage it. We make sense of things together, even in emergencies when we are acting quickly, without discussion. We know how others understand the experience by looking at how they behave.

During childhood trauma, your parents’ way of making sense of things does not make any sense. The child is distressed and needs help from the parent, and the parent responds to the child’s distress by acting as thought the child is herself the threat. But the child is small and helpless. The response to the child makes no sense.

The third is that because the adults in the family lack regulation and coping skills, denial and avoidance become go-to strategies. There are quite a number of reasons this might happen, but one of them is that you can be quite helpless and still use them. Even infants can look away from distressing stimuli. This means that distressing topics are frequently not thought about, discussed or even known. If a child vocalizes her distress, the parent directly or indirectly reminds the child not to think about it, not to talk about it and not to know about it so that the family will not be overwhelmed by distress and cease to be able to function at all.

If something can’t be known, it can’t really be responded to either, and the emotions of it don’t get regulated.

And when the stimulus is too intense and too difficult to avoid, things just spin out.

I am trying to keep things from spinning out, and it’s not really going swimmingly. I spent a lot of time yesterday in an emotional place of not feeling wanted, of really feeling–why do I need to be here? If I am not wanted, why can’t I just leave?

And it wasn’t clear to me why I was thinking about that or why the feelings of not being wanted were surfacing so intensely. Certainly, my friend does not want me here now and, of course, that hurts. But it feels less connected to that and more connected to reaching out to a therapist and more connected to getting things together for Country X and for looking for another job.

I do have this idea that my brain is telling me other experiences that have been like this, but my lexicon for talking about the past is mostly behaviours and images, because they haven’t been articulated before, and the things in the past that they are connected to need to be understood also.

I began to think I feel like I need to hide. I was rejected and I feel embarrassed about it, and what I have been doing is sort of hiding, and this seems to connect to other experiences of hiding.

In the past, what I think I have done is told myself, “This is a distortion. You aren’t unwanted and you don’t need to hide.” In other words, don’t think about this. Don’t know about it. Be a good girl, and keep up the avoidance.

I have gone downtown a few times for various things–I had library books to return, and there was one other day I thought it might just help to have a change of scene and walk around. I have stopped in at the cathedral there both times. I don’t know what I really believe these days, in terms of religion, but I do know faith has some degree of meaning for me.

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I was thinking about this last night, about feeling unwanted so painfully and yet still feeling forced to go though life with this unbearable pain, along with the hiding and church, and I thought, “This has to do with memory.”

The feeling of being unwanted is reminding me of something specific that happened that I wasn’t able to make sense of at the time, and I probably need to make sense of it now in order to be able to get on with things.

I think this was about someone else feeling unwanted and committing suicide. I had remembered this before, and it’s one those things when later, after the memory surface, I wasn’t entirely sure it was real or what parts of it might have been me trying to fill in the gaps of a story too much.

There was someone named Maksyma. I think we may have called her Ksymcia. She was very soft and kind and gentle–she had just a quiet, gentle spirit. I remember she smelled like cookies. I suppose that means she smelled like spices to me: ginger and nutmeg and cinnamon. And I think she died.

She was Catholic, and it seems to me that’s the reason I have been drawn to going to a Catholic church. I have been reminded of her lately, and I am searching for her. These are searching behaviours, to go to things that would remind me of her more.

I think she was about 13 years old when she died. I am not sure how old I was. I think I found her hanging in her hotel room–apparent suicide.

I think this, in fact, is the memory most deeply connected to not being able to find someone, and the primary reason I panic when I don’t know where C is or I am not able to get in contact with her. It’s connected to a memory of literally running through a cheap hotel, trying to find someone, but I have not in the past known who I was looking for or whether I found them.

Well, I think I did find someone. I found Ksymcia and she was dead.

It’s possible this is connected to the feeling of hiding for me, because I may have hid after finding her. I may have been so frightened at seeing her dead body, that I hid in the closet. I hid in the closet witnessing a murder in one of those rooms, and I may have enacted the same behaviour in response to a similar experience of death.

Or I may be mixing things up.

How do I say this? Ksymcia felt such deep pain and fear and humiliation that she did not stay on this earth, and she died.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m not in a good place today.

The director of the therapy center called back at last. Actually, she called yesterday, and I finally managed to connect. We had a nice chat as she went through the intake paperwork. She had a therapist in mind for me. She said the therapist would call me either later in the evening or the next day (today).

Yesterday morning, I got an email from the Country X people in Canada who do the legwork of recruiting and screening foreign teachers. They needed some documents–some of which need to be notarized. I have provided some of these with the application already, but whatever. They’ve had a lot of turnover. People keep having to reinvent the wheel.

So I spent a lot of yesterday gathering the documents together–not that it was that difficult, but the whole thing makes it hard for me to think straight. Then I needed to request some letters of recommendation–one for the Canadians, one because I need to find a job.

You can see the stressors, I think.

Today, I find it hard to feel or connect to anything. The compulsion to brace myself after experiences of being seen or wanting to be seen is so automatic, it’s hard to do anything about.

 

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I feel settled and thoughtful this morning. I know that doesn’t exactly hook you in to reading my post.

My brain works when I am settled like this. It’s a much more interesting place to be. I like it. I think I never imagined that as an outcome: I wanted the pain to stop, I wanted to have better relationships, I wanted not to go into tailspins. I never thought life would be more interesting for me without anything necessarily changing on the outside.

A few days ago, I felt sort of hopeless about myself, thinking I work so hard, but here I am with no job and no home of my own. I barely feel I have friends. Hard work has not magically solved anything, although I always believe it will.

I guess it won’t necessarily, but it makes it a lot more interesting to be me.

There were some thoughts I wanted to share.

One of them is that I have struggled through this situation with my friend, I have thought about what she is doing that makes me uncomfortable and tried to look at myself and back through my life to understand when I might have done those things and why I did them.

It shed light on my relationship with my ex-wife and the dynamic between us. There were things I did I was not aware I was doing or what effect on her they had, and things she did I could not understand the motive for.

Looking back, I wish we had been able to talk about how things affected us. It seems there was such an emphasis on rules, rather than understanding one another. It wouldn’t have helped our relationship, but it would have helped me. When your father kills people, rules can seem to lack significance, but I understand consequences and outcome. I understand the idea that something I am doing does not give me the outcome I want.

I thought about how my friend has been essentially bringing this head full of anguish to me and dumping it in my lap, as though she wants me to fix it. First, she told me to leave, and she wanted telling me that to fix it. Now she tells me she feels guilty, and she wants me to fix that. I don’t want to fix things for her.

I think I did that. My partner legitimately did things intentionally to hurt me, but coming to her for help with it merely transmitted my trauma experience to her, to which she added all of her childhood issues. I never got this idea that it’s difficult and people can’t, that emotions can be contagious and other people don’t always have better tools for coping with them than I do. If I can’t cope, maybe the person I want support from can’t cope either.

There was a lot of talk of self-care, but not the reason for it. It’s not that other people won’t or shouldn’t. That’s sometimes true, but more often they can’t.

I spent a long time trying to learn healthier habits of various kinds, trying to imitate people who haven’t been traumatized, not realizing that I need the coping skills to manage my world–not theirs.

I know we avoid that reality, because the trauma is so intricately linked to shame: a person in power who can’t or won’t control themselves–is too easily dysregulated and impulsive–and covers their shame over that by blaming the victim. If I admit to the impact of trauma, I have to manage the feelings I had at the time: sexual predators say the child “provoked” them; caregivers who abuse their children express similar beliefs about their children during abuse.

But how do I come to terms with their malevolence? How do I manage feeling the shame I had when I was abused so that I can know what it was? Mostly, it’s too hard, and we find ways to push those experiences away and not know them.

I’m not unique in that regard. That was one thought. We are not really meant to understand reality in isolation, nor are we meant to manage our feelings alone, but trauma is hard and if it is not your trauma, you can get through it by simply pushing it away.

So I won’t dump my trauma experiences on anyone again. I don’t like it either.

 

Toxic

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As I mentioned, I met a friend in the morning and spent several hours catching up with her–ran into her daughter and fiancee and their dog, and met them for the first time–and generally had quite a nice day.

I was heading home finally around 4:30 and got an email from my friend.

“You seem to want to be left alone, so I am keeping away, but I wanted to say a few things.

First, we are cooking Chinese stir-fry tonight and hope you will join us–if you feel like it.

But the more important things are that I hope there is some way we can get through this without lasting acrimony, that I want to help out in the next phase because I do care about you, and that I would like to keep channels of communication open. If I know what you are weighing next, I could better know how to help.

I don’t think I have said things in exactly the right ways, but I wish it could be clearer that this isn’t meant to be personal; I just need the space.”

She has mentioned before she wanted to help out in the process of my moving where-ever I am going to move. I believe I said thank you.

She has asked me to eat dinner with them twice before and I have politely declined. First of all, it just feels incredibly awkward and second of all she has specifically mentioned she wants family time with her daughter. To me, dinner seems like family time, especially since the routine in the house has been to try to get some work done during the day, and rejoin over dinner. Boundaries are fine. Nothing wrong with ’em.

I sent back one line: I understand you need the space. I didn’t know what else to say. What I felt like saying is I work very hard at maintaining some kind of inner peace and being around you at this point is like descending into a vortex of despair and agony which I have no desire to spend more time in. I have one of my own.

It isn’t part of the email, but that’s the exchange when I am trapped with her in the kitchen, trying to make coffee. She’s just very anguished about it. I feel very much called upon to relieve her distress, and it’s not comfortable.

I wasn’t angry about the whole thing–sad, but not angry. It’s her right to do what she wants in her own house. I realize I am here at her pleasure. But I feel angry now.

I suppose this is my approach: it’s a difficult situation. Let’s be polite and cheerful about it so that it doesn’t feel worse than it is. It’s probably not the end of the world, and there’s no need to make it into that.

This is evidently not what she has in mind, and probably not what she will allow to have happen. She wants someone down in there with her in her emotional agony, and she’ll push until either she gets it or I have enough boundaries in place that she can’t.

I never believed in the concept of toxic people before, but I do now. I am struck by what a different standard I have for adults than I have for children. I walk right down in there with C and even to some extent with Wild Boy, try to bring my own calm to it, working like hell to have it to offer, but trying to see their agony for them. Trying to make sure I am imagining what they are going through so that they can see that their agony is real for me, which means I need to feel it. I am not so saintly with adults.

I had this idea that, with my past, I am the least mature, stable person in the universe. Not so. Seriously, I did not really believe functional people who have families and, although she is divorced now, long marriages and secure careers wound themselves like this.

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In the morning, my friend said she wanted to talk to me more about the uncomfortable situation, so I am waiting for that other shoe to fall, in a sense. I don’t want to talk more about it. She said what she needed to say. All I can think of to say myself at this point is if you don’t like how this turned out, maybe you ought to make a mental note to yourself to think things over a bit more before acting. Or, it also comes to mind to simply ask, “What did you expect to have happen?”

Neither of those responses seem either helpful or kind. It’s up to her whether she wants to connect those two particular dots that when you feel absolutely you must do something, you probably need to calm down first. Maybe you ought to go for a swim or take a walk. Maybe the thing to do isn’t to try to determine whether you can be blamed or not, and then attack your relationships if you can safely get away with it. That’s not my work to do.

I wonder about it. But I don’t want to talk about it.

I didn’t mention where the incident seemed to begin–at least in my mind it did. The dryer broke. Neither of us use it–we always hang our clothes on the line. Her son and daughter both use it exclusively. They never hang anything out to dry in the sun. My room is next to the laundry room, and on hot days, I get really annoyed by it, especially if it’s fairly late, and I am trying to sleep. It’s just hard to sleep when it’s hot.

But I do also know people own dryers so they can use them, and I will get used to the heat again. Y-town is cooler, and actually so is Los Angeles.

If I want to live in a world with other people in it, I need to let them do laundry even if it’s hot.

Anyway, it broke one morning. Her daughter was using it, and she put a load in and the dryer completely quit on her a few minutes into the cycle. She was washing her workout clothes, in preparation for a yoga class. Daughter approached her mom rather childishly–little, needy voice. The dryer was broken, she had nothing to wear. My friend suggested some ways to get clothes dry in an hour. I fiddled with the buttons on the dryer.

My friend mentioned the circumstances of owning the dryer, which had to do with a man she did a house-swap kind of thing with, which basically went badly for her. He was charming, and because of his charm, she trusted him, but he got the better end of the deal. At least in her mind. I’ve never met him personally.

In the course of it, she said that she thought he was a charlatan, and at the time she had had this thought about her relationship with him being somewhat more better than other relationships, because he wanted to please her. He wanted something from her, so he gave her the attention she wanted.

I don’t know what my expression was when she said that. I felt a bit shocked, but I don’t know if that showed. What she said revealed a transactional sense to her relationships. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. She said she had thought that in the context of a friend who was not trying to please her.

She had this sparkly-eyed look of rage at that point. I don’t know how to describe it, but I know it. The matron ran into me at the bus stop in Y-town, looked that way, asked something about C, and when I got to my destination, I got a very outraged message from C about being punished by the matron. VP Ma’am, if you remember her, had that same look, took a breath, and then told me every bit of mean gossip anyone had told her about C.

It’s not a good look.

An hour or so later is when I got the message on Facebook from my friend, I was not entirely surprised.

I don’t know what happened in that conversation for my friend, if it was the memory of being in an exploitative relationship with a house-swapper, or if she was angry at her daughter for being the one present when the dryer broke, or if she said that to me and then realized maybe that was too revealing a statement to make about how she sees relationships.

But it was revealing. It said to me, “The only way I know how to get the attention I need is to allow someone to exploit me.” It’s true she pushes attention away. She might accept it when she feels it is earned. I am giving you this, so it’s okay for me to get something back from you.

When we talked, one of the reasons she wants me to leave is that she wants to spend time with Daughter, so that she can keep her from leaving and setting up her own household when only her husband is working. My friend is paying attention to her daughter, because she wants something.

I wonder how it feels to her daughter when her mom no longer wants something from her and all that attention gets suddenly directed elsewhere?

I feel sick thinking about it.

I was reminded of C, because it feels to me she pushes me away a lot harder than other people. I don’t leave, so she has more to push against, but if Coach Ma’am says come to my house and help clean it, she comes. Getting her to come to my house was anything but simple.

Maybe because it’s not so simple. I don’t want her housecleaning skills. I want her. If she has always been involved in transactional relationships, then this is so much of what she has experienced: cater to someone and they meet your needs, but they also abandon you without warning because their attention has wandered on.

It gives the message very strongly: you are not in and of yourself worthy of interest. Trust? I don’t think so.

I think I mentioned C blocked me, then unblocked me after (I presume) getting a message sent via her cousin that I love her unconditionally.

It made me think someone used to transactional relationships would do that in order to manipulate C into unblocking them. I knew I could say that and it was C’s choice what to do about it. I sent it, thinking she must be feeling really stressed. When she pushes, she is stressed.

I asked someone to send the message knowing C might reject me, and if she rejected me I would feel sad, but because it might help C, I did it anyway. I risked rejection. But C doesn’t really know if I care or not when I do things like that, or whether I just want something. She doesn’t know if it’s just a trick.

When she unblocked me, I saw she had taken the picture of herself and her boyfriend down. It’s a fairly innocent picture. I hadn’t said anything about it to her. They are just standing next to each other. They might be touching, but not more than being shoulder-to-shoulder. It does make it clear that he is her boyfriend.

I had been angry at her boyfriend for the pictures on his page, because they were documentations of him pressuring her into physical closeness she knows will be frowned on by others–partly, it looks like fodder for emotional blackmail later. Partly he didn’t look happy. He looked smug. She was happy, but he did not. I want her boyfriend to glow with pleasure at her existence.

Anyway, I thought, “She’s trying to figure out what I want.” She knows I didn’t like the other pictures, so she took down this picture. The thing about letting someone’s perspective into your mind like that is you have to feel that person’s point of view is safe to keep in your mind, and it isn’t bent on destroying your uniqueness or your soul.

Erased

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I have been avoiding my friend. I don’t think I am motivated by vindictiveness–maybe I am. But she made a point of saying I was intruding on her time with her family. She has a right to set that boundary. What she doesn’t have the right to do is move the boundary around and confuse me.

It’s very uncomfortable for her that I am sad about what happened. She keeps telling me how terrible she feels and then suggests different ways she can find me other places to stay. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. I had this therapist once–I saw him for a few months–and there were a few things I took away from seeing him. One of them was this point when he said about me and my then-partner, “You are having a problem with yourself and you want her help with it.” That’s something I’ll remember. I don’t want to be like that.

It’s what it feels like my friend is doing. She can’t stand her feelings, so she needs me to be different so she can stop having those feelings. I need to tell her it’s okay what she did, but I am not her conscience. I know it’s her house and what she did is within her rights. I know it brought up my own issues that she did not cause. I think she probably struck out at my wounds intentionally. I don’t know that for sure.

I was thinking about this–about her repeatedly stated wish for me to stop feeling sad so she can stop feeling guilty. It was in my head, this discomfort, a feeling of being sickened by it. I had a moment of thinking of myself as a child, pushing someone off me, wanting to fight. I realized I was remembering being sexually abused. Something about the situation with my friend and her need for me to feel a certain way so that she could feel okay again seemed the same.

It was sort of startling. I know I was abused, but I don’t always feel it in this embodied way.

It made me think about my perspective and about the feeling of being erased as a child. It’s hard to explain. It made me think my parents needed me not to be an observer to  their actions, because what they were doing was wrong. In the same way that my friend needs me not to have feelings so that she need not think whatever it is she thinks about what she has done, my parents needed me not to feel distress, because using their children in order to soothe themselves was wrong. They needed my point of view to disappear so that they need not face the feeling of wrongness.

In the case of sexual abuse, my dad was getting this kind of charge from it, like a hit of a drug. Sexuality is pleasurable and so is power. He was meeting this need for a lift in his mood by harming his children. The feeling I have so powerfully about my childhood is that I needed to be erased. Well, that’s why.

My distress told my parents what they were doing was wrong, and they did not want to know.

In my view, the worst pain and the greatest dysfunction comes from having the past be so painful that when it plays out in the present, it can’t be understood or faced. I do think there is this cultural idea that the past distorts the present. It only distorts it to the extent we can’t calm the feelings of it–because they are powerful things. The conventional wisdom is that we need to see how the past is different from the present. When it repeats, we are meant to see how we have brought this on ourselves. My point is that we can’t think about it. The intensity of the trauma makes our minds stop working, and we don’t respond effectively.

I find it very helpful just to see what things are. This feeling of disgust and constriction I am having–what is it? What’s causing it? What is it about? It seems to be the same as being sexually assaulted as a little one. Okay, so how do those things connect? Those questions help.

I think what’s hardest about it is coping with the grief and loss involved in that. The intensity of those feelings about what happened prevent us from knowing or understanding what it actually was. There is a very deep sadness in knowing this happened to me, which is really beyond anything I can describe. This was my childhood, where I was never really allowed to grow and develop as a person, or even to be safe. That happened before I can even remember it: there was no “before” even.

I cannot state this strongly enough: if I cannot engage with that grief in loss, I also lose out on the joys of the present. If I cannot accept the sadness of having been used rather than nurtured, I cannot (for example) enjoy the wonder I see children experience.

For so long, although I wanted to get better, I wanted to do it without really feeling the pain–or perhaps I just did not know how. I did not see that things are what they are. If they hurt me, I have to feel it, or I lose out on everything.

 

Further

I am really exhausted today–lack of sleep, a crisis in the middle of the night coming at the end of an already difficult day. I was thinking basically how unpleasant it feels to know I should be taking steps, deciding things, weighing pros and cons–anything to give a sense of moving forward–when I just don’t feel able to think of anything.

Then I began to realize how much there had been in the night to take in, how many surprising interactions with people, how much readjusting in my mind that and my friend’s attitude has required.

Some people don’t see themselves as having internal lives. They act without much awareness of how being in themselves actually is. And they don’t think of other people as having internal lives either.

I’ll give you an example: I was reflecting about C to IT Ma’am that the students got their results and actually she may be reacting to that. I said, “She might be afraid I will be disappointed in her marks.” Or something like that.

She said, “Let’s wait and see.”

Reasonable enough. But I know she said that not trying to understand C’s state of mind but assuming, instead, if C got low marks, I would be disappointed and even angry. She was suggesting to me: Don’t get angry about her marks quite yet, as if I don’t have choices about how to respond to marks or that we might have inner lives the other might not know about. Rather than grasping the separateness of our inner experiences, she assumed there could be only one.

That kind of mindset explained a lot about the rest of our chat, which was terribly dysregulating overall: she assumes C is just kind of a playgirl. (I know this from other talks with her when she was in Country X, teaching at the same school with me.) She does not realize C does not share the extent of her feelings of woundedness about relationships or her difficulty with relationships with IT Ma’am as she does with me, because it doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable in that way. She doesn’t realize there might be any gap between her perception of C and C’s felt inner life.

IT Ma’am is only worried C will become pregnant, so she suggested a talk about condoms. This after I said, “I don’t think this boy is good.”

Some people slot things into existing pigeon holes of information very quickly. I think perhaps because there aren’t that many, only their own.

I think people don’t have a sense of their own inner lives as being their own when they lack this sense of an “other” who might have a different view. Country Xers as a society tend towards intolerance of individual differences or dissent, but not everyone is quite that extreme.

My friend, in deciding whether it might be okay to ask me to leave, went through her own chats, looking for what she might have told me–thinking, as long as she had said this might happen, I wouldn’t have a response to it. She was afraid of my response–broaching the topic first over Facebook chat from another room in the same house–but felt if she had her bases covered I couldn’t.

It’s hard for her to be with the idea that I still have an inner life she has no control over. I haven’t aired my feelings about it or said anything. I don’t think I am making any kind of dramatic attempt to be seen, but I still have one. I am working very hard at staying grounded within myself, so that I can continue to have one.

I had not realized this about some people. I know that’s stupid, but I hadn’t.