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.



My Dad

I wrote a post about a month ago perhaps about my dad’s murders, and how I had come to understand them as an attempt at communicating his inner state through his actions. His lack of mentalizing created a dead world inside him, devoid of people or relationships. This lack of development made it seem to him as though only actions could speak, and also that if he controlled the actions of people around him, he could understand their intentions.

His inner wasteland made him crave the relief of connection and intimacy, and so he needed someone small and unthreatening to communicate to, someone he could create an illusion of communication with by controlling their actions.

His stalled mentalizing development occurred because of the malignancy of his first object–his mother, who was schizophrenic. He could not think about her mind or later minds, because it created an untenable loop in his head: she wants to hurt me, but I don’t want to comply and be hurt. And yet I need the support of an alliance.

I feel he was expressing his inner states in other situations as well. I came home tonight and I began to react to coming home, which I seem to be doing lately, and I wanted to reach out and immediately felt a sense of disgust.

I thought, “I am bad.” The thing is I used to be unable to stay with this, because it’s such a horrible way to feel. This is what I mean by “lack of symbolic control.” I was not able to consider my feeling states. I could move past them, but not think about them.

So this time I thought about it, and I thought this is what I expect: I expect if I move closer to someone, they will do something that will make me feel ashamed or disgusted. I thought about one reader’s comment about expecting exploitation. Yes, that would feel shameful and disgusting.

This felt like my dad. There may be “mother” connections to this to0, but it first felt like my dad. I thought there may be many reasons men sexually exploit and abuse their daughters, but I think he was communicating by making me feel what he felt. He was communicating a sense of disgust and evil within himself. This would have come from his own disorganized attachment–I don’t know how what transpired exactly with his mother–I do know his father verbally abused him, but he was very focused on young girls. I think he wanted to tell his mother how bad he felt.

When a caretaker is unable to “mark” their expressions in such a way that the baby understands it is his own emotion being mirrored, rather than his mother’s, then distortions in mentalizing develop in the child. Feelings seem to be like magic, just spreading into other people by virtue of his having them. This is psychic equivalence. Thoughts are real.

If the child is distressed, and this distress appears to magically jump to the parent, rather than being acknowledged and moved on from towards helping, then the baby may form  distorted view of themselves as being capable of inflicting pain on other people via his very existence. He feels both powerful and evil. This will especially be sustained if this is how feeling states seem to the parent–if her own mentalizing ability makes her unable to see her mind as an arbiter of her own experience.

That’s what my dad was communicating to me: a sense of being both evil and all-powerful, but also disgusting and unwanted, which I think probably had to do with his mother’s rejection and contempt for him.

You might think it wouldn’t be helpful for me to consider my dad’s intentions in abusing me, but it makes a difference to me. It puts things to rest in that way you can stop humming the same tune because you finally remember the rest of it. It also makes the “badness” not me, but something I felt. It reduces it from identity to information.

It makes my dad’s actions something like words: I can read words and not have them become me. I can remember the blood all over me, and understand the blood wasn’t me. I won’t ever forget how it felt to have the blood there on me, but it lightens its sense of permanence.

There is something about horror which feels permanent: it is so cognitively overwhelming, so confusing, so emotionally powerful, it feels impossible to move on from. The image of it happening springs up and you feel rooted to the spot in shock all over again. But it does feel slightly lighter now.

Other kinds of men

I did not feel very rational yesterday. Today isn’t looking good either. I feel deeply wounded, as if my feelings have been hurt. There is no readily identifiable cause for this. I am not sure what to do about it, or how to make sense of it.

There is this awkwardness with C’s dad, because of his dream about being a happy family of three. Dad, mom and C. I think there is an element of pretend to this: what if my life hadn’t been the way that it was, and I wasn’t 16 when I knocked C’s mother up and I had been able to marry the mother of my child?

I think there are real feelings involved too, though. He gets worried about C, and I feel worried about the same things and we discuss it and find a solution. And what I felt before was that I couldn’t share my worries about her with anyone, because people either did completely unhelpful things or told me I was imagining things and all would be well. He may have felt the same way. There is a real feeling of being supported.

Anyway, if you recall, at that point he said he didn’t want to call me sister anymore, and he called me mom, which confused me. Since then we don’t call each other anything–just you. It doesn’t feel good to me. I have lost my way of expressing warmth and affection to him, which came in the package of calling him “brother.”

So yesterday I asked him about this, and he said I could call him father or dad. He said he would call me mummy and I could call him whatever I wanted. I don’t think this is as weird to him as it is to me. In the languages here, mother and wife are the same word. I think I have heard women call their husbands “dad.” It has a larger range of meanings than “dad.”

But it immediately made me aware of all kinds of “dad” feelings and associations, and that I can’t actually think straight about what he said until some of that is worked out. I have managed to get by in life by never putting certain pieces together in the same box in my head. Some men feel protective of their daughters and some exploit them. Those are two pieces I have managed to never put together, because those feelings are too painful.

I think I grew up believing all men used their power in society to exploit women and girls and if they didn’t, it was because they couldn’t. If I start thinking other kinds of men are possible, it was not inevitable that I have a father who murdered women and girls and was obsessed with cutting up their bodies, then it becomes very painful.

Another piece

I woke up this morning thinking that sex is not about love and love is not about sex. (I know this is obvious, but I am confused about some very obvious things.) Sex is about sex.

But people have sex in the same way they do other things. If they lack empathy talking to you about changing the cat litter, they will lack empathy when you aren’t wearing any clothes too. If they love you eating blackberry jam on toast, they will also love you touching you in the most intimate way possible.

I remember Natalya’s love when we had sex because she loved me all the time. I remember my sister using me sexually because she used me at other times also.

And somehow this makes everything okay. Not, perhaps, okay with me, but I can live with it

The Belt, the Door, the Closet, the Chair

Police boots.
Police boots.

I was taken into care when I was about a year a half. I have mentioned that before: here and here.

I don’t know why I was, actually, although I have it narrowed down: either because my mother hit me over the head with a chair or because my father raped me with a pair of scissors.

They overlap in my mind because of the shoes. Shoes that looked a bit like this. There seemed to be so many of them, although there probably weren’t. I just wasn’t used to so many people in uniform in the house. With such big shoes.

The shoes came back a few times. They sat in the livingroom and talked to my mom while I played with blocks. I remember that. They didn’t take me away that time.


I was afraid of their faces, so I looked at their shoes.

I do know what happened after I came back.

My dad staged a terrifying and dangerous “interrogation,” insisting I report back to him what I had “told.” I still don’t know if I ever told anyone anything.

And then I tried to kill myself. Because, really, what was the point if I was going to have to live like that, among those people, and become like them?

I went to the hall closet where my mom kept a belt specifically to have handy to beat us with. I thought I could make a noose with it. But there were technical difficulties.

To hang yourself, you need something to stand on. A stepstool wasn’t tall enough. And the the chairs were too heavy and too far for me to drag.

Whenever I am reminded of what I suffered or how there seemed to be no escape from a world I did not want to belong to, I feel the same degree of despair. It is sometimes so hard just to be with that.

Marta, Guadalupe, and the Others

Pray for us. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Pray for us. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Just as I wanted to tell you about Veronique, I want to tell you about Marta and Guadalupe.

If you’re new around here, I will have to first tell you that my father was a sex trafficker, that he trafficked me for sex from the time I was toddler me until I was a teenager. I’m sorry to have to share that with you, but there it is. Life is sometimes an ugly place. And I’ve seen a lot of the worst ugliness in it.

I was never alone. Just as Veronique performed with me in pornographic films when I was a young teenager, Marta and Guadelupe were there when I was wearing headbands and black patent leather shoes and learning how to skip rope.

We couldn’t speak. Having been smuggled into the country from Mexico or places southward, they didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Spanish. But in the summers, when we solicited for men at the Travelodge pool, they swam with me. When the washer broke in the house my dad kept them in and he went to fix it himself (being that kind of handy guy), I played with them and their broken truck in the dirt in the yard. As an adult, it has made listening to languages I don’t understand a peculiar comfort. But it also overwhelms me with sadness to think of them.

They weren’t there for very long. A few weeks, maybe a few months. I remember Marta and Lupe the best, but there were others. Always others, as one set of girls disappeared and another took their place.

I have a vision of a warehouse in which girls like Marta and Lupe, dirty and hungry and crying, are kept in large cages, like dogs. Maybe that’s where I imagined they came from. Maybe it’s something I really saw. It would be a bizarre thing to have seen, but I’ve heard of stranger things.

But what it evokes for me is the immensity of the suffering of the girls smuggled into the country and then brutalized by men like my dad. It makes me aware of my own privilege. After all, I went to school. I was allowed contact with the outside world, which gave me other resources to draw upon beyond the depraved world of sex trafficking. I spoke the language of power in this country. And I escaped.

Did Marta? Did Lupe, with her long braid and quiet smile, even stand half a chance? I hope they did. I really do. I’m afraid they didn’t.

God, do you love us at all? Why do you allow us to do these things to one another? Where were you when we needed you? Where are you now?