Crisis

I had a birthday on Sunday. I went with The Girl and The Boy’s two siblings to the riverbank and they played in the water. The Boy himself would not come. When he did come home at 7:30 or so, he brought his younger brother with him.

The Boy likes to do this. If he is gone for any length of time, he will do it in such a way that will, he hopes, force me to accept more children in my house. He will come home late, after dark, so that it might seem impossible for me to send them home.

I think he is frightened to approach me, so he brings the other child for support. I don’t think he understands the sense of entitlement and disrespect it communicates to me. I don’t think he can grasp that I may have thoughts and feelings he didn’t intend me to have.

I reminded him that he needed to ask permission to bring someone home. He said sorry. He forgot. He then asked if he could bring his sister instead the following night. I said no.

He then went and tore up the shirt he had been wearing, one of 3 decent shirts he owns. When I asked him why it wasn’t hanging on the line after being washed, he feigned surprise.

I looked around for a bit, and finally told him that if he was going to throw away his clothes and then lie about it, he needed to go home. He began to cry and broke down with the truth.

He has since gone home.

There is more to say about this, but since it was my birthday, I wanted to talk to C. I finally sent her a text that it was my birthday and I missed her. I got a call right away. She was more talkative than I think she has ever been and in the course of our talk, she said a few things that struck me as being unexpected.

One of them was that The Boy was very concerning to her. She had some idea his parents would hurt me somehow. She told me to send him home. When I explained I thought this would actually be damaging to him, she said wait until she and the fourth child come, and we will decide.

She had slipped into a parent mode. It felt very odd. I am not sure how to explain the depth of that strangeness. It might be only somewhat endearing, but it’s much more than that.

The other thing she talked about was a new boyfriend. She said he cares about her, but less than I do. She said no one cares about her like I do. This felt odd too. It may be I have different categories of care in my own mind, and I expect her to have the same ones when she doesn’t. But it felt strange to be a yardstick–and yet I know young people do that. The parent becomes the yardstick for measuring other people. I am not sure why it felt strange to me. One piece of it, I know, is that I have spent three years trying to convince her that I do care, and have felt all along that whatever I do, she does not really receive that sense of care.

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Day 3: Country X thoughts

In the bus with the rest of the teachers—laughing and joking with them–I began to feel I was real. It seemed like a new feeling, or maybe it just hit me more intensely.

That sense made me realize something about being in parts. I’ve always been able to be social in that way—to talk and laugh easily and without anxiety in groups of people. But if I also believe I don’t exist—if I have the sense of myself that Ghost has—then when I do that, it also seems to me that that isn’t possible. I must be someone else. So that’s the source of this part of the dissociation: these self-views are so incompatible that they can’t all be the same person. And so the most reasonable explanation possible is that I am actually several people.

Except the idea of being several people is crazy-talk. That’s one part of the amnesia: it’s the result of a deliberate denial in order to maintain some sense of sanity.

Another part of the amnesia has to do with a phenomenon similar to the hot-cold empathy gap, whereby it’s just difficult to remember what it’s like to feel or think differently than we do in the present moment. If I feel calm, it’s difficult to remember exactly what it’s like to feel angry. If I’m angry, I may not be able to imagine what I will think when I’m calm again. We learn how to function in spite of this gap by remembering what to do in those situations rather than by remembering how it felt.

However, it’s not so easy to do that with parts. Without the feelings or the self-views of one part, it’s difficult to understand the actions of that part. Again, it’s crazy-talk. If I feel I do not exist, how can I understand fitting seamlessly into an unfamiliar group? That’s very difficult. So perhaps I just didn’t.

That was my idea today anyway. Maybe I’m wrong.

The Uses of Denial

Blinkers aren't there to blind the horse. They are there to keep them from being frightened of movement that poses no threat.
Blinkers aren’t there to blind the horse. They are there to keep him from being frightened of movement that poses no real threat.

Sometime in the late spring, I became aware of a voice in my head after certain stressful moments: “That didn’t happen,” it said.

The voice wasn’t always there–not after every small disaster–but it was there for some of them. It made me think I’ve probably been doing that without hearing the voice for the whole of my life.

It was strange to see myself using denial to cope. I don’t think of myself as a denial kind of person. And yet denial has its uses.

Before a job interview, have you ever had someone tell you this kind of thing? “You’ll do wonderfully!” Before walking over a rickety bridge or jumping across a ravine in the trail, have you ever told yourself, “It’ll be fine”?

I don’t know about you, but when I get in the passenger seat of a car in one of those countries where they don’t believe in lanes or controlled intersections, I don’t look at the traffic. Denial has it’s place, to be sure.

Some of say a little prayer. Maybe God really does protect us., but I suspect it’s the belief that all will be well that helps.

“That didn’t happen,” isn’t terribly different than “all is well.”

And “all is well” keeps us calm, so that we can better face the challenge ahead of us. “That didn’t happen,” pushes away a stress in the past so that we can stay focused on the challenge ahead. It’s not a bad trick if you have several intense stresses in a row that you need to be able to handle well, calmly, rationally.

“That didn’t just happen,” is what we are saying to ourselves in that stage of grief when it’s all just too much to deal with, and we need to be able to keep getting through the day.

This is the good dissociation.
This is the good dissociation.

They say dissociation is a form of self-hypnosis. So is denial. And they have their place.

It’s wonderful to get lost in a good story, and realize it’s like coming back from another country. And it’s not such a bad thing to tell yourself, “all is well,” even when it might not be.

But you shouldn’t live in that other country. You shouldn’t tell yourself “all is well” ever day–not if it keeps you from seeing real dangers or papers over problems that need to be dealt with. Like dissociation, denial is a powerful tool for helping us keep calm.  It is best used sparingly–infrequently and in small doses.

Choices

This would drive me mad.
This would drive me mad.

I woke up this morning and instead of having only two suitable places to sit and write in my journal, I had five. Now, as it turned out, only two of those turned out to be truly suitable. But I had to sit in all five before I could settle down to business on what is more or less the first order of business for the day. (After going to the loo, and breakfast, and making a cup of tea–but maybe that’s too much information).

It was a little like being Goldlilocks. I didn’t like it.

Choices.

I am housesitting for a friend of mine–a someone with a much larger home and a garden to boot.

It made the morning rather exhausting and, as usual, it also made me think. Mostly about how hard I work to eliminate the need to choose in my life. I only prepare about five foods on a regular basis. I keep one kind of tea in the cabinet. (In flush times, I might buy as many as four at one time–but my friend, who also enjoys tea–must have twenty in hers). There is only one kind of salad dressing in the fridge at a time. Unless I am running low on the old. Then it might overlap.

I have brought routine to the level of art form.

It is not that I don’t like variety. (I don’t just keep buying the same kind of salad dressing; I do keep cycling through about six or seven favorites). But I don’t like taking the time to choose. When I open the fridge, I really don’t want to have to think about which salad dressing I’d prefer.

chocolate crossaintsI don’t like looking inside at myself and trying to assess and compare my degree of pleasure about one thing versus another. For one, it’s hard. These kinds of things-are not just sitting there at the top of my mind, ready to be plucked up and acted upon–not even what kind of salsa to buy-. And they also seem really unimportant. Kind of like a waste of time.

A total waste of time, in fact. Just pick something. And enjoy it.

That’s what one part of me says. Getting back to my pastry post, every second spent deciding between chocolate and almond croissants is a second spent not eating either one of them. There is definitely a wisdom there.

However, while it might be more practical to just get on with the pastry eating–after all, there is really no such thing as a bad pastry–how will I ever make decisions about the big things in life, if I can’t be bothered to think about where to sit?

Scrupulosity: When the Parts Bring a Suitcase

The core issue for me is trauma. The core process is integration.

Thanks for coming along on this road. I have a new dirt bike for you to try out.

As I integrate, I periodically discover new challenges. Katey had some problems with codependence. Sam* (not his real name) is transgendered. Lana has OCD.

It’s fun.

It’s not quite the same thing as all of me having the same problem. Only part of me does. It’s a part-time problem.

But as I integrate, then it’s a full-time problem. And that requires I deal with it and instead of, you know, just saying it’s not my problem. Like I have been the whole rest of my life. Because it wasn’t.

It was Katey’s problem that I kept getting my heart broken.

It was Sam’s problem I couldn’t figure out who I was.

It was Lana’s problem that I had to do everything right. All the time.

Descent to Hell. Duccio Buoninsegna.
Descent to Hell. Duccio Buoninsegna.

No, it isn’t. It’s my problem. They are all my problems. So, one by one, I have addressed them. I worked through the codependent workbooks. I explored my gender and came to terms with it. Now, it’s time to stop thinking that numbers are magic and that I need to be perfect.

You can see from my posts that I’ve been working up to this. First, comes admitting the problem. Then comes confronting the distorted thinking. And now it’s time.

It is very much time.

The OCD we’re dealing with is scrupulosity. The core fear is that I will burn in hell. Oh, and barring that, dying in a car crash, developing a terminal illness, or being struck by lightning. But basically it comes down to hell. They say it’s important to know this.

So that is step three.

The weirdness of this is that, of course, most of me does not even believe in hell. So I’m afraid of something I don’t believe in. But Lana does, and it is her problem. And Lana is me. So it is also my problem.

I know what triggered it all. When I was growing up, they told us to be careful of our thoughts, our ministers did. They may have, in fact, quoted Mahatma Gandhi without telling us they were. They did stuff like that a lot.

“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi.

They may have quoted Proverbs. They did that sometimes too.

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23.

They may have done both. And they also told us that God wanted us to keep our hearts pure, our minds pure. They told us again and again that our thoughts become reality.

And, as I told you last week, they don’t. Thoughts are just that: thoughts.

But I didn’t know that. They were in charge. They had a direct line to God. These people would know.

So I believed them. And I tried to keep my thoughts pure.

Meanwhile, I had flashbacks. I had all manner of disgusting, terrifying, violent intrusive thoughts. Because, you know, people were raping me regularly and throwing chairs. They were scaring the hell out of me. I may have been angry as well. It wouldn’t be uncommon, or difficult to understand, if I also had thoughts about these people dropping suddenly dead. You could understand if, from time to time, I did not wish them well.

So I did not have pure thoughts.

And they told us too that we should be perfect, that God demands a perfect sacrifice. That we should try to be without blemish, like Jesus. We should strive to emulate Jesus, our pattern, and be the perfect lamb of God.

I know this is crazy, but forgiveness did not come into it. They may have talked about washing away sins too. But logic was not a strong point.

They scared the hell out of me.

Too Close, Too Loud, Too There

My first year of college, I began to wake up in the nights screaming. It was hard on my roommate, being woken up like that. But then she started carving up her wrists and went home, while I started seeing a therapist. So I guess it worked out okay.

I still remember those nightmares. They were of things that looked like this:

Violin. Click image to follow link.
Violin. Click image to follow link.

Everything too close, too loud, too there.

People talk about feeling a thousand miles away when they hear of the sudden news of an accident or a death. They describe incest from the perspective of being up on the ceiling, out of their bodies. A thousand miles away.

Some of us deal with trauma by checking out. Some of us check in.

I checked in. I checked out too. But mostly I checked in. Not unnaturally far away, but unnaturally present.

What I remember about many things is being in a calm, flat, almost meditative emotional space in which I focused intently on what needed to be done, the acts that needed to be performed, the body parts involved, the reactions that needed to be elicited.

Like a sex act mattered as much as defusing a bomb. Because to me, it did.

Every trick was a test I had to pass.

Failure meant risking hypothermia, strangulation, loss of consciousness, death. It meant risking brain damage and a life-time of dependency. No wonder I never gamble. I’ve had to gamble too much.

Because I knew what I was risking. I knew perhaps a little too much.

I knew I could not stop breathing for four minutes. I’d seen the first-aid films at school. I knew I had to hope my dad’s watch kept good time. I knew I had to trust him not to let me be dead too long.

And how do you trust a psychopath?

I needed to focus. I needed to be there. I needed to make sure things went right. The consequences of failure were immense. My nightmares were about that need to focus. And the fact that whether or not I could was a matter of life or death.

I was very good at what I did.

Living in Pieces

I’ve worked hard at not letting any of the pieces show. So hard, in fact, I didn’t know they existed.

I do lose time. I don’t know how much. I’m clever with myself. I fill in the gaps with likely sounding stories. Or, I have until recently. Now, I see the gaps.

In the past I might have said I just have a bad memory. I say things and have no recall of it whatsoever. Except that I’ll know when I said it if you remind me of what it was. I’ll know what happened just before and just after. But not at that moment. The last time I clearly recall losing time, I was walking down the street and the next thing I recall, I felt as though I were facing a different direction. I had the sense of having turned a corner. I hadn’t. I was still walking in the same direction. It is very much like falling asleep and waking up again a few minutes later.

I don’t know if I’ve lost only a few minutes here and there, or if there have ever been days. It’s been important to me not to know there were parts of me that were split off, had lives and personalities of their own. It was important to continue to not see them, and to not see the severity of the abuse I grew up with or the extent of the damage I needed to overcome.

It’s amazing what we can go on not seeing when we choose.

So I don’t know degree to which I was ever dissociated. I doubt I will ever know.

I do know I am much less dissociated now. But I also know I still am.

I know because my sense of what seems to constitute my self changes over time, from day to day and from moment to moment. I have thoughts that sometimes seem to belong to me and other times feel foreign. I am integrated enough to know this, to know that my perspective and identity are not fixed and that I find myself occupying different selves at different times.

The conventional wisdom about this is that it protects us from pain. I’m not so convinced. Occupying some of these selves hurts terribly. I am not spared anything when I am in them.

It seems to me it’s much more about maintaining a coherent world view and avoiding a terrifying cognitive dissonance. I say that because these various selves I have all seem to be based on fairly tight structures of logic. More than they seem to be about avoiding pain, they seem to be ways of organizing a senseless and disordered world that operates according to several different, incompatible sets of rules. Having parts appears mainly to be about trying to find pattern and order. In a sense, they are a kind of filing system, with the shells of personality and backstory laid over them.

One of these sets of rules is one in which the strong hurt the weak. Here, emotions are a liability. They cause us to lose control of ourselves, to act impulsively, and to reveal our vulnerabilities. Emotions make us weak.

It is better to be tough, to feel as little as possible, and to focus on planning, action, and goals.

Those are, essentially, the rules of the home I grew up in. They are untenable. You can’t live any kind of decent life by those rules. It’s unbearably lonely. It leaves you without empathy or the ability to connect to anyone–especially not yourself. And it forces you to relentlessly numb your own pain.

You need another part to manage the pain.

Healing for me doesn’t just mean feeling the pain that I have suppressed for so long. It means feeling it in the part that did the suppressing.

My head hurts from it. My heart hurts.