I wrote for 80 minutes this morning. I got through 70 minutes of cleaning house. Since I’ve been exhausted, sleep-deprived, and just plain not home all week, 70 minutes didn’t get me very far: unloading and loading the dishwasher, most of the laundry, putting accumulated crap away. That kind of thing.
So I’m looking at a home that still looks filthy to me–a layer of dust on the furniture, grime on the counters, and cat litter on the floor. (How does it end up absolutely everywhere? But I guess that’s what happens when your cat has kidney failure and uses the box 4-5 times per day…)
At least I have clean dishes to eat off of, and clean clothes to wear come Monday. Meanwhile, to catch you up (if you haven’t been following up), I endured two and half hours of the activities that still distress me more than anything.
They are easier now, but not effortless. Especially the cleaning. That is still hard.
But with distress, I find, comes some interesting thoughts. Thoughts that are worth looking at, worth turning over and over in my mind until I feel I understand them at some deep, real level. Whatever that is. But I know it when I see it.
Cleaning house reminds me of feeling worthless. No big surprise, since I was my mother’s domestic servant. And because she periodically threw things at my head while I did it. Or, because I wasn’t doing it. Or because I was enjoying it. Or because I wasn’t enjoying it. Or because I was doing the wrong part of it. You get the idea.
But what surprised me was a sense of not wanting to let that sense of worthlessness go. It’s not that I want to feel worthless. I don’t, in fact, believe I am worthless. But I didn’t want to leave the memory of it behind.
And you might speculate that there is something about my victimization that’s important to me. You might be right.
But let me explain it to you from my perspective. In a sense, I grew up in exile from the human race. I grew up in the midst of heartlessness, cruelty, injustice, distortion, and lies. I suffered terribly, and I witnessed the intense suffering of others. I was sometimes forced to cause their suffering. It’s no way for a child to grow up. But it’s how I did.
If you’re new here, you might think I’m talking about a garden-variety dysfunctional family. But I don’t mean that. I mean something a great deal more sinister. If you’re not sure what I mean, poke around for a while. You’ll see.
I don’t feel ashamed of how I grew up. Nothing that happened in that country of mad and monstrous people was my fault or within my control. I did not choose to be there. I had very few choices at all.
Nor am I proud of it. There is nothing good about that kind of inhumanity and horror. Not a single thing
But it is where I was.
And I am proud of the person I was there. I am proud of the child I was–who heard daily that I was worthless and did not care. I am proud that I persisted anyway, that I was determined to live in spite of what anyone else thought about me, and even in spite of what I thought of myself. I do not want to let the memory of that child go no matter how much pain it reminds me of.
Not long ago, I was reading a therapists’ view on why remembering traumatic events is not terribly important and it made me think, instead, of how terribly important remembering is.
Trauma often–perhaps always–reveals deep truths about us as well as about other people, the world, and life itself.
The unthinkable catches us at our most human and vulnerable–when we are frightened, weak, and alone. Trauma can also force us to be braver than we ever thought we could be, to have more determination or integrity than we ever wanted to have, and to be heroes even if we would rather not be. Sometimes it reveals our flaws as well, for example when we are willing to turn our pain onto someone else, when we lose all dignity in the face of our pain or terror. When we would sell our souls and ourselves to the devil just to live. But that is only human too. That reveals how fragile we are as human beings, and how much we need each other for protection and support, and how lost we are without that.
Trauma inflicted by other human beings also shows people at their worst. Some of us are cruel, uncaring, calculated, violent, horrifying. Some of us are monsters hiding within the flesh of human beings. There will always be such people. There always have been. It is why we have psychology now, and why we invented the devil before.
And sometimes trauma shows people at their best.
When I was removed from my home at a year or two, and strangers took me in, cared for me, loved me back into speaking, that was humanity at its best. When the Twin Towers collapsed, and rescuers rushed in despite the risk to themselves, that was also us at our best.
Many times, when we are traumatized, no one is there. No one can help us. But sometimes, there is someone who does. There is someone who cleans our wounds, or hugs us when we cry. Sometimes, that person only comes along years later. But when someone sits with us in our pain, that is humanity at its best.. And that is important to remember as well.
Trauma proves how unpredictable life is, how even with our best laid plans for the future, we can lose everything in an instant. It points out our smallness, and the vastness of the universe. Even with our habit of seeing patterns, trauma proves the pattern doesn’t always fit. And that’s true too.
Being human is a complicated thing and so is this business of being alive. We are not only heroes. We are never merely cowards. Many times, we are both. I was human too. I was both terrified and brave. I felt both worthless and determined. I am not ashamed of any of that. I am not ashamed of where I’ve been.Even if it hurt to be there, and even if it hurt to be myself in that place. I am still proud of the person who was there.
I am still proud of myself.
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