States

I have an idea about what being in parts is actually about.

Crittenden’s attachment theory talks about two basic states, which lie on a continuum. She discusses them as strategies, but a mental state underlies them. In a “preoccupied” state, people use expressions of emotions to get their needs met by other people. What is lost in that state is sequence and cause-and-effect, so that people who use preoccupied strategies can be observed to retrace the same experiences in a kind of loop without seeming to achieve any resolution. They are highly expresssive and talk in a very emotional way (“his eyes were popping out,” rather than “he was very angry.”) It comes across as dramatic, but repetitive.

The other state distances the self from sources of danger in order to cope, rather than attracting attention to oneself to gain support in coping. So dangers are minimized or denied. People in this state tend to lack detail in their stories.

One example she gives is that someone who had been assaulted as a child at night by someone in a red jacket would remember this in a different way depending on their dominant style. A preoccupied person would remember the red jacket–an unimportant detail. A dismissive person may not remember the event at all, or might know it happened but not remember how frightening it was.

I have noticed these states in the people around me. Preoccupied states are very expressive of the self, but not necessarily aware of it. People in these states seem to operate under the assumption that if they emote more forcefully–but not necessarily more clearly or specifically–they will get the cooperation they want. It can come across as being very self-absorbed. It tends not to be a state in which one can maintain an awareness of other people, and it doesn’t allow for thoughtful reflection.

Dismissive states can lose focus on one’s own experiences or inner states, but are aware of others and aware of social mores.

So that’s the background. I think someone in parts uses dismissive strategies most of the time. The learning over childhood is that one’s internal experiences are bad are wrong–likely because a parent lacked empathy or mentalization skills and couldn’t understand the child’s felt states, why the child had them, or what was causing them.

Periodically, one’s dismissive strategies are overwhelmed by intense emotional responses, usually to reminders of trauma. The other state of being very expressive of the self takes over, but then cause-and-effect get lost.

What this means is that the reasons behind the emotion are lost. So in this state I may not know I feel overwhelmed by shame, because someone has, for example, criticized me. I only know I feel like I am “bad.” Because of that, it then seems that this state is only about me, not about a transitory experience happening to me.

These times when one’s dismissive strategies are overwhelmed by the nearness of danger feel both ego-dystonic, because they aren’t one’s usual self, but also as though they are intrusions of authenticity. They feel both like “not-me” and like secret “mes” which are shamefully overwrought, impulsive, and self-absorbed. Because the emotions of being in a preoccupied state are felt more intensely than the numbness of being dismissive, it can feel that these experiences of being in very negative emotional states are what you might discover to be your “true self.” Which can seem pretty dreadful.

In the end, what I have felt over my lifetime is both a sense that my self and my life are fragmented and that I may, in the end, discover I may be concealing from myself an authentic self which is fairly dreadful.

Actually, these experiences of being overwhelmed by emotion are not more real than myself in a dismissive state. Both of them are unbalanced mental states, caused by the perceived nearness of danger. They are, in a sense, illusions.

I think integration involves actually knowing how to be safe. I think it’s common for people from abusive backgrounds to learn coping strategies which actually make the people around them less safe: I see The Boy humiliating The Girl (did I mention I have two children living with me? I may have…) in situations when he feels hurt or sad or ashamed.

There are other reasons, too, which can lead to a life that is actually not safe. Difficulties in being able to mentalize make other people seem unpredictable even when they are, but not knowing how to respond effectively also leads to less predictable or stable interactions.

My thought is just that until life is safe, it’s very difficult to achieve a balanced state of mind which makes a more coherent experience of the self possible.

Advertisements

The Crying

I often have a feeling of sobbing inside. It happens especially at night, mostly to do with sleep. I have been thinking for a long time the night-time feeling of pain inside was about wanting to sleep, that the feeling was about wanting something I felt I wasn’t allowed to have.

I had it this evening–I’m sleepy. I felt it probably has to do with the same thing. I want to sleep and I can’t.

It crossed my mind just now this sensation of wanting to cry and really quite heart-wrenching inner pain has to do with situations which would have led to abuse in the past, when crying seemed the best response to it.

These insights shock me. It means things like I was not allowed to sleep. Either I couldn’t get the help calming my nervous system that I needed as a baby in order to move into sleep, or being trafficked meant late nights and little sleep.

This happens to me regularly when things click in for me. I wore clean clothes to school. I got regular baths. I think mostly I ate three meals a day. But I was so profoundly neglected in so many ways. I don’t know how to articulate how sad I feel about this now. Such basic things: I couldn’t sleep. I feel now, as an adult, in a conditioned way that begging might work as a strategy in order to be allowed to sleep. So basic.

Moving the boulders again

I can’t move the boulders because it involves too much weeping. Earlier, I was in the staffroom. Everyone was there filling out forms. I can’t move the boulders without crying in front of them.

I can’t move the boulders because the sense of helplessness I have about Natalya’s death is too great. It is too great not to cry over.

We cry when we want help, and I wanted help when Natalya died. I wanted to help her. I wanted help to come from someone her. I wanted her to be saved.

I want someone to give her life again. I want to give her my own life. I want her to have life in any way I can get it to her.

She was so alive when she lived. She ought to have gone on living.

I didn’t need to live. I was already half dead anyway.

You can’t do tradesies with life like that. She, who knew how to live so well, died. And I, I lived. It’s hard not to see life as a duty now because of that. I lived. I had better learn how. I had better learn to live as well as she did. I had better learn how to love the way she loved.

But duty feels now like another kind of prison to live in. Duty feels like another way to remain dead. Duty feels like a rejection of life as the gift it is. It seems like a way not to give it either, and a way to ration it out rather than share.

Duty seems like a way of never saying thank you.

Touch

I wake up cold. It’s a cold night and I didn’t wear a jacket to bed. I do usually only because in the second before turning in for the night, it doesn’t seem all that necessary to take it off. Then while I am sleeping, I sweat from it. But if I arrange the blankets just right, I feel a little warmer again.

I have woken up before the alarm, and although it is time to get up—the alarm is not that accurate, and it ought to be ringing—I lie there trying to get warm, remembering other kisses.

Remembering Natalya’s casual kiss on the neck, Natalya’s hand on my back or my shoulder

The memories are so vivid, when I get up at last, I am confused.

For many reasons. But perhaps it is mainly because the impulse to try to forget remains in me. The impulse to deny, to say this never happened—because in reality, all of it is so unlikely—is still so strong.

But integration is never about shutting one part up. It is never about saying to myself It did happen and silencing the voice that makes me feel compelled to forget. It is about staying with the sensation of being kissed while also feeling the urge to forget I was. It is about standing the confusion of trying to do this until something magical happens and everything gets put in its proper place.

Which always does happen in the end.

For now, though, I am confused. I am confused at Natalya’s love. I am confused that anyone can love, or that love has a feeling to it. I am confused that it’s possible to feel what I felt—safe, warm, connected, content.

I lived in a cold world. It’s not just that it was violent, but that the coldness—the lack of care or connection—made violence possible. And it’s not that there was no affection in my house. There was. But there was no love in that affection, or if there was, I could not feel it. I was too afraid.

My mother also cuddled me and kissed me, but it was not the same. And not because Natalya was my lover in the memories I am having, or because it is a different kind of love, but because my mother did not love me.

She used me as others used me. Not to the same ends, but still an end. She used me to feel like a good mother, she used me to provide herself with warmth, she used me for purposes I would not have understood as a child.

And so with my mother, it was like being with Yuri. I complied. I tolerated. I endured.

As I remember this, I am struck repeatedly with disbelief. I am struck repeatedly by the truth of how I remember things.

I was loved only outside my family. I could take in love only outside my family. If nothing else, everyone within my family was too dangerous. I did not know where touch might lead, and I had no choices about it. No one was interested in how anything felt to me. No one took that into account. I could only brace myself for the onslaught of terrible feelings that might erupt within me at any moment: I could only try to steel myself against a physical or sexual assault.

When life is like that, touch never feels good. It is never safe. There is no possibility of warmth and you can never relax into anything.

But when life is not like that, there is.

In the night

I woke up in the night. I slept early and then woke when other people start going to bed. I woke up for the usual reasons—I was thirsty, I had to pee. Then I realized I was overwhelmed with some feeling I couldn’t name and couldn’t do anything about. Something like confusion.

As I woke up a little, it started to sort itself. I could organize it again some, and I slept.

But in the morning, it’s a mess again. I know what it seems to be about. It’s just the too-muchness of it that’s disorganizing.

It has to do with consent.

I should perhaps say that yesterday was a difficult day. Things kept coming out of boxes. I couldn’t keep them shut. I couldn’t get anything done. I couldn’t feel better about anything.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that one minute after I unbuttoned Natalya’s shirt.

It was unnerving.

I think this particular box is more unnerving because I work at a school, and although I don’t really need to teach these days, there are children running around asking me questions and the girls in my class are around the age of what I am remembering and there is a sense of not the time and place for this thought. As well as not being able to get my head around the idea that such little, little girls can do what I did and feel what I felt and frankly I don’t know if I want to get my head around that. Because the fact is maybe they can’t. I don’t know.

One of the downsides of growing up is we forget what it was like to be young. The longer I teach, the more I am convinced of this. We do not accurately understand our students because we cannot accurately remember being that age ourselves. Everything we remember gets patinaed over with our current, adult perspective and we don’t quite know why they do what they do or how they feel.

But my memories are not processed at all. They are raw and fresh, as if they happened yesterday.

So.

That is not really the point.

The point is I was trying to check notebooks and I could not get Natalya’s half-naked body out of my head. Mostly I could not get the feeling of it out of my head. And this morning is the follow-up of that.

Because a part of what emerges out of my adolescent confusion regarding what was happening then is that what we did involved consent. Not a single instance of consent, but constant consent.

Natalya kissed my neck and then she waited. What would I do? What would I feel? I felt desire. She sat on my lap and looked into my eyes. What she saw there made her kiss me. What would I do? I kissed her back.

I’m trying to break it down, to describe it in a mechanical way, but it wasn’t mechanical. It wasn’t conscious either. It was automatic, assumed, seamless.

We paid attention. Is this comfortable? Do you feel safe? Is this what you want? She paid attention to me, not just to see if I responded, but to see if she still had my permission to do what she did, and the permission came not in words, but in my expression. She saw it looking into my eyes. She felt it in the tension or relaxation of my body.

I had been violated my whole life. No one cared how I felt about what was done to me or what I was expected to do so long as I kept it together enough to comply. That kind of consent—that kind of care—breaks my head.

It seems impossible.

It shouldn’t surprise me, because for years she had been watching me in that way to help me feel less afraid when we had to perform. This was an extension of that. But in the end, what we did in front of the cameras we did not really have a choice about. There were some choices: Will we do this first or that first? Can we slow things down a little? Can we hold hands while we do this so we don’t feel so alone? Can we do this in such a way that we can still keep eye contact?

Those were the kinds of choices we had.

It is not the same as consent.

It does not seem possible that anyone can care. I think it did not seem possible to me then.

And if she can care so much, why doesn’t everyone? Why doesn’t anyone?

Pierced ears and a subscription to Vogue

A friend asks in a comment what Katya needs. I tell her pierced ears and a subscription to Vogue. I’m not joking. I think Katya really wants these things. I was thinking about the ear piercing thing yesterday—it was one of those things that just popped into my head. I want pierced ears. I want earrings.

Ok. When you get to a country where you won’t get Hepatitis B doing that, you can have them.

The Vogue thing crossed my mind just this afternoon, as I was looking at some fashion-y-looking shots of Julia Savicheva that someone has put together into a video. It crossed my mind that I liked looking at them. That I’d like to see more of that kind of thing.

I don’t know that I really need that, but it’s a thought I can’t ever remember having before.

Katya’s femininity scares me.

And I have to remind myself this isn’t a role in a play. This is not something I have to step into and can never leave. I am not destined to be a cardboard cutout of a woman. This is about looking at what is authentically felt.

Earrings don’t mean I will automatically start wearing high heels. And I can go on feeling vaguely wistful that I didn’t ever seriously consider being a research scientist of any stripe.

It’s not a cardboard box I have to climb into and then tape shut and never move outside of. It’s maybe just a different way of seeing myself.

It’s maybe the tiniest bit of real-life change and a significant internal change.

It’s maybe just saying Katya is me.