Natalya

It seems to me I must be remembering the first time it happened that way with Natalya. There is no sense of it being “first” in my mind, but the quality of shock is so great, I can’t otherwise account for it.

It happened later too. That act became routine. But there isn’t the same quality of shock about those memories.

I think I did not even quite realize what she was doing was possible, or that a 13 or 14-year-old girl could hurt me in exactly the same way as a grown man. I think I did not realize it would be horrifying for someone to have to do that. It didn’t seem to horrify anyone else.

It is as if Natalya was the first actual human being I met within that world, and I was startled that she had a normal human reaction to the stark inhumanity of that world. Everyone else had found a way to not feel. Or they were deficient to begin with.

In that first time, she was only horrified, but later she found ways to help me. She found ways to still be there with me so that I did not feel so afraid, and I am in awe of this. This might seem like an obvious thing to do—if you have to hurt someone, at least try to hold their hand through it in whatever way you can. But that’s not easy. It is, in fact, an incredibly difficult to do.

I think I couldn’t.

She had so much strength, such a tremendous capacity for love.

When I was 9, I did not understand that hurting me hurt her. I did not understand she was also suffering, or that she felt more powerless than I did doing what she did. I did not understand she was as confused by her own overwhelming, intense feelings as I was by mine, that she felt horrified and ashamed and probably disgusted, guilty and powerless. But I understand now.

Later she managed all of those feelings in some way that allowed her to still think about my feelings. She managed to be a constant, gentle presence in spite of that. She managed to plan ahead. She managed to consider how to make it hurt less. I don’t know she managed.

I don’t know how anyone can love so much.

I can only be in awe.

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Other Natalyas

When I was young, there were two people I was ever certain really loved me (possibly three): Lala and Natalya (and probably Loocey). Lala and Loocey I lost very early in life, and there was never anyone else like them.

So when Natalya was murdered, I felt not just that I was losing a person, but the only love that existed. I lost the only person who could ever be trusted or that was reliably good.

When we are young, our views are constricted. We know only what we have seen and experienced, and we have not seen or experienced very much yet. When we fall in love and lose that love, we don’t know that other loves will exist in the future, or what happens after your heart is broken—that it heals. I had had so few people in my life whom I could trust that I did not know there would ever be anyone else in the future for me. Because of that, the sense of loss I felt was not just for the loss of her as a person, but for love itself.

I have found I have to relive these things. It is not enough to say what I said to you just now, that I felt I was losing love itself, and then to say, “but I know better now.” In fact, I don’t know what it was like at all for me until I feel it again. I can’t really say what I thought or how things seemed to me then. I have to feel them in order to know them.

The person I am now—not the whole of me, but the part who makes decisions, who gets through the day, who is trying to organize all this—was formed out of a history in which only some of my life happened. She has a view of the world where Natalya never existed, where she wasn’t trafficked for sex, where her father didn’t torture her. She only went to school, played with her friends, did normal things. And mostly she didn’t feel anything. She was numb and flat and withdrawn. So she knows only what that life is like, and she makes decisions based on a world that is predictable, but pallid.

At the same time, memory works in such a way that she is constantly reminded of the things that didn’t happen. She is constantly prompted to feel emotions about them. So she is frightened at reminders of events that never occurred and responds with automatic behaviours to events that are similar to those she denies.

I wish sometimes that I understood exactly what had happened in my body and brain at the time of the trauma that led to splitting into parts. What was it really like for me then?

So this is some speculation about it.

On the one hand, I think there is always a degree of numbing going on. We think of this as psychic—we are numbing our feelings during trauma—but our feelings are physical things. They are sensations, and we numb them along with physical pain. We may not be able to suppress them entirely, but we can anaesthetize them. This means we can know that we have a certain emotion—fear or shame or sorrow perhaps—but there’s something strange about it, something ambiguous, because the feeling seems very faint. Or we feel only parts of it—the rapid breathing of fear, but not the knot in the stomach. Because of that, maybe we ascribe this feeling that isn’t entirely felt to something on the other side of a wall. It feels on the other side of a wall. Maybe it is on the other side of the wall.

Then also, we flatly deny what is happening or we deny how we feel about it, in order to maintain some kind of calm. No, I am not watching my best friend’s murder. No, I’m not screaming. But I see it happening. I hear myself screaming. That must be someone else. Self-construction occurs out-of-awareness. It keeps going on even when we give it confusing information—like that we aren’t doing what we are doing. We aren’t seeing what we are seeing.

I didn’t experience my life in a full way and dissociate it later. I experienced it in a dissociated way all along. What I experience now when I relive things is only partly the way I experienced it in the past. It is what the person I was then and the person I am now would experience together if I were to be in that situation in the present. I am giving it the same information—in some cases, sensory memories but very often the physiological process in my body that created a subjective sense of emotion. It’s like I am hitting “Play” on a physical reaction in my body that I recorded at the time, and now I am watching it again to try to put that memory into context, but this time I am not hitting the “numb” button at the same time. When Natalya died, I did not in fact feel the intensity of the loss that I am feeling now. In that sense, I am not reliving it. I felt loss and I numbed it. Now I am feeling it and not numbing it. And it’s that process—of feeling and not numbing—that is allowing me to integrate and to heal.

I am focused on the element of integration—because I am most motivated to put my personality back together. Seeing and feeling the same memories without denying any of it does allow me to create a different, more complete view of the world, and it also gives me a more complete view of myself. There is an important cognitive piece that is happening.

But it also means I am responding to the trauma differently as I am reminded of it in the present. I am not hitting the “numb” button when the “play” button gets pressed—and for me almost every emotion hits the “play” button, because the trauma involved needing to not feel or even really be. I haven’t gotten to the point where reliving events gets easier or I am reminded of them less. I presume in the end this does happen, and that it happens because there is a more robust web of connections between the event and other events, other possible responses, rather than getting shut down. So then the bullet of the flashback gets lost in a way. You are reminded, and then get distracted by the other things you are reminded of. Meandering becomes possible. I don’t know. The only thing that has really gotten easier is Halloween, which used to fill me with intense anxiety and terror for months in advance. I am not feeling that way this year. I am instead despairing.

Not numbing seems to do more than just lead to integration. It seems to reduce the intensity of the memories, but I don’t know why that is.

However, none of this was really intended to be the point of this post. The point was supposed to be that for me, losing Natalya, meant losing all possibility of love in my life. Now, I am starting to see that there might be other Natalyas in my future. There might be others who love me and that I can trust.

What God Wants*

godI have some issues with some fairly mainline Christian ideas about God and what God wants. I mean, at least I think they’re mainline. I didn’t grow up in that environment, so I could be getting muddled here. If I am, I hope someone will set me straight on this.

Specifically, it’s the idea that we’re here to serve God.

I mean, what exactly does God need? Waffles? Do they not have waffles in heaven? Do the angels not give good service? Is that it?

I can’t get my head around it. God needing to be served. Doesn’t add up.

Or is the idea that he just needs his ego stroked? He needs some narcissistic supply. Oh, God, you’re so great, you’re so all-powerful. You’re the bomb. Does God really need to be told that? Is He that insecure?

I’m not buying that one either.

Now, serving each other. I can see that. We’re a mess. We’re ruining the planet. We keep killing each other off in a variety of ways. We get sick, we die and leave heartbroken loved ones behind. Us. We need all the help we can get.

And I can see a compassionate God saying, “Serve each other. Help each other. For my sake, get out there and do something. The gorillas ain’t gonna do it for you.”

I’m not a Christian. I haven’t been one in more than twenty years. But that bit in John still seems like a good idea to me.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35.

That’s a good commandment. That’s better than all of the other ten.

* I do hope this post doesn’t offend my Christian friends and readers. It is written in rather a light tone, but I am quite serious about the point. And I do respect the beliefs of others even if they are different from mine.

Looking for Love

To expand on a previous post, A Question of Rights, those years I spent trying to build a relationship that refused to be built involved a lot of time seeing couples therapists. I spent years trying to learn the power of “I” statements for 50 minutes a week.

images (8)The bad news, folks, is “I” statements have no power in a relationship with someone for whom only one “I” is allowed. No amount of communication will help in connecting to someone who has very little inside to connect to and who is adamantly opposed to connecting with you. But that was a longer-term lesson.

In the shorter term, what I got out of it was that looking for love and warmth and compassion are weaknesses of sorts, a kind of character flaw. It is something that inclines you toward an abandonment of the self and opens you up to exploitation. It is the first step in a slippery slide toward codependency. Or so I thought.

Granted, some of that view is in a way my own fault.

One of the peculiarities of being raised by a psychopath is “normal”  (or average, really) is extremely hard to get a handle on. I didn’t know that everyone wants to be loved. I wasn’t really aware that I did.

At the same time, psychopaths do see attachment as a vulnerability–a ridiculous flaw in average people that makes them easy to manipulate and ultimately harm. So I lived with that idea every day of my life until I left for college shortly after I turned 18. That idea was formative for me.

And we all know by now (or at least I think we do) how we remember our hits better than our misses.  I believe Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in one of his books, but I don’t think he said it first. I think there is even a particular term for that propensity of the human mind to engage in this cognitive error, but I can’t recall what it is either. At any rate, I was raised to think that way, and I went on thinking it for a long time, seeing evidence to support it when there was some and not really noticing when there wasn’t.

babies,children,kitty,see,cute,kids,love-a829d6ef09b335e2061e4a3a9c42a75c_h_largeBut we do all want to be loved. We all want to be appreciated, to be seen, to be supported and to feel connected to others. We want friends and we want family. We want safe people to be around, fun people, loving people. It isn’t, unlike the way the song goes, the luckiest people in the world who need people, but almost everyone.

And that gets me to the real point of all this, which is that we are entitled to want that. Needing others, wanting others, that is a part of our heritage as members of the human species. We are entitled to go after it, to look for it, to ache when we lose it, and to feel we will break apart when it dies.

That doesn’t mean we will always have it.

Let me explain more what I mean. We are entitled to want, to strive, to hope and to choose a life that has love–and other good things–in it. We won’t get it all the time. Not all of our efforts will work out. But we are entitled to our looking and to our dreams.

And we’re a lot more likely to find what we want if we look for it.

More on Love: To the Keegans

braydon-gold-medal-teddy-bear-319621I think that was their name: Keegan.  Bruce and Sally Keegan.  Now, it might have been Kingston or Carrigan.  Or I might be wrong altogether.  But I do think I’m at least close.

I was about a year and a half when I was placed in their care for a space of time I can only guess at: not less than a month, not more than a year.  I came to them physically and mentally torn apart.  There were stitches in my vagina to keep it together, but my mind wasn’t so easily healed.

I remember specifically living in a silent world, because I would not talk.

But they loved me.

And I’ll tell you what love to a one and a half year-old looks like.

Bruce had a beard and it tickled if he nuzzled you with it.  I remember that.

I remember being read stories and I remember being hugged and I remember playing under the table with the dog while Sally made dinner.  And no one threw anything or yelled and it wasn’t scary to be there.

I also remember when I was taken away again, holding my teddy bear and a paper bag full of clothes.  It was Sally, I think, who said she would always love me.

Thank you.  I believed you, and I still do.