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 She was numb and flat and withdrawn.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.