I am leaving here in eight days. By the time I post this, it will be seven. So, while all of you may have thought of December 31st as the end of an old chapter and January 1st as the beginning of a new one, this is the end of the old chapter for me and the start of a new one will come very soon.
Mostly, our beginnings and endings don’t mean very much. You watch the ball drop or whatever it is you do to mark the exact moment of the ending of the year and find that the new year is more or less like the old one. But this one will not be like that for me. It will be dramatically different—both in ways I know ahead of time and in ways that I don’t.
I have free time right now. After the 19th of this month, I will not. That’s the most obvious of the changes. As it happens, I’ve also been living in a country not my own in a home down the street from my girlfriend. Those will be major changes as well. Nonetheless, what is really on my mind right now is the time I have had and what it has meant to me.
When the school year ended, I thought, “Now is the time to rework that novel that’s been on a back burner for so long.” And, “Perhaps now is the time to research a book on one of the several topics that interests me.” I might have had some other ideas about how to use that time also. Then I realized it wasn’t the time for any of those things. It was time to figure out how to be me for a while longer. I’m grateful I could do that.
However, I’ve been wondering today what that time got me. Did it help?
I suppose it did. It may have helped a lot. That will become more apparent, when I have responsibilities beyond following Uncle #2’s discursive conversations and walking the dog twice a day. On the other hand, I know that in the seven months I took off from employed life, I did not become a healed, whole person without any problems.
To some degree, I am still dissociated. I continue to have trauma symptoms of various kinds. Nothing was magically fixed. I am in something of an in-between state—not where I was, not where I had hoped to be.
So what is this place? It’s a place, I think, where I have wounds but I know what they are and why they are there.
Most of us use a variety of coping strategies to manage our lives. The more difficult your problems are to deal with, the more strategies you need to have. One of mine has been to be action-oriented and solution-focused. Like all strategies, it has a downside. The downside has been that I sometimes saw where I wanted to be more clearly than I saw where I was. (Of course, that is also the upside and the reason for doing it. We all need to motivate ourselves somehow.)
In other words, I sometimes saw my future self more clearly than my present self. My present self is still wounded. My present self is in pain.
My present self remains as evidence of the ways in which I have been harmed. Not seeing that with completely clarity has unfortunately also prevented me from seeing the full extent of that harm. I see it now.
Because of that, I am also seeing the whole matter somewhat differently. I am an ordinary person who was tortured for many years. The symptoms that trouble me now are not defects in my character or flaws in my personality. They are the effects of torture.
Torture wounds the mind more than the body. That is the primary intention of torture—to wound the mind. It also wounds the body, but the effect on the mind is greater. I hurt because wounds hurt; in the same way that a broken bone hurts, my mind hurts. The hurt is not something I “need to let go of” or somehow reach a kind of mastery over. It is not something I need to stop feeling. It is simply there, as a symptom of a problem that may or may not get better from here.
We all want to be the people we might have been had nothing horrific ever happened to us. That is not always what happens. The effects of torture are only sometimes temporary. Other times they are permanent. Irreversible damage to nerves, joints, or reproductive organs is not uncommon. It’s not clear whether the psychological effects are sometimes irreversible as well.
The point isn’t to become that person I might have been. It isn’t to become like I imagine everyone else is—whole and unharmed. The point is to figure out how to live.
That is what next year is for.