Who TF Do I Think I Am?

I never write the title first. Not only did i just do that, but the title is ridiculous. It’s patently ridiculous. I mean, how could i, a person who has clearly saved her own life and achieved some smidgen of normalcy by dedicating herself to the pursuit of self-knowledge as the means to accomplish these things,
<insert gasp for breath here>
not know who i am?

The title is based on a familiar idiom that conveys contempt towards someone displaying pride. I mostly mean that, and i’m obviously aiming my contempt squarely at myself, but also… Who TF am i?

So, yeah, the good times are still rolling over here at Santa Mania, population: ME. Me in all my iterations, both figurative and even more figurative.
<insert deep and angsty sigh here>

I knew taking on the mantle, officially, of “writer,” would have fallout. Further, i knew i was taking it on while manic, making it delicate at the least, and perhaps dangerous, too. It’s definitely proven a minefield. There have been some close calls. I’ve tripped a couple of wires, but so far, i’ve managed to get out, unscathed.

I’m really, really struggling, though.
There are so many writers out there, so many GREAT freaking writers…
Who TF do i think i am entering this field? It’s huge and so many don’t even get published anymore. Some are self-published but never find even a small house to take on their work. Some find a house, some even find a major house, but STILL languish in obscurity. The chances of my writing finding a wide and loyal audience is almost zero.

This is where all the bells chime in, and this is where i’m gonna sound petulant and pissy.
Write because you want to write.
Write because you love to write.
Write because you have to write.
Write for yourself.

Listen Belle, darlin’, i’ve been living this provincial life and it has been a fine one. But then you sang so prettily and flounced about town on such impossibly tiny feet… And i went and hoped about things. You trilled and batted your eyes and the birdies flew around you and it sounded like beauty and truth and joy and HOPE, damn you. DAMN YOU, sweet girl.
And double dumbass on you, too.

Writing is going quite well, actually. As far as production goes, anyway. I can easily sit at my laptop and bash away for a few hours most days. Even when mental illness required i stop everything and step back, the last few days back in the game, have found me merely punching up and editing 3 or 4 2500-3500 word pieces that have already been submitted for publication. It’s not the writing that’s the problem, it’s the requirements of being a writer in my current venue of choice that’s proving a problem. And quite honestly, it’s not the place i’ve chosen to hone my craft and pursue it as a career that’s the real problem (although i find a lot about it to be problematic). Of course it’s me. The problem is me and the way my brain works, and the growth that yet lies in front of me.

More proving grounds with more growing up to do.
<insert massive ugh plus eyeroll here>

I’ve been absolutely, completely, and utterly overwhelmed by all the writers. Many are shouting about how well they’re doing on the format, or not. The ones who say they’re not, tend to blame the format. I think there’s probably others who aren’t doing well that don’t blame the format, but maybe because of that, they aren’t writing about it – they’re just writing? And then when someone basically writes an ALL CAPS piece about how poorly run or unfair the format is, there’s a brawl in the comments section over whether the author is takin’ us to church (preach!), or acting like a poopyheaded crybaby (waaaah!).

Listen, i haven’t spent 30yrs trying to overcome 12yrs of bullying only to step back into bloody junior high.
Like, no fucking way, okay?

Yet when i think back on other group situations i’ve been in, like work, church, volunteering, self-improvement groups and courses, and artistic endeavours, many of them functioned like we were still in school. Most of them, actually. Some were more like elementary. One or 2 – kindergarten.*

So… What do i do, pick up my Legos and go home? I think i’m likely to find the same sorts of dynamics at work anywhere i go.

Can you see that i’m writing myself into a corner here?
I just fucking saw it.
My brain is one tricksy Hobbitses.

I’m going to have to face the kind of bullshit that beat me down and broke me when i was in school.
I’m going to have to find a way to work with the dynamics to get what i want.
The obnoxious cliques
the overbearing hierarchies
the tribalistic othering
the frightening bullying.

The us-and-them, zero-sum game type crap.
The infuriating preaching, the cruel browbeating and the pungent stench of the chest thumper.

I can do what i did in order to deal with my past and learn to handle mental illness, i.e. i can go to ground and ignore it all. I might need to do that in order to maintain my equilibrium. But i could try

Not everyone in school was a stinkybutt hosebeast.
Seriously, lots of kids were really nice.
Mostly weak, because they stood there and watched while i was slowly pecked to death by ducks.**
But it’s okay, we were children and we were all just trying to make it out of our school years alive, and as intact as we could manage.
At least they didn’t actively participate.
I still vividly remember the names and the faces of the few who stood up for me.

Today i spent 3hrs walking through a little town i lived in for 5yrs. They were some of the least terrible of my school career. As i was taking pictures –it’s been 40yrs and not much has changed– i found myself wondering, Was it really that bad?

YES. Yes it freaking was.
I was being chewed up and spit out every night at home, and at school the next day, vicious little creatures tossed salt on my wounds.
Yes it was.
BUT…

There was a girl who regularly brought me to her house for lunch.
There was a boy who asked me to dance at our junior high “prom.” One day after school, he told all the boys who were heckling me outside while i was trying to walk home, that if they didn’t stop he was going to beat the heck out of them.
I had a friend i could hang out with after school, and another whose dad took us to the next town every Saturday for the $1 matinee.
There was the principal who rescued me from having to wear a dress every day:
“Ma’am, all the girls wear pants now, and they’re teasing your daughter.”
The teachers who fought hard for me to be skipped a grade. (Mom said NO WAY.)
There was the teacher who told me privately that she would have given me the lead in the school play, but had to give someone else a chance after me taking it the last 2yrs running.
The swim coach who told me, “You can’t go fast for anything, but you never give up and you cheer the loudest for everyone. I’m putting you in distance.”

I’m strolling down memory lane here, but hey, i’m sitting here in the van while my husband puts in baseboards at a house in this little town – everything is fresh from the oven right now.

My brain is clicking away with everything i’ve seen today. My heart is awash in a sea of old emotions. I know the people that live here in my brain with me will have a lot to say over the next while. The grand thing is that they aren’t pushing to take control. It’s been easy for me to finish this piece that i started yesterday. I’m in charge and that’s amazing, considering some of the awful stuff that came up as i wandered around the cracked sidewalks and crumbling buildings.

I have so many new stories i want to tell now, and they aren’t even all bad. In fact, i’d say most of them are just childhood snapshots: a thing that happened, a moment in time, a touch of sunshine, a taste of rain…

I’ve already returned to the platform, written pieces and had them published. I’d already intended to stay and keep pushing forward. But today gave me insight that has changed how i look at it. Whereas last week i was writing with gritted teeth and a set jaw, determined to trudge my way resolutely through the muck, i anticipate returning to writing at the start of the week with a new attitude.

There will be friends there, and teachers too, and i will find them or they will find me. There will be moments where it’s like a warm summer day with a slight breeze and the smell of lilacs. There will be days where i see old faces in the rain that blasts down my window – and i will be tempted to run and hide under my bed until the storm passes.
But i don’t think i will, now.

Some people will always behave as if they’re still in high school – whether for their good or ill. Some people will not. The thing for me to see and remember is that there isn’t a monster in every closet, there wasn’t then and there isn’t now. I do not have to recreate painful moments from my past in order to confront and handle them. It’s been done. I wavered for a bit. I almost fell hard. I took a couple of steps back and took a break. I anticipated that there would be some bobbles and even blunders. I have not yet blundered, but if i do, i’ll handle that as well.

So… Who TF am i?

I’m a grown woman who knows how to figure her shit out.
I’m a kind person who wants to help others.
I’m a creative being who loves to express herself.
I’m a writer – that’s who.
<insert Mona Lisa smile here>

Y’all enjoy the rest of your weekend, if you can.

Love and Peace,
~H~

* The religious ones, in case you wondered.
** Referring to a well known quote from the inimitable Maya Angelou.

IMAGE:
Steinar Engela

Deprogramming, Pt. II

I have only the vaguest recollection of my meeting with the man who tried to exorcise my “demonic possession”. I remember crawling the walls of my brain, completely freaked out by him. He and my counsellor did some initial praying, and then he read some passages from the bible. He began asking me who was in charge. He came at me like my head had been taken over by an army of demons, and he was looking to map out who were platoon leaders, and who was in charge of the platoon.
Seriously.

I remember sliding out of the face and someone else talking out of my mouth. It’s like a dream except i’m awake. I’m somewhat lucid, but entirely ineffectual. I slide further away from the front, and as i do, the voices and faces in front of me fade to blurs and murmurs. Someone in my system has taken over, maybe telling him what he wants to hear? Maybe stoic and resistant? I don’t know.
I just know i didn’t see him again.
I’ll just go ahead and use the word “blessing” here:
It was a blessing that i didn’t see him again.

Another bible-based treatment that i took at my counsellor’s behest was a course designed to break me free of demonic influence by reading about and being quizzed on how dangerous it was for me to have masturbated and fantasised while doing so, and how calamitous for me to have had sex outside of marriage, and how just plain awful it was for me to be queer. All chapters in the workbook were followed by extensive prayer, both one-on-one with her, and in the group of other church folk taking the course.
Lots and lots of hands-on prayer, replete with speaking in tongues and herky-jerky movements, laughing, and rivers of tears.
All the touching made me jump out the top of my head and go watch from an empty corner of the room.

These “treatments” did nothing but stir up my Peanut Gallery. The noise, the chatter intensified, activating parts that had been deeply harmed by churches my mother had attended when i was small. (I know this now, back then i was just sure i was going insane.) I was packing on the weight, eating for comfort, for emotional coma, for protection from all the laying on of hands. I drowned myself in food as i was drowning in guilt and shame. I began twitching and jerking during worship on Sundays. I thought i was finally being filled with the spirit, as so many around me in my church seemed to be. (Hindsight tells me, it was ticcing behaviours due to my system being triggered.) Instead of making me feel like the expressions i saw on the faces of those around me (bliss?), i was terrified and disgusted. I began skipping church, and the weekly group meetings we’d have in other member’s homes. I was uncharacteristically silent and withdrawn when i did attend. On a couple of occasions i was able to share that i was struggling, that i felt seriously shaken, mentally and emotionally, and i was deeply afraid.

This was met with perfunctory prayer, and hand-patting assurances that this was part of the journey, that my god had me and my situation well in hand. All would be revealed as i pushed on in faith. Plus, the conversion/aversion course i’d taken had assured me i’d been set free from demonic bonds, so my god could really start working in my life!
(What, he couldn’t/wouldn’t handle demons?)

I see now that i was devolving, as was my church. There’s no need to go into detail, suffice to say my church was part of a movement that had begun having some major leadership issues and was facing a crisis of money and membership. My counsellor was stripped of her position in the church in a public shaming session that destroyed my trust in those in authority there, and my attendance dropped drastically. I continued seeing her though, on and off, for a few years afterward, i think? My memory is spotty here, as i was starting down the road to apostasy, which caused a tumult inside. My sense of blasphemy had been informed by my mother, the denomination i’d been a part of had sharpened it to a razor’s edge.

My home and my partner provided the safety and support i needed to consider forbidden thoughts. My church was sick and dying, and my belief in a god along with it. I avoided the anxiety and stress by not going there anymore. I slipped into a dissociative state where faith and religion were concerned, instead turning my attention to the hundreds of pounds i’d gained while trying to rid myself of the psychic weight i carried. Gastric bypass followed, along with dramatic weight loss, and as some of you already know, serious mental illness.

TheĀ  constant tug-of-war going on had to stop. Between my church and my changing lifestyle, and the parts of my system that were deeply religious and those that were not, something had to give.
Church fell by the wayside, as bipolar mania crashed my beaches and swept me away.
The lock busted off the door that’d kept both me and my system relatively controlled. We poured out into the real world, flooding my home with madness and filling my family with frustration and fear.

Religion was lost at sea, god had washed up on the sand and needed someone to push the saltwater out of his lungs and breathe air into them. He took his last choking gasps while i partied at a cabana further up the strand. He died along with my faith.

That was my outside god and my outside church, though. I still practised another religion. The god that i’d blasphemously put before my man-made one. I still worshipped and obeyed a woman-made god. My mother-made god.
She had always been my highest authority.
Her words carried the most weight.
Bits of her personality had embedded themselves in other parts of my system. Her thoughts, beliefs, and opinions echoed down the halls of my brain. Her screaming invective flung spittle at my psychic skin, infecting me with her like a virus. Her rage that flew out of her like a hot wind blew over me and through me. It burned my skin while the fever cooked my guts.

I was filled with her sickness. I’ve spent 20+yrs battling her influence in my life. I cut her out, like a cancer. First, i removed the obvious tumours, but then i needed the chemo and radiation, too. And i use this analogy because my body reacted to the treatments like they were poison. For a long time i felt like i was sick and dying. Her programming had gone to my very marrow. These last dozen years or so have been spent studying my brain. Studying it and mapping it out like a geneticist with a genome. Working with my therapist to develop my own CRISPR. And now this last year and a half, i’ve been editing her out, and splicing in help and health.

I still doubt my diagnosis on the regular.
It’s the programming.

I’m a bad girl.
I’m a liar.
I’m a thief.
I’m lazy and full of excuses.
I’m the reason bad things happen.
I’m the reason you’re mad or sad or tired or broke or lonely or in trouble.
I’m a fraud, an imposter.
Deep down inside, i’m disgusting and filthy and wrong and evil, and if you really knew me, you’d hate me and leave me.

Though i don’t recall her saying so specifically, her personality is so present in my brain that i know how she’d respond to my DID diagnosis.
She’d bark out harsh laughter and snidely call Bullshit. She’d roll her eyes and talk about how hard my life was, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She’d launch into a heart-wrenching speech about how if anyone should be split apart into pieces it should be her. She’d (rerere)retell tear-jerking stories of her own awful childhood, her emotions rising, until she’d wound herself up so tightly she’d burst open with a caustic rant about how grateful i should be that i had her as a mother, and how she’d brought me home a great father, and given me great siblings – friends and protectors and supporters forever.

I could be her speechwriter and she wouldn’t change a single word.
Well, she would, just so i wouldn’t think i was all that. I’m already conceited enough. She’d sigh and say, I suppose this’ll have to do.

I’ve taken her with me everywhere i’ve gone. She’s had something to say about everything i’ve done and everyone i’ve known. Some think that knowing your shadow makes you a better person. A lot of therapy has been learning who i am and looking at all of it, so that i might address what’s not working and what’s harming me and make changes.
I know my shadow very well, because it’s my mother.

When a mental health professional would broach the subject of my dissociativeness, i would never go back.
A door inside me immediately slammed shut because i knew what she would think about it and i knew what she’d say. I knew what she would want me to do – expect me to do. I knew she’d punish me if i didn’t do it. She may be dead 30yrs, but she still survives in my brain. A ghost, a poltergeist tipping over lamps and smashing glasses and turning lights on and off in my head. She messes with my Bits N’ Pieces; terrifying some, shaming others, sometimes pretending to be a friend. Manipulating all of us. All of ME.

When i realised that some of what i thought were dreams were actually memories, i could hear her angry shrieks. When i started living my life as if it might be true that i’m a multiple, i could hear her derisive voice, nagging me, shaming me, cawing with laughter at how pathetic i was. When i found a therapist i could work with, i could feel her tight-lipped silence and her hot stare; i could hear her passive-aggression:

Fine, blame me.
Take the easy way out.
Lazy.
Liar.

Now that i’m working on connecting my brain and my body back together, i hear her more loudly than i have in some years. My therapist asks me to pay attention to what my body is trying to tell me, rather than what my brain is saying. We’re talking, and like the last couple of sessions prior, i find myself snarking at her and feeling frustrated, bitchy… angry. I don’t know why. She picks up on it, and draws my attention to my feet. The one pressed to the floor is going up and down on its toes, and the one crossed over my knee is swishing back and forth like a cat’s tail warns you a bite is coming. She suggests making the movements bigger, putting more energy into it, and then asks me how i feel about her suggestion. After some time and some deft handling on her part, i snarl at her that it feels stupid.
I sound like a teenager. I feel like a teenager. I AM a teenager.

I’ve slid out of the face and i know the rolled eyes and twisted mouth of the girl who’s currently hissing at her. I’m desperately embarrassed to be speaking to her in this way. She’s done nothing but help me. Frankly, i wouldn’t be this far along and doing this well without her. I’d still be looking for her or someone like her i think, because my kids anchor me to this earth, but i might well be locked up somewhere. I might be divorced. My sons might have cut me out of their lives. I might not have the joy of a daughter and grandchildren to make life indescribably beautiful.
Plus, i was taught never to talk sass to anyone in authority. It reflected poorly on my mother. It might make them ask questions, make them look a little more closely. People were only allowed to see what she wanted them to see. The more weight she gained, the more she became a shut-in, because her mask didn’t fit properly anymore and kept slipping. She’d still hear things, though. Teachers were great for earning me a few smacks or an outright beating. Family members. Her occasional, transient friendship…

I must also factor in what she taught me about psychology.
Distrust it and those who practise it.
Look down on it and those who practise it.
And finally, she didn’t tell me this, she showed me:
Give them what they want and impress them, learn everything they have to teach about it, and then go out into the world and use the fuck out of it against others to get what you want.

So, i’ve had bad experiences with psychology and mental health professionals.
Most of them have thought i was fine, or at least well on my way to handling my issues.
I thought most of them were idiots, so i didn’t open up.
They used buzzwords that triggered TF out of me and i’d shut down.
Anyone who started nosing around my dissociative aspects was immediately dismissed. I ran away from the ones who might have been able to help me.*

This means i sit there in her office, i sit with this person who has helped me save my life, this woman who has patiently and gently helped me learn about how my brain works, and sift through the wreckage inside me to find who i truly am. I sit there with her and i want to yell at her and i want to leave and i want to say 10 different things to her, but i can’t speak. I try to WILL myself to speak, but all that comes out most of the time are Yes, No, and more often than not, I don’t know.

It’s the programming.
I had to be a good girl to survive. I had to obey. I had to shut up. I had to agree with everything the adults said around me. I had to believe what they believed. I had to think as they thought. I had to have the same opinions. I had to literally sleep with the enemy in order to live. And no matter what i think on a low day, or what some of my parts believe, or what my mother would have told you – i WAS a good girl. I was the best little girl any mother could have ever had.

I look back, armed with information and real love, and this is how i do it. I confront these thoughts and feelings and i examine them with a critical eye. There is an incredibly delicate balance of allowing emotion and reining it in, because i must stay present to learn, to discern, to grasp, to absorb. I’m fighting some seriously ingrained behaviours, here. Or perhaps better put, i’m sitting in a chair, opposite a very good and cute little girl, in the office of my brain, and i’m helping her figure out that her mommy was the one that was bad, not her.
But man, she is so good and loving and loyal and true, that this news is not accepted easily. Her beliefs are dying a wretched death.

I see who i am and how my brain works, and i know that there are people who live inside my head, and they talk to me and sometimes they take care of me. And i know they aren’t real. I know they’re all me.

And i know the diagnosis is still controversial. But i also know that, regardless of who does or doesn’t believe or what label they put on it, my brain will still work this way, and i’m the one who has to deal with it. I must learn to live with it if i want to live – and i do. None of those headshrinkers can fix me/mend me/heal me – only i can do that.

And i hear my mother’s voice in my head telling me i’m full of shit and faking it, and her programming is so strong and so ingrained that i almost believe her.
I fucking want to believe her, do ya ken?
So i pull those thoughts, those voices out of my head and i share them out loud. I make them real, and then i see that they’re naked, just like that dumbfuck Emperor in the story. They’re walking around in my head like they’re all dressed for the Ball, but when i bring them outside they’ve got nothing on. Then they run from me, their influence over me gone. The spell, broken.
Slowly, i am waking from my mother’s thrall.

I tell my therapist i’m angry and i don’t know why. I’m crying and i don’t know why. I’m twitching and ticcing and i don’t know why. And she shushes me and tells me not to worry about the why of it right now. She asks me if i would be willing to just let my feet do what they want to do. Stretch up, stretch down. Flex. Bounce. She asks if she can provide her own foot for me to push against, and i ignore the eyerolling teenager inside me, and i shove my mother’s voice to the back of my brain, and i nod.

I put the bottom of my foot on the bottom of hers and she pushes against me, just a little, and i push back. After just a few seconds i’m pushing harder and she keeps her foot there, steady, letting me push her foot away a bit, and then pushing back into my foot -not much, not hard- just giving me room to push her foot away again. And then my foot is pumping against hers, and suddenly my leg starts shaking violently, and i look up at her, wide-eyed and say, What the fuck?!

She tells me it’s okay, it’s good, she says i’m discharging.
My foot that wanted to run, my leg that wanted to leave. To get me away from what was happening to me. The action that i always wanted to take when i was being harmed…
GETAWAYGETAWAYGETAWAYRUNRUNRUN
And i never could.
The memory of wanting so badly to escape and not being able to, trapped there for so long. So i let my foot and my leg do what it wants to do and it’s so weird, but it works for me. The anger is gone. The need to leave fades.
I felt what i felt while knowing what i know, and i made another connection between my brain and my body.

My therapist smiled at me, and she said, “This was very good work that you did today. This is the work and you’re doing it.”

Deprogramming.
Reconnecting.
Living.

Love and Peace to All,
And to All a Hearty “Hang in there!”
~H~

*Heavy emphasis on the word “might”. They probably could have helped a bit, but i’m going to say not much. If they started talking about MPD (what it was called back then), they’d often launch right into wanting to know names and speak to parts. In my case, not the way to go about it.