Where I’m At

There’s a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turn low
The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow
~ Beck, Where It’s A
t


Yesterday my therapist suggested that i write about where i’m at, as she thinks it’s very significant and something i should mark so that i can return to it whenever i want or need to.

I haven’t spoken to anyone but her about it, but i’m much less dissociative than i was. Even 6mos ago i would slide daily, and i struggled not to be at least somewhat dissociated most of the time. I’ve felt different –weird– for some months now, and i think that’s the cause. It’s all so new, so delicate, so deeply personal, that i’m not certain i want to write about it. I trust her though, so i will.

Late last year i decided a couple of people in my life had to change their behaviour towards me, or i would need to take steps to distance myself from them. These are relationships i treasure. I love these people very much, and that won’t change. Their treatment of me had been unacceptable in some ways for a long time, but i had tolerated it due to guilt and shame over being mentally ill. Many of my behaviours were unacceptable too, and i’d put these loved ones through much stress and not a little suffering. So i thought i deserved it. I also thought that it helped balance things out in our relationship, a little.

It doesn’t work that way. That’s sick thinking from a sick brain. Personal flaws and failings don’t negate the need for boundaries and respect in relationships. I live with serious, multiple diagnoses mental illness, and it’s a LOT, and it’s COMPLICATED.
But does that mean i don’t deserve happiness and fulfillment?
Does that mean i am unworthy of respect and care?
I knew the answer was NO for everyone else, but i’ve struggled to believe that for myself.

Every once in a while i’d get backed into a corner and come out (figuratively) swinging.
And sometimes i’d run out of energy and restraint and tear the world down around me because i was hurt.
Mostly though, i kept my head down and my mouth shut. It ate away at these relationships, eroding trust and safety and intimacy, until i found myself not wanting to be around them anymore. These precious loved ones. The desire to get away from them was like acid in my guts.

As i continue my work in therapy, confronting my past and pursuing healing, my thinking has become clearer. I’m learning to listen to my brain and my body and give myself what i need. In providing my own care i’m building trust. My brain and my body (as well as my system) are learning that i am capable of taking care of all of my parts now: mental, emotional, physical. I’m growing up and becoming a competent, dare i say adept, caregiver – of myself.

This competency and its resultant increase in trust has meant less upheaval and tumult in my life. I’m less predictably unpredictable, if you will. That being said, February and March saw the return of some old, unacceptable behaviours. It scared me, and i thought i was backsliding. What if i started switching all the time again? What if i started losing my temper and breaking shit? What if i took off for a few days? And what if my loss of control cost me or my family their physical health?*

It signalled to me that i was freaking out on some level. But why?
After therapy on Wednesday i think i know.

Each step along the path brings me closer to a more functional, more normal way of life and living. I struggle with change, with the unknown, even if it’s good. And once i got away from my mother, and the constant threat she presented, i set things up in ways that seemed safe to me. I avoided the unknown and change as much as possible.

I’ve been highly dissociative for as long as i can remember, and almost certainly before that.
Living a conscious, mindful life is still foreign to me, and most days i’m moving a little closer to embracing it fully (as fully as i can). This is new territory, every day. I’m walking away from what i know, with intent and purpose. Some days feel like every step is a trigger.

It can feel like i’m Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In the first minutes of the film, he’s grabbed the statue as carefully as he can, but the booby-trap is sprung anyway, so he sprints across the stones, dodging poisoned arrows on both sides.
Kinda like that, except it’s my own brain spitting the poisoned arrows at me.

In some ways, i’m working against myself. I have parts of me that are aligned with my abusers, and they are there to absorb abusive behaviour. To tolerate intolerable things. I’m programmed to take other people’s crap, and then blame myself for it. I was made to be a receptacle for other people’s garbage. When i stand up for myself, when i say Stop or No, when i ask for something i feel ashamed to want, it causes those parts of me to come up against me. They try to shut me up and shut me down. Some say things i heard from my mother like, Who do you think you are? and How dare you? And they’re very good at bringing up lots of reasons why i have no right to ask for anything, and why i should consider myself lucky that anyone abides me at all.

They were created in a terrible moment, and that’s where they live and that’s all they know.
What i’m attempting to do now, is convince them to come along with me as i grow up and away from those moments. I’m moving into real time, and i no longer need to relive or otherwise revisit those terrible points of my life. I only look back now to see them (the parts in my system, not my bad memories), to call them to me, to gather them close and hold them for always.

This last year i’ve come to realise just how much of my life i’ve spent in some level of dissociation. It’s been incredibly painful to learn that it’s been the vast majority of my life. I’ve been heartbroken over all that i’ve lost; all that was taken from me. But i was done with crying and ready to move forward. To walk into the unknown and make a life for myself. To allow myself to dream of a future and make plans for it like it was a real possibility. Because it is.

These last few weeks i’ve barely dissociated at all. My brain has been relatively quiet – as close to quiet as it’s ever been. I’m not fighting to maintain control. I’m not at the whim of my Bits N’ Pieces. They aren’t gone, disappeared or “integrated” (whatever that means). I can still feel them, i can still hear them. They’re softer, somehow. They’re not inflicting themselves on me or imposing their will. This is all extremely strange for me.

In the past i haven’t had appropriate responses to things. I over-feel, i barely feel, or i don’t feel at all. I think that’s changing. I’m staying present most of the time, and i’m feeling a lot of emotions in the moment. It’s new, it’s different, it’s weird. It feels like a lot to me, because i’m usually dissociated to some degree. But lately, it’s been barely at all. I’m making the choice to stick around and handle my own business, multiple times a day. It’s taking effort and energy and i’m very tired at the end of the day. But i think it’s a good sort of tired; i don’t feel like a wrung-out dishrag. It feels more like i’ve put in a good day’s work.

I’m recommitting to being mindful and taking care of myself, including my system, every morning now. I touch all my precious little brain-people with my thoughts, and tell them i’m in charge, and i’m going to have the best day i can. I think about a couple of things i’d most like to accomplish, and i give myself a quick mental pep talk:

Life has no intention. Life just lives.
People are going to do what they’re going to do.
The only thing i have any hope of controlling is myself.
It is my mission to be the best human i can be, while living life on life’s terms.

This is a new frontier. I’m exploring, looking for new experiences and seeking knowledge. I intend to traverse it as boldly as i can.


Y’all Hang In There, Y’Hear?
~H~
*I’m referring to the pandemic, here.

IMAGE: Greg Rakozy

Suffer the Little Children

Alternate title: Jesus, Do You Smell That?

Content warning: Some references to childhood sexual abuse.

I’m settling in to this process a bit more every day. I don’t know how long it will take for me to forge a connection between my brain and my body, but i’m committed to and invested in it, even if i’m never quite done. I’m connecting parts slowly, a bit at a time, and i’m doing well resisting the urge to tackle it all, hard and head-on. When the Peanut Gallery pipes up with some judgey shit about how i should be further along than i am, i have plenty of examples of how terribly awry things can go when i push too hard. However, during my therapy sesh yesterday i realised there is an area where i could be doing a tad more, and i’m balking.

I try every day, all day, to stay present in my body and feel what’s happening to me physically; my aim is to dissociate as little as possible. I hold on to the face through the regular day-to-day sensations, like brushing my teeth, which can be triggery AF, and i’m hanging on through some awful body memory stuff, like phantom burning in my genital area. While i’m going through these intense body sensations, my Bits N’ Pieces are having various reactions to what’s going on, just like i am. I’m learning to care for the body memory stuff with warm drinks, blankets, binding, writing, and even talking about it with my hubs, but i’m hanging back when it comes to directly engaging my system and asking them what kind of care/comfort they’d like while dealing with this stuff.

Mutiplicity can be difficult to explain, and this is one of those areas that, no matter how i put it, it still seems inadequate; the words don’t communicate my reality sufficiently. Yes, i hear voices in my head. I know they’re all me, and yet they’re a little bit not me. Maybe think of it like we tend to think of things as natural or not natural: maple syrup gets the natural label, but Aunt Jemima doesn’t. They’re both made of ingredients that come from our world (some additives are man-made, sure, but it’s not like we folded space and travelled to another universe for the elements needed to make them), yet one doesn’t seem as raw or earthy – it’s not as much a part of the innate order of things. Unnatural? Not quite natural?

So it is with my system. I know the people that live in my brain, that chatter at me all day long and even into my dreamlife, that saved me when i was little and now help shoulder the minefield that is being a human living in a developed nation after severe trauma, by carrying my burdens, secreting my pain, and sometimes taking control of my body when i’m overwhelmed… Are all iterations of me – various versions of who i needed to be or thought i had to be in order to survive.
Yet they are not me.
There were walls between us for many years, borders that none of us would cross. They would not because they exist to care for/protect me, and i couldn’t because i hadn’t the knowledge or the space safe enough to do so. To step into the light and see my system – my big brain machine humming along, gears inside gears, turning alongside gears inside gears. A terrifically complicated and intricate psychic arrangement of snippets and gobs of personality. Actors that only exist between the green room and the stage. When i finally saw my face as a lit theatre and gained access to their dressing rooms, well, you know that not every actor whose work you like is a person you’d want to hang out with after the show, right?

Some of my people are not a good time. I might even say most of them aren’t, a lot of the time. I love them in a way that is only for them – not like i love my husband, my children, my friends. Not like food, or music, or art, or animals, or sunshine, or a cool glass of water, or my husband’s kiss. Not even like the characters in my favourite books. They’re more than these things, and less, too. Yet they’re closer to me than absolutely anyone else – no one, nothing else could get so close. They’re my saviours who occasionally get me into some serious scrapes. They’re my best friends and my champions. And they’re also my children who’re always getting into something and the only reason i don’t strangle them is they’re underdeveloped toddlers who can’t help it.

They remember awful things, sometimes as clearly as if they happened yesterday, sometimes as if they are happening now, in this moment, all the time. And i know i’m currently writing about feeling the physical sensations that go along with certain memories that’ve been locked away in certain parts of my body, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t also carry some physical pain. They feel the aching jaw, the bruises, the cuts, the headache like my skull is going to turn to dust, the swelling, the bleeding, the burning – all of it. It’s my hope that this work i’m doing will help them be free from pain. Perhaps even, that they can return to me as i return myself to homeostasis. They’ve told me their stories, now it’s my body’s turn. I see this as a housecleaning. I’m shining a light on all the dark places, removing all traces of black mould. But this house is currently serving as a temporary MASH unit, filled with sick and wounded soldiers. I have medicines and tonics and pills for them, and i have cleaners and disinfectants, tools and talent for cleaning a filthy home…
But the body has triggered my system, and i haven’t asked them if they want anything from me to help them bear it all.

Back when i was first learning to listen and relate to the other people who live with me in my brain, it was a gross and disgusting ordeal. Once i acknowledged that some of my dreams were actually memories, it was like trying to live a normal life in a locked room filled with decomposing bodies. I felt like i was coated in filth – it slicked my skin and filled up my nostrils and sat in the bottom of my belly like an angry, acid python, constantly twisting and spilling over itself. I stank of evil, life stank of rot. I was surrounded by horror, sex and death roiling and foaming together like a cannibal’s cauldron. It was the closest to giving up that i’ve ever come, i almost lost myself in the viscous fluid of memory, losing form and definition and nearly dissolving into hopelessness and endless nothing.

As i write this i’ve suddenly seen that i’m parenting my Bits like i parented my real life children. From a fucking distance. Afraid to touch, to engage, to connect. I didn’t know how with my sons, but i do now. I learned because i saw how much harm it had done to me not to have it from my parents. I’ve been learning and practising since then because i believe it’s not too late to give it to them unless they tell me so. And i would keep trying even if they told me it was too late and would never be enough, because i believe it’s my responsibility as a parent, and because i experience that doing so helps and heals me, too.

Yes, parenting my children with connection, engaging with them emotionally and physically – that’s what my brain-babies need/want, as well. Of course they do. I know that, it’s just that the feelings they carry, the stories the snapshots the motherfucking scary movie franchise…
Bah. The last time i got up close and personal with it all it was years before i felt clean again. It was years of barely being in the face because i couldn’t take the slime and the stench.
But comparing them to my boys helps.
Writing helps.
Therapy helps.
Hubby helps.
Truth helps.

They’re broken off bits of me, and they need me to wash them, bind up their wounds, and soothe them, just as i’ve done for myself, the primary me. If they were real live children, covered in blood and shit and filth, smelling like sex and rot, i wouldn’t hesitate for a second to gather them to me and minister to their needs.
These children are all me; why is it so hard to give myself what i would give to any other human in my position?
I was taught that i only existed to be poured out for the consumption of others, but i know now that that was a wicked, selfish lie told me by evil people.
Knowing where i come from and who i am is good, but it’s not enough. I have wounds that need washing and stitches and bandaging, breaks that need mending, and aches that need warmth.

This piece may not make much sense, i’m not sure. This is so close to my core that i don’t think i’m able to edit/proofread this with a critical eye. If you’ve made it this far, i thank you. Writing this made me want to throw up most of the way, but here and now, at this sentence, i feel recommitted and more fiercely dedicated than ever. If someone hurt a child the way i was hurt, if someone hurt my children the way i was hurt, i would ruin the world to make things better for them.

Yes, it’s a contradictory statement. It’s hyperbolic. It paints a picture and conveys the intensity of my conviction.

So, i guess i’m heading into the trenches.
This could get…

<insertwhateverwordcametoyourmindasitprobablyapplies>

Take Care and Try a Little Tenderness,
I will, too.

~H~