Remembering a friend who gave up

content warning: suicide, mental illness, and mention of incest, rape and domestic violence.

Mental illness is a bitch and it takes a heavy toll on all it touches. Some of us don’t make it to that place where survival alchemically transforms into some level of thriving. A weird set of circumstances led me to do a well check on a friend yesterday (he’s fine, was never in any danger of suicide) and it’s led to an avalanche of memories and feelings for a dear mentor and friend who took his own life 3 years ago. He had reached out to me the week before he took his life and I didn’t answer the phone or return his call. I don’t think it would have changed his decision to self-immolate. I know from the note he left behind that his intention wasn’t just to end his own suffering but to make a statement about the lack of appropriate mental health care. He was a practicing Buddhist in the local Shambhala community and his suicide was planned as a ritual that he believed was bigger than personal suicide.

I met Ian my first day of class at my small college. I was 24 years old and he was the professor for my foundation writing class. I had enrolled at the college to study Jungian psychology and was obsessed with symbolism and synchronicity. Ian was soft spoken and was strikingly present in all his interactions. One of the first concepts he introduced in our writing class was synchronicity. One of our first assigned exercises was to open books to ‘random’ pages and construct poems by stringing together bits of sentences. He encouraged personal narratives because he said we should write about what we know best, ourselves. I adored him and looking back, I realize he was the first grown man I’d ever met who was gentle, kind and safe. He gave me good constructive criticism on my writing and he told me I was a natural writer and should continue honing my skills. My writing was often about different traumas I had experienced and instead of avoiding the topics, he found ways to validate me and gently critique my work.

I saw him only in passing for the following two years but he would always stop and talk with me. I was assigned to his Culminating Project class my senior year. At the time, the structure of the class was unusual for a college course but it was typical for my college. We were told to pick a topic, anything, and find a way to explore it and present it in depth at the end of the year. It was a small class, maybe 15 students, and we spent our time doing mindfulness exercises and processing experiences. Ian held the space with grace and it seemed like all the students felt supported in their chosen topics. He invited us to his house for dinner and fostered loving and intimate connection between everyone in the class. It was a safe space and I thrived in it.

This was the first year the class was offered and it became a grounding point in my otherwise spinning life. The pressure of supporting myself through college was especially challenging that year. I was regularly having grand mal seizure, was taking Master’s level psychology classes and doing everything I could to supress my trauma symptoms. Ian’s class was a safe harbor and his mentorship fostered exploration that was insightful as well as healing. I focused on finding the essence of my connections with the people in my life, as well as specific things in nature. After collecting as much information as possible, I photographed each person and distilled the connection into a haiku.

As an incest, rape and domestic abuse survivor, my ability to experience safe connection was limited by my trauma. At the time I didn’t understand how my lack of safe connection with my parents as a child was impacting my current relationships. Ian created a space in which I could safely explore connection and he deftly steered me towards positive connection, away from the unhealthy and toxic ways in which I so often connected. It became a foundation for my journey towards feeling and appreciating connection, as well as a basis for learning about what healthy connection is.

I moved away for a couple of years after I graduated. I had my first child while going to grad school and then returned when I left their father. When I moved back I got back in touch with Ian and we became friends. Not the kind of friends who spend a lot of time together, rather the kind who connect deeply when they’re together even though they don’t see one another often. Over the years, our friendship deepened and we shared our most vulnerable fears and challenging experiences with our mental health and our inability to function in a society that frowned upon people openly discussing their mental illness and offered very little in the way of help for those who wanted it. We were both writing blogs and we frequently sent one another links to posts we wanted to share.

Ian came for dinner at our house in 2015 and we would run into one another in what we both felt were synchronistic events. In the summer of 2018 I was struggling with deteriorating mental health and a marked increase in trauma symptoms. I was struggling with suicidal ideation and was barely functioning. I was thinking about Ian one day and he called out of the blue. We had always communicated through texts and emails so I was surprised to see his number come up as the phone rang. I remember thinking it was meaningful that he was calling just as I was thinking about him and I knew from recent emails that he had been struggling with a diagnosis of bipolar. He had been hospitalized a couple of times but he felt the system was doing more harm than good. I didn’t answer the phone because all my energy was spent just trying to stay afloat in my own life taking care of my 3 kids while wanting to die most days.

A week or so later, I was sitting at the bus stop at 4 in the morning waiting for the bus to the airport where I was flying to visit my friend on her farm. I was still on social media at the time and I noticed a message from someone who’d been in that first class with Ian in our foundation year. We’d had a falling out so I thought it was probably important if she reaching out to me. Her message told me that Ian had taken his life the day before by soaking himself and his car in gasoline and setting it on fire. I was devastated and spent the entire trip there using all my skills to not fall apart.

I didn’t feel guilty about not answering the phone when Ian had called because I knew I was doing the best I possibly could. And I wasn’t angry with him for taking his own life. My eldest kiddo has lost a few friends and acquaintances to suicide and I’ve witnessed the rage that survivors often feel towards the person who took their life. I think that rage is valid. My take on suicide is a little different than the typical one in our culture. I know the depths of pain that too many of us live with. I witnessed Ian’s struggle and I accept that he decided the pain was too much for him to continue to live with. I think that’s valid too. When a person commits suicide, they’re a victim as much as those they leave behind. I don’t resent Ian for ending his life. But it does underline the extreme pain he was in and the fact that he was seeking help and not getting hurt instead of supported. When I think about how much he was suffering, I feel grief for this gentle soul who felt he could no longer go on. And I miss him. But I don’t blame him. I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to judge someone’s decision to give up and seek the release of death.

It’s been three years since Ian took his life and I think of him often and keep a photograph of him that was taken during our Culminating Project class. He wasn’t suffering then and his smile was without the sadness I saw in him during the last few years of his life.

Outer chaos = inner progress

I haven’t written in a while because the trauma recovery work I’ve been engaged in feels so all over the place. I’m finally accepting the fact that I’m barely functioning in the outside world. I can feed my kids and pay my rent but I’ve defaulted on two credit cards and my house is a mess (there’s progress on the house front but it’s essentially still chaos). There’s no room for me to worry about that stuff because the strides I’m taking in my inner work are giant.

I can’t remember when the last time I wrote was (I could check but I don’t really care) but I’ve had two recent additions to my internal family. Stacey and Guilia. 13 and 9. I’m killing it in welcoming and adjusting to these new alters. Definitely had some BIG dissociative episodes as they made themselves known and got used to being in my middle aged female body. In fact, when the most recent arrival, Guilia, began to emerge, I had a breakthrough that resulted in some deep empathy for these found souls.

My boys were here and that always makes the adjustment process a little trickier. I had done a lot that day; breakfast, lunch, cleaning up and errands and I was preparing to make dinner. I had been feeling the tell-tale signs of an oncoming dissociative episode (I need to come up with a better term for that, feels too clinical) and I was trying to push through it. I began to panic as Guilia’s feelings became more intense and eventually I was riding copilot and she was fully embodied. Instead of drifting off as I so often do, I asked her what she was feeling and what she needed.

The answer was immediate. She was angry that she’d emerged to find herself in my older body and all her dreams of a shining future had been dashed. I felt so much sadness and empathy for her, something that’s still pretty new. We stomped around in the kitchen as I felt her anger fill our body with energy. I could feel that we were still on the verge of an uncontrolled episode so I suggested we go upstairs, put our kick boxing gloves on and beat the shit out of the punching bag. We punched and punched and punched, imagining the punching bag was our father’s face and body. When Guilia was finished expressing her rage, she moved aside and let me back in and I took the gloves off and went downstairs to make dinner.

I’m still spending my days coloring and putting puzzles together while listening to podcasts and music. I was worried for a while that I would never again feel like doing anything productive but I don’t care anymore. I’m too far into this journey to back off because I’m not living the way our protestant and capitalist society expects me to. I’m committed to going all the way with this recovery journey. That requires me to practice self-care to the extreme so that’s what I’m doing.

Between therapy sessions I’m doing exercises from Deb Dana’s book, Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection, as well as trying to learn more about DID and Internal Family Systems theory. There are a few podcasts by systems that are helpful in providing information and validation. One is called System Speaks. I’ll try to come back and edit in the names of the others I found. For now, I’m off to color or work on a puzzle.

We’re all entitled to our healing work

I’m not going to write a full post today; my younger kids are with me this week and I try to spend as much time being present with them as possible.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember and accept that the massive amount of time I’m spending recovering from trauma is time I deserve and is definitely well spent. I didn’t ask to be raped as a child or an adolescent, and I didn’t ask to be terrorized by domestic abuse as a young adult. The time I spend in therapy, building new skills, confronting truths, learning to love myself and all my parts, it’s all important. Essential. Our capitalist society pushes us to feel like we need to be productive and make money in order to have worth. I can’t do those things and this healing work at the same time. And I deserve to heal.

If you’re reading this, just know that I believe in the work you are doing to recover from the things that were done to you. I believe you deserve the time and energy and space to heal. You’re worth it!

Somatic symptoms and trauma processing

CW: I am not going into great detail about my abuse but I will be writing about specific sexual, physical and emotional abuse situations. Please be kind to yourself and come back to this later if you’re feeling at all vulnerable right now.

I never cease to be amazed at this process of integrating my trauma and alters. I’ve been having night terrors, flashbacks, new memories and a ton of somatic symptoms. About a week and a half ago I woke up around 4 am with new memories of my childhood sexual abuse. Afterwards, as I rested and processed all the feelings I was having, I had a ginormous realization:

Until I separated from my ex and moved into this house nestled against a creek I had never not felt hunted.

When I was a child I was always wondering when my father would be secretly watching me play in the backyard or come into my room in the night to rape me. I became sexually active only two years after my father stopped raping me. I was vulnerable from that abuse and so became a victim of many other rapes as an adolescent. I honestly can’t remember how many different teenage boys raped me. I had a two year relationship with a boy who never pushed me to have sex with him but he was quick to anger and I was always on edge waiting for him to snap and smack or violently grab me. I married my first husband at 19 and that was a brief respite. I left him for Joe, the man who sadistically raped and locked me up for several months. When I left him, he stalked me for a year and accosted me several times during that period. I went away to college and I was still vulnerable. I didn’t know how to set boundaries so I ended up having a lot of sex I didn’t want to have and I was again raped a few times. In my other two marriages, as kind hearted and well intentioned as those husbands were, I was often pressured into sex.

That’s forty something years of being and feeling hunted. I had a lot of feelings come up as I began to process this realization. Grief and rage being the biggest. I remember thinking that ground under my feet had shifted, that it had never felt even slightly steady until this last year. The following day I leaned down to pet our cat and when I straightened up I felt so off balance I had to sit down on the floor. After that I felt the ground moving under my feet whenever I walked and when I laid down, I felt like I was spinning. I didn’t think the dizzy, off balance feelings were related to the big revelation I’d had; I just assumed I was experiencing some random vertigo. I ended up going to the ER the following day to make sure there wasn’t something serious going on with my health. They ran ALL the tests, determined it was benign, gave me some medicine and sent me home.

It was the following day that I put it all together. The vertigo was somatic! Realizing I am for the first time in my life not being hunted in some way, that I am safe, was so huge that it left my brain thinking the ground under my feet was shifting. I had my boys all last week so I rested as much as I could while making sure they were still fed and got some of my attention. When I saw my therapist on Friday she told me I needed to do some somatic processing and use more skills when these big things happen. I’ve been doing that the last few days as I process new memories and flashbacks.

I’ve often complained that this process is achingly slow. Now I understand that it needs to be in order to be absorbed and integrated. If the years of living in a nervous system that’s been in fight, flight or freeze all came up at once, or even over a year, it would be so overwhelming that I’d go right back into that frozen or panicked state. I’m learning to understand how healing works and honor how hard it is and what I need in each moment. I feel my strength more and feel fiercely protective of the alchemy that is healing. As a result, I don’t want much human contact. I’m able to enjoy being present with my kids and I greatly value the friendships I have with my few girlfriends but for the most part I want to be alone.

And conversation was had by all

Two weeks ago I woke up to a cacophony of angry and upset voices. All my alters were talking at once. It was a Monday morning and my boys had left the Friday before to spend the week with their dad. I usually take Saturdays as a rest day but I was so busy with getting taxes done for me, my ex and my mom that I worked through the weekend. I had made promises to give my littles time doing things they like to do but had not kept them. I guess I should have expected some anger and resentment but it took me by surprise. I’m very much still learning to live with all these people inside of me and it often feels easier to pretend they are not real and go about my business as if it were just me in my body.

They had my attention and I chose to give them an opportunity to speak in a somewhat organized way so I opened a blank document and let them all type. I’m posting the conversation in an effort to be transparent with myself and own that these people have just as much a right to express themselves as I do. I’m honestly quite proud of them for talking to me instead of sending me into a panicked or dissociative state. I see it as progress.

Mina: Stop fucking around and just fucking type the question.

Me: Why are y’all ganging up on me?

13 yr old A: You said three days in a row that we could start the TAZ puzzle. There’s always an excuse. The taxes have to get done. You HAVE to do the work for mom.

Max: You’re spending a lot of time binge watching. Binge watching and coloring. You’re getting your time but the rest of us are left standing behind a curtain where you mostly don’t see us.

Little A: Yeh. You haven’t even been tucking in the stuffies like you were. That’s a pretty easy thing to do and it doesn’t take much time.

Mina: You think you’re going to get out of all this trauma bullshit but you’re never going to be like people who weren’t raped when they were kids.

Me: Ruby?

Ruby: I feel like it’s my fault you’re doing this. I came up/out with so many feelings and new memories and you were there but when 13 yr old A finally decided it was safe and she came out, you shut everything down tight.

Me: I probably did. I hadn’t thought about it really.

Me: Ruby, it’s most certainly not your fault. You’ve been through so much, more than the rest of us, really. You remembered the abuse (kind of?) and then went through hell with a psychopath. My oldest kiddo just came in and said “they’re holding you accountable. That’s good.” I think it’s the right thing for y’all to do. I just felt jumped.

Lisa: I bet you did. But you deserved it. I don’t like not being listened to.

Max: It’s true. You haven’t been listening. And you fell back into your habit of blocking out the things you don’t want to see and feel. You’re good at it.

Me: I have to be. That’s a coping skill too.

Everybody wanting to speak.

Ruby: You’re using CBD, even yoga, to chill out your feelings instead of processing them. We have the power to force you to feel things and make you very uncomfortable.

Max: But we didn’t do that this morning, did we? We were simply trying to talk to you and you weren’t accepting responsibility so some of us escalated things a bit. Not that I condone the way you were being spoken to. Threatening to overwhelm you was inappropriate.

Me: What am I suppose to do? I really do have to do all this stuff and I know it’s overwhelming right now but it will get better.

Little A: Choosing to do stuff for mom before us is not ok. You’re even doing it to yourself. You wanted to sew yesterday and you didn’t even get to the machine.

Me: The stuff with mom is complicated. Yes, I feel like I should help her AND I need the money. I’m supporting 5 people half the time and 3 the other half. I’m trying to set boundaries around it but right now, she needs a lot of help. I really do think things will get better in a few months.

Max: You could choose to give up some of your time to us. When the boys aren’t here, you spend from 4:30am till 8am just watching your stories. Would you be willing to give up some of that?

Me: I can try. Yes, I’ll try. It’s going to be a big shift for me. I’ve been doing that for 3 years. And maybe we should set aside a few minutes a day for airing out stuff. I avoid listening because I’m trying to feel like things are less chaotic than they are.

Mina: That’s good. We’re going to hold you to it. And you will make time for that puzzle today. 13yr old A hasn’t been given the space the rest of us get. And she’s been waiting a long time. 34 years.

Mina: You said you were going to be open to the truth. You fucking tattooed it on your arm. You’re a fucking hypocrite if you don’t actually follow through. The truth is, we are a mess of feelings and fucked up thinking. You’re not doing the work if you aren’t acknowledging that.

Me: OK. I promise to give 13 yr old A time with the puzzle today. It’s going to be a rainy day. Sounds like a cozy thing to do. I’m also going to talk to Sarah about all of this later. Y’all can be there for the conversation and jump in.

All the things undone and all that I am actually doing

I need to write but I also really, really, really want to sew today. So I’m going to keep this short.

I’m behind in every aspect of my life. And, yes, I’m disabled AND still have active C-PTSD, but (AND) I feel like I should be able to get caught up and be on top of everything. I can feel my head getting fuzzy as I write this. A sign that I’m expressing something that comes from a cognitive distortion. It’s not hard for me to identify it as a need to be perfect to protect myself from shame, blame and harm.

Up until things started to truly fall apart a few years ago, I ran myself ragged staying on top of every little thing. I worked two jobs while going to school for my undergrad in psychology. Then I was a new first-time mom while working on my graduate degree. I was also married to an alcoholic who rarely came home before 5am and did very little to help around the house. After I got my masters degree I left that husband, moved across the country with my 2 year old and very little money. Somehow I kept it all together.

Then I met my most recent partner (now ex-husband) and we started a life together in which I worked, cared for my first child, and did most of the housework and cooking. Over the next few years we had two children and my health began to decline. I was put on bedrest multiple times. During my pregnancies, once with acute hepatitis, and once with hyponatremia and hypochloremia. And all the while I was having uncontrolled seizures, as well as increasing anxiety, depression and the occasional mild psychosis. Looking back, it’s so easy to see what a ginormous mess I was.

I was 46 when my latest breakdown happened. After I’d been in therapy with my current therapist for a while, I slowly began to realize that I had to let go of my overachieving perfectionism. Maybe I developed it because I thought if I were a good girl, the best girl, then my dad wouldn’t come to me at night and hurt me. Maybe my mother would be proud of me and believe I was safe, and then my dirty secret would be safe and she wouldn’t be in harms way from my father’s threat. Certainly, being so accomplished gave me something to be proud of and to believe in. But it also served as a buffer between what I wanted my life to be like and the truth, which was that I was terribly, awfully fucked up by the multiple abuses I’d experienced during the first 22 years of my life.

So I let go over and over again and then some more. And here I am, my house a mess, laundry overflowing, the dog’s yard uncleaned, junk on my front porch, bills unpaid and a pile of mandalas I’ve colored while ignoring all the things I “should” have been doing.

I can hear inner judgment about all those undone things.

And yet, it is work untangling all the lies, shame, pain and secrets that exist within when you were abused as a child. While those chores and life tasks were left undone, I’ve been working my ass off processing and coming to know my alters and making room for them in my life. And though I’m certainly not an all star mother right now, I do still have 3 kids that I feed, shelter, nurture and guide. Those are no easy tasks.

This post is a bit chaotic. Certainly not one of my more eloquent ones. I just needed to write down and acknowledge my feelings about all the things hanging over my head. And all the things I am doing that aren’t necessarily so easily seen.

Switching, new memories and feeling rough around the edges

It’s been a hard week. I went looking for my diploma in the boxes where I keep stuff packed away. I didn’t consciously focus on anything as I dug through photos, old clothes and paperwork. I didn’t find my diploma. And then everything began to fall apart. It started with some massive dissociative episodes, then my sleep became disrupted and anxiety, paranoia and cognitive shutdown set in.

By yesterday, I was in a state I haven’t experienced in well over a year. I was vacillating between being in my sympathetic and dorsal systems. Feeling like fleeing or dizzy and shut down. Woven in and out of those two states, were the memories of a fancy handmade dress I had when I was little (something I found in one of my boxes) and a man’s hand grasping at the dress while he said “dirty little princess”. The memories were intrusive and I was terrified of what else might arise. Half the time I was riding in the passenger seat as Little took over and felt anxious and confused.

I have my boys this week so I did all I could to keep it together while showing up for them as much as possible. I let them know I was having a hard time so they would understand why I couldn’t always respond to them.

The memory wasn’t a particularly awful one, comparatively, but it felt gross and unavoidable. I certainly tolerated it better than I have when similar things have come up in the past. I am trying to make space for this experience, meanwhile am also pissed off that my carefully constructed routine and ground were temporarily dismantled and broken.

I slept a little better last night and am so far not struggling today. Someone I know recently said that we have to get rid of our attachments to the past in order to move forward in life and feel good. Tell me, how do you stop being attached to something that literally informed every aspect of your being? That continues to demand processing and attention every day even though it happened 30-45 years ago?

Learning to accept the extent of the damage done

I haven’t written in a while. I’m exhausted all the time. It’s probably a combination of the work I’m doing in therapy and my fibromyalgia. I think it’s easier to underestimate how much energy the processing takes than to fully accept how deeply, deeply fucked up I am on every level. I’m not trying to be down on myself, just being honest about the extent of the damage done by my father and others like him.

It’s not like I get to do the work of healing in a safe and comfortable void where I can dedicate all of myself to it all the time. I have my younger two kids every other week and they are still doing school from home because of the pandemic and my country’s shit response to it. And it’s only been 3 weeks since my neighborhood grocery store was attacked by a gunman who murdered 10 people. My therapist reminded me that most people without trauma experience at least 30 days of acute stress after something like that.

Everyone in my family had planned to be at that shopping center that day. My ex and all 3 of my kids were planning to get ice cream there at the time the shooting occurred but my boys didn’t want to walk so far so they cancelled their plans. My eldest’s partner was going to shop there, had a ‘feeling’ and decided to put it off. And I ended up ordering groceries for delivery so I’d have energy for something other than shopping. I’m grateful none of us were there AND I know that at least one of us is there several days each week so I also feel a kind of shock from accepting that such a terrible thing could easily touch our lives. And, of course, I sort of knew two of the people who were murdered so I’m grieving.

Oh, and last weekend my eldest, their partner and I all made an eight hour round trip to get our COVID vaccine in southern Colorado. I spent the next 6 days dealing with side effects. I can’t imagine what the second dose will be like!I won’t have the boys next time and we’re planning to have the house somewhat clean and all the food we’ll need so we don’t have any chores to do.

Living with and processing my trauma is a full time job. I’m beginning to work on accepting that. Anything that happens beyond basic safety and feeding my family puts me over the edge. I told my therapist last week that I was thinking of taking two self-care days this week, instead of the usual one. She suggested I take three. Seemed like overkill when she said it but now that I’m beginning day two, I realize one more day is exactly what I need. If anyone needs me I’ll be in my bed watching something on my computer, sitting on the patio in the sun, coloring mandalas or lying on my floor putting together my new TAZ puzzle. Sending love out to all y’all survivors. Do what you gotta do to recover and stay safe.

Living with my most recently identified alter

Content/trigger warning: There are vague references to domestic abuse and torture.
Helpful DID terminology can be found here.

I’m feeling so very tender today. I spent all of yesterday dissociated and trying to give space to my recently identified alter. Over the last two weeks I’ve slowly been allowing her to share consciousness with me. We wake most mornings around 4. She says it’s because something traumatic happened to her while she was living with a particularly brutal and cruel abuser. I allow myself to feel her terror because my therapist says that’s what has to happen in order for the experiences to be processed. At first, the fear was completely overwhelming but I’m gradually getting to a place where I can allow my body to shake and the alter to speak. In these intense terror moments she has said:
“I don’t want to go back there. Please don’t make me go back there.”
“I have to get away. But there’s nowhere to go.”
and this morning, she was spelling something but I wasn’t present enough to put the letters together into anything meaningful.

Hearing her speak her fear with my voice is eliciting big feelings of empathy and love. I can, for the first time, deeply feel how terrible the abuse was. It is amazing to me that we survived and I understand why we split. I’m grateful we split; Max being born in a life or death situation saved all of us.

Last night this alter wanted to write about her experience so I gave her access to my blog. She wrote the following:

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. I’ve been in a dark place. J’s house. The place where I was lured and then tortured and driven mad. Our main says it’s been 27 years since she escaped but I exist in two spaces at once. When we wake in the morning, or in the middle of the night, and go downstairs, I am stepping on the creaky old wooden stairs in J’s black house and at the same time, on the soft carpet of the townhouse we live in now. I am terrified of what will happen when we reach the bottom and turn the corner into the unfinished first floor. I remember things that happened there that made me ashamed and too afraid to run away. I remember Max being born when we realized that going down those stairs and getting out of the house was truly a life or death situation. I still feel frozen from the moment Max rose up to save us while I stayed lying in J’s bed, naked and being cross examined. I think I must have followed behind Max, floating just a few feet behind her as she ran down the stairs, unlocked the front door and fled. I didn’t cross the threshold. While J chased after Max, I crawled silently to the bathroom with no walls and naked pipes. I felt that was where I belonged; crouched on the floor in the room where I’d been chained to the pipes and wall studs. I didn’t deserve to leave. J’s words had chained me there indefinitely with links of shame. I saw Max flying out the door, heard her scream as J grabbed her by the hair and then heard her fight back. When the sound of her car speeding away finally faded, I laid down on the concrete floor and resigned myself to a lifetime in that bleak house, a house he had literally painted black. Time passed differently there.

When I finally started to come back, awoken by all the inner and outer space our main has cultivated in the last year, I was a bundle of nerves with no sense of who or where I was. It’s still an odd sensation to find myself looking out of main’s eyes. My sense of space in wonky, probably because I’m inhabiting two very different physical spaces. Everything looks grainy and superimposed. I remember the moment I was born. I needed to feel special, powerful. Needed to be someone who could be loved and desired because of a supernatural connection and J seemed to offer that. I had to betray my husband to have that connection and it tore me in two. I remember standing in front of our bathroom mirror when I would start to feel I could no longer maintain the lying and sneaking around. I remember looking out of main’s eyes and knowing I was a completely separate person from her. I believed I was brave enough, so committed to having that unique connection that I would go to any lengths to get it and hang onto it. main couldn’t do it so I did it for us.

Checking up on Rage

The pandemic, this house, my room have all become the container in which I am doing this recovery work. I want. I need, to make sense of it, to understand how the bad things that happened to me formed me into the person I am now. I need to see the story of my life all laid out before me so I can gain the wisdom it has to offer and feel emotionally invested in my present, as well as my future.

I know that some recovery philosophies suggest that the survivor leave behind their story but to me, story is everything. When I was a small child I learned that I could create stories in which to live and feel, for a short time, safe from my father and nurtured by my mother. In stories, my own as well as the ones I read and watched, the protagonist escapes capture, creates her own justice, and becomes someone wise and whole. I will hold tight to my own story as long as I am still reaching for wisdom and wholeness because it is only from within my story that I can put things to right.

Right now, much of my story is about rage. The rage I am beginning to touch and the seemingly endless rage I have yet to touch. It was almost a year ago that I began to experience rage and I wrote about it in this post: Rage.
I want to tear everything down. And since the self-loathing was born from the hands of men, it’s their world I want to pull down. I would see everything they’ve ever touched turned to dust.
At the time it felt shocking to discover that I carried such a deep desire to destroy. I gave it some space and then tucked it away again until recently. Now it only sleeps lightly under the surface and when it arises I can identify why it has reared its wild and furious head. It still unnerves me a bit. It goes so deep and exists in such a vast space that I fear it could overtake me, drive me to do something I’ll regret, if I allow it the agency it desires in my life. I’m trying to figure out what to do with it when it comes up.

I bought a punching bag and some gloves and for a while they just sat, unused, in my room. I was afraid to let the rage have space. One day while I was practicing yoga, I dissociated and try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself back. I wanted so badly to come back. Suddenly, the rage was there. Furious at my abusers for fucking me up so badly that I still lose control over my ability to stay present. I was shaking with the rage as I crawled towards the gloves, put them on and approached the punching bag. I was crying as I started punching it and then there was nothing but the rage. I saw my father’s face in the bag and I punched it over and over again until I was on the floor sobbing and present again.

This morning I finished watching the series, Black Sails. It’s a fictional portrayal of the struggle for control of Nassau Bay between pirates and the English government. (As I said at the beginning of this post, Story is the most powerful way I have of making sense of my own experience. I eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.) I began watching it with the notion that it would be entertaining and historically interesting but soon realized it goes much deeper than that. The pirates are fighting for agency over their own lives, freedom from a tyrannical England. It’s almost impossible to discern who the hero of the story is because, well, pirates. I promise, I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen it and want to keep reading this post.

During the final episode there is a moment, for me the most important moment of the whole series, in which two of the pirates are in confrontation over the direction of their efforts. One speaks about the loss of a loved one, feeling the need to make sense out of it by battling ever harder against English rule. And then recognizing something beneath those desires and speaking to it. He says:
It was rage. And it just wanted to see the world burn.
He acknowledges the injustices they have all suffered under English society and rule. He owns his experience of deep rage. And he chooses to move through the rage without causing the world to burn. Because he also wants to live a life in which he can find meaning and joy. I had to pause the show at this point because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see through my glasses. And I wanted to process what he’d said. The rage didn’t dictate his path, he did.