CW-sexual abuse and its after effects; domestic violence
Here I am after watching another episode (ok, 2) of The Blacklist. There’s something about the stories in this show that spark self-reflection and revelation in me. This morning I experienced two such revelations. The first, a simple one, occurred when one of the main characters decides to start talking about his previous life of crime with his wife. At a young age he got picked up by a criminal who groomed him to take on any identity flawlessly in order to insert himself into other criminal organizations or to exact revenge for a client. His whole adult life had been one of moving from one identity to another, and at some point in his marriage he decided to come clean. But he’s afraid he won’t be able to leave that life behind. He does have hope so he decides to talk about those other lives with his wife, as well as the doubt he feels.
“What’s not natural is to talk about my doubt. So that’s my promise: to share it with you.”
I immediately thought of my relationship with my husband and the doubt I often have that I’m even capable of leading a “normal” life. Can I be vulnerable enough to truly open myself up to intimacy? Can I be present enough with my children to love them deeply and not shut myself away from their pain and questions? Is there enough of me left to have a family and not let them down? At the very least I should be talking about these doubts.
That leads me to the second revelation. A woman in the episode who left her family behind after abandoning her life as an MI6 agent to become part of the criminal underworld. She believes the things she’s done have made her incapable of being a good mother but the main female character assures her it’s never too late to go back. I couldn’t help but think of the things I did as a teenager and young woman. Whoring myself in trade for drugs for my friends. Sleeping around without any regard for my own safety or the trust of those closest to me. Betraying the trust of my first husband multiple times. Lying and seducing. It’s not just the things I did that make me question who I am but the things that happened to me. Being beaten, being locked in a house for days at a time, tortured, raped, demeaned, dehumanized, stalked. How could a person who’s been through so much still love, be loved, be human?
The memories I have of those events, of most of my past, don’t feel like my own memories. I was so compartmentalized and closed off then that nothing even felt real and I often questioned reality. But even while those things didn’t seem real, I did do them and horrific things did happen to me and those events had an impact on my nervous system. Maybe I’d be capable of committing such acts, or being a victim, if the circumstances of my life changed and I suddenly found myself powerless again. But right now I’m afraid to merge the old me with the present me. Unlike the woman in the show, I chose to leave my old life behind before I’d become too separated from the new life I was building. But now I’m left looking at all the bloody pieces and trying to decide if they can be saved.
And I’m left with a question: How can I be the same person who experienced all those terrible things? How did I get here? Am I the person I think I am or am I a fraud?
When I went through those things, did those things, I wasn’t living in my body to the extent that I do now. I couldn’t feel the cues my body was giving me about people and the environment around me.
That teenager I was had just emerged from years of abuse. She was, of course, terribly wounded and what she knew about the world and relationships was warped as a result of living a life in which her father did terrible things to her in the dark, things she couldn’t even put words to, but had to keep secret in order to protect her family. She was an expert at being two, sometimes more, different people. Using sex to stay safe and cement relationships made sense to her.
The young woman who was stalked and frequently physically assaulted lived daily with the awareness that a violent death was possible at any time. Her nervous system was on high alert all the time. I feel surges of that in my current life but not because I’m in actual danger, but because my nervous system gets set off and goes haywire.
The young woman who couldn’t be herself and vulnerable in her early relationships had learned at a young age that shutting herself away from intimacy was all that allowed her to survive without her mind being blown into a million pieces.
I am that teenager and that young woman but I feel so separated from them. It’s as though they died to protect a part of myself that could make a meaningful life. If I put the pieces back together will they live and will that be a good thing?