Pieces coming together

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?

Some answers:

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?

 

Pieces of me

image credit–Alice Mason (found on Pinterest)

I did not grow up whole. My father became a monster at night; a monster of darkness who was shapeless and did things no child should be aware of, let alone the victim of. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. The horrors I endured were blotted out and turned into blank spots in my memory and, inevitably, the blotting out often took with it other memories, good and pure memories, as well as pieces of who I am at my core. They were gone so thoroughly that it was as if they’d never existed. But anyone who understands psychology knows that nothing in the psyche ever completely disappears. They might descend to some part of the Self that is so hidden and so secret that they might never be seen again. Unless someone is searching.

Ever since I began recovering memories of the abuse I have been searching. My life’s work has been to dig down into those hidden places to bring back the parts of myself that were scattered and lost to me. Sometimes I uncover them as fragments of memories or feelings I can’t quite catch hold of. Sometimes it is in the act of caring for my own children that forgotten piece of me emerges and I find myself aching to be a child again with parents who value life and safety as much as I do for my little ones. Sometimes it’s my husband’s intimate touch that recalls the joy and pleasure in my body that I have a right to own and revel in.

But these scattered pieces, dug up one by one, are not like a jig saw puzzle whose pieces you can lay out by color and turn in your hand until you find the snug little space where they fit. There are too many missing pieces; it will probably take me a lifetime to find most of them and I don’t even hope to find them all. No, they are more like archeological clues to a life long gone but that somehow lives on in descendants. The curve of a cheek, the tendency towards outbursts of joy, the exact shade of green and shape of the eye.

Often these fragments turn up unexpectedly but with an understanding that I was seeking them all along, I just didn’t know why I turned down that street, or chose to read a certain book, or go through an old box of photos. Lately I’ve been watching a network tv show called The Blacklist. It’s about a career criminal, Reddington, who’s turned himself in as an informat to the FBI with the stipulation that he will only work with a particular new and unseasoned agent–a young woman who lost her parents as a child and doesn’t know anything about her family history. It’s pretty clear that this career criminal could very well be the father she thought died long ago but it’s also mystery no one can solve, because the criminal doesn’t seem to want the young woman to know. I started watching the show, even though it’s different from the genres I’m usually interested in, because my life has been challenging lately and the darkness of The Punisher and Stranger things was more than I could handle right now. I’ve thought about why I chose The Blacklist. There’s the main character, Liz, and she desperately wants a connection to a father figure. I used to want that too and I’ve found it in a couple of very safe older men. But I kept brushing off the question of why because that one connection didn’t seem to be enough. I’m sure there’s a reason because most of the things I do are driven by an internal compass that guides me towards meaning and wholeness.

I got up while it was still dark this morning and my husband and 3 children still slept and I watched an episode of The Blacklist. It was a particularly exciting and suspenseful episode with the story line being part of the main story arc. Who is Liz’s father, really? Why does Reddington go to such lengths to protect Liz? I’m listening as Reddington and a man who claims to be Liz’s father talk about Liz’s mother. Not the simple ‘what was her name?’ but ‘who was she, truly and deeply?’ There was a wildness and a freedom about her that made others felt exilharated. And I found myself crying. I used to be that way. Unafraid because what else could happen to me that would rival what my father had already done? I crept into empty houses, had sex with my boyfriend in public parks, skipped school to go tubing down the guadelupe river. Me. The same person who’s spent the last 20 years trying to break down the issues I have around safety and control. The person who used to keep everything in it’s proper place and became so anxiety ridden she could no longer even walk to the mailbox in front of her house.

But I could feel that younger, wild me as I stood outside this morning in the shattering 10 degree air. This little piece of myself that only emerges in moments when I feel especially safe or unusually brave. And it was as though I could turn that piece of my puzzle in my hands and look at all the sides of it, rough and torn and dusty but full of life and joy. And as with most of the fragments I find I ask: Where can that fit now? Can I be that and be who I am now? Am I capable of feeling so free and so much deep, wild joy? Would it be safe for me to reclaim that part of myself? Would it interfere with my judgment or my children’s safety?

For a while I’ll hold close near my heart and from time to time I’ll take it out and ponder it’s place. I know it won’t fit precisely into my life in some neat little puzzle like space. I’ll have to be careful not to tear existing parts of my life by forcefully shoving into a place it doesn’t fit. It’s almost alive and whole of its own accord, this small piece of me. We will have to grow back into one another. Sinew and skin, muscle and bone. For now I just keep thinking of how, long ago, this part of me would unpredictably make me stand up in a field or even a parking lot and dance and spin and watch the world circling above me with light pouring down onto my face.