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October 18, 2012

When the Tide Goes Out…

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 6:26 pm

A friend once told me that the happiest times in his life have been times when he continuously asks himself, “What is true?” I’m sitting on a couch, for example. I’m typing on a computer. The wall in front of me is red, etc. “What can I know about the situation that I’m in?”

I had a pretty abusive relationship with my mother growing up.

Sometimes, I feel like this wasn’t a particularly big deal. I’m resilient, and I had a lot of positive influences in my childhood that helped counteract the negative impacts of my relationship with my mom and, like many (many, many, many) other people who’ve suffered various forms of physical, emotional, sexual, psychological and epistemic abuse, I’ve done okay for myself anyway. In fact, even some of those negative impacts have transformed me in ways that I appreciate as an adult. This doesn’t mean that the pain of abuse was “worth” the tools and skills and strength I gained through learning to survive. It just means that I like myself and I wouldn’t trade in my life, even the bad parts.

And sometimes, I feel like it’s the end of the fucking world. That having my one-and-only childhood taken from me in that way was shitty, and tragic, and a really huge deal. That it’s limited me and damaged me in ways that I’ll never fully recover from in this lifetime. That, as with most peoples’ relationships to the people who raised them, my history of abuse is a part of the fundamental fabric of who I am. That it transformed me in ways I don’t like and wish were different, that it will always be a source of some fragility and sickness and suffering at my core, no matter how healthy or well-supported I am otherwise. That it’s something that should never happen to anybody, ever, under any circumstances, and that it was totally unfair.

For a long time, I was in denial about the fact that it had happened at all. Until my mid-twenties, any suggestion of “abuse” in my history or the history of anyone else who didn’t claim that word themselves triggered the fuck out of me — made me angry, defensive, righteously indignant. (I ha-a-a-ated Dr. Drew and his stupid radio show, too, for this and other reasons.)

…And it made me really scared. Because whatever else might be “wrong” with me, it was something I could “fix” if I just worked hard enough to achieve my arête. But if I had been abused as a child, well, then I was just fucked. Broken forever.

When I finally cut my mom off, made enough space from my present-day relationship with her to deal with the past, it was like a dam breaking. I was a wreck for months. Sobbing at random. Curled up in bed scared with the curtains pulled tight, unable to go to work, fears and images surfacing and surrounding me, uncontrollable shaking fits, the worst hallucinogenic panic attacks of my life. Abuse was all I could talk about, all I could think about; it colored everything else in my life. Anger. Hopelessness. This was it. I was broken forever.

One particularly comatose and crazy winter afternoon, my friend Matthew came and pulled me out of my room. It had dumped more than a foot of powder the previous night and, having recently moved back from more temperate climes, his three year old son had never seen snow before. They wanted to go to the park. I remember walking, stricken and bleary-eyed, next to Matthew, watching Trevor, bundled up in baby boots and parka, as he scrambled and waded and *thwumped* through the unfamiliar consistency of this sparkling lanscape. At some point, I turned to Matthew and said, “Y’know one thing that’s great about kids? Perspective. They make you feel like your own life is over. It’s not really about what happens to me anymore. Now, I get to be an extra in Trevor’s story.”

Trevor decided we were in a story about werewolves. So when we got to the playground, we howled. And howled and howled and some of the inarticulable grief escaped in guttural growls and spitting snarls and my throat was raw for the next two days. And I sat on the swings and watched Trev discovering snow and I took deep breaths and imagined that with every exhalation, swarms of bees were pouring out of my mouth and into the world and that, somehow, I was okay. That catharsis was nowhere near the end of the process. It was, y’know, somewhere in the middle.

I haven’t seen my mother now in about three years. I haven’t had a panic attack in about six months. It will be another year at least, maybe more, but I will probably want to see her again. Eventually. I’m pretty sure. The other day, when the possibility of running into my mother unexpectedly came up and I got incredibly angry and then started to cry, my therapist called it “a traumagenic response.”

“You don’t think I’m making it up?” I asked, “Sometimes, I’m afraid I’m making it all up.”

“Why would you make something like this up?”

Part of me is afraid to be okay. I’m afraid because I worry that, if I don’t feel totally destroyed by my abuse at all times, that means it didn’t really happen, or that it didn’t matter that much, and so it’s not something I need or deserve support around. But sometimes, I feel like it wasn’t a particularly big deal. And sometimes, I feel like it was the end of the fucking world. Neither feeling, nor any of the more complex feelings in-between, changes the facts about what happened to me or the ways it impacted my life. Having a diverse range of feelings about an experience doesn’t make the experience itself less real. It just means that grief comes in waves.

What is true?

My mother is not a bad person. But she hurt me very badly when I was a child. Some days, I’m a little bit broken forever. And, at the moment, I feel mostly okay.

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