I have a guided imagery mp3 for PTSD that I've been listening to every night for almost a year now. It feels like it was made specifically for me, but the description says it was designed for "combat vets, survivors of rape, bombings, accidents, natural disasters and incest". Two out of six.
The meditation has you image a sympathetic presence (which I always imagine as my brother, naturally) accompany you into your own heart. The first level is cold and barren, with smoldering heaps of resentment and anger, geysers of pain, and winds of loneliness, among other things. Then you travel into a deeper place in your heart that is lush and green, and you are approached by more sympathetic presences, who offer you shards of your own heart (it's a little confusing if you try to think about it literally) to collect and take with you.
When I get to this point in the guided imagery, I am half asleep and in a meditative state, but I still had a hard time imagining who this crowd of fantasy well-wishers would be. Some characters from the Lord of the Rings movies, mostly elves, would show up, as well as some animals. Since I went to the Anime Expo two weeks ago, my friendly crowd has swelled in ranks to include characters I saw there, both ones that people were dressed up as and the ones in art form. I even saw one that looked a lot like what my brother would be like as a anime/manga character- Monkey D. Luffy. (The above is me dressed up as another anime character, Rin Tohsaka.)
I look forward to the imagery because it's my time with my brother. I've had to figure out a way to stay connected to him since he died, and this really helps. He's not the same as he was before he died, but the way I imagine him seems right for the way he would be after death. He is similar to what he's like in my dreams about him, and the dream his best friend had about him. Also, I think the guided imagery is helping me sort out the PTSD, as is reading my sexual abuse book The Courage to Heal. Especially since I had a major revelation last week- I am not emotionally damaged.
I was totally thinking of myself that way, and thinking I was so messed up that I would never be emotionally "normal" even with my attempts at recovery. But I realized that I am emotionally "normal" for someone who has gone through the things I have. When I read about coping mechanisms in The Courage to Heal, I realize just how normal, for a sexual abuse survivor, my feelings and emotional struggles are. After writing my post last week, I also realized that I do have a strong inner core that is untouched and undiminished by the abuse. (As this appears to be the overall point to the guided imagery, I guess it is successfully seeping into my subconscious.) This is a gigantic change in my mindset- rather than thinking that I have been warped and distorted beyond recognition by the abuse and somehow I have to twist myself into something resembling an emotionally healthy and whole human being, I have a landscape of wreckage that is my past, but isn't me. It's intensity and power over me has weakened over time.
I really, really hate the term "emotional baggage" (as a pop psychology term, it seems to trivialize pain in a "work out all your problems before the commercial break" kind of way), but it does effectively evoke the way that unresolved trauma can drag you down. It is a very static term, though. I prefer to think about myself as having been caught in a hurricane of emotions that were too painful and overwhelming to deal with at the time of the trauma (besides that I was busy trying to survive it), and continued to swirl around me, obscuring my vision and acting as a barrier between me and other people. It made it hard for me to live in the present, as the past was always flying around my head. There was some clarity in the eye of the storm, but I was still stuck in the middle of it without knowing how to get out and how to connect with people on the outside.
I am currently reading about the healing process in my sexual abuse book, and realized pretty quickly that I have already processed a lot of it. I've been writing about the abuse on this blog for more than 3 years, almost 4. (3 years and 8 months, to be exact.) While I am in the process of writing about it, the emotions are like daggers in my heart and afterwards I feel drained and exhausted with all that has bled out of me. Over the next week, though, I feel lighter, relieved to have left some of the pain behind.
The two feelings that have been the most tenacious are anger and guilt.
Anger gets a bad rap. I'm not a fan of angry people, and don't want to be one myself, especially since I grew up with the poster child of how not to express your anger- my dad. When you're in an abusive situation, though, the lack of safety, the attacks, being prevented from expressing yourself and your feelings, all that causes a lot of negative feelings to build inside you, and you can direct it inwards as self-hatred or outwards as anger towards the people who are attacking you. Anger helped me to maintain a separate sense of self, apart from the negative messages I was getting about myself and my worth. Anger helped me place more of the blame for the way I was being treated with the person doing it and not myself. Anger motivated me to actively fight for myself and my well-being. Anger was the sentinels guarding the deep places inside me, keeping all the outside noise from taking shots at the inner confidence I needed to survive.
Now that I'm a strong and capable adult who can't be victimized in that way anymore, that anger has turned into a longing for justice. I'm angry that my dad and great-uncle got away with what they did to me. I'm furious that my dad moved on to another family, and my great-uncle continued to have access to young girls. Neither of them have a criminal record. My brother is dead, and from where I'm sitting my dad has some responsibility for that. I really have no recourse, and revenge isn't even a possibility. They are adults- there's nothing I can do to them that would make them feel the helplessness and terror they caused me as a child. They totally got away with it.
The only thing that brings me comfort is that, deep down, I believe the universe balances itself out in some way. I don't understand it; I don't know why I believe this, but I believe in "what goes around, comes around". Probably every religion has a philosophy around how people are held accountable for their actions and justice is achieved. It's one of those big questions, like what happens after you die. Maybe we just tell ourselves that life is inherently fair so we aren't driven crazy by the fact that bad people get away with bad things all the time, and most of the time it seems that the victims are the ones who pay most, if not all, of the price for it. Popular culture also tells us that when you seek revenge, you turn into the thing you hate the most. There must be thousands of movies with that message. (I just saw Blood: the Last Vampire last night.) As Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” (I found that quote in my brother's room after he died. It reassured me that we really did understand each other.)
Maybe I'm choosing to have faith in justice because I can't live with the alternative, but who cares. I don't really want revenge because what good does more suffering in my family do me? I want accountability, but it's out of my hands now. I did everything I could do. The best thing I can do for myself is let it go.
Guilt requires that you feel you had a choice, you had options, and you blew it. You need to have had some power over the situation. Abused children don't have the power to end the abuse. Guilt is a terrible thing to live with, but the one thing it does for you is give you a sense of power. At the time, it was better to feel guilty than helpless, especially when I was trying to convince myself that I had power in my own life, if not over my abusers. I directed a lot of my desire for influence and responsibility into my brother. I knew that I was a lost cause- all my efforts to stop myself from being abused were failures and I would never amount to much, but I could pour my efforts into taking care of and encouraging Jeff because he would do well in life. It didn't matter that my life was totally chaos as long as he was moving towards his potential. His suicide really pulled the rug out from under me. As painful and confusing as my life had been until his death, at least I had my other half. The good one. The normal one. The one with a future and parents who loved and cared for him (so I thought). The guilt keeps me tied to a time when I had few ambitions for my own future, but no doubts about the unconditional love, support, and stability I shared with the one person who was truly family. I wasn't lonely or worried about the future, and I didn't care what anyone else thought of me.
Without the guilt, there's just sadness over all the things he missed out on, all the conversations I'm missing out on, that empty space in my life. I think of him whenever I do something he's be proud of me for, like graduating from college, moving to L.A., playing hockey, or I experience something he would have enjoyed, like Obama's election, the Simpsons movie, Anime Expo, Comic Con coming up. Every day I feel it, but there's nothing I can do except continue to bang my head again the wall or chose to accept it, as wrong and messed up as it is that I'm the one who survived. I've felt so much survivor guilt I can't do it anymore.
(The title is from the song "Eyes on Fire" by Blue Foundation. The song was in the movie Twilight, but if you're not into the whole Twilight thing, don't be a hater. The band is amazing anyway.)