Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Rule Forty-two. All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.

Everybody looked at Alice.
"I'm not a mile high," said Alice.
"You are," said the King.
"Nearly two miles high," added the Queen.
"Well, I sha'n't go, at any rate," said Alice; "besides, that's not a regular rule: you invented it just now."
"It's the oldest rule in the book," said the King.
"Then it ought to be Number One," said Alice.
-Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Chapter XII
Last Tuesday (therapy day), I was telling my therapist, who is amazing, that I feel like I live in two different worlds, the "real" world, the present time, where I work and interact with people, and my emotional world, where the past and the present (and maybe the future) swirl around with each other, get mixed up, where I hide myself, where I really live. The emotional world feels much more real than the real world. The outside world seems under control, calm, while the secret world is chaos. It's why I can't sleep well, why I have vivid, disturbing dreams about my family. It's why I wake up confused, and sometimes during the day feel numb and disconnected. My therapist said it was like Alice in Wonderland, like I was "through the looking glass" and living with the distortions contained within. She compared my dad to the Red Queen, which really made me laugh because it's true. It was also funny because she has never seen my arms uncovered, since I go there straight from work. She didn't know I have Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, the Griffin, the pig baby, the Cook (but not the Queen of Hearts), the White Rabbit, and a hedgehog all on my left arm. The Mad Hatter was my first tattoo, if that gives any indication of how completely I love those books.

Of all the books I've read as a child and an adult, all the fantasy and adventure books that have sustained me, and all the female protagonists I felt connected to, Alice in Wonderland (lumping together Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) holds a completely unique place in my life. My first memory of it was when I was 7 or 8 years old, had the chicken pox and was home from school, completely miserable (I loved school, and chicken pox is no picnic) and my mom read it to me. At the time, I felt like my mom had no idea that she was revealing something secret and hidden to me, something she didn't understand but spoke directly to me. It was an odd feeling. It would be like if you were looking at a painting with someone, and realized that there was a picture behind the main image, and that the person you were looking at it with could not see the second picture. I read and re-read the books on my own, especially the poems within the story. I read the notes accompanying some editions of the book, that explained the political and cultural references. I think my fascination with both poetry and politics started with Lewis Carroll. Poetry is the hidden language. ("Poetry is a metaphorical suggests the actuality that hides behind the visible aspect." -Joseph Campbell)

My life, as a child in an abusive home, was all about what was secret, what was behind the surface of a seemingly normal family. But more than just acknowledging the existence of secret, hidden worlds, these books showed me how imagination, metaphor, could be your own special world, a developed and actualized place that could express your inner emotional life, through symbols and characters. It gave me the key (pun not intended, but a pretty good one nevertheless) to how I could both escape and live with the fear and uncertainty of my regular life. I could create a world within myself where all these feelings could go, everything I didn't know what to do with, and I could create a strong facade that could withstand the terrifying contradictions of my life, namely, adults that were supposed to be trustworthy and caring who used me, threatened my life and existence, and abandoned me when I needed help. Interacting every day with other children who had no idea how scary and confusing my life was, and the searing loneliness I felt knowing that only my brother could begin to understand what I was going through. It wasn't that my hidden world wasn't scary. It was just as scary as my real life. It was just a place where the scared feelings could go and be hidden in the symbolism of my subconscious. It was a place where I could protect those feelings, all those feelings, and protect myself. I protected myself by keeping parts of myself, the most vulnerable parts, hidden deep inside of myself. It was where I kept the truths of my life.

As my therapist said, I did all my emotional development there, in a place with no adult guidance and no support (as my brother was too young for me to talk to about this, and I was too young to explain it. He did support me in a lot of ways, though.) This was also the place where I had to figure out ways to understand the real world so I could live in it and survive. Children need a sense of safety, stability, and hope, even in situations that are dangerous, unpredictable, and hopeless. Otherwise you go crazy, like what happened to my brother. It's not really about avoiding feeling bad, it's about psychological and physical survival. As I'm beginning to understand, a child's psyche is not developed enough to understand abusive adults. Hell, most adults don't understand how an adult could abuse a child. I don't understand it as an adult, even though I lived it. So when you're a kid trying to make sense of it, it requires some big distortions in your thinking to be able to fathom it. Most of these involve blaming yourself, and vilifying your reactions to the treatment you're receiving to de-legitimize the feelings your having. For example, convincing yourself that your anger is wrong and evidence that you are wrong, because there is nothing to be angry about since you are causing the abuse yourself. This way you can believe that your parents are protecting and caring for you, and their unpredictable and seemingly capricious violence against you is actually legitimate punishment for breaking legitimate rules that you just don't understand correctly. You can't believe that they are just making up excuses to justify their abuse, because that would make the adults in your life total assholes and liars.
"These three major forms of adaptation-- the elaboration of dissociative defenses, the development of a fragmented identity, and the pathological regulation of emotional states-- permit the child to survive in an environment of chronic abuse. Further, they generally allow the child victim to preserve the appearance of normality which is of such importance to the abusive family. The child's distress symptoms are generally well hidden. Altered states of consciousness, memory lapses, and other dissociative symptoms are not generally recognized. The formation of a malignant negative identity is generally disguised by the socially conforming "false self." Psychosomatic symptoms are rarely traced to their source. And self-destructive behavior carried out in secret generally goes unnoticed...most are able successfully to conceal the extent of their psychological difficulties. Most abused children reach adulthood with their secrets intact."

-Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, M.D., chapter 5, p. 110 (I have nothing to do with the overuse of the word "generally".)
Last Tuesday my therapist leaned over her knees so she could look me right in the eyes, and said, "The way you made sense of what was happening to you was brilliant, but wrong. The way you think about yourself is distorted. It's like you need...a translator between 'World A' and 'World B'. You need a way to keep your perceptions and feelings, but be able to see the real world in a more realistic way. And see yourself in a more realistic way."

I needed my secret world when I was a kid, but as an adult I do feel that my thinking is distorted. I see the real world through the lens of my childhood nightmare. It is my world, the world that makes sense to me, but it's a world where people often seem crazy, where I'm chasing something I can't seem to catch, my only companions on my journey seem to fade away and reappear out of my control, often not being there when I need them and not very helpful when they are, a baby in someone else's arms turns into a pig in mine, roses that are obviously white are painted red, and I am always trying to adjust myself to situations but seem to be either too big or too small, i.e. wrong. Out of step. I feel like everyone can tell I just don't fit in, and don't understand what is going on. The rules seem random, and the punishments for not following these rules excessively harsh. Reality feels deeply unpredictable and unstable. Unlike Alice, I don't ever wake up.

Maybe because I learned to hold contradictory views of people as a child, such as loving and idolizing my dad even while he was acting like a dick, I am able to hold really unforgiving and uncharitable views of myself, holding myself responsible for all manner of bad things that happen in my life, and at the same time a fierce confidence in myself, that I can overcome any difficulty and be successful. So as discouraging as it is to realize how profoundly my childhood twisted me emotionally, and how fragmented and disconnected my emotional life is, and mostly, how much worse it is than I was previously able to fathom, my confidence in my ability to fix myself rises to the occasion. Patience is really my biggest challenge. It will take time (almost another pun) to sort through the feelings and distortions and who I am underneath all that. And then I can try to knit the worlds together in some way that makes sense to me. It definitely makes me want to reread the Alice in Wonderland books, which will take time as well since I am still making my way through Harry Potter (at the end of book three) and the Sookie Stackhouse books (2/3's of the way through the second one). There is something extremely reassuring in discovering that I still love books as much as I did when I was a kid- even a baby as I used to sleep with my Dr. Seuss ABC book instead of a stuffed animal. Just like when I was a kid, I have to fight the urge to stay up reading all night instead of going to bed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Things are not looking good for my John Zeiler groupie-ness.
is totally impressed with how fast Maia thoroughly offended the Ducks fans in front of us. Go Kings!
getting reemed by Subaru dealer. At least the headlight is under warranty. Don't trust anyone else w/ beloved Penelope.

Friday, September 18, 2009

You're hungry, but I'm starving

I'm having one of my confused times, where my emotions are so active, swirling around in my head, that I have a hard time making them concrete enough to write about them. I have been going to therapy once a week, and my emotional problems now seem much larger then they did before. Denial, I suppose. I've been trying to put my life back together for some time now. I emotionally and psychologically separated from my past, at least in my conscious mind, built walls between my present and my past to try to protect myself from overwhelming and confusing feelings that I didn't have the perspective and support to resolve at the time. Of course it was all still there, in my subconscious. Therapy is bringing it back into my consciousness. This therapist feels kind of like a parent, the kind of parent I never had. A parental figure who knows more than I do, who I can let down my guard a little with. Sometimes I feel like I am reverting back to an 8 year old, at least in the way that I feel. I'm seeing now that the things I am struggling with have their roots back to that time, and earlier.

I went through two photo albums and scanned some of the pictures into my computer. They are from when I was a baby up through age 21 or so. The more I look at them, the more solid I feel. Disconnecting from the past made me groundless, like I was a ghost of myself. I am starting to feel more real, more myself. This is uncomfortable too, because I am still struggling with intense feelings of terror, betrayal, and confusion. But I feel better, even though I am sometimes overwhelmed with everything that comes up, and stress, and a lot of resistance. I feel better just feeling a little more solid and real.

I have gotten back into reading fiction lately, which also reconnects me to my childhood. I loved to read so much back then, and my favorite were fantasy and adventure stories with a strong protagonist, that came in a series. So I've been reading both the Sookie Stackhouse books (by Charlaine Harris, the ones that the TV show True Blood is based on) and Harry Potter. These totally remind me of books I would read as a kid. I caught up on the Harry Potter movies first, but I am really enjoying the books because of the detail, especially hearing more of the character's internal dialog. I can't help but to relate to Harry- how he is troubled and conflicted, struggling with guilt and resentment, yet still the hero and a likable character. The way his aunt and uncle jump all over him and punish him just for being himself, how he can never placate them, and how they make it obvious that he is not their favorite- yes, I can relate to that. The fantasy of being whisked away from a cruel family to be with people who understand and appreciate you- this is an appealing fantasy for me. Even though it is not a fantasy that is relevant to me as an adult, it brings me back to my childhood, and the pleasure I take in it is for myself as a child. The fantasy of good vs evil is appealing as well. I find it very satisfying when the underdog triumphs over the (almost) overwhelming forces of evil. Part of the agony of PTSD is living with the affects of evil that you could not fight, could not win against, so it feels good to at least imagine the defeat of evil.

The Sookie books- well, when I got to the part in the first book (Dead Until Dark) when Sookie is describing her great-uncle fondling her, and her family trying to simultaneously deny and minimize the sexual abuse, it hit almost too close to home. I really bonded with the character at that point. Again, with those books, you read the inner dialog and feel the range of emotions, often conflicting. The characters are likable without being perfect or having their emotions always under control. People have outbursts; they get upset. I used to think my dad was scary because he had emotional outbursts, but now I understand that those weren't emotional outbursts. He wasn't out of control, he was highly controlled. He used "emotion" to manipulate and control other people. When I look at pictures of my dad now, I remember how cold and calculating he really was. I remember how hard his eyes were. Getting upset and having feelings doesn't make you abusive, and it shouldn't make you the target of abuse either. Somehow reading about these character's feelings is helping me feel better about having them myself.

I am learning, and trying to take in, a lot of big deal realities about myself and my experiences. Huge stuff. One of the hardest things for me to struggle against is that I learned to suppress my feelings to protect myself as a kid. It was dangerous for me to express myself back then. It feels very, very scary for me to feel things, because if I let myself feel and react to stuff that happens or things in my head from the past, I cannot always control my feelings, and I instinctively feel a lot of terror at the idea that people will know how I am feeling. This is not going on in my rational mind, it is happening in the part of my brain that is very, very concerned with survival. When I expressed emotions in my family, I got the shit beat out of me. I thought I would be killed. On at least one occasion, I almost was. That part of my brain is very powerful, the part that is trying to control my feelings because it thinks it is saving my life. It did save my life, many times. I just don't need it the same way anymore. It doesn't believe that. By piecing together my timeline, looking at myself as a kid, relating to who I was back then, it seems to be slowly seeping in that things are different now. I am not different, but my life is different. I am still who I am but my environment is less threatening.

Less threatening, but not entirely. I have been having nightmares. I feel tired and nauseous. Earlier tonight, someone knocked on my door, and I have been too scared to leave since then because I am afraid whoever it was is waiting for me outside. My dreams are awful. Disturbing. There are a lot of monsters living in my head. I like the monsters in my books a lot better than these monsters in my head.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

is having the kind of day that calls for a cherry coke & the season finale of True Blood.