things to think about

today i am thinking about: (no more) secret survival
May 9, 2010, 1:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I went and saw my friend’s show yesterday, Secret Survivors. It’s a show about child sexual abuse. This post is probably not going to be easy, pals — just as a warning.

I could not get through this show for bawling my fucking face off. I had to leave for probably 15 minutes in the middle of it and sob like a baby in the bathroom. There were therapists there, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually talk to one. How can I explain all of it to a stranger? In 10 minutes? 15? I let myself cry, and I loitered a little while, and then I went back in to finish out the show. I almost had to leave again.

I have trouble with defining myself as a survivor of abuse. I have a LOT of trouble with that definition. I am a survivor of chaos and instability, for sure. I am a survivor of certain kinds of neglect. But it’s not like I was sexually abused or hit or anything — I tell myself that is why I can’t possibly be a survivor of abuse. It just wasn’t bad enough.

But the real reason I can’t possibly define myself as a survivor of abuse is that I imagine my mom’s face when I say it. I imagine how sad she would be, I imagine her crying, I imagine her telling me I am blowing everything out of proportion. She loved me so much. Everything she did, she did for me! Everything she did was trying to do her best for me and my sister. And my sister! What about her! She doesn’t talk about it like that! Why do I have to blow everything out of proportion! It’s probably the fault of the schools, and the brainwashing, and the liberal agenda. It’s not like I was ever hit, after all. It’s not like I was ever really abused.

The bathroom in my parents’ house was the safest place I could think of as a kid. The door opened in, and there were a set of drawers you could pull out to keep the door from opening. It was the one room in the house where my privacy was completely unimpeachable. Ever since, I think I like bathrooms. They feel safe. And so that is where I go to cry.

There were therapists on hand last night but I couldn’t bring myself to go up to them: what was I going to say? How could I explain it all to a stranger immediately? I had walked past them as I was trying to walk in a dignified manner towards the bathroom to cry in peace and they saw me afterwards as I was trying to psych myself back up to go in. If I looked really upset, I reasoned, they’d say something to me. I must not have looked that upset.

For me, this is a sign of being triggered, not that it is no big deal. I am just learning to figure that out.

This show made me confront my own mythology of surviving and dealing. The fact of the matter is, I don’t. I am operating out of the same basic problems as before and working with the same basic and twisted mythologies. Myths like: I am emotionally reactive and overly sensitive. I should suffer in silence. Nothing will ever get better anyways so I can’t ask anyone to change. People know my needs and choose not to meet them, so I have to respect their choice. If something goes south, it’s probably my fault. My needs are inflammatory and risky, so I shouldn’t bring them up. I expect nothing will ever change, so I have a hard time trying. My boundaries are negotiable, and other people’s are unimpeachable.

I had allies, eventually, as I got older and got lucky. I left home early and did a lot of fighting to stay on my feet, but I made it and here I am. I can’t feel my own successes and I work too much trying to run harder to the next victory. I am tired of this. Tired of not being able to do these own things. Tired of my own messy underbelly. Tired and trying to figure out what happens next.

Survival is political. I keep telling myself this. Survival is political. It is a political choice to choose to take care of yourself and to believe your own experiences. It is a choice I haven’t been able to make. Of course I am not able to be an activist right now; I still am not convinced of the value of my own survival, let alone how to struggle for it. I don’t say that in a melodramatic Lisa Frank sticker way; I just see in myself all of these triggers, left undiscussed, and the ways that I do not believe in myself have everything to do with the world I grew up in.

I want to make a commitment to both coming back into social justice work and to getting through this stuff. It is more accurate to say I want to re-make this committment, since I keep trying to make it and running away. The weight and size of this makes me want to blow it off, or hide from it, or hide it under the 100 things I do that keep me too tired to engage with my feelings. To me, somehow, this social justice landscape and this personal work are impossible to separate — one thing this show last night made clear — we are all cracked and broken and we are all putting the world back together.

What have you done to survive? What have you done to push through? I think about shit like group therapy and I think about shit like going to live in the woods. I think about my relationship to art and how dishonest it is that I am trying to keep myself out of it — as if I can talk about anything else. As if I don’t pray someone will decipher the code.

I am reckoning with my own anger around this. I am reckoning with my own anger and my own lack of solutions. I am reckoning with my own anger and lack of solutions and my shitty, shitty memory. I remember writing “I hate my family” on the door; I remember not knowing why. I remember sneaking out of the bathroom where I had locked myself in, or was it that I was locked in, or was it that I provoked my parents so they would lock me in so then I could sneak out justifiedly? I remember my mother forcing me to hold her hand as we walked around the grocery store after some kind of huge blowout; I remember being unable to stay in my body, but I don’t remember the fight. I remember leaving after my mom read my journal, and staying away for as long as I could; I don’t remember how long I stayed away. I remember wishing I had a lunch like the other kids, but I don’t remember why I didn’t. Because I forgot my lunch box? Because I didn’t get treats and junk food? I mean, I must’ve had lunch every day, right? Right? I don’t even remember if I did or not. Someone would’ve noticed if I didn’t, right? Right? Right?

Lately I notice how bad I want to make people into a parent. I want someone to validate me, and care for me, and tell me I’m smart, and talk about my problems. It’s been a hard run lately and I am a leaky balloon, leaking my hard feelings all over. It’s moments like these that I feel my loss and feel what I wish I had. I have done a pretty good job of making for myself a world where I am cared for in this way, despite it all, but I am always afraid to ask. Even when the door is open, even when there is a therapist on a couch five feet away from me, snotting and hysterical. My gift to myself this mother’s day is, I hope, having enough love for myself to accept and meet my needs.

1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

This is the kind of post that leaves me pretty wordless, but I want to comment to say thank you for writing it,

I want you to survive. You gave me a mantra months ago: “Survival is holy.” It’s true for you too. Love you much.

Comment by locustsandhoney

Leave a Reply to locustsandhoney Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: