The past month has been one of the worst in recent memory. A difficult financial situation sparked off a tsunami of negative, shitty emotions that dragged me back somewhere that I hadn’t properly visited for years. My therapist said that it was a trauma reaction. I felt like a zombie. I felt dead and like I was just going through the motions (still do, really). It was terrifying. For every day that I’d be able to function vaguely like a normal human being (talk to a friend, maybe leave the house to get some food), I’d have two that would involve me lying in bed, either asleep or just weighed down by feelings of despair and worthlessness. I am not enough. I will never be enough, I will never be functioning, this keeps happening, it will always happen, it wouldn’t if I just tried a bit harder, I don’t try hard enough, I never have, I never will, because I’m stupid, I’m ugly and stupid, fat and disgusting… etc. That’s what happens, it’s like a never-ending heavyweight championship fight between yourself and…yourself. Different facets of your personality that co-exist alongside each other relatively peacefully (or so it seems) until something upsets the equilibrium, and then you end up swinging violently back and forth between reason and emotion until emotion wins out and you end up collapsing. The repressed bit fights back and ‘you’ lose.
I’ve had some traumatic experiences over the years, and have sort of dealt with the problems they created as they came up, but I’ve never really dealt with the trauma. I’ve never moved on. So I’ve basically dealt with the symptoms and not the cause. Thinking my mum was dead because I couldn’t wake her up from a hypo, and being unable to open the front door, so my cries for help went unheard and I felt like I couldn’t save her. Hearing my dad batter my mum, her screaming at me to call the police, while I sat on the stairs, completely frozen, thinking he would kill her. Living in constant fear that we would all be murdered – me, my mum, my little sister. Being locked in a house by my dad, with my mum and my sister, and having to organise an escape over the neighbour’s fence. Being driven around in the dark by my dad, in silence, after him uttering the words “I’m going to kill you”. That’s some of them. I still think that sometimes I’m just telling stories, because it doesn’t seem real. So I think that (understandably I guess) I’ve split off from the traumas in order to be able to function – maybe not the best functioning ever, but, you know, staying alive. If any of that stuff happened to me now…I genuinely don’t know how well I’d cope. And what does that mean, then, when it happens when you’re two and a half, when you’re ten, when you’re eleven, when you’re twelve…when you have no real sense of yourself or of the world? When all you know is underpinned by terror, pervasive and infiltrating, influencing every single feeling, thought and action? What then?
It’s so easy to see yourself as weak when you can’t necessarily live like normal people do. When you find it hard to trust people, to take people seriously, or sometimes take them at face value when they’re lying. When you’ve been manipulated so often, it’s hard to know when you’re being manipulated again. Are you, or is it paranoia? How do you know when to trust? How can you? You never know. It’s like one big game, only it’s not anymore, but because you’ve been playing it for so long, have been played, it’s hard to ever let that go.
Which is presumably why all this shit is coming up now. Because I’m having therapy, and have been for two and a half years, and it’s got to the point now where I am starting to form a proper attachment to her and feel safe. But it’s SO FUCKING SHIT. I cannot emphasise enough how hard it is. It feels so relentless. Sometimes I wish that I’d never undertaken this, that I was still in the bubble where not dealing with it all was ok. But it wasn’t, was it? Otherwise I never would have gone into that room and said I needed help. I would have just carried on, kept fucking up and not really dealing with anything. If anything it was semi-ok, and even then I would be deluding myself. The unconscious is a powerful thing.
And when I look back at what I wrote there, I think: if all that had happened to someone else, then I would feel so much compassion for them. It’s horrifying. And I’m still detached enough that I am punishing myself for not being able to just rise above it. To get over it. Which is horrible and punitive, but easier than having to get so close to those emotions that I feel them again. That’s what’s happening now, I’m getting closer and closer and it’s just…terrifying. It’s terrifying because it WAS terrifying. Recently the word I have used to describe the way I feel has been petrified. I haven’t been able to go to uni, I have barely been able to have a shower and brush my teeth (but I have, even if it’s after a day of lying in bed…yay me). I simply turned into stone, stood still while the world goes on around me, not being able to just ‘be’. Not picking up the phone, or answering texts, or interacting with anyone other than those who I can trust the most to be ok with me when I can eventually muster up the energy and courage say that I cannot cope. Who won’t judge. Who will offer me the compassion that I cannot give myself because I wasn’t given it as a child and therefore can’t fall back on it, because how can you internalise something that’s not there?
‘Being’ is difficult when you have lost a sense of what you are. Of who you are. A partner, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a sheep-lover, a food pervert, a lover of all things silly. Someone who has music running through their veins, who loves the world despite all the really bad things that have happened, who takes delight in wood pigeons and afternoon sunlight. Someone who can cope, who has coped. And when you can’t cope anymore, what then? You just have rock bottom. You have such narrow tunnel vision, like I had just over a week ago. I told my therapist that I knew I’d been happy in the past, that I’d laughed, that there had been good times, but that I couldn’t remember them. I genuinely couldn’t remember ever feeling like that. I knew that I had done, in an abstract way, but I couldn’t call on it, because all I could feel was black. It was like an out of body experience in a way, almost looking down at those experiences and seeing them, but I wasn’t able to touch them or get close to them. All I was close to was fear and grief; it surrounded me. Which I guess is what trauma is. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m still in it, really. I feel like I am coming out of it slowly, but I’m still in it, and I have a feeling that I will be for a while, because I haven’t been there for a long time and so it’s going to take a long time to get to know.
There’s the sense of feeling so alone, as well. That’s what really prompted all of this. The financial stuff was a catalyst but the feeling that was produced by it was that I was alone; that I had to deal with everything myself and always have done. That I am wholly responsible, because that is the burden that was placed on me, that is my role. I remember when I spoke to my dad about the incident in the car, years later, and his response was to laugh and say something along the lines of, “How could you ever think that I’d do that? You’re making it up. I didn’t say that, but if I did I’d have been joking. You should have said you were scared.” (Never mind that you can’t say that if you genuinely think that you’re about to be murdered.) Similarly when he read my diary and interrogated me for hours over its contents, the fact that I had even written it in the first place meant that basically it was ok to read; if I hadn’t written in it, he couldn’t have read it, right? That’s the sort of ‘logic’ that I grew up with, so very occasionally I sort of sit back and marvel at the fact that I have managed to negotiate my way around life at all. When that is ‘normal’ to you, actual normality is a fucking scary place because you can’t trust anything. (This was my childhood. Scroll down to “What NPD parents are really like”, only replace ‘she’ with ‘he’. It all sounds ludicrous if you’re not the adult child of a narcissist, but if you are it’s so overwhelmingly familiar.)
I read once about a psychologist who worked with young refugees who had lived through horrendous brutality and who had come through it. The things they ended up talking to her about were unrelated to their original trauma – like being separated from the boy they fancied in the refugee camp – and she wondered why, because it didn’t seem as though they were repressed, and she wondered how they had been able to deal with such devastating atrocities. From what I remember (I cannot for the life of me find the article) it was something to do with being able to process the trauma through sharing their experiences with people who had been through similar situations, in the refugee camps, and this processing meant that they were able to move past the trauma (something that is sort of explained in this article). I think that’s what is so different about when you’re alone; when you feel like you’re the only one, when you have nobody to turn to, when you know it’s wrong but it’s all you know and nobody else seems to be going through it…you sort of feel like it’s all your fault, and you can’t move past it at all because how can you process it when there’s nobody to process it with? So you just bury it, deep inside, like hiding an angry gremlin in a box, and it carries on rattling away inside you forever – or at least until you’re ready to deal with it. I think that’s why feeling alone takes me back into that place, because when you’re alone there is nobody to help you and it’s just you, fighting for yourself, and sometimes for your life. Fighting for everything, with the responsibility of everything and everyone’s happiness in your hands. That’s not my life anymore, but it’s going to take a while for me to really internalise that, because the stuff that has already been internalised is so profound that I am still primed and ready for danger. I don’t want to live like that anymore.