at first i thought that my comment on pocketbrit’s post was pretty much all i wanted to say on the topic…except it seems that her post has disappeared, and now i don’t remember what i said. so i’m going to try again.
i think all of us live in what i like to call opposite-land at times…we say one thing while meaning another. and it’s all in the delivery, right? ‘i’m fine’ accompanied by a downcast gaze, or quick, snappy body language, or a blazing stare all mean, quite clearly, that the person is not very fine at all. but for pocketbrit and i, who built our relationship via text on a screen (on a forum for survivors of sexual abuse, then over email, now using a chatting app), it was sometimes hard to tell tone. however, i learned fairly quickish (yet slower than most, likely) that for her, fine usually did not mean that she was okay.
i tried to search through our chat history using the word fine but it came up with about 75,420,291 hits…okay, a slight exaggeration, but it is a word that comes up between us frequently, and hurts us both. she won’t believe it, but i don’t think she’s wrong and i’m right in how we use it, not even a little. it is more just that this one small word has managed to highlight so completely and painfully the worst and biggest hurts from our past, the ways they have settled in our bones and continue to injure us in the now. it is horrible and amazing both, how quickly it can flip a switch on our communication, how much power it wields. and tonight, it makes me mad that i let it so often, when i should know better. (oh hello shame, you wily arsehole.)
as she has written about previously, my sweetest pocketbrit was not permitted feelings in her family; her role was as a peace-keeper amongst her brothers, her dad, and even between her parents. there was no room for her to feel anything. no one asked, and no one, within or outside her family, dug beneath the facade of fineness. any unfine feelings she did have were quickly swallowed in order for her to stay safe, to survive.
being fine was the only option for her, really, for years and years (and i’d argue, even now) and that’s an awful thing to come to terms with. re-experiencing the aloneness of a forced fine-ness is fucking terrible, bad enough as an adult, but even worse through the heart of a child. a child who wants to be rescued; who wants to be seen and known and adored and held, like all children do. like we deserved.
i know pocketbrit’s story. i know it, and i understand it. i know that her need for fineness when she is anything but is not to do with me. i know it’s about protecting herself, and most of all, i want her to be safe. god, it is so so important to me that she is safe, that the wee ones inside are safe. and when i’m firmly planted as an adult, her fineness/not fineness doesn’t affect me in the same way as when i’m less adult. it doesn’t hurt. i can think, ah, pocketbrit needs to stay safe, okay. it is in those moments that i can ask whether she’s really fine, or whether she needs to be (as she referenced in her post). it’s those times that no matter her response to that question, whether it’s truthful or less truthful or angry or barricaded, that i can stay steady. if she says she’s fine and she’s not really, it may be mildly frustrating, sure, but i don’t spin out. i can be fine, truly fine, in the face of however she is.
the crap part is, i haven’t had many of those moments lately, where i’m fine, or anything approximating it. i’ve been very unfine lately. and so has she.
and that’s when it all goes to shit, really. when we’re both little and needing. when we’re tired or missing each other. when we want to have our needs met without having to ask, without having to say the words. when we need to be remembered by the other, when we can’t do it ourselves. basically, when our traumas get all tangled and knotted between us and suddenly we’re wading through a colossal triggery mess.
for me, the hook is the word fine, a little, yes, but mostly it’s about doublespeak. when i’m young, or if i’m not sturdy in my adultness, my terror with hearing things are fine (when the circumstances are so shit that there’s no possible way they could be) comes from knowing that i am expected to know, and that because i don’t, i will have to guess, that i will have to search, and that i will inevitably get it wrong.
coz that was my entire childhood. i grew up with a mother who had an endless number of triggers, it seemed. who metamorphosed into a petulant furious child when she was hurt or upset. and her lack of boundaries, her volatility, her inconsistency, made for very confusing, unsafe times for child-me. coz when my mom was hurt or upset, she raged, she lashed out with whatever was nearest, she slammed things around, she screamed in my face, but worst of all was when she would go completely silent, for hours or sometimes days.
it made my stomach drop out. it was clear i was being punished, but she wouldn’t tell me why, or what. during these silent periods, when i asked for something she’d sometimes respond, but with no eye contact. she would serve me food, turn on the taps for my bath, but in silence. and if she did meet my gaze, her eyes were empty and dead. she handled me like i was a thing. it was like i had disappeared, like i didn’t exist, and i absorbed her disgust like a sponge.
for years, when this happened, i would flail desperately, trying to make it right, trying to fix it, trying to get her to look at me, to love me. and then, in a distant, quiet voice, looking somewhere over my shoulder, she’d say that she was fine. it didn’t matter. and there was no correct response to that. the only right thing was that i was wrong, regardless. my existence, my presence, was wrong.
so it’s a little bit the word fine, but mostly it’s the perpetual wrongness that’s my trigger. the feeling from long ago, of being trapped, of having no clue what to do but being pretty certain that it will be wrong no matter what. the helplessness that swallows me whole when i’m faced with a word that has so many shades of meaning, that is so super charged.
so yeah, when i’m already triggered, or when i’m young already (or teetering on edge of it), when i’m lost in shame, hearing pocketbrit tell me she’s fine creates instant panic. it feels like i have to guess and i know i’ll get it wrong, and then many times, i’m flooded with anger and blame (to cover my terror) and then it’s already gone to shit, hasn’t it.
so here are my solutions around using the word fine. we should:
- identify exactly how we’re feeling every given moment
- only say the word as it’s meant – as in, all is well over here!
- stay safe at all times so we never resort to past coping mechanisms
- check our shame at the door, or if we experience it, be able to dial it back asap
- remember that we love each other
- remember what love is, period
yeah they’re shit solutions. i know. i knew it when i started trying to write them. it’s coz there aren’t any solutions, i don’t think.
saying fine is not a problem to be solved, to start…i mean, yeah, all the things that are glued to it are problematic, but we didn’t paste them there. we didn’t choose them on our own, though we are the ones who have to deal with them.
update (as of may 12/19): even though the original entry was only a couple months ago, i was struck by the fact tonight that this word hasn’t come up in ages. i mean, we certainly haven’t stopped triggering each other, and we’ve had some absolutely horrific arguments since then…one in particular for which i need to do a whole lot more repair with one of her young parts…but not about this word. progress? i think so. i really do. coz even after reflecting on all of this again, even thinking about all the hard stuff we’ve been through together and on our own, all i feel is love and gratitude. she’s the friend for me.