two hundred & fifty five: sympathy

i don’t remember how old i was when i realized that there was a difference between sympathy and empathy, but i do remember that i identified strongly with empathy versus sympathy. to me, it seems that sympathy is a sort of passive, removed, unembodied pity for someone else’s misfortune or pain, while empathy is actually sharing in the experience of their feelings. i don’t know if we can always control how we feel, or how removed we are from feeling it. but to me, sympathy reeks of condescension, privilege, and almost like a show of emotion that is for the consumption of other people. like, oh i feel so bad for them, oh my gawwwwd, it’s just so awful. as opposed to actually feeling their pain, being able to relate to it, and wanting to connect with another human being.

i don’t know if i’m making sense at all coz i’m two gins and one gravol into my night, and because i’m sad and thinking about how my mom has had a complete and utter lack of empathy (or sympathy, come to think of it) for the fact that i’m devastated by what’s happened to me and by her rejection of my experience. and how so much was for show, even back then. it’s easy to make a show of caring, isn’t it? but to take the time and effort to connect to another human, to feel their hurt and their pain? not for the phony, or the faint of heart, or those so deeply buried in denial that they will sacrifice their own child.

 

Affirmation (159)

People who have grown up in abusive families tend to have missed out on these growing up, I think. Maybe they totally clung to them whenever they received positive affirmations from people, or maybe they dismissed them, refused to let them in, shrugged them off as not truthful, they are only saying that because they don’t really understand, they don’t understand all the reasons you’re actually just terrible. Some people do both; I did. Both clung to any slight positive affirmation thrown my way, and refused to truly let it in. Voices inside my head citing off every single reason that the person was wrong to say what they did, backed up with the data of every single time everybody else said something bad to you, or wasn’t there.

Now, particularly when I’m young, I need (too) many of these from people that I have let in. (Which is not very many people – only pocketcanadian and my therapist). Sometimes my shame surrounding this feels crippling…because to me asking for affirmations – that I’m not alone, that my hurt is justified, that I’m not bad, that I’m loved, or even just that I matter, my hurt matters; all of it feels needy. It feels weak.

In both mine and pc’s circumstances, our parents are acting like nothing is really wrong. It is crazy-making. Like truly *crazy* making. I’m sure there are unfortunately so many out there that know exactly what I mean, and I can’t begin to sufficiently express how insane it makes you feel when your family are carrying on as though everything is just dandy. In my case having no doubt as to the abuse actually having taken place (after all, I didn’t tell them, they merely asked me to confirm it), but nonetheless having a family dinner complete with my abuser, as though we are one happy family. Most of the time I know that they are the crazy ones, but sometimes i start to truly question my sanity…have I lost it? Did I tell them? Am I imagining all of it taking place? Or are they right, is this just not a big deal but I’m making it into one?
This is maybe the most hurtful part of it all.

And so, my point to that last paragraph, was that having somebody by your side, rooting you on, confirming that yes, that really did happen, and yes they really are doing what they’re doing, and no my love, you are not the crazy one, they are the crazy ones, the crazy is theirs, not yours…Having those affirmations, is invaluable, and without it I don’t think I would be here. It feels like when you take the stabilizers off your bike for the first time and you have somebody running alongside you as you cycle…you’re still so scared, still unsure, you still don’t feel totally safe, but you know there’s someone right with you, keeping you going, there ready for when you fall, reassuring you.

thirty-one: young

today, like so many days before it, i woke up feeling young.

i felt abandoned and wrong in my body and needy and alone. i was sad and hopeless and hurt and i just wanted to stay curled up and small in my bed, with my worn soft plush pup under my cheek.

being young rarely feels joyous, or excited, or energetic to me. it feels scared and little, diminutive, empty. not freeing. the opposite of, in fact.

i hated being young.

*

i also used to hate her, the young one inside of me, for being so difficult and disruptive and inconvenient. i used to treat her just like they did – dismissively, impatiently, angrily. i didn’t want to hear what she had to say. didn’t have time for her. wouldn’t make room because i didn’t want to feel the things she made me feel, or see the things she wanted to show me. i didn’t want to know. i didn’t want to know.

so, like any child, she upped the ante. got louder. more persistent. more creative, more stubborn. until i couldn’t ignore it anymore, until i got blown wide open, until our feelings got so huge they engulfed me and choked me and nearly put a stop to me entirely.

*

they say (‘they’ being all the experts out there on repressed childhood sexual abuse) that when our own children are the age we were when the abuse happened, something shifts, becomes undammed. as much as my original, unique little fucking snowflake-y self hates to admit it, i was a textbook case. i started remembering things when my daughter was three.

three, folks.

how does a toddler understand grown men touching her body and making her touch theirs? how does she process it? what does she tell herself? where does she put it?

(i’ll tell you where: down. way, way, way down, so deep it doesn’t get found for nearly four decades. that’s where.)

*

so yeah, feeling young feels bad. unsafe and unsettled. and the needing…oh god, it’s huge. i don’t know what it is, except it’s everything. desperate for being held and being hugged and being close but then not so close and then not hugged and not held. it’s angry and panicky and scared and sad and ashamed. it’s all and none of it, just spinning and spinning and spinning…

*

i hate feeling young now for different reasons than i used to. i don’t hate her anymore, for one. do you know, she is so smart, so industrious, so strong. she got us here, kept us safe. experienced it all firsthand, felt all of it, in her little beating heart and with her tiny hands and her open, trusting face. her serious brown eyes held back so many tears, her shoulders bore so much hurt. all those tummy aches, all those sick feelings, all the worries and guilt and humiliation. i am awestruck at her adaptations and her resolve to stay standing. she is amazing.

no, i hate feeling young because the grief of what she experienced, the ache of it, the hurt, seems an infinitesimal chasm in my gut. because i look at pictures of her and feel as though i might die of the sadness of it. for what she knew, for what what she carried alone. i look at her sweet little face and it is so so hard because now, i see her, i see all of it.

*

so, being young…is imbued with such soreness, such tenderness, such sadness. because all of the feelings she tucked away, way down deep, are bubbling up now, and she needs my help. needs my presence, my support, my guidance, to hold her, so that she’s not alone with it, like she was then.

and when i think i can’t do it anymore, when i feel desperate and spinning and alone and afraid, i remember that she already did. one little foot trudging ahead of the other, chin set, shoulders straight.

so yeah, i can do this. she did, and we will continue to.

eleven: (it’s all in your) head

i’m going to start here with a content warning, for material that may elicit a strong emotional response for some readers

i heard that a lot, as a kid: it’s all in your head. 

my anxieties, fears, understandings of the world. all the things my senses took in.

and what those words meant was, those things you’re thinking and feeling? are made up. not real. figments of an overactive, negative, critical imagination. incorrect. wrong. faulty.

there was only one real version, and it was never mine.

believing that? fucks you up. (but you don’t figure that out until muuuuuuuch later). out of necessity, i suppose, i swallowed this mantra whole. this fear isn’t real, it’s in my head. this anxiety is not real, i’m making it up. this terror is baseless, i’m vying for attention. i was grateful to have it pathologized because at least there were labels for my experience: depression, anxiety, panic disorder. but even then, the therapies were to help me come to my senses. stop fabricating stories, twisting things around, so that i could be happy. and correct. and acceptable.

the ironic thing is, living in my head is also what protected me. what allowed me to forget so many things, both the awful and the painfully, achingly sweet. it’s where i rewrote history, and bought in to their version of reality. it’s what’s made me the clever, silly, capable human that i am. living in my head, severing the connection to my body, is how i survived.

and now, decades later, my body is starting to reawaken, as i reconnect those pathways that were slammed shut in those long-ago moments of near-death. sometimes my body just feels things, without any thoughts leading the way. i find my cheeks wet and think, huh, i must be sad. i feel a hottish swell in my chest and realize, wow, i’m angry.

some of the things i feel, however, have no accompanying words. have no descriptors, legend, or manual. i have to fight the compulsion to take a knife to my breasts: head, what d’you think about that? i have a sudden, overwhelmingly horrible/pleasurable/shameful pulsing ache between my legs: sooooo, head, what do you make of this?

rediscovering what’s real and what’s true feels like the longest, loneliest, most circuitous and solitary hike ever. one step forward for every four steps back. i’m not even sure i have enough life left to get to the end of it. i don’t know if i’ll ever fully decode it. or whether i’ll find the words in my head to match the sensations in this aging body, to be able to make sense of it all. i just don’t know.

(gah, i know. it’s so fucking dark. i’m really sorry for that. but it’s where i’m living, these past few days. in this middle ground between head and body, fumbling. that’s what’s real at the moment. it will get better. it has to.)