One Year

Three days ago I quietly celebrated one year in this safe space with each of you. I am still, and may always be, hoisted above myself in my father’s iron grip, but by some miracle my voice has been wild and free here — free and subtle and powerful as the wind.

What is left of me evades the trappings of my own body. This year I’ve come into close contact with that stuff we call our ‘essence’. Mine being called to the unique cadence of silence, the woods I love, the right words, warmth shaking in me until it sets and holds.

Next week I’ll celebrate another birthday with real gratitude for surviving another year when we all know how hard life is, how fleeting hope can be. I keep on going for my daughter, for the community of child abuse survivors who are still told either directly or indirectly to ‘grow up’ or ‘get over it’ or to ‘find something else to focus on’.

Scientists now know that there are significant changes that occur in our brains — changes that affect emotional processing and regulation — that are distinct from those without an abuse background. That knowledge is only going to grow and expand until we can link this early trauma to so many complex problems that ail our society.

It’s already happening, and the stories we tell are adding the richness that is a necessary partner to any new scientific discoveries on this topic. When we are hurt when we are so very young, something in us breaks like tender shoots. Something vital is severed and our sense of self, our faith in our purpose here, withers.

The grief endures, in my estimation, a lifetime. That relentless grief for who I might have been had I been loved and protected properly, right from the start. As I grow older, as time continues rapidly passing, I’m less and less willing to pretend that each day isn’t difficult, that each breath isn’t; we owe it to ourselves, and to our vulnerable community, to help others understand the link between our suffering and our pasts.

By some strange miracle, something in me, something there right from the start, was untouched, somehow preserved, while I was fighting for my life. That same something — call it an essence, call it a soul — wants me here in this marvelous, frightening, awful, striking, fruiting present.

This next year I’ll strive to stay right here telling these important stories while reading more and more of yours; thank you, thank you, thank you, for being here with me.

LB

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The Nature of Pain

There’s an ease developing between P and me that feels like falling. That delicious kind of falling that feels safe right at the edge of letting go. We are becoming familiar to one another and so it’s easier to take chances, to take risks. He’s been feather-light, navigating my needs and wants with a new deftness born of knowing me, of knowing us and how we are together.

To say that it feels good is as futile as telling of the beauty of the stars; being with him has felt as spiritual. There’s nothing I won’t voice, including the dark earth of my wanting — that cold, dark, trembling place I’ve known since childhood. When I close my eyes I’m sometimes buried there even in an intimate space with just one other person.

“I want you,” I told him just yesterday. “I need you. How pathetic it sounds by now.”

“Not to me, LB,” he said so firmly, so softly.

He’s settling into his new space and it’s bare and cool and soothing. There’s a wall of creamy curtains and french doors that stick, and a little bell that knocks against the glass when I enter through the front door. We have been alone there, completely alone, and I can see him, sense him, so clearly.

The walls are white. The floor is white. It’s clean and bare and open. His artwork is lined against the baseboards. There’s an old wall unit for warmth that shoots slender blue flames. It’s really perfect for him, for his own unique being and spirit. I’ve imagined him curled on the very couch where I sit, cradled in that gentle light, reading or thinking or drifting away into sleep.

During our last few sessions in this new place we’ve spoken about the nature of pain (something about the energy there lends itself to the exploration of those dark places) and I told him I’d recently had the thought that being immersed in it isn’t the end of the world.

“I always survive,” I told him. “I always make it through.”

It’s true.

I can sit and I can wait through the worst of it all, through the past shaking my foundations, while concurrently feeling the wholeness of the place I will return to. The shaking, the ripping, the crumbling, doesn’t last forever — it never does. The pain comes, the pain goes. It isn’t the end it masquerades as.

It just isn’t. How wonderful to finally know.

I’ve just thought of a line from Vievee Francis, also about renegotiating our relationship with pain:

“It seems as if I might ride the beast that haunts me if I could just let go. Let it take me up easily as this gale is lifting me now.”   ~ From “White Mountain” Forest Primeval.

Lightly, lightly, ever so lightly, rock through it; moan through it; dance through it; tune a music box tight through it; ripple your legs like wings through it; sing an awful song through it.

Run through it; walk at a snail’s pace through it.

We cannot go back in time to change what happened to us — the heinous crimes, the murdering of our souls — but we can be ready when the past comes

and takes

and wants us back where we hurt.

It is like surviving some disaster, a storm, a pillaging. Choose your own metaphor. When it’s over, though, and I look around at my life, I ask myself if anything is truly wrong, truly missing, truly broken beyond repair.

And the answer is no. The answer is always mercifully, no.

Love to you all,

LB

Watch Me Let Go

I had my last session in our little blue room, and I didn’t so much as utter a single goodbye.

“I’ve loved loving you here,” I told P. “But this is just a room. Just four walls.”

What I’ll miss is the intimacy of the space. The fact that if I spread my feet just a little I could touch his so easily. I’ll miss feeling that we were sitting high up in the clouds and the miraculous appearance of any birds in flight. I’ll miss the shades pulled down low and golden light on grey winter days; our new room won’t have them.

And it will be larger. This new place. Much larger. I’ve already had fantasies of pacing while we talk like Dr. Paul Weston’s patients in that HBO series, In Treatment. Maybe there’s a window ledge to perch upon while I’m chimney sweeping.

It will be so, so quiet. Just the two of us my entire hour. I feel sure that he’ll order things so that I will not see anyone else there, coming or leaving. He enjoys a small number of clients in the long-term, so I imagine that scheduling is done with a certain intentionality now. With a certain kind of love and care for each of us.

“It has an industrial feel,” P told me. “It will be imperfect at the beginning, but later with the right furnishings…”

“I love imperfect spaces. I’ve never lived anywhere that was perfect,” I said.

I want to buy him a little desert flower that can survive in a glass ball with just a few sprays of water. One on an almost invisible string he can hang from the ceiling, in a place where it will just make the light. He’s funny about gifts, but he’s getting better with time and practice. I gave him a copy of Giovanni’s Room (my favorite book in this whole, big world) for Christmas last year and he’s just now finished it; I remember his remarkable frown when I handed it over to him. But now,

“Just about every word is stunning,” he wrote me. “I don’t want it to end.”

What feels most remarkable about this shift, about this change in environment, is that he is able to make it. In his way, in this way, he is teaching a valuable lesson:

Watch me let go. Watch me move forward. See these rhythms. See me here flowing easily down my own life.

Row, row, row, your boat gently down the stream…

I’ve been watching him these nearly three years. Watching him the way I watched my mother, the way I watched my father. Looking for the truth of my fate in their voices, their gestures, their negligence, their violence, their fear.

You aren’t going to make it, girl! You can believe what you want, but I’m telling you what I know!

I feel the first shudders of doubt, some opening inside, however slight, leading away from their dark prophecies to some new room with space for me.

Watch me let go. 

It Took the Last of my Energy to Write to You

I am in a dark, dark place. Having been here so many times I am less afraid than I am resigned to being in pain. It’s the kind of pain that makes any slight movement difficult, that makes me feel that I am eons old, that makes everything I put into my mouth taste as if it were rotten or spoiled.

It is difficult to stay warm.

I am full of shame for not being able to help myself, or heal myself, or propel myself out into a world I don’t understand. God I’ve watched you try, P has said.

The only thing that has ever helped is some mysterious mercy. If I can wait, if I can find a patch of sun and let the hours go, or hunker down like a family in a storm cellar, I can resume some semblance of my life after. Clear the refuse and the tea cups from my writing table and begin again. Go on with mothering and meaning-making and trying to nourish myself even when it feels futile and even when it hurts.

Quiet is imperative. I cannot make any sudden movements, or endure the cruelty of the news, or gossiping rings of other people. It is as if, it is as though, I am trying to return to a place where I once, long ago, was completely safe.

While I’m waiting, while I’m away, the earth just keeps on spinning on its axis, things are still growing, the light changing. To suddenly see after taking cover for hours, days, or even weeks is to instantly come face-to-face with all that I have missed. (Once I awakened to a Blue Heron hunting at the lake, making his way in a sort of walking meditation, raising each leg like a slow hinge. That day I ran to get a better view of the tiny island where he enjoyed his catch.)

And I have missed so much. The cycle is devastating. The guilt profound.

I protect myself with a certain kind of understanding, mainly that I can’t live life the way most live it. The consequences of child abuse, of long-term unrelenting child abuse, are real and devastating. I am fighting for my life, so many are fighting for their very lives, and to pretend otherwise only exacerbates an already dire situation.

So I wait and I hope for some breakthrough. There may be an MDMA clinical trial for the treatment of PTSD in my area at some point in 2019. It could all fall apart, especially with our current administration, but it’s still on my radar.

P is MIA. Maybe traveling. Maybe dealing with his own personal stuff. Maybe at a loss for how to help after my avalanche of e-mails. Maybe taking his time to think, like he does.

I wonder if he would have taken me on almost three years ago knowing that it would be this hard to see even the smallest progress. Does he place his head in his hands when he sees my name in his inbox?

Stepping into the Sun

I took a new path to P yesterday down E. street, past the barber, the massage parlor, and the salt cave. I turned left on the one way alongside the fire station and cut through the parking garage connecting his building to the elevator.

“Hey, LB!”

P was there alongside me bright and sunny as a boy with his messenger bag slung across his shoulder and his hair low across his brow.

“Would it be too weird if I ride up with you?”

“Not at all. We’ve had some practice,” I managed.

He talked to me the whole way like we’d known each other our whole lives. Up two floors, down a breezeway, and up six more we stayed connected even with other people jammed into the elevator with us. He was loving me openly and fiercely with some pride that hurt like a healing wound.

He wouldn’t have cared who was there with us, a colleague or a family member, he would have gone on experiencing me, feeling for me like a daughter’s hand in a crowded space.

Whether he was conscious of it or not, he was re-writing one of the most painful stories in my life: that there isn’t space for me here on this earth.

You don’t know her my father always used to say.

“I found a new office, LB. It’s imperfect but quiet and I was so excited to tell you. No more fire station, or walking through the mess downtown, or contending with a waiting room full of people and other therapists.”

“I thought of you. I wanted to tell you.”

The doors opened to the room where I would wait for him. There was a man there who looked just like a poet I love who died.

“See you in just a little bit, LB,” he said and moved away down the hallway.

I heard him filling his water bottle while I pretended to read Nat Geo. I did see some portion I remember: there was a photographer, a gentle giant, six foot four, eating porcupine with a beautiful tribe. Set right down at the center of the fire, a place for honored guests, with his kind eyes.

When he called me back the whole session felt like a continuation of a story we’d already begun some time ago. I was so open I felt the warm socks on my feet, my bare legs squeezed together, the wool of my skirt, his voice across my shoulders like a shawl.

This is what it feels like, I thought. Darned if he doesn’t love me with his whole, pure heart.

We talked, we talked about everything. I told him about starting a relationship with my mother’s twin sister. About how surprisingly smart she is and how her letters have moved me to the point of wanting to go slowly. I don’t want to scare her away, I told him.

We spoke about time. How I’ve met him, become intimate with him, how it is difficult to ignore his presence for very long.

“You know, LB, this session feels really different. It occurs to me that beginning the way it did, us coming together that way, might have something to do with it.”

“You asked me to tell you more about the way I feel. Would you like to try that now? Can we do that now?”

I nodded and waited for him. The quiet pulsed. I wondered what he wouldn’t say that I already felt.

“I think, I think that even though you’re hurting and you’ve been so sad, you’ve let me in despite how you feel. I’m full of tenderness for you in this moment,”

“How does this feel for you? How does it feel to know?”

“It feels like stepping into the sun, P. It feels like being touched.”

Tuesday

“When you said, ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ at the beginning of our session, I wanted to tell you that I played kickball this weekend with some other parents and their children, and I’m still so sore even days later.”

I saw him out in the sun, towering above the others, laughing so pure the way that he does. The sky is achingly blue and the children are happy.

He was wearing a deep blue short-sleeved button down, and I knew if I could look at him, just once, I’d see a rise of pale skin at his side since he’s so tall nothing ever covers all of him.

I couldn’t look. I couldn’t even reach for a tissue when my nose was running. I used my sweater and joked about how comforting it was to set him at ease in my distress. I know now that I was too afraid to abandon my body to movement. I made some visual calculations, tried to determine if it was worth the reaching, and I just couldn’t make myself do it.

So I used my sweater.

And there’s more. Something about the pure white of that peaked angle, of the tissues, felt intimidating. Like they weren’t there for me, and that I’d be harmed for believing that they were. Taking care of my own needs in front of my father often garnered ridicule, humiliation, and worse, a dangerous scrutiny.

I remember hiding pads wrapped in toilet paper in the trash can deep beneath all the other refuse. Or stuffing books I was reading between and behind couch cushions. Or hiding a plate full of food in the cabinet behind the canned goods if I heard him pull up in the garage, terrified he’d find it and punish me for nourishing myself.

I cry in ice cream parlors. Something about the sweet and the cold and the idea of a treat wrecks me every time.

I did what I could do for myself in private.

“I don’t think I’m going to come anymore,” I heard myself say out of grief, loneliness, despondency.

“If you were gone I’d miss you,” his voice lowered to a whisper, “I’d miss loving you.”

Maybe I misheard that last part, the part about loving, but I don’t think so. His voice lowers, it always does, when he says anything soft, anything really beautiful. I’m meant to know when he’s moving deeper, taking chances for me.

“Some things you ask for, LB, I have to say no to, but I can be more deliberate and tell you more about how I feel. That’s something I can do.”

I turned my face to the clouds. To keep me there, to keep me with him, he asked about my family.

“They are so happy,” I told him. “I’ve learned how to be protective of them…”

“To protect them from your father,” P said.

I nodded.

“I’m going to hold your hour, LB, in case you change your mind.”

I have. I’ve written to him and thanked him for fighting for me.

We Know What we Need

I’m reading a book by Christopher Bollas which is, in part, about his work with adolescents suffering from schizophrenia. He writes about safety being a primary concern for them as well as a need to map themselves in relation to other bodies in their environment. His patient, young Nick, knew where Bollas lived and the path he took to make it to him each day, for example.

Perhaps the most striking observation about these children, according to Bollas, was their inability to live in a world of denial. They very much needed the truth and could suss out any form of bullshitting. They needed, in fact depended upon, deliberate words and deliberate actions.

I am often deeply frustrated when I am expected to rely upon what I know in therapy. That takes a level of trust in human beings, in human nature, that I just haven’t gained in this life. Knowing requires years and years of being loved properly, of building up stores inside for hard times. And it must begin at birth.

It isn’t that I haven’t tried. I have tried to remember those times, alone with P, when he has made it very clear how much I mean to him. Once he told me that if my father entered his office, entered our space, with the intent to harm me he would protect me, he would stand up to him without even thinking. He would do this instinctively, would shield my body with his own.

But there are still some words that I need to hear in P’s voice, some spell to degrade and dissolve the knowing I actually inherited (See Words from My Father):

I want what is best for you in this life, LB. I want you to be happy, or at least content.

I love you. I love being with you in this room during our hour.

I do not think that you are disgusting or that you have any reason to feel ashamed of your body or your mind or your spirit. 

Let my voice be stronger than your father’s.

You deserve to be here. Right here.

Don’t give up.

I was in the car a few weeks ago listening to the radio. There was a story on, a love story, and the man they were interviewing said that he knew he’d found the one because she’d come from a family wherein she’d been deeply and truly loved. He had been, too, and they’d always have that in common. They’d pass it on to their children and they to theirs and on down through the generations.

I switched the station off and cried.

We, as patients, know what we need. Each of us. All of us. I think we enter therapy knowing exactly what it will take to heal and let go of those early, devastating failures of love, mirroring, and vital connection.

Maybe it’s to be held. Maybe it’s to be told over and over again that we are safe. Maybe it’s to close our eyes without the fear of violence to our bodies. Maybe it is as simple as hearing our own voices in a quiet room.

Trust yourselves. We know. Each of us. All of us.