Even in My Dreams, She Haunts Me

I dreamt of my mother last night. The specifics of the dream, upon awakening, were immediately lost to me, but the impression of herself she’s carved on my psyche feels as though it is pulsating with remembrance of the scarring she caused. So many years have past since I’ve seen her in person that the line between who she was to me and what she represents to me has blurred.

I wrote yesterday that my capacity as a person isn’t related to the approval of cishet white men. I think I need to acknowledge part of what that means to me is that my parents’ views of me are irrelevant to my worth as a person, but also admit, in the same breath, that they still contour the shape of my inner world so much more than I wish they did. My reactivity to being dismissed and disrespected, the impulsiveness with which I direct my energy to defend myself, is a straight line from being constantly verbally abused and gaslit as a child and teenager.

My mother, real and internalized, was the queen of denial. She could cry and say she was never unhappy. She could have a conversation with me and, hours later, tell me she’d not seen me all day. She could witness my father sexually abusing me and pretend nothing happened. Reality was a malleable, unsequenced energy that she bent to her will. I didn’t have access to voice recorders or cell phone video growing up, but I have no doubt she would have found a way to deny the digital as well as the physical world.

She’s entered my mind as of late because of the pandemic. I fully expect, if she becomes ill, to hear from my siblings for the first time in years as to how desperate she is for my presence. This happened a few years ago when she got cancer, and, when I tried to form a limited amount of communication with her, she denied that she in any way initiated their contact with me. She thinks she owns me and can manipulate me to suit her needs after all this distance, time and hard truths.

I feel contempt more than any other emotion for her and it leaks through when I am disrespected by people who might, even in an oblique way, stand in for her in my mind. My dream had only the emotion of terror and the sensation of being trapped, that she found a way to make the story of my life collapse into itself and become only the abuse, the denial, the betrayal and the fear that underlies my relationship templates. A part of me wants to light up all the circuit boards the next time I’m rebuked for sharing a verifiable truth, to call out the privilege that is no doubt driving the “well, actually…” I’m receiving. I know this will lead to a response of useless and defensive posturing. The truth of my triggering will be apparent if I start emailing sources and data to prove my point.

My mission statement for this year includes “powerful vulnerability.” I wonder what the response would be if I responded with “you telling me I’m wrong about something I’ve extensively researched and for which I could easily locate 10+ scientific sources is reminiscent of how my parents responded to me when I spoke a truth they didn’t want to receive as a child. I’ve learned how futile it is to argue with someone who doesn’t give my voice the weight it deserves, so I’m not going to waste any more energy on this discussion.” There are people who show me through their responses that they value what I have to say and take it in without defensive skepticism. There is a new story of my life I can tell, but I have to stop stalling out in the shallows of my past in order to do so.

Forwards and Backwards (In the Cards)

Today’s card focused on two themes that I would like to explore: 1) the fears that are difficult for me to face and 2) the interplay of restoration and a fresh start. In seeking health and happiness, I think it can be useful to know what might hold me back from taking risks to obtain it. It is also useful to consider what in my life needs to be torn down and what might be salvageable.

I would say that I fear the unknown, but in reality I think my strongest fear is of what I’ve known. In being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the context of my family, I’ve known the possible depths of both direct harm and betrayal from a very early age. Perhaps the best way to put it is I fear being helpless again; losing my autonomy and having people who wish me ill control my means of subsistence. Mine was a friendless upbringing that I would do almost anything to avoid revisiting.

In fearing the known more than the unknown, I believe that I’ve resisted fashioning my life in direct opposition to that which I knew growing up, even though some of the outcomes of my choices would seem to contradict this. I’ve tried to make who I am and what I do a reflection of my core values, strengths and skills. I want to stand for something and not only against something, but trust me when I tell you I know my enemies.

One of my most passionate intellectual pursuits is questioning the frame–stepping outside of dichotomies to deconstruct the boundaries of inquiry and to critically evaluate the biases that lead to limited potential. In applying this line of thought to the issue of renewal versus change, perhaps there is renewal and rejuvenation through change and change through a retooling of what already exists. In reality, I’m more on the “burn it all down and start again” rather than the “save whatever you can” end of the spectrum of how one approaches problem areas, but I love the idea of reclaiming pieces of my origins and of generating new growth through the vestiges of what I’ve lost. Going back to go forward and moving ahead to find the past. I have no idea what that looks like as a lived experience, but it sounds more enticing than a linear journey.

To the extent that fear influences your life, is your fear based on wishing to avoid what you’ve already had to endure or is it centered on staying away from new dangers? Which appeals to you more–recharging the past or starting anew? How may these dual pursuits influence each other in your life?

Expressing Gratitude through Journaling (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I connect a push towards gratitude with invalidation and ignorance of injustice, especially when statements such as “well at least…” or “everything happens for a reason” come my way. It’s hard, therefore, for me to focus on that for which I am grateful in the midst of feeling grossly mistreated yesterday. If there is anything for which I feel appreciative, it is the experience of being fully present and settled in my body.

Present-moment awareness comes and goes for me as I contend with PTSD and dissociation. When I was younger, I lived for the future, thinking that if I changed my circumstances, I could change how I felt inside. Over time, I learned that the scars of my past would continue to ache, even if I left those who wounded me behind. My future seems as relentless as what as gone before: unknowable, uncontrollable and unlikely to make me happy on its own.

Where I find my solace now, when it happens, is in living awake instead of in slumber by connected to my body, my breath and the world around me directly through my senses. These are the moments for which I am grateful, when I am no longer lost in rumination or dread. I have to feel “safe enough” in order to turn my powers of perception from my inner mental world to the outer physical world; anyone or anything that enables me to do so is also an encounter I cherish.

Giving Myself Permission to Pause (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

When you’ve spent most of a Monday crying, your week is probably not off to a good start. I had to deal with blatant transphobia, mis-gendering and a dismissal of my past experiences of sexual abuse, all wrapped up in a high-pressure, high-stress situation this morning, and have been dissociating–going in and out of full presence of mind–ever since. When I get like this, I have no filter and overshare, so I also managed to come out to someone as trans who I perhaps should not have. (Their reply was “trans, what’s that?” so yeah it went not so well).

Time distortion occurs with dissociative disorders, and, for me at least, is accompanied by loss of planning and organizing skills. I will start taking incoherent actions without being able to follow one step to the next, as if my short-term memory is lost. Sometimes this includes aimlessly driving or wandering in circles. I can’t stop until I’ve done what I can to feel resolved for the day.

This time, I lost over four hours before I was able to slow down enough to complete my simple pleasure. I’m writing this post and listening to music not to “calm down” but to try to be here instead of in one hundred places, scattered across time, at once. I despise with every cell in my body the fact that people and situations still have the capacity to trigger me into this state of bewilderment. As I pause, I learn the same lesson I do whenever this happens, which is to do everything in my power that I can to not add to this kind of suffering in the world but rather to reduce it. I want to humanize and connect rather than alienated and de-person others. First, I have to gather myself back to my core. How have you paused today, and what did you find when you did?