Finding the Lost

I’ve been feeling old, lately.

Ugly, aged, and… 2 dimensional.

So much has changed in the 3 and a bit years since my mental health crisis. I’m an entirely different person with an entirely different life. In so many ways that is a positive result, but there’s one long-standing aspect of that recovery that has really started to get to me.

I don’t have an identity anymore.

I think many addicts go through this when they step into recovery. You mourn the loss of your chosen substance(s), and the people who came with them. Addicts design their entire lives around their ability to get high so when they take that requirement away from themselves it very quickly becomes apparent just how substanceless their lives were when they lived under the influence.

There was a lot of catching up with the world to be done when I quit Escapism.

I suddenly had all this time. Hours of it that I had to actively fill with something. I very quickly realised that I’d only ever written whilst high or drunk and that attempting to do so whilst sober only worked while I was still raw inside recovery; when I had emotions to expunge.

The moment that I felt like I was getting “better”, like I was managing my life in a healthy and positive manner, I lost the desire to put words on paper. I lost the desire to overshare myself with the world. After three years of not writing, I’ve now lost the talent, as well.

I think the loss of my identity has much to do with it.

For the vast majority of my life I was “that weird goth girl”. I stopped being her when I moved back to this little town and there wasn’t much of a call for clubwear. I also wanted to be someone different, someone healthy, someone fixed.

I figured that fixed people don’t wear demonia boots and teenage angst… but in some ways, while I seem to manage life in a healthier manner – healthier for the world around me – it’s not necessarily healthy for myself, and I am reconsidering my stance very seriously.

I’ve gone from one emotional extreme to the other. I went from overcaring to indifference. My daughter breaks through that, of course, but basically everything else that exists in my world, does so on my emotional periphery.

I feel less than whole. I feel like a cutout, a silhouette, something that is substanceless and has nothing of any depth to offer the world. I feel that my opinion is worthless; just one more stupid voice bleating into the ether. I don’t care enough to put any conviction into anything I say, because there’s nothing besides my daughter that fills me with any kind of passion.

The only time that I feel remotely like my old self; the me whose corners are filled with meaning and life is when I’m drinking.

I don’t “drink”  anymore, I normal person drink. The demons that caused me to drown myself have been exorcised, so for the most part, I don’t “drink”, I just socially acceptably sip with friends. I mean, the edge is a very fine line and I’ve slipped over it a few times, but even when I’ve had more than I should, I haven’t turned into that angry, dangerous girl I used to become every time.

I have turned into one of the girls I used to be, though. The one who listened to music, who had opinions, who … got involved in life. I guess I just haven’t worked out how to reach her without drinking.

I think it’s because I felt that everything about the old me was wrong. It was trouble, it was broken, it had to apologise for existing. I was very compartmentalised; very dissociative. There were distinctly different me’s that occupied this body at any given time and they were sometimes so different to each other that I never got anything accomplished because they kept swapping who was in control.

I think that maybe I’m so ashamed of all the me’s that I used to be that I won’t even let the healthy aspects of them out. None of them were inherently evil; they were just always too amplified because I manifested them separately.

The experiences I’d been through in my life had taught me that to survive, I had to become what someone wanted me to be. My personalities were definitely compartmentalised and my worlds were NOT allowed to intermingle. During my Sydney days, my work people thought I was a non-drinker, despite being an alcoholic, and my friends didn’t interact with my boyfriend unless the metal and goth worlds crossed paths.

I had been taught from the age of 8 that I wasn’t entitled to my own feelings. I’d been taught that my emotional responses to situations weren’t appropriate, or they weren’t the fault of the person who caused them. I was told that my recollection of the events had been wrong.

That’s the result of gaslighting – it makes you question your sanity and grip on reality and you always come out of it doubting yourself, rather than the person telling you that you’re wrong.

The consequence of this was that my emotions had to be carefully stored and sorted individually so that I could take them apart later, when I was alone, in front of a notepad or a computer. I would write out the scenario step by step, in an attempt to convince myself that I was right. It didn’t matter though. Unless the other party relented and told me I was right, I’d never believe myself, despite clear evidence and occasionally witnesses.

The self-doubt was so extensive that little by little, the whole, full person that I was began to be eroded away until all that was left was a quiet little blank canvas, always alert for signs to tell me how I should act to avoid displeasing that bully.

So those hidden emotions created all those different me’s who only came out one at a time, in amplified doses, and because I learned to be who I needed to be for the person I was with, I never actually established who I was as a real life person.

I think the only time I have ever been close to being “myself”  was the tiny little year when I was 13 years old and started high school. I left the bully behind and hadn’t yet started real life relationships with boys who taught me that my only worth was between my legs.

Once that happened, the effects of the PTSD caused by the bullying began to kick in and the social chameleon was born.

I escaped through my clothing and music and internet friends – and that’s where I first learned how to have completely separate worlds. Internet friends have always been safe, the one place I was able to be my real self because they couldn’t touch me, I didn’t feel threatened by them. They were my confidantes and probably my life savers once I began that emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship at 15.

Moving back to this little town as an adult meant that I no longer had the luxury of compartmentalising my life. I didn’t have the escape of a metal gig or club, where I could listen to the music that speaks to my soul and calms me down and makes me feel light and good.

When I binged, work knew about it, because it usually happened with them, or within their sight at one of the few pubs left in town. I couldn’t run anywhere anymore, there were no hiding places, and the walls kept falling in on me. I just broke beneath the pressure and the weed-induced paranoia.

So now I feel that to avoid that ever happening again, I’ve got walls that are so big that even I can’t get into them. Walls that I didn’t actually realise I’d put up. I will never run the risk of falling apart again, of becoming all those different people if I simply don’t allow myself to feel the emotions that breed them.

The only person who is safe for me to experience unconditionally is my daughter, because she loves me with everything that she is. She doesn’t have an agenda, an ulterior motive.

To protect her, and keep her safe from the other me’s, I just exist as this safe, but unfulfilled shell.

The unfulfilled part is starting to make me not quite as safe anymore, however, and old emotions are beginning to creep in.

Depression, ennui, futility, apathy and a big fat dose of self-disgust. I avoid mirrors at the moment – not because of my weight, but because of my face. I hate what stares back at me. Those big teeth, big gums, pale lips, old skin, empty eyes.

I see the passage of time on that face and it reminds me that I’ve accomplished nothing in life besides the basic evolutionary function that all organisms instinctively perform to ensure the continuation of the species.

I’ve whinged a lot on the internet, but that’s basically it. I mean, I don’t even have a hobby. I can’t even answer the question “what do you enjoy?” because the answer to that is “nothing”.

I enjoy not being present.

Despite a diagnosis, therapy, and feeling that I’ve worked through the traumas that caused my need to escape into a mind-altering substance on a daily basis, I still find myself drawn to pursuits that allow time to pass without me engaging with the world – reading, television, movies – sucking in someone else’s creativity in an effort to avoid doing anything myself.

This? This isn’t creativity, it isn’t writing. This is doing what my tagline says – using blogging as a cheap form of therapy.

And I’m not sure whether I have the energy or even the inclination to do otherwise.

Something’s gotta give, I know that.

My family is about to make some big changes, which I think are probably long overdue, and that’s as good a time as any for me to implement some others.

I might spend my non-smoking money on a new pair of demonia boots, or a corset. I might set up a media centre in the new house so I can listen to my music again, instead of The Wiggles or the countless nursery rhyme playlists my daughter watches on YouTube.

Maybe, if I reach in and pick some of the parts of the old me’s that felt good and pair them with the aspects of the new me that bring me peace, I’ll manage to cobble together some sort of epic goth/martha stewart Frankenstein that brings me fulfillment.

In fact, to get me started I might just buy myself this pretty Skull Apron.

classy_cook_aprons

and these boots.

demonia trashville - beserk

and I need to stop looking because I’ve added $568 worth of things to a wishlist and I’m supposed to be packing boxes for moving…

 

 

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The Little Things

There are always little things your significant other does, which elicit an uncontrollable response in your body.

They are tiny things, things that no other person outside your bubble would ever understand, or react to. Things that are yours alone…

Like the way you can tell which footsteps are his in a crowded room.
The way you can sense that he’s coming up behind you to rest one hand on your shoulder as the other stretches out to shake that of the person who has just introduced himself to you at the party.
Or sometimes it’s the sight of his keys in the change bowl when you come home which causes your heart to flutter and skip a couple of beats.
What about the way that you know exactly how he is going to react to something based solely on the manner in which he has removed his shoes for the afternoon?

For some of us, these things bring warmth and love and gentle sunshine smiles that fill up all our corners.

For some of us, these things are catalysts that elicit the fight or flight response. They fill you with fear – Fear of the known, but unpredictable. The fear of his raised voice, or that quiet, cold one he gets when he pierces you with his eyes. The dread that fills you when he places his hand on your shoulder while he shakes the hand of that man who introduced himself to you at the party.

… the fear of a man introducing himself to you at a party.

You ignore them, at first. If you do mention them, you are embarrassed to be informed that you merely overreacted. Sometimes this news is given to you with an indulgent smile and a little pat on the head as your significant other walks out of the room, silently letting you know that the conversation is over.

So you shrink away from the world. Away from the people asking the odd question here and there – Are you okay? You’re very quiet tonight. Is Significant Other okay? He seems a little cranky. You run out of excuses and cover stories quicker than you’d suspect.

So you shrink into your bubble with him, where you can somewhat control the environment to limit the things that cause his hand to ball into a fist and find that soft spot just to the left of your spine.

Your voice becomes small and your vocabulary shrinks to “please”, “thank you” and “I’m sorry”. You ask for permission to read your book, to shower, to go to your family’s house or a friend’s birthday. Your every move and every thought, handed to him in the hope that by asking for his permission, you will not only be allowed to apply for a new job but will be rewarded for your obesiance.

You think about leaving. You do. It crosses your mind a lot, but then you hear his gentle arguments, explaining why you deserved it. You feel his fingers brushing your hair back from your face, the tendrils stuck to your wet cheeks, cold ropes of hair being tucked behind your ears as he whispers all the ways in which you wronged him, and do you understand now? Do you understand what your actions did to his feelings? The way you confuse him? You can be so loving sometimes, and then you disrespect him like that. Or sometimes you just imagined it, you must have been having a different conversation with a different person because that’s not what was said in the one you had with him.

You stop listening to any voices who try to convince you to end it. You don’t have the energy to listen to them, your energy is all gone now, it is constantly being used to predict his next outburst, to tiptoe through your own life and make as few ripples as possible to mark your passage.

Eventually you can’t even hear your own voice, begging. You hear it through his ears where it has become an ugly whine, a pathetic whimper from a useless, weak, ugly woman who will never amount to anything.

It is by this point that nothing in his behaviour shocks you anymore. You are used to the fear that fills you when he does something nice for you. You know that you will have to pay for it one way or another. You are used to him dangling carrots of hope before your eyes and the enjoyment he gets when he takes them away from you. You are used to your place in the world, now, curled at his feet, covered in dirt, ready for the kicking.

You are used to feeling like a spider, stuck to a tiny strand of web, floating on the whim of a breeze with no idea where you are going to land or what you are going to be faced with when you get there.

And you don’t deserve anything better.

You don’t even remember the girl who once knew she deserved better. You don’t think of her because, like everyone, she is judging you and finding you wanting.

And still, you can pick the sound of his footsteps in a crowd. Your heart still skips a beat when you return home to see his keys in the bowl or his shoes lined against the wall. Only now, your heart is always hammering, your breath always catching in your throat, and the only reason you now use the word “please” is to place it before the words “I’m sorry, don’t hurt me”.

The world outside knows there are troubles. They know he can be a little bit cranky. That he is a little stingy with money, or that he doesn’t like you to go out without him, but the world doesn’t know that every time you feel him lift the covers to climb in beside you, your entire body goes rigid, tense and fills with a blind, raging hatred that finds you clenching your fists and digging your fingernails into your palms to give some kind of voice to the invisible, voiceless pain you feel at not just losing your soul to the whims of another, but handing it over, willingly, to gutlessly save yourself from whatever may happen next.

It wasn’t always like that, you know? That’s what we always say when asked why we stayed.

Because it didn’t start that way.
It started with The Little Things. 

I said I wouldn’t go into detail, but then this happened. Trigger Warning.

You’re 8 years old and looking forward to school. You spend recess playing Witches, lunch time playing dolls, unless you talk too much in class and Mrs P makes you stand against the wall.
One day, Mrs P brings a new girl over to you, and asks you to show her around the school, asks you to be her friend.

You smile at the new girl and introduce her to the other girls you hang out with. She’s so cool with those Maui shirts you can’t buy here, that cool hair cut and that whole “just moved here from the city” air she exudes.

Within a short period of time, everyone is under her spell. Her confidence has soared, and very suddenly, everything changes.

One day you turn up at school, all smiles, ready to play with your friends.
Instead, She has gathered your friends around her, and they are whispering, staring at you.

With no explanation, you are cast out of the group – by all of them.

You beg them to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there’s no answer, just a wall of silence and that girl, who has suddenly become a giant, her shadow looming across the playground.

You can see in your friends’ eyes that they don’t really know what’s going on either, but just like you, they are also caught under her spell, despite being held in the warmth of her regard – at least for today.

They are scared – of being you.

It shakes everyone, but in that moment, all her work is complete. She has exerted complete control over us and is fully aware of it.

The next day, as though nothing has happened, she is all smiles and asking why you didn’t hang out with them yesterday – as though it was your choice, your fault, as though you imagined her sidelong glares, the things she whispered behind her hands and the way she teased anyone who sat with you.

Very quickly, this became the pattern of our little lives.

Every day was Russian Roulette. Would you turn up to school to be an outcast, or would you have to be mean to someone you cared about, to protect yourself?

In time, it just became life. That’s just how it was, and it felt that there was nothing you could do about it.

Of course, for her, that became quite boring, so every now and then she’d cast out one girl in the morning, and swap her over at lunch time. You were never safe. Never secure. Never, ever certain.

We tried turning to each other, but out of desperation to remain in Her good books, your confidante would turn informer, and you were left alone – physically, mentally and emotionally – it wasn’t safe to trust anyone at all. Especially not your friends.

Your parents knew something wasn’t right, they also knew who was responsible, but every time they threatened to get involved, you would melt down and beg them to stay out of it. If they got involved, your already hellish life would be far worse. You were already Stockholm Syndroming all over this girl – the worse she treated you, the more you needed her to love you.

Every now and then, you’d all get fed up, and a couple of you would brave her wrath just so you could spend some time together – alone. The problem was, she had forbidden us to spend time with each other outside school – unless she was there.

Like women having affairs, at 9 and 10 years of age, we were spending the night at each other’s houses in secret, then returning to school paranoid that she would have found out. If you’d dared to enjoy yourselves together, it had to remain secret.

When you really had enough, and started saying no to her, she would push you around the playground. Poking you in the chest as she ranted into your face. And nobody came to your aid.

If you did better in your studies than she did, you had to pay for it. Some of us were deliberately putting the wrong answers on tests to avoid her anger.

We weren’t allowed to have anything of our own. Especially not if it was something she wanted.

I had a crush on a boy in year 2. In year 3, he confided in her that he had a crush on me, but I knew that she liked him. I said I didn’t want to be his girlfriend. She told me I had to, or she wouldn’t talk to me.

When he bought me a gift, she told me I had to break up with him. I did.

She would accuse us of having secrets from her and we tripped over our tongues to explain that we didn’t. But we were paranoid… we did have secrets. The secret was, we hated her, but by then, we weren’t even allowed to have our feelings. They were wrong. She was the only thing that was right, and it changed more than the wind.

For five years, this was our daily life.

This is the way life began for me. This is where I learned how to be a person. These are the building blocks on which the rest of my days have stood.

And when I turned 15, I went and chose a boyfriend who was not at all dissimilar to her.

The one I’d had before that had asked another girl out on the bus because I wouldn’t have sex with him. When she said no, he asked me out again. Clearly, I was aiming high.

History repeated itself not only in the things I tolerated, but in the obsessive way in which I couldn’t even breathe if he was threatening to leave me. I hated him, but I needed him, because nobody else would ever want me. When he threatened to leave me, I wanted to die.

When he spat in my face for asking if I could go to my friend’s birthday party, I felt I deserved it.
When he called me a whore in front of my friends for being out of the house without his permission, I went home.

To the internet. To the only friends I had ever chosen who had not hurt me.

Oh, my family loved me. My family told me I was amazing. But they’re your family, and they have to. None of the people I had personally chosen wanted me for me. They wanted me to be only what suited them.

It seems that my survival instinct is to become whatever someone needs me to be, but inside, I rage. My emotions go on and off, like a switch.
I love you, I love you so much I can’t breathe, and it’s so genuine that you’ve never felt more loved in your life. Later, I hate you. With just as much ferocity and sincerity. Sometimes, I am completely indifferent, and treat you as though you don’t exist. Which is even more cruel.

Do I confront you? No, not really. Only on surface things, like the tone of voice you just used. Serious, big issues get locked inside because if I say them, things might get worse.

Serious, big issues only come out when I am fuelled by alcohol, and self-destructive. I drink to kill. To destroy every single part of my life. Sometimes, that has included my physical life.

I drink to not feel. I would do anything to not feel. To not think, wonder, analyse. But I’ve known there was an answer in my past that needed to be found. And so my entire adult life has been spent looking back. Just not far enough.

This is not a new story. I am not a unique case. I am just one girl, who, until a couple of weeks ago, had no idea that her actual brain had been wired to self-destruct.

I feel very disconnected – from friends, from family and from myself. I feel like there is something very wrong with me.

I’m a great liar now. I’ve been doing it since I was 8 years old. I am the greatest actor you’ll meet, and a total chameleon – I am whatever you need me to be. Isn’t that my role in life? To be what everyone else wants?

I can’t help it, it’s my instinctive, self-preservation tactic. And what you don’t know is that I believe every one of my own lies. 

I don’t even know who I actually am.

The more years that pass, the more people you have to be different for.
I guess I couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t consciously aware of what I was doing, I acted on emotion – the emotional reactions of an 8 year old girl with a 30 year old woman’s experiences.

And in doing so, I passed on a lot of hurt that other people now have to wade through. I inflicted emotional and mental pain onto other people, who did nothing more than try to care for me.

The ones who don’t deserve my love are the ones who always get it. The ones who are worthy are the ones I hurt.

None of it is intentional. I simply am incapable of making a decision because even though you tell me I can choose whatever I want, inside, I am still that 8 year old girl who only wants to be loved, not hated and ignored and left alone for no fucking reason.

I want everything. I want everyone to love me. I want to love everyone.

Two weeks ago, when I realised that the compulsive hair pulling I’ve done since I was 9 has a name, and that it has a high overlap with PTSD, I recalled that my therapist had said she would be happy to diagnose me with PTSD, a year ago. I had dismissed it out of hand because it seemed ridiculous that something so old could possibly be why my life had spiralled out of control.

Sure it wasn’t that boyfriend? Or ones that followed, or preceded him?

Was it the boyfriend who held a shotgun to my head and laughed, because he knew it was broken but I didn’t?
The one who told me as an April Fools joke that he’d cheated on me with my cousin – who went along with it?
Or the one who threw a baseball bat at my face because I laughed when he tripped over his bed?

After all of those things, how could it possibly be the mean words of a little girl that are the reason I am so crippled?

But, like a bushfire, once that small spark was alight, I couldn’t put the flames out. It wasn’t just mean words, it was mental and emotional torture.

I suddenly realised the impact on my life, I realised that every decision I’d made over the course of my life, every life event I had experienced, had all been clouded by this.

I didn’t know.

I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, I had just been trying to live my life as best I could. People told me to get selfish. To start taking control and stop putting up with unhappiness. I thought I was doing that, but I wanted so many conflicting things. One day I was certain that this is what I wanted, this is what I needed. The next day, it was the opposite.

I am exhausted by being me.

The one thing you can’t turn off is your own headvoice. And mine hates me. It hates you, too. It hates everyone who has ever hurt me, and it hates me just as badly, for hurting others. The only difference is that I know I didn’t do it with malicious intent. The problem is, that makes no difference. All that matters is my actions, and the fallout thereof.

I have done to others, what has been done to me.

I can’t take back any of the hurt I’ve caused, but I can make sure it never happens again.

I thought I was doing ok with this PTSD stuff, but obviously there’s a lot of work to be done to straighten out the crazed pathways my brain has been following.

That is my responsibility and no-one else’s, and if I don’t do it, this is never going to end.

I do hate that little girl who, for her own reasons, took my life and shaped it to make hers seem better. I hate myself for allowing it all to continue. But now I know why I never left any of those abusive relationships – because they employed the same tactics that she had done all those years ago.

They did the wrong thing, and then told me I was imagining it.

Each and every one of us is accumulating a lifetime of hurt. A lifetime of scars. A lifetime of shitty, painful memories. These shape who we become, and they shape the ways in which we deal with conflict, or even love.

I don’t deal with either of them very well because they both place demands on me that I’ve been unable to live up to.

Either, I let myself down, or someone else gets hurt.

If I hate that little girl for the impact she has had on my life, then it follows that I must hate myself for the impact I have had on the lives of others. And I do.

Who is to say that she isn’t sitting at home right now, devastated by the things she did, the things she said?

The past needs to go away now. It needs to be dealt with, but not fondled. Not taken out and looked at. I have my answers now. I am crazy. I am a complete mental fucking mess. But I know why.

And that means I can do something about never letting this happen again.

All I have left to me is a future. The past is a locked door that holds nothing but pain – for me, and for others.

For better or worse, I have to leave it behind, and only time will tell whether it was the right choice. But that, too, is life.

And it’s my life. I have one of them – god knows I wouldn’t want another. So with what’s left of it, I am going to allow myself to be angry, to be sad, to be hurt.
But I won’t continue to allow myself to be so emotionally selfish that I simply ignore the fact that other people are also in pain. Particularly when I may be the cause of it.

Being a human is really difficult. But I’m not ready to throw in the towel. I have a lot to make up for, and one day I’m going to make myself, and others, proud.