Day 191: Splinters
It turns out it is really hard to understand what it means to matter to people; and that makes no sense to me. I completely understand what it feels like when someone matters to me, when someone I love is in pain or struggling in some way. I feel an intense need to help and protect them, to encourage and support them, to comfort and renew them. But, I have struggled severely to recognize these feelings existing in someone else with regard to me. And, I haven't been concerned about this disjointedness inside me. Perhaps, in large part, this contradiction is simply how I look upon myself versus how I look upon others. I care greatly for others and very little for myself.
Alas, that is NOT a perspective I was born with. It was taught to me in ferocious, systematic, sustained lessons from my mother, father, step-father, step-siblings, schoolmates, care givers, ostensible friends, and random strangers. And, my mother particularly taught me the requirement of loving others while simultaneously having disregard for myself. I learned that lesson, into my marrow. It is a lesson that not only harms me, but (I now really understand) it harms others.
People who love me are the same as me. They feel pain when I am in pain. They want to protect me, encourage and support me, comfort and renew me. When I hold them at arm's length, it can hurt them. They can feel afraid, sad, angry, or betrayed -- not strictly those feelings, but those feelings are possible. It is possible for me to hurt people by not letting them in. I get it now. I learned the hard way from my posting yesterday.
I understand this is a difficult area of growth for me. I will make mistakes as I learn to accept love and let it flow through me. And I am grateful beyond words to those who love me, grateful to you for accepting my apologies and sticking by me through this pain I now understand is not mine alone.
On another topic, today I had a very big moment in my emotional development.
The single greatest challenge to my healing has been my inability to feel, understand, and express my emotions. I feel like I have written about this subject ad nauseam, about how I have feared emotions, resisted them, denied them, longed to connect with them, prayed for their release, and desperately wished to normalize them, or eliminate them entirely.
Nineteen days ago I grieved something from my childhood for the first time in my life. Was it really just nineteen days ago? That day it took painful touch from a trusted, loving friend to push the grief out to the surface. As I fought to allow the emotions, I wasn't able to name what the grief was about (though I later did). Since then I have cried agonized tears several times. When I dissociate or experience triggers I am unable to name what I am feeling or why. All of my life I have been unable to name any sad emotion or understand what was causing it. I had to remain miles away from any such emotion. As such, they were too far off in the distance for me to make them out.
Over these twenty days, bit by bit, like chipping away at marble, I have been uncovering the words and images that accompany the pain. A few times I have been able to identify the specific memory or experience behind my reaction in a given moment.
But today, something completely new happened, something I believed impossible for me, something I didn't even hope for or work toward. Today I felt grief, knew the reason for it, let the emotions surface, told someone what was going on inside me and why, and then cried, reaching out to be held and comforted. I knew what was paining me, not simply as a physical sensation, but as grief connected to a hurt caused by my history. I am near tears right now just remembering how it felt to release the sorrow. So safe, so loved, so tender.
I slept a bit better last night, getting about seven hours. But, after the emotional turmoil this week and lack of sleep I was weary as I got ready for work this morning. My legs felt heavy. My soul felt heavy, like it had sunk down, unable to reach toward the light any longer. I was too weary to fill my head with thoughts. But, the house was quiet. There was no distraction, no one to focus on. There was just Little Intrepid, sad and hurting. And I listened. "She's going to be done with me. She'll end the friendship because I'm too much work. I take too much out of her." Adult Intrepid responded, "Why do you think that? She has been consistent. She loves us. We need to trust her."
"Because mom abandoned me. And she's not the only one. No one protected me. No one loved me. No one held me. No one noticed what was happening to me."
"You have to let that go. That's not reality now. That was in the past. She is not mom. She really loves us."
I heard this exchange like it was a real conversation. And, I found myself thinking about its implications. I realized this is what transference is about. This is how it works. And I felt ashamed. I don't believe I should experience transference. The child inside me sees AF as her mom. Little Intrepid's mom abandoned her because she was too difficult. So, the child inside me believes AF will abandon her as well. I thought, "She is desperate for what she can get for as long as its available and she believes that desperation is exactly what will make AF go away." I took a deep breath, leaning over the sink. I felt sick to my stomach. I thought I might throw up. "How can I protect her in a new way? My protective strategy has been to not need anyone, not let anyone love me."
I didn't have an answer to my question. I didn't want to slide any further into what I was feeling. AF was on her way to pick me up. I didn't have time for this process right before work!! I splashed my face with cold water and decided to sit outside in the sunlight with my guitar. She would arrive in about 20 minutes. This would calm me and help me focus outwardly. I sat and played, feeling relaxation overtake anxiety. I felt the pain settle into me, below consciousness. I knew I would be able to be productive and in a pleasant mood, maybe even playful. I am usually playful when with AF.
She pulled into the driveway; I put away the guitar and loaded up to go to work. But, I looked into her eyes and the pain roared up inside me. I almost felt knocked back by it. I clenched my jaw and determined I would not allow whatever I was feeling to overtake me in my driveway. I tried to shake it off. After I got in and buckled she asked what was going on with me. She could plainly see me struggling. I felt an almost irresistible pull to fall into her arms sobbing. "NO!" I screamed inside my head at Little Intrepid. "NOT NOW! NOT HERE!"
I am not sure what I said in response to her, but it was something to the effect of talking about it later. At least, I think I responded to her and I think I said something along those lines. As we drove it felt like Little Intrepid was in there having a tantrum, beating on the inside of my ribcage. "I want to be held! I want to be held!" The struggle felt physical. My heart was racing and I was short of breath, like I was actually fighting with her to hold her down. I thought, "Please, please stop." Again I felt like I might throw up. "Please, dear god, don't let that happen. Maybe I should ask her to pull over."
But, I managed to contain it. Not that she couldn't see me struggling. But I kept my stomach from turning over and calmed down. We decided to pick up food instead of going for a walk. It's funny that I preferred the idea of food at that moment. I wasn't really thinking clearly. I was just desperate to do something, anything, that achieved normalcy. We drove to a place where we park when we walk. It's a busy spot, but we found some shade and sat to eat. I managed to get the food into me without incident. It was uncomfortable, a little painful, but it stayed down. And finally, I decided to tell her what I was thinking. I knew exactly what was going on inside me. And, after learning my lesson about keeping things to myself, I knew it was important for me to talk.
I tried several times. I started and stopped. I said, "I can't believe this is so hard. This isn't that big a deal. I can't understand why this thought is so hard to get out. It's stupid." She said, "Think about all of the things you've told me up to now. I haven't been upset with you yet. I haven't abandoned you."
I took another deep breath, one of many up to that point. And I looked down, feeling deeply ashamed. I explained that what I was feeling was related to what I wrote last night. I was cycling again through the fear of abandonment. "I'm afraid you'll get tired and be done with me . . . because . . . " I had to hold back a sob. I took a steadying breath. I felt tears stinging in the corners of my eyes. "Because she . . . abandoned . . . me. My mom . . . " I held in another sob. "She abandoned me."
I have never said those words out loud until that moment. It hurt so much. It physically hurt, all over. I wanted to stop the tears that were trying to spill over.
Shifting to the rational. I said, "This is transference. I am transferring my expectations of my mom onto you. And you haven't done anything to make me have this fear. It's based on history. It's not current. It's nothing you've done."
I was terrified she would be upset with me for expecting she will abandon me. I think at that moment she might have told me to look her in the eyes. "Honey, that has been your reality. It makes sense you would feel that way. You have been abandoned repeatedly. I am not upset with you. It is going to take time for you to feel differently. Our friendship is still pretty new. Don't be so hard on yourself. Think of it this way . . . how long have you known PF? What, more than 20, 25 years. You have a long history with her, so you don't have this fear with her. It's OK for you to feel this way with me. You need time. It's going to take time. I understand that. I love you. OK? I love you!"
I think I tried to talk some more, but I just couldn't hold myself together any longer. I finally did fall into her arms and just sobbed. I cried because my mom abandoned me and I was in so much pain for so long. So many terrible things happened to me. She held onto me tightly and reassured me. She told me she was sorry about what happened to me. She said, "Just let it out. It's OK. Let it out. I've got you." I clung to her, shaking. I cried for a few minutes and eventually felt relief.
It was like a splinter being removed. The splinter breached the surface as we were driving and then, as she held and comforted me, we pulled it out. It hurt so much! But, afterward, such relief! Thank the heavens. She gave me some tissues . . . wait, no that doesn't describe it. She THREW some tissues at me. She has an incredible gift for introducing levity at the right moment. We laughed. We sat and talked for an hour. She held me several more times. There were no more tears. I just needed reassuring. She told me everyone needs reassuring. She told me it's OK for me to need it and I need to ask for it.
Finally, we realized we had to get to work. I felt calm and able to face the day. And, indeed I was. I had a good day. I was tired, certainly. I wanted to go to bed and sleep for a hundred hours. But, I felt lighter. I felt quiet internally. Little Intrepid took a nap. She felt safe and loved. So, I went about my business and it was a good day.