I Will Survive?

I have a good memory.  My friends will tell you that I can recite conversations almost verbatim, even weeks after we’ve had them.  I’ve lost a little of my capacity to store random trivia or lyrics from the eighties as I get older, but that just leaves more room in my brain for more important information.  Therefore, the fact that I remember very little of my childhood from age 7 to age 11 is significant.  More to the point, the fact that I have actively resisted knowing these memories is even more telling.

Here is what I know, what I have known since my early twenties:  I had a shitty childhood in many ways.  My relationship with my father has been rocky, to put it mildly.  At the very least, he had no concept of personal boundaries.  I remember him saying with regularity, “Put a sweater on; I’m cold.”  When I would protest that I wasn’t cold, he would repeat his admonition.

In addition, he was the only one allowed to show anger in our household.  The rest of us just had to swallow it or pretend we didn’t feel it.  My dad wasn’t home much, but when he was, he was either shouting at my mom (to be fair, she shouted at him, too) or sitting in his recliner and not saying a word.  He would sit there for hours (or so it seemed), and the rest of us would have to tiptoe around him, careful not to upset him any more than he already was.  In fact, that was one of the mottoes of my childhood–don’t upset your father.

Sometime while I was in college, I began to realize that there had been something else terribly awry in my relationship with my father.  I began to suspect it was some kind of…incest.  I hesitate to use the word because it’s so ugly and loaded, but there it is.  Incest.  I knew for sure there was emotional incest (he often treated me more like a girlfriend than a daughter, when he wasn’t ignoring me), but I didn’t know what else had happened.  I started to get still photos in my mind, but I questioned whether they were real or not.  I was a psych major who had read extensively about sexual abuse, and to top it off, I had (have) a vivid imagination.  I didn’t know if the pictures were accurate or merely representative of some other trauma (the disadvantages to an offbeat and creative mind).  I had a different therapist back then, a series of them, actually, and they were all lousy.  Since I didn’t have the therapeutic support to deal with the images, I turned them off, and I shut down.

I completely withdrew into myself.   No, worse than that, I started trying to destroy myself, albeit in a passive way.   I wanted to die, but I didn’t have the guts to do it myself.   Ironically, one of my biggest flaws (seeing only the negative in things) actually kept me alive.  I had no idea what was on the other side, but I knew it probably was as bad if not worse than this life.  So, I just tried to kill myself by proxy, like suicide by cop.

I had dangerous sex; I drove dangerously (sometimes, yes, without a seatbelt); I spiraled into my second serious eating disorder; I self-mutilated (cut myself and burned myself with cigarettes).  I thought my insides were ugly, disgusting, worthless, and vile, so I was trying to make my outer self match the inner one.

Correction:  That was one thing I was doing.  I was also trying desperately to feel something, anything, other than unrelenting pain and/or numbness.

I punched walls or simply hit them with my head.  I ran into things, not on purpose, but just because I didn’t give a damn.  I fell down.  A lot.  I cried some, but more often than not, I would just barely exist.  Oh, and I took tai chi for about a year from a predator guru type who creeped me the fuck out, but was the esteemed mentor of a close friend.  I regret that I didn’t walk out after the first class.

I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t do anything during that period of my life; I did.  I moved to the Bay Area for a few years and got my MA in Writing & Consciousness.  I acted in plays, and I performed my own pieces.  I had a few essays published in a local Asian American journal.  I was in a four-year relationship.

In addition, I had awesome friends who stood by me through thick and thin.  The problem is, as anyone with depression knows, friends can only do so much for you.  Only the depressed person can do the hard work of getting out of the depression–and I felt like I was stuck forever in that abyss.

Oh, during that time, I also found my current therapist, who was a life savior, though I didn’t know it at the time.  In therapy, I tried Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, naturopathy, body work, EMDR, EFT, and a whole lotta talking.  She recommended a tarot reader to me as well.  We tried a zillion things for my sleep problems, and none worked.  At one point, she suggested Electroshock therapy.  I asked about the side effects.  She said a big one is losing a chunk of one’s memory.  Somehow, that didn’t sound so bad to me.  I didn’t end up doing it, but I gave it serious thought.

Fifteen years.  That’s how many years I lost when I was out of my mind with depression.  Fifteen years, gone–just like that.

I entered my funk when I was twenty-two/twenty-three, and it has only been within the last year that I started pulling out of it.  It started when I began my new taiji class (thanks, Choolie).  Then, I became involved in politics online during the last silly season.  Until then, I had only posted in a sports uniform blog because I didn’t feel like I had much to add.

To my surprise, I did.  What’s more, once I started blogging and letting people actually, you know, read my blog, I was forced to realize that I had something worth saying.  Not only that, people wanted to read me.  And, because I am as honest as I can be on my blog, I couldn’t hide behind the old, “If people really knew me, they would think I am a disgusting piece of shit.”   What I write here is about the real me–there is no denying that.

So.  I have arrived at a point where I am willing to believe that I have worth.  I contribute something to the cosmos as well as to people I know in real life as well as online.  I have found myself more able to laugh, to love, and to be happy.  I am open to feeling real feelings for the first time in fifteen years.   It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time.  By the way, a non sequitur:  exhilarating is a word I consistently spell incorrectly.  I don’t know why, but there it is.

I am a different person than I was a year ago.  Hell, I’m a different person than I was six months ago.  I am really living life now, not just enduring.  So, when the flashback hit me, it sent me into a tailspin.  After class Saturday afternoon, I went immediately into my default position:  numb.  That’s how I spent the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday.

Well, numb most of the time with (un)healthy doses of panic thrown in for good measure.  I am still close enough to the other me to realize that what I felt on Saturday and Sunday was the same shit I felt during those lost years of mine.   What if I slid back into that?  I could not go back there;  I simply couldn’t be that person again.  I could feel the numbness settling upon me like a mantle, and it nearly brought me to my knees.

Then, sometime last night, I’m not sure when–the numbness broke.  I talked to friends, true friends.  I will talk to more this week and next.  I will see my therapist in a week and talk about this with her.  The realization that I cannot be that person again made me realize that I have no choice but to face this.  I don’t want to face it–indeed, I spent fifteen years doing my damnedest to avoid facing it–but there is no way for me to escape my past until I go through it again.  I really wish there were another way, but I know there isn’t.

I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do it, but I do know that I have no other option.  I cannot be that person again, and I will not give any more of my life to my past.  And, I hope that once I face my past, perhaps then Morpheus will leave me the fuck alone.

Oh, the video is I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor.  Here is a bonus video (link because I can’t embed) of Breaks Co-Op, The Otherside.

13 Responses to I Will Survive?

  1. Wow. Another HUGE breakthrough. Thanks for giving me credit, but remember that at least 90% of the credit belongs to you. You had to fight for yourself. You had to make yourself keep living. You let others in and shared your experience and your self with them. You blogged, and you invited others to read your blog. You looked into that dark place, and you chose to start facing it.

    I believe you’re strong enough to do just what you need to do for now. You don’t have to do everything, unless you’re actually ready to do it. That’s not for me to say. But that numb persona you held onto is falling away as you choose to let your true self emerge. I’m amazed.

    Morpheus doesn’t leave any of us alone all the time, but maybe someday you’ll actually have a boring or pleasant dream!

  2. My daughter doesn’t have a lot of memories from 5-9 and I am terrified of what happens when she starts remembering. I already know what the issues will be.
    It’s so strange when I go to The Boy’s house as he is across the street from where all the investigations started and a large part of the court shit played out.
    Stranger still, he was living there when all this was happening. I parked in front of his house.

    Part of me knows she will start to deal when she is safe, part of me dreads it. Part of me is hating myself for her father’s roll in my life, yet without him I would not have her.

    You can do this Minna.

    Maybe some people wouldn’t say this, but you can always back off if it gets too intense. Process what you can, put the jar away and come back to it later.

  3. I am so, so happy for you.

    Yes, even for the fact that these flashbacks are going to go through your head like a hurricane. Why? Because you have chosen to come back to the land of the living. And living means accepting the bad with the good, the pain with the joy. The negative side sucks, but it makes the positive that much sweeter.

    For me, you have been a really positive influence in my life since we first “met” and clicked like we did. I thought you were so cool way before we talked, and getting to know you just confirmed that.

    I remember the shock you exhibited when I told you that I think you’re a great influence on the Kellions. I absolutely do think that, and they agree. They think you’re cool too. (Jay especially!)

    I consider myself one of the lucky ones who’s gotten to know you. And I’m glad that the timing worked so that you’re reaping the benefits of having good people in your life as well.

  4. I think we seek places and times and people that can be there when we are ready to face the darkness, to find our wholeness. I think that it is leaking out means that you have the support and the strength that you need to face it. It is never easy and I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t slide back a little into the older, familiar patterns a bit but you have a year of being someone other than you were and you won’t fit back into the same hole you came out of.

    You can do this. But you don’t have to do it all at once or alone.

  5. Choolie, you are being far too modest. You have had such a positive effect on my life, both as a friend and as my teacher. Thank you for your unwavering support as I continue down this tough road. I truly appreciate it.

    whabs, my heart goes out to you and your daughter. I know, though, that you are gaining strength every day. We wil do this together, hand in hand.

    KelI thank the cosmos that you are my friend. I think we must have known each other in another life because we are so close now. I am honored that you consider me to be a good influence on Kellions. I feel I am the lucky one to know you.

    Crystal, I agree that now is the time for me to begin facing my past at last. I have wasted enough years because of it. I am at least strong enough to dip one toe into the water. Thank you for your kindness and your support. It means a lot to me.

  6. I’m so sorry for the trauma you’ve been through. Minna. But I don’t think you need the question mark on the title of your post. Of course you will survive. I didn’t know you before, but from what you’ve said you *are* different now. You’re more inclined to reach out and to rely on the many people around you who love you, and to take strength and comfort from them. Having true friends to talk to makes a difference, I’m sure of it. I agree with Crystal that I doubt you’ll fall back into the old patterns — they don’t fit the new Minna at all.

    SillyWhabbit, I’m so sorry for your daughter’s pain, and yours. I hope you find peace and comfort.

  7. Gregory, you have been a very positive force in my life. I appreciate all the support you’ve given me, as well as your unwavering belief that I will make it. It really helps to have such good friends in my life. Thank you for being one of them.

    P.S. I looked up the Priscilla, Queen of the Desert/ I Will Survive clip on YouTube. Hilarious!

  8. I’ve been thinking a lot about this post over the past couple of days, and I finally figured out what’s bothering me about it.

    The title. I don’t like it.

    Here’s why: Survival, as defined in the dictionary is pretty much summed up by “continuing to exist, enduring, to live through.” You’ve already been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Surviving is the *minimum* required to have a trauma of some sort and not die. So yeah, you didn’t die. This ia a Good Thing(tm). We like this.

    But it’s not enough.

    I don’t see this process that you’re going through as “survival.” You’re past that. You’ve moved on to “Surpassing.” Or maybe “overcoming” if you like that better. In this process, you are facing the trauma, you’re learning how it shaped you, how it shaped your life. You’re taking what you learn and you’re deciding what to keep and what to change, and how to grow as a person. The strength you seek from within yourself is already there; you merely need to learn how to maximize it. You are seeking counsel and support from the people in your life who have earned your trust, taking their perspectives and comparing them to your own, and forming conclusions. You are doing so, so much more.

    Survival? Eh. That’s so last life. This…thing…that you’re doing? Now that’s Minnaesque.


  9. Kel, thank you so much for your kind words. I feel as though I’ve only done the bare minimum to get by thus far, which means survival. You are right, however, in that I survival is no longer enough, and that’s what frightens me. I feel very fragile right now, and I am afraid of sliding back into survival mode.

    whabs, me, too. If only I could truly believe it.

  10. Minna, sometimes I think that demons that started to appear during childhood and hung on and on are still on “child level”, and therefore should (or might, anyway) be treated on child level. You know how they say “out of the mouths of babes” and so on… well, ya, some of it may be true or have at least some validity, but a good bit of it is skewed by childish (child-level) perception and I’m sure that some of it is outright make-believe. Children make sense of a weird world by coming up with their own explanations how something is and why. Childhood demons fit right in with that, I think, which is why they seem so unconquerable. When you’ve lived with the demons for long enough, it’s all just a vast tangle of reality and perception and memories and emotions and imagination and fears and purple-spotted snarklemonsters. And then you, an adult with an adult way of thinking, take this mess on and try to unravel it and get to the bottom of the story.

    Methinks that this is something to keep in mind, that some of the demons never did have any merit and just kinda popped off one that did (immaculate conception style), and when you come across one of them now in your examinations, you can mark it a meritless hanger-on and discard it. Or put it away as a memory of how to recognize piggyback demons. Call it an elimination process… it leaves you more power to deal with the true demons.

    (Note here that I’m neither fond of children, nor do I have a clue what they say when they say something or understand why they do what they do. I’d make a terrible childhood story unraveler.)

  11. Iratwo, I totally dig your first paragraph. I even agree that recognizing the outmoded nature of the demons is a good thing. However, the shedding of them is not so easy. I know because I have tried for so damn long, and I can’t quite shed them.

    purple-spotted snarklemonsters–this is the best line ever. Thanks for the laugh and your continued friendship.