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.