The past two weeks have been filled with flashbacks of newly uncovered memories that were very difficult to deal with. I’ve had nightmares, lost sleep and entire days due to the pain as I worked through it and eventually figured out exactly what type of self-care I need right now, beyond the usual writing therapy and acupuncture. It’s not always easy to realize what’s going on around me, because from childhood I learned to ignore things if they weren’t easily solved quickly and 100% by myself. Lately I’ve had a series of dreams that carried very clear and vivid messages about changes I need to make in my life, and as I’ve embarked on them I’m starting to realize that small steps don’t always cut it, especially if I’m just staying in that old mode of habit. I understand that there are bigger decisions and bigger changes that I’ve already been working towards, and I’m ready for them, which is great. But what has triggered me the past few weeks has been quite the opposite treatment.
I can’t stand having other people tell me what to do with my body. My childhood was full of it. Such as being told that I need to stand or sit a certain way, or having to perform a precise task and being critiqued mid-action. Thus when my acupuncturist recently tried to teach me some beginning qigong poses, I was completely triggered. It took me back to being sexually abused in front of a video camera as a child, being forced to stand in a difficult pose and shouted at to put a giant object in my body against my will. When time passed and I hadn’t done it, the camera was stopped and someone came over and shoved it up inside me by force, despite my screaming and the excruciating pain. Thus with the qigong I was triggered most of all by the idea of obligation, that I had to study qigong “whether I liked it or not,” and there would be consequences if I didn’t. But of course I don’t, if qigong or anything else doesn’t work for me right now it’s ok, and no one expects me to move forward with it; I’m not a child living in an abusive home anymore.
In my childhood, I was repetitively forced into inappropriate situations that it was obvious were not right for me, and then abused when I reacted badly. When as a young child I would break down under the stress and exclaim that I couldn’t do it, I remember my sister always yelling back at me “yes you can!” That was so invalidating. In my childhood it was never ok to acknowledge my reality, my limitations, preferences or boundaries. I was told “we have no time for your healing, your emotions, your needs, just do what we say and get it over with!” But I don’t treat myself that way today. There is time for me, and I don’t take “too much” time either.
My parents also shouted that “there’s nothing wrong with you!” Which in a sense I agree with, there isn’t something wrong with me, there is a whole lot wrong with the way I was treated. But what they meant was “you were never abused, you aren’t traumatized, you don’t have PTSD, you don’t have an eating disorder, your problems aren’t serious, aren’t real, you just need to get on with it.” That was crushing, and my father insisted that “you could just wake up tomorrow and all of this would be gone!” Which of course, no, there is no “positive thinking” shortcut to bypass years of healing in a single night. And insisting that there is does survivors a great deal of tangible disservice.
I was always told that “yes you can” and that if I couldn’t do something, then there was something wrong with me: “you’re just exaggerating” “stop being a baby,” “you’re so ridiculous,” “you’re so stupid!” “it’s your fault!” But ultimately no, I can’t do anything and everything, I have limitations, and while they may shift over time, it’s on my terms and within my boundaries. The delusional, oppressive and blind “optimism” I was raised under never helped me, raised my confidence or self-esteem. It was toxic. If I can’t do something, then I can’t do it, and it is up to me say that, not anyone else. I realize that what this phrase convinced me of is my own inability, my own incompetence. Thus if I wanted to do something and it came with complicated, exact instructions that I couldn’t interpret on my own, then I would give up, walk away. I was sure I couldn’t do it, and there was no way to ask for help, or get over that feeling.
My sister would often condescend to me with the accusation that “you’re afraid to try new things!” at quite random moments. That wasn’t an appropriate a description for me then and it isn’t today. I’m not afraid of “things” I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do something correctly, that I will fail, and the avalanche of shame and abuse that always came in my childhood would re-emerge today. And actually, very few things are really new, truly free of associations and reminders and correlations from my traumatic past. That is the problem. I’m quite open to new experiences if they feel like they will be right for my body and my life. But that list is exclusive. And like this event with qi-gong, I might find hidden trauma in a situation that it’s going to take time for me to really deal with, quite regardless if I ever try out those things again. As my acupuncturist explained, he really doesn’t recommend learning qigong after people need to heal anyway, and there are alternatives for me. I welcome the opportunity to work out and through my issues at my own pace, but I don’t necessarily see any need to put myself back into triggering situations afterwards.
The regime that my family put me through said that if I was afraid of something, I would immediately be pushed into that situation to supposedly “conquer the fear.” Yet that only made me more traumatized, afraid, and also angry. I have to work things through in my own way today, and I feel very allergic to hearing other people moralize about how healing has to be. My process is all about liberating myself from those second hand “truths” and finding my own voice, my own sovereignty over my body.As a child, I never heard that it’s OK if I can’t do something, and that my life could be tailored to my own talents, abilities, and interests, I was expected to just have a generic, catch-all life. But today, tapping into my self-knowledge, listening to the messages in my dreams, in my flashbacks and in my environment, I see what I can and can’t do. Morality, shaming, nagging, and any bundle of expectations from someone else has nothing to do with it.
I am building new skin and escaping those old traps by validating my reality. I’ve been sensing something was coming recently, and while trying to pinpoint what exactly it was, I received a phone call in the form of something I was dreading and fearing for a very long time, during those years when I was hiding all the time. But ultimately I’ve been detangling the web of ptsd for some time now, and I was able to respond with clarity and determination; not everything is of equal threat. I know what I’m going to do, and what I can do to make it as gentle on myself as possible, what forms of self-care I have to undertake before, during, and after. If I fall out of self-care I will gently call myself back, and that is enough.