Trauma

He Breaks Me

fatfish

Taken at Durfee Conservatory, UMass Amherst, MA, home to cute, fat, orange koi fish. These fish are much happier than I am right now. A photo worthy of the end of Pisces.

Well y’all. I know it’s been a hot second. This is a direction I never thought I’d go in, or more accurately, not a direction I ever thought I’d go in again. By that, I mean, there are some people, some incredible, wonderful people, who theorize love (shoutout to bell hooks, Cheryl E. Matias, and Durryle Brooks). As in, they spend time in the academy talking about love, like a bunch of warriors. Those people are some badass motherfuckers. I’m just a simple broad, so I wrote a poem.

Not gonna lie, I’m trying to act like I’m cool and like this poem is not about some man-human who I definitely lost my shit over. I have this brilliant friend who tells me that people have to know the difference between things that are actually good for them, and things that make them feel good. Maybe that’s why things ended so, so badly. Like, it wasn’t a clean bad, you know? I like when it’s obvious that the man is an asshole, and then turning my back is nothing. But I can’t write him off like that because I’m not convinced he’s an asshole. I feel like that’s worse than a clean bad. It’s a messy bad.

If he ever finds this, I bet he’d say something like “I didn’t say that” or “you’re totally misrepresenting me”. And I wouldn’t say it, but I’d be like, why can’t you just tell me you’re hurt? Why is that so hard for you? I write my first poem in 3 years and you still can’t be satisfied. Man-humans, I’m telling you. Learn to name your damn emotions. It’s not like I don’t know. I just pretend not to so that I don’t embarrass you and your stupid man-feelings.

Anyway. I totally did not plan to tell y’all that much. But here’s the poem.

He Breaks Me
by yours truly

I can tell he thinks he loves
me while he watches my
every move. But I do. I
tell him one secret after
another, hoping he’ll say
the words I long to hear, “I’m
wrong, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

He tells me I am pretty,
attractive, intelligent
yet also that my rape
is like his murder, that my
pills are the same as his
paternity test. My ravaged
body he likens to his.

Death would be a luxury
for women like me. Death frees
her from her body, leaving
spirit. Death removes the
thing to ravage. Death takes
away the object, reduces
fault to dust, corpse to earth.

I leave him before he is
aware. He tries so many
words. It is his silence I
crave. No reasoning consoles him;
he is closed. He tells me I
am mistaken, that the love
I know I see is not real.

He breaks me. Our bodies know
no solace, nor did those of
our ancestors. Before lips
could meet, before we could
touch, history opened a
chasm that neither of us could
cross, that neither of us could cross.

On Healing

20161107_174813

Skies over Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, Late October. For some reason, all my good photos come from work.

CW: abortion

I have read so much bullshit on healing from trauma. So. Fucking. Much.

So for those of y’all who don’t know, I got an abortion about 14 months ago. It was difficult and sad. My partner at the time pretty much left me to fend for myself. With no one else to go to, I had to go home and tell my mother, which was neither pleasant nor something I really wanted to do. My mother is an anxious, overprotective Indian immigrant, and I knew this would break her as much as it broke me. This woman learned to drive just so she could take me to this middle school with a science program that I wanted to attend. She has never held it against me when I ate beef (we’re practicing Hindus) or got my father’s car towed (has happened twice) or done a number of other stupid things when I was growing up. Even though my pregnancy was an honest mistake, something that happened because I made a bad decision, even though it wasn’t rape, I knew the way she thought of me would fundamentally change, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it but allow her to deal.

I had to allow myself to deal as well, though my mother and I did not agree on how that should be done. I wanted to take a semester off from grad school to take care of my mental health. It did not bother me so much to think I might have to spend another year in graduate school. That seemed like a small price to pay for being healthy. I was distraught and incapable of concentration. My mother, on the other hand, was probably thinking of the amount of money it cost the family to support me while I was in grad school. My parents basically took care of rent for me because my assistantship wasn’t covering it. At the time, I selfishly thought she was being harsh, but looking back, her concern made sense because my brother was still an undergraduate going through school (with his own costs). My mother harangued me to the point that I didn’t want to be at home any more.

So I did one of the hardest things I, or literally anyone (I’d like to see anyone go through this level of shit and come out the other side with a master’s degree), have ever done. I went the fuck back to grad school. I went back to that place where enough bureaucracy goes on that even mentally healthy, hardy, and/or charismatic people want to leave. The best part is, I told almost no one about the abortion. There were maybe 4 people I trusted enough with the information. I told none of my professors, none of my co-workers, my supervisor at work, my staff, or my colleagues. It just didn’t seem like something they needed to know, though I know they probably noticed how tired I was, how lacking in emotion, how little I wanted to engage with human beings. Perhaps my entitlement is showing, but I think I ought to be given a medal of honor for having given enough fucks to finish graduate school in that condition.

My therapist has told me that people who are allowed to grieve openly usually have an easier time of overcoming grief. I wasn’t open at all about what I was grieving, so you can imagine the kind of complex shitstorm I am in now.

On healing from trauma, the one thing I might respect about the literature is that it consistently claims that everyone heals differently. That might be the only part I agree with.

The other things written about healing from trauma are so sugarcoated as to be irrelevant to my life. The literature consists of either Tumblr-tier, hippie, self-love bullshit that prescribe things like bubble baths, getting your nails done, and lighting candles (don’t get me wrong, if that works for you, do you), or it’s got this underlying narrative of “treat this poor, tragic person with kindness because they need it”. (My apologies for not being able to come up with examples at the moment. I might have rooted out all the offending articles from my newsfeeds and thus have none to show you).

The fact of the matter is, healing has not been some fun process of chillaxing and spoiling myself. It has been incredibly frustrating to feel as though I have to take time off from regular activities to heal. This is difficult to admit because it’s not as though I am some workaholic who drowns her pain in work all the time. Even before trauma, I was a person who liked to have fun. I would drop everything to hang out with friends. I would skip studying to go to a party or go on a snack run in the middle of the night. I would splurge on expensive shoes. I would buy plane tickets to some far off state at the drop of a hat. I loved the freedom of being impulsive.

But I find I am not impulsive any more. I have become cautious and guarded. While I think that has been a necessary process, I also know my life looks very different now as a result. I resent having to take time off from being social. I resent having to ask for help, and how weak it makes me feel to do that. We are surrounded by incredibly ableist narratives that dictate that a person in their mid-twenties should be at their physical peak, and should also be financially independent. Thus, it pisses me off to no end that I am not either of those things.

I am not enjoying my healing process. Perhaps this is due to a number of other things that coincide with this time, like the fact that getting a job takes forever these days, I am living with my parents again, my job pays me in bread crumbs, and I have enough bills that I have forgotten what life without debt looks like. Maybe I would fucking light a candle if I felt I had any time or energy. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to go through healing at this point in my life. In an ideal world, I’d have a community and financial support and a job that gives me fucking paid leave! But the fact is, I am healing, and I wish I didn’t have to. And that’s probably why this process is taking so long.

Scrutiny

Content Warning: abortion, trauma

Today, I read this great piece from Black Girl Dangerous on trauma. I don’t know why, but it still chokes me up to even hear about trauma. I feel like that is an indicator that clearly, I am not yet over the traumas in my life yet.

Coincidentally, I’m in a weird place right now with my hair. For those of you who don’t know, I chopped all my hair off after I got an abortion in December. In those first few weeks afterwards, I couldn’t stand having my hair any more. I couldn’t stand all the memories stored in it. I couldn’t stand all the feelings I had associated with it. So I symbolically pressed the restart button on my life and chopped off about 20 inches. I went from having around 2 feet of thick, black hair to having a really close pixie cut.

I trimmed it regularly, so it would be longer now if I had just let it grow. I decided to stop trimming in May, around the time that I graduated. It hasn’t grown too much, but the length is starting to show. The hair has grown over my ears, and I have to clip the back frequently so that I don’t have a mullet. It’s a weird, shaggy phase. My hair has not been this length since I was around 4 years old.

And this dissatisfaction with my hair is also symbolic. I literally cut it off as a marker of a trauma, as a reminder to myself of how long it takes to heal. Now I wish I had my long hair back. It’s almost as though my brain would like to convince my body of something it knows is not true. I am almost my normal self again. Almost. I am very convincing to other people, and that is so dangerous because then I start to believe the lie. I say hi to all my friends. I correspond with employers. I help out around the house without complaining. I did the therapy, I dealt with the emotions, I did all the reconnecting with my inner self stuff for four months. My brain insists, shouldn’t I be done with this by now? Haven’t I done everything I was supposed to do?

It is frustrating that it takes so long, but I know in my heart that I am not yet over it.

I know because–and that’s just it–I am still not normal for me. I still don’t like being out in public. It causes numerous, inexplicable anxieties. That is not normal for me. I feel satisfied sleeping all day. I feel satisfied staying in the house all day. I have barely done any physical activity all summer, when I’m usually so active. That is not normal for me.

I suddenly realized, my reaction to scrutiny has also gotten worse, which is probably the biggest indicator that I am not back to normal yet, even now.

First off, I should name that I have never been comfortable with scrutiny. I cannot remember how long I have felt that way, but if I had an RC community to go to where I am, that would probably be an area I need to work on. I think scrutiny can go under the general category of surveillance, something that many people with marginalized identities experience. Surveillance happens in a number of ways: policing of clothes, behavior and speech; storing information without indication for use later as blackmail (or other purposes); expecting people to behave a certain way even when no one is watching; the list goes on.

It should be noted, in my opinion, any person who puts another person under surveillance of any kind is being abusive and manipulative.

I use the word “scrutiny” very intentionally, though. The word “scrutiny” comes from the Latin word “scrutari” which literally means “to search.” Thus, my both founded and unfounded fear is that people who scrutinize me are searching for my weaknesses, searching for ways to exploit my vulnerability.

I think the founded fear comes from generally existing as a woman of color, especially in interactions with men. As soon as a creepy man starts asking me too many questions (and this has happened so many countless times), I start lying. While this is great for keeping me safe from creepy men who walk up to me in the street, it may not be so helpful when, say, my supervisor asks me why I have changed my hours. Or when my parents ask me what I’m doing next week on Tuesday. Or when people who care about me ask reasonable questions because they are concerned with my safety, and I lie to them because deep down, I am terrified that some unknown entity will hunt me down.

Then, the fear becomes unfounded.

I was thinking today, the best thing in the world is freedom. I don’t mean in that silly patriotic sense. I mean specifically, I wish I was free from scrutiny. I wish I had the money for my own living space and a car so that I could do whatever I want and go wherever I want without people wondering what I am doing. I wish I could run my house however I wanted without having to deal with other people’s rules about how clean or dirty it is. I wish I didn’t have to answer to someone else about how I am using my money, what I spend my time doing, what my body looks like, what I’m wearing, who I’m talking to, or where I’m going all the time. These are all things that different people have all kept track of at different times in my life. I think that is such a huge distinguishing factor between having dominant identiti(es) and having marginalized one(s). I doubt a white man experiences the kind of scrutiny that I do walking down the street. At the same time, I probably experience less scrutiny than say, a homeless person.

Simultaneously, I would also love to be free from the fear I have of scrutiny. I wish I could trust people and their intentions enough to not go into full fight-or-flight mode every time someone asks me a question. It is a trauma reaction, so the fear comes from an incapacity I have at the moment: an inability to trust people, and a fundamental lack of faith in the world. That’s really sad for a person who used to be an ENFP at one point. Personally, I don’t believe it is a natural state for human beings to lack trust, to lack faith in humanity. So it’s a sad thing for me to admit I have neither. It makes me even more sad that we live in a world where gaining both back may take the same amount of time as it does for 20 inches of hair to sprout from my head. Trust does not disappear without a good reason.