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Excerpted from a post by Ashana that resonated with me:

…I’m also realizing that this points to a need to change my sense of what the goal of all of this needs to be: it is not to feel any particular way. It isn’t to feel good about myself or about my life. It isn’t to feel hopeful. The goal is to be able to accept what is.

I need to mourn my losses. I need to be able to cope with the extreme feelings that torture has left me with. These needs are not temporary. They are not stages to be rushed through in order to get to the other side into some kind of wonderful, better, fully healed life. They are what I may always need to do.

My feelings may become less intense over time. They may not. They may become less intense, but only after years or decades. Certainly, they will not become less intense next week or even next month and probably not next year. In the meantime, I will need to spend a lot of time just being with them.

So, if everything I do is organized around that mystical point in the future when all of the problems caused by my childhood torture disappear, I will be missing out on most of my life. I will be endlessly disappointed—and I have been endlessly disappointed—that contentment or happiness in the present does not indicate contentment or happiness will continue on into the future.

The change I most need is not in all of these other things. It is not in the flashbacks or in the grief. The change I most need is to be able to live with them, to accept them, and to cope with them. I don’t mean that the problems I have will become easy for me to deal with. I mean only that I will be able to get through the day. I mean, although my feelings are terrible, I can have them.

I know denial doesn’t work. Tuning out and distraction have their important uses, but they’re not the whole solution. One of the other parts is about being able to tolerate my emotions.

It’s pointless to wish to stop being angry or frustrated about my physical disability. I hope the anger and frustration lessen with time, but I can’t force it. I can only do my best to take care of myself in them–if anything will make them fade, this is it, but again, I can’t hold that as a goal. The goal is to take care of myself. To be there for myself.

I seem to have broken that loop of denial that tried to find silver linings, which only frustrate me more. That’s progress.

This is what I’ve been working on: just sitting with it. Yes, I tell myself, it’s frustrating. Yes, anyone would be frustrated. I acknowledge. I validate.

It’s exhausting. It takes endurance. Today I went too long: sat with it for three or four hours. I wore myself out.

But at least I wanted to do it. I was willing. That’s progress.

Again, from Ashana: 

There are things you need to do in order to recover when you have been traumatized. This takes time and energy you can’t spend on other pursuits. Further, abuse affects how we think and behave, and so it impacts how well we can function in work and relationships. These areas often suffer.

Because life does not proceed in distinct segments—it is continuous—the impact from the past proceeds into the future. Lost opportunities—because we were too busy or too impaired to avail them—translate into a diminished present and future.

I spend so much time sorting out my head. Reading self-help books, or memoirs, poetry, psychology–which are basically self-help, too. Trying to relax–which I am terrible at. It takes hours after I get home from work to let the tension go. All the time spent trying to dampen my anxiety or emotional pain. Sometimes, the time spent being with those things. It all takes so much time.

And energy–it takes so much energy just to get through the day that when I get home, I just want to dissociate. Stop feeling my anxiety, stop feeling unsafe, stop feeling hurt, stop feeling lonely. And so too often I revert to the bad habit I developed in the hole of last year: half-watching TV while reading something else at the same time, eating to numb myself, wasting time because I’m too tense and tired to do the things I want to do, or because being present enough to do them means feeling my emotions. That old problem – how to relax.

There are, of course, other things that get in the way. Financial limitations. Transportation limitations. Physical limitations–my hands, arms, neck. The fact that I’m not built for dilettante-ism or dabbling, that I need to get momentum going to get into something, and my body often won’t allow that. 

I feel thwarted at every step. Frustrating, embarrassed, and obviously, unattractively, a bit sorry for myself, too. I resent the time and energy I have to spend on managing myself. I worry about how boring I must seem to other people. So, what do you do for fun? Huh? Fun? Sorry, busy just trying to be a good friend, trying to function at school in a well of performance anxiety, trying to be in a relationship while being a traumabot.

And I want that time and energy for other things–for reading, for writing, for running, for exploring whatever new leisure pursuits my body allows, for meeting new people and building a life here.

Sage Cohen:

Poetry became my scaffolding of self as I moved through divorce into single motherhood. What I could not tolerate, I could witness. Grace became an invention of image and language. Poem by poem, I wrote myself from broken to healing to whole.

From Ashana (bolds are mine):

I have been meditating on the idea of disappointment.

This started a few weeks ago. There was a holiday at that point, and this meant a public celebration and two days off from school. On Sunday night, the texts began to come in. “How was your weekend?” And the teachers placed elsewhere in Country X told me of what exciting, wonderful things they had done. I, well, I went to the public program, and then stayed home trying to sort out my head so that it would still work the next week. This is another holiday weekend. Although I also have the pressure of lesson-planning, I am doing some of the same thing.

It’s not so much that I wish I had gone out and done wonderful, social, culturally enriching things as that it got me thinking what I would be doing if I didn’t have a head that required so much sorting out.

It made me think about losses again, because the losses from abuse are often ongoing. The harm doesn’t end when the abuse ends. It lasts.

There are things you need to do in order to recover when you have been traumatized. This takes time and energy you can’t spend on other pursuits. Further, abuse affects how we think and behave, and so it impacts how well we can function in work and relationships. These areas often suffer.

Because life does not proceed in distinct segments—it is continuous—the impact from the past proceeds into the future. Lost opportunities—because we were too busy or too impaired to avail them—translate into a diminished present and future.

To put it succinctly, my father (and I blame him more) didn’t just rob me of my childhood. He took away great swathes of my adult life, and those great swathes will extend into the future. Whatever my life becomes in the future, I will never be able to do what I might have done if I hadn’t grown up in his house.

I don’t want to acknowledge this. For most of my life, I have not. I would prefer to put a more positive spin on it. I would like it better if I just appreciated what I had. Or if I gritted my teeth and moved on. And yet what this has left me with is a nagging, unresolved grief.

the time I need to put into healing takes away from opportunities to socialize and diminishes my relationships. It takes away from my work and limits my career. In the past, the poor choices I made as a result of what I can only think of as brainwashing mean that I don’t have children and my partner is far away from me. It has taken away from my family life.

I cannot think of any domain it has not affected. What’s hard to articulate clearly is that in 20 years from now when I hope to have fully recovered from the abuse, you will still see those affects. You cannot magically make up for all that lost time. When you are tortured throughout your childhood and your adolescence, you end up 30 years behind the curve. You make a life, but you cannot make the life you might have had. This is true in tangible ways (I will never have the retirement fund I might have had) and in less tangible ways (my relationships will be “younger” and less secure).

What’s interesting about not denying or minimizing the feeling is that, while painful, the disappointment is livable. I can’t live with the denial. I can’t even live with looking for a silver lining. Those strategies keep me in pieces and prolong the pain. I can even enjoy the life I have now while feeling sorrow at the one I can’t have. They are not incompatible. And those kinds of mixed feelings and complex realities are the stuff of being whole.

Nick and I were talking about our different ideas of ideology, and at least some of our different opinions came down to talking about managing the outer world, versus the inner world. This is something I thought about a lot in Boston. My strategies for dealing with my inner world–telling myself what to do, being controlling of myself, running from pain–were all better suited to the outer world. And studying (American) Buddhism helped me start to get strategies for handling my inner world.

As I said to Nick, there can be this sinkhole in Buddhism where the ideas about acceptance, non-reactivity, sitting with difficult things, which can be very useful for dealing with the inner world can lead to dangerous passivity when applied to the outer world. And reciprocally, approaches that make sense in handling the outer world–ouch, touching that hot stove hurts, let me get the hell away from it–are often ineffective in dealing with the inner world. The trying to run away reaction to emotional pain is often pretty ineffective.

…She writes, while attempting to drown anxiety in Queer as Folk

Makes me think of Jack, in The Problem of Pain:

If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made “perfect through suffering” is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.


I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.

- Marie Howe

I left this morning saying ‘I love you’
as if setting out for some unknown country
instead of the corner shop. I wanted
you to be sure, in case
this time – out of, say, 10,000 departures
I never made it back: although
after 50 years together, 2 countries,
3 children, and several former journeys
would put this one to shame
you’d think there’d be no need to pause
on my own doorstep, suddenly afraid
of the distance between us, of your absolute beauty,
of the growing aloneness when I clicked the latch.

-Peter Bland

To My Husband, Who 33 Years-Ago Died At The Age of 30

De mortuis, nihil nisi bonum
Of you dead, I’ve spoken nothing
but good, nodded at over-fond
family memories, the favored first
son who skipped school to sneak
into the new museum. I’ve let
strangers tell our girls how you fell
forty feet taking a leak, behind
the garage, at your graduation party,
never dropping your grilled chicken
leg. Such was not the nature
of the man-to-be, yet these dull shards
are now my own. What else of you
can I offer our daughters, raised
by another man? You are at our table
always—in the gap, the sainted lost
father, shrouded in respect, silence
the price we pay for life. Was it wrong
to let you slip into cliché, pallid
memory? But how could it have been
otherwise? You have been undoing now
as long as you lived. Even the ink in your
notebooks fades. Remember how you
used to read “Dover Beach” and we would
shudder with faux foreboding? Remember
our pleasure when Emily said she didn’t
know how the sun set? Neither did we
then, nor did we much care. But oh, now
to see it rise again, one ribbon at a time.

-Maryanne Hannan

I didn’t understand why “ideologue” was an insult. What’s wrong with ideology? And don’t we all have ideologies?

And then it clicked: an ideologue values ideology over lived experience. Their own, or other people’s.

This seems related to theism. Both are about finding or having the rules, rather than being willing to be in the uncertainty and mess–and honesty–of doubt and experimentation.

I, of course, used to be an ideologue. I knew how I should be, and tried to enforce those rules on myself. From Rumi:

At times I would say I had self-control
At times I felt like a prisoner of myself
All that’s passed. I’m no longer captivated by myself.


I think of Gil talking about how religious traditions that think of human nature as bad use the language of control, while ones that think of it as good use the language of cultivation.

My way out had to do with desperation. Being in deep enough, constant enough pain that I was willing to try something else: try softer. Try kinder, even with myself. Try tuning into my intuition and seeing what it told me. It had to do with trying out the idea that emotions are not annoyances, but information. It had to do with mindfulness practice, and that day, in Boston, that I had enough courage to look around inside, and I saw, of course, all sorts of flaws: delusions, misguidedness, unskillfulness, pettiness–but no real malice. Nothing really bad. What a surprise, relief, revelation.



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