“Who took your power away from you? Who made you feel so powerless you’ve become obsessed with control? With thinking everything through instead of feeling anything.”
(Sound of My Voice)
I’ve been struggling with disconnection- mentally, physically, spiritually. Like existing in multiple places at once with nothing holding you to the ground so you don’t know exactly which dimension you happen to be visiting at any given time. I’ve been stuck this semester trying to get back to me or get back to some form of an origin point and I realized a lot of my struggle and disconnection is coming from interacting with people who don’t or can’t share a common ground. They may have struggled but the sheer overwhelming amount of struggle I grew up with has created a block I didn’t know was present until recently. Its almost as if their lack of experience in relation to things I’ve been through is so glaringly obvious and I’m trying to work my way past that so I’m not left spinning in the ether.
How do you explain to people that the reason your story is so important is because you spent over half your life living with someone who routinely and intentionally manipulated your reality? Or that your trauma may not define you but when triggers come up, they still overpower you?
Earlier this year someone told me they were sorry that I had had a rough life and it stopped me. I’d been homeless, poor, gaslit, beat, raped, died briefly only to return, assaulted, flooded out, burned down, and generally stuck floating somewhere in the Atlantic. I’ve dealt with depression and mania, anxiety, PTSD, car crashes, arrests, and an overdrive for perfection that has come precariously close to killing me at times. I watched my father take his last breath and waited for an eternity hoping his apnea would kick back in and it wouldn’t actually be over.
The thing was: I never viewed myself as living a rough life. I kind of figured everyone went through a lot of this shit and learned a lot of lessons from each situation that I used to propel me forward. The eternal depressed optimist, riding high above her noble steed of bullshit. It was a string of events that led to interesting stories and interesting art. I’ve been bullied and the bully whether intentional or not and worked my ass off to support my family financially and construct a foundation that somehow the builders forgot to add in when creating my life. I’ve been a mess and a spunion and a warrior and a surrogate wife. The person you know won’t come to weddings because they’re too overwhelming but will move heaven and earth to help you out when the time comes. A writer, a dancer, a gymnast and pole vaulter. A photographer, a model, and occasionally a human being.
I’ve written before on gaslighting and living in a situation with someone whose public persona was heavily different than their private one. I see a belt lying around and think back to that trip to Lake George when I sat frozen on the couch staring at a spot on the wall as cracks and screams rang out. Gaslighting is an intentional and repeated manipulation of someone’s reality in favor of your own. Someone convincing you the sky is red when you know deep down it’s mostly blue. It’s Stockholm syndrome, a twisted Brady Bunch centered around a Man of God who can “heal” others yet damages those within arm’s reach. It’s thinking you’re moving forward only to find yourself perpetually ten steps back and rapidly receding. I spent three years trying to move past the experience, to take back my reality and mind only to be driven back into the triggers- the words and fear and lies- by an administration hell bent on forcing their version of reality upon the world, the way J did to my family.
I learned early on that if you prove yourself useful, people generally keep you around. I learned that everyone is in a different place karmically and that you can’t force someone to grow through their life cycles faster. I learned It Girls can lose their place when thrown into large bodies of water and that society says you can’t just break someone’s jaw even if they kind of deserved it. I learned that I was a garden, a myth, and a conduit of knowledge. That if I felt like it, I was kind, but heaven forbid those who end up on my bad side. That if your work is similar to someone else’s people will say the exact same words and you have to wade through the bullshit to find the kernel of truth. That being vindicated is not always healthy and people only listen to the warnings when they’re ready to.
I built a following by being open and honest- even when I had to put some big girl pants on and admit I was wrong. This semester I feel like I turned around and tried to divorce myself from that honestly. To divorce myself from the narrative I had tried so hard to regain and found myself in a giant, lonely mess. That I could tell stories that were true but were so far removed from the common experience, they were met with doubt. I told them anyway. They might have sounded crazy but they were mine and they gave me a way to survive.
Maybe this disconnection, this sensation of not finding common ground, is a result of not just holding on to past trauma, but realizing you have no fucking clue how to make sense of it. That dying and coming back doesn’t always hold the answers, especially if you can’t remember all the tiny little details. Maybe it’s because I isolated myself in my beliefs and allowed others to direct my flow because I had been conditioned for that role. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and remove myself from the triggers, to analyze them and turn them into daisies. To ditch fear and cut out the scar tissue. To finally get out the hardest story of all, the one that seems to keep me locked in place whenever I try to move around it.
Maybe in order to connect, I need to find a way to thrive. To become alive, whatever that means.
“The ones who will not only survive but will thrive… are the ones who realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
(Sound of My Voice)