Tonight I met with a photographer, James Arthur Allen about beginning to work with him and his project, a war within, to tell my story and send out a message about PTSD. A message that I choose – a message from whatever part of my story I feel comfortable to disclose.
I come away, inspired and blown away. For the first time in my life I am beginning to get the voice that I deserve. The voice that has been hidden and trapped beneath a holding of trauma and abuse, confusion and denial. This denial being one that was taught to me. Taught by my mother. Taught so I wouldn’t see how WRONG it all was. How messed up my life has been. That denial hasn’t ever felt like it’s been on purpose. Perhaps in the recent past, last year particularly, I was a touch more aware of my pain and tried and tried to not have to face it. Or just face it a little bit. Like trying to face it with little taste testers, not wanting to dive and open up the crevasse that was within.
This denial I was in was more survival. It was the only way to get through.
It was denial of my own right to express, my own right to grieve, sob, be helpless, afraid, in terror or alone, as a child and a young adult. This denial has never felt in my control, until I properly began to step away from my family, aged 22. And this step away felt a bit out of my hands also due to the development of chronic fatigue: as my body started to crumble, so did the responsibilities and attachments with my mother. But man there was still a shit load there and still a load of trauma to come, despite the gradual distancing. But what I wanted to say with this, was that until then – until my own journey began – I was living in the teachings of my only proper model: my mother. And she engrained denial into my way of being. There was no choice there. Her self-centeredness, rollercoastering mental ill-health, the weight of her life in my hands from such a young age, her violence and most importantly her own denial. Her own denial of her effect she was having on her child. Something that she would constantly fly out with in self pity and a cry for, ‘no mum, you’re amazing’. It sometimes feels weird that I don’t really hold blame. Obviously at times I do, but that’s just called being human. But generally I just feel compassion and anger and frustration at the situation. Not her. The situation. The fact that she was living in so much pain to have to do this to her daughter. The fact that she was so deep within her struggle and ill-health that she racked up this truck load of trauma and hideous shit to an innocent being – a being of hers.
This feels so profound and inspiring to realise. That my denial of what has happened has not been my choice directly. I was denied by my mother, but I was also modelled denial to be a way to cope by the one woman I took life lessons from.
Any kind of denial is, in my eyes, an aim to cope anyway. So whether it feels your choice or not, it comes with the same motive and the same need: survival. It can be a tool for getting though the toughest, craziest shit. It’s just afterwards that, as you become in a place to heal and tap into what has been, the crumbling of the denial and the step towards acceptance can feel like the scariest thing ever.
And I know too, in contradiction to all that, this denial…I did really choose it. Just like I’m choosing now to begin to drop it. Even though this choice feels out of my hands now – it’s just happening and unfolding before me – and it felt out of my hands before – because I was so young – there is and was something always within me that was choosing it and is now choosing my path because I know I can deal with it. So back then, all I knew I could deal with and hold was the coping mechanisms I knew: denial and self destruct. But now, I am in a place to cope with what unfolds in a different, healthy and new way.
The meeting with James also left me in a surreal bubble of, ‘I was always going to get here, anyway’. I wish I could explain it but I never feel like I ever find the words that are quite right to describe this process. The surreal element to it. The moments that I remember really began to strike me when I first properly began therapy back in January, were those moments of being heard. Finally, after all these years, someone is listening and someone is hearing, and someone is telling me how wrong it has been. No more running alone, with pain so deep it felt like it was eating my insides. This pain that never had a chance to be seen because I was holding the place and my mother together. And as I began to step away, the pain became engrained in my being and the only way I knew was to self destruct with this pain because that is all I knew. And so that is all I did. Until now.
It feels like my whole life, my whole 24 years before me were a bubble of what was, and now that I am in ‘what is’, all that was is slowly becoming distant. And I am now slowly, very slowly, stepping away from it and seeing quite how fucked up it’s been. Some bits I don’t even feel able to see that about yet. Not quite. But I will. The more recent events are those that feel more tender and raw. But the past – the three year old me, and the eighteen years of turmoil that followed, are the ones that feel so deeply engrained and part of my core as true, that I find it SO hard to believe they really were as messed up as they were. They weren’t that bad, were they?
One day I’ll find proper words to describe this feeling, but the main ones are: surreal and beautiful. Surreal because I never thought this would actually happen, no matter how much my being dreamed. And beautiful because my soul is finally getting its chance to speak.
I feel really excited, nervous, triggered, relieved, anxious, and so empowered at the thought of sharing my story to bring about change and awareness for others. That is what this is about. That is what life is about. And that is what I always bring myself back to: if all this crap means that I can help others who are going through something similar one day, or now, then all this is so so worth it.
Photographs: Santa Monica, California, Nov 2011.