This morning I asked the dog, “Wouldn’t my mother be proud of me, swallowing up to 11 pills at once?”
Shockingly, he responded by turning his head to one side and looking at me with cuteness and confusion, wondering if I were asking him something he wanted to hear … he hasn’t mastered English language just yet.
Why, you may wonder, would that impress my mother or be a source of pride? Swallowing isn’t usually a thing to be praised. (My mind hit the gutter there … and now yours did, since I mentioned it, right? Apologies.)
Swallowing pills isn’t usually a thing to be praised. (Better?)
But for me, it was a huge challenge for years to swallow pills. I remember vividly my mom trying every possible trick she could for me to get a tiny little tablet into my system the day before procedures. Putting it on my tongue and then having me drink didn’t work. Cutting it smaller than its already tiny form didn’t help. I think that the most effective, and the most disgusting, was the buying me donuts, having me chew up a bit of the donut, and then shoving the pill into the center of the chewed food before I swallowed it. Donut holes became a semi-regular event in my life from the point when we discovered that trick.
But the thing that struck me this morning was not that my mom spent herself to the point of exhaustion and utter frustration in order to make certain I swallowed the pill and was appropriately prepped for procedures, and not that I have accomplished the task and perfected it in ways that would offer my mother pride, and lets me take only a moment to swallow my medications, but that I remembered vividly the processes of prepping and procedures for medical purposes.
It is strange what the brain holds and what it does not hold.
My mother’s last words to me were, “I really like your hair that way.” And that was the only full sentence I had heard from her lips in many months. Why that sentence got through, and nothing else, I cannot explain. Nobody can explain it. But it is a sentence I appreciate. It was fitting, since my mother’s approval was something I always strived for and rarely received, and her disapproval was often focused on my hair and its current color or style, that the last thing she said to me was that she approved of my hairstyle.
I don’t know that it was a sign or a message, but it definitely made me smile … after the initial shock of hearing my mom form a sentence and look me in the eye wore off.
What her brain lost and what it held was always a source for surprise and question and analysis and much laughter, but there weren’t really any answers as to the “why”.
What my brain lost and what it held is similar.
I vividly remember the process of getting a pill into my stomach, and I vividly remember almost every single invasive or upsetting or stressful medical procedure I endured as a child, and I always have. But while I was cataloging every moment of the medical trauma, I was erasing every single moment of sexual trauma. Why did my mind hold one and erase the other? Why was one captured and one cast into some recess of the brain and locked there for years?
And my first instinct was to say that one was cause for shame and not the other, but that isn’t accurate. I wet myself with regularity due to my body’s defect, and I was mocked mercilessly for that. And after surgery, when I didn’t have those ‘accidents’ anymore, I was mocked in the locker room because of my scars. There was a lot of shame tied to my medical issues. And maybe there was more shame associated with the sexual trauma, but I don’t think that one was without shame and the other filled with it. There were aspects of shame tied to both, yet I held one in my conscious mind with great detail, and the other I forced away.
As someone diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I am learning that the ways the brain forgets can be really great and amazing. My brain shut out traumas to protect me. And since the moment those memories returned I went into several years of meltdown, I know that my little, young self could not have coped with those things. My 19-year-old self couldn’t cope with those things. Some days my 41-year-old self cannot cope with those things, though I’m learning more and better skills to cope now than I ever have before.
I am also learning that my brain suffered a division when the trauma happened. Parts of my brain stopped talking to one another, and they still can’t seem to get those synapses firing all the time. I dissociate from time to time, blocking out things that are uncomfortable or that remind me of other things, or just breaking myself in two and living in conflict with my own thoughts and ideas. I’m a big pile of contradiction and incoherence and cognitive dissonance. And all of that is because my young self held some thoughts and blocked others. And I had no control of what stayed and what went.
Eventually, both combined into one larger trauma. Not having control of your body is bad in any sense. But the cognition of not having control over what happened to my body in the medical sense and the dissociation of not having control over what happened to my body in the sexual abuse sense became tied in ways that I didn’t understand until recently. And the way that tie became apparent is by wetting myself like I did when I was a child when in the company of my abuser … at age 39. My brain made my body lose control, and potentially continues to do so. My pelvic floor dysfunction is possibly psychological and possibly physical, but more than likely a combination of the two.
So, I am back to the start, in a sense. But this time I am remembering all, and the medical and the sexual are one trauma, melded together in some strange ball of a loss of autonomy. And now I lose even more, with PTSD and fibromyalgia having effects on my brain and body that I cannot control. I can only cope.
But at least I can cope, some of the time.
At least I am at a place where I can address all the things, and know when I am dissociating, and see how the disconnects are affecting me, and learn how to start putting myself together once again. At least I am in a place where the memories of both can be acknowledged, and the path that I took to today can be better understood, and the ways I act today and the things I now believe can be explained.
It is amazing what the brain holds and what it releases. But even more amazing is that I am learning how I can choose what my brain holds and what it releases. Meditation and mindfulness are showing me the way to control my reactions to thoughts, and mandalas are helping me integrate my mind, and therapy is letting me voice the feelings tied to events that I was before expected to keep secret, or to accept silently. I get to hold things. I get to release things. I am regaining that lost autonomy. And I am expressing it … loudly enough to piss a bunch of people off when I won’t comply with social norms and religious expectations.
I am screaming autonomy.
I am choosing, even though I can’t choose what happened or what will happen in my life and experience. I am choosing how I act and react in the midst of what happened and will happen. I am no longer letting my brain do the filing without my input, and I am making certain to assess what I release and what I hold.
I likely have a 50% chance of ending up like my mom, with my mind slowly deteriorating and losing thoughts and memories and faces and, eventually, life. And if I do have the gene for Alzheimer’s and I do lose bits of my brain to disease, it will be difficult. But I don’t worry about that the way I once did, because I currently have better knowledge and control of my thinking than I ever have, and I no longer need to worry and catastrophize and create struggle inside my head. I can accept and release. Even this idea that I might lose my autonomy in some ways or someday is not a source of struggle, because I know that such disease won’t define me.
I define me.
And accepting the ways I can’t control my life and my future, instead of struggling against them is what I am trying to choose. I want that to define me—the idea that I accept myself and my life in the moment, and that I can act and react in positive ways, even in the darkest of experiences. That is my choice.
The thoughts I hold and the thoughts I release are mine. The perspective with which I view things is mine. The ways that I act and react are mine. The traumas that happen to me, are not mine to hold. Those belong to the ones that harm, not to the ones harmed by them. And no amount of victim blaming is tolerated in my space any longer. That I am letting go.
And I don’t know that being me, in the way that I choose to be, would make my mother proud. There is probably a lot that she would challenge and dislike, if she were here to do so. But that doesn’t matter. Because I am not letting other people define me any longer. I am not letting the events that happen around me or to me define me. And having the pride of others, or the acceptance of others, is a bonus, if it happens, but it isn’t my goal anymore. I no longer strive for anyone’s approval but my own.
And I am very proud of who I am.