Saturday, August 7, 2010

Getting to know who I once was

Because I have a very spotty memory of my life, and always have, I made it a point to try to keep all of my journals and letters and writings throughout the years. My intention was always to one day organize these artifacts and read the story of my life through my own thoughts and words, artwork, and also the letters I received from others.
The time has arrived when I have started the archiving and reading. I guess I didn't quite know what to expect from this journey; it is both easier and harder than I imagined it would be.
I always had this image of myself, even when I didn't have a connective narrative, as an essentially kind and generous person. I've also always thought of my past me as a victim and never as a victimizer. I knew I was damaged in many ways and full of pain and neediness. I knew I was lonely, disconnected from the world and reality, lost a lot of time, likely insensitive to the emotions of others, and severely limited in my capacity to experience and understand my own feelings and experiences. I was right about all of these things; I was not seeing the other truths of who I was.
I do not blame myself for being the person I was, even at my most awful, because I was simply the person I was shaped into being. Not blaming myself, though, does not mean that I can so easily excuse myself or maybe even forgive myself for the things I see I have been. Perhaps the real truth is that I can forgive who and what I was but it is not so easy to forgive myself for all of the people I injured along the way.
Yes I was a victim and had all of the pain and confusion I recognized. I was also an abuser. I may not have hurt anyone intentionally, but I see that I hurt many people and maybe it was worse for them because I never even understood the hurts I caused.
It truly pains me to read these journals and know I may never remember who I was writing about; I will never have the chance to apologize to many of those I hurt. Now I read these things and wonder how my behaviors affected the people involved; I simply did not connect my actions with other people's feelings unless I was acting directly to their face. The vast majority of injuries I caused may have been due to a disconnect inside of me. I couldn't understand that people actually existed when they were not in my presence.
As a student therapist I can see this and say; I did not develop real object permanence until maybe 2 years ago, and I still struggle with it to this time, I also wasn't able to form secure attachments to other people until then. I understand this was not my fault, this is the kind of issue that develops in the first 2 years of life, and the instability and violence of my family life in my first years of life certainly explain this very well. Since I was only able to achieve secure attachment and object permanence once I began taking Cymbalta it is also clear that my brain became chemically incapable of producing and/or processing the neurotransmitters associated with these emotions; I truly did not have the ability to change this until I found this medication.
The fact remains, though, that I can be responsible for my actions regardless of whether they were my fault.
As I read the thoughts and experiences of that me I was once, I am no longer full of shame or disgust (the emotions that always stopped my attempts before) at who I was. Now it is with profound sadness that I discover the pitiful child I was into my late 20's. Sadness for her, yes, but even more sadness for everyone who loved her and had to witness or endure the results of who I used to be.
I've had a lifetime to know and understand the burdens I carried and the hurt I could not escape, but it is only now; as I face myself as mother, therapist, and adult; that I can wonder what it must have been like for my mother, brother, sister, aunts & uncles, cousins and friends. What must it be like to love someone who cannot really know you exist when you are not with them? What must it be like to love someone who cannot consistently accept or show love, who sometimes loves you unbearably--like a child-- and sometimes doesn't even recognize or acknowledge your existence at others.
I will probably never be able to understand what it must have been like to care about me then. I can only imagine that it would hurt, a lot. I will probably never have the chance to make amends or even apologize to everyone who suffered by my actions; this truth makes me very sad.
As I read these things, with psychologist eyes, I can begin to label and quantify all the chaos and confusion of that me. Disorganized attachment, failed object permanence, features of borderline and also schizoid personality disorders. These labels give me the comfort of understanding better, of knowing I am not the only one who has been like this, of knowing how to continue to improve and heal.
They cannot, however, soften the sadness of having hurt so many beautiful people. The regret of destroying so many relationships that could have been amazing parts of my life, and of forgetting so many relationships that are a part of this person I used to be.
I wish I could remember all of the people who have once been a part of my life, and I wish I could apologize for the pain, confusion, and damage I have inflicted in the lives of many. Maybe one day I will find some way to accomplish one or both of these things. Until then, I can only continue to get to know that me and find the courage to accept and understand the whole of who I was instead of the idealized version I've carried along with me thus far.

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