Dear Kath, (11)

Dear Kath,

I haven’t written one of these here in a while, but going back over the ones I wrote before, I was reminded how much it helps. Including to keep your memory alive. Which is reason alone to do this. I don’t want to lose the last I have left of you. I lost so many of the little things you left me to remember you by. Well, had stolen. Because people can be cruel sometimes. And those lost things feel so huge, because they were tangible reminders of you, of how much you cared about me, about how it felt to be connected meaningfully to someone, to be really loved. Loved well. You really understood how to do that, what it means. I think too many people don’t. Because the things I miss weren’t expensive. And it isn’t about getting gifts. They were little things that reflected what you showed in all  your actions – that you really cared. They were a way to feel closer together when we lived so far apart. They were your way of bringing happiness to people, to put little pleasant surprises into their days. Stuff doesn’t mean anything. But the way you gave did. You were one of those rare people who really knew how to be there for someone, and to let someone be there for you. You understood we could both need both, and give both, at the same time. Which didn’t stop either of us trying to protect the other. Fucking hell, Kath, this sucks so much ass so very hard. I want more time for you. With you. But I am still grateful for the time we did have, for having had you in my life from the beginning. I just need you to keep holding my hand from even farther away, okay? Don’t let go. Because I am never going to stop needing you, and I need you now. And thank you for helping me, still, because once again, this was what I needed to do. I needed to spend some time with you in one of the only ways I have left. It opens up something in me that needs it. I think it is probably my heart.

I love you always,

Lisa

p.s. Sometimes the grief of it all really bowls me over, Kath. I lost so much. So many people. And some of them are here but beyond my reach. And I don’t know which is more painful, sometimes. At least of the griefs that are for my losses. I don’t know if anything can touch the grief of what you lost, that you were robbed of life that you loved so much. But if you were here, I know we would be okay. We would talk. Even if we fell out. We always found our way back to each other, because we never really left – even at the most distant times in our lives, there was never a question of showing up for each other when some big bad happened. But without you, even people who were still in my life with no falling out did what lesser people, or people who pretend their lesser-than-love feelings are love, do when things aren’t easy – they disappeared, mostly. And most of them, well, who gives a fuck, really, people who take without giving, who have no principles and just operate from whatever is easiest for themselves in any situation, are cheaper than a dime a dozen, there is not much to miss. I am fine with fewer people who take endlessly without giving.

But there are a couple of people who, hugely fucked-up and cruel choices notwithstanding, I love above anyone left alive, who I miss in spite of the worst, and those losses haunt me. Maybe more than anything because there really is fuck-all I can do but wait, and hope. Hope that at the very least, with or without me, they are and will be alright. Hope they might do some hard work toward healing inside. Hope that maybe it will matter in the long run that I left the door open. That I won’t lose more people I love for good with things left as they are. That we will all live long enough for something as rare and beautiful as reconciliation to happen. The real kind, not the pretending the same shit is not happening, and keeping it shallow, faking it til it falls apart kind. The kind where real change has already happened inside, so that real change is possible beyond ourselves, with each other.

This is a fucking long post script, but I guess the writing earlier tore the lid off of some things. I think I am increasingly too tired to hold back the feelings, and too overwhelmed still to have room to deal with them along with everything else. I just keep holding on to the faint hope all of this will end up somewhere good, and that I will get to experience something other than more loss. That I will see the return of people I love and miss for a change.

I don’t think there is anyone without some good in them, some potential. I think everyone wounded still has the child who loves and wants to be loved inside, hiding behind all the fucked up things that happened, and that they learned, and things that the same child made up to deal with things too far beyond their capacity to stand any chance against. It is just that so few are able to overcome that child’s perpetual mortal terror to reach out and face the pain and the fear and the disappointments and struggle of the healing process, to learn to have boundaries instead of walls, to accept that not everyone who fucks up, or does something they don’t like, or that reminds them of whoever hurt them before, is someone who means them the same constant harm. To accept that even if they grew up to do harm, they are not bad, or evil – their actions might not be good, and the results might be harmful (and I think there is no just harming another, the harming another harms the one doing the harm, too), but that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong inside them beyond wounds inflicted and improperly – or not yet – healed.

That they can be forgiven. That they can forgive themselves. They can forgive others. That forgiveness doesn’t have to mean disrespecting boundaries – you can forgive and still love yourself enough not to keep being around someone who hurts you, or just someone you don’t want to be around. And no matter how much someone wants to or tries to help them, personally or therapeutically, they are still going to have to eventually do the work to take down the walls imprisoning them, and learn how instead to have more flexible boundaries that allow them to let in the people they choose, who are safe – and to keep out those who do them harm, even if they love those people, at least as long as they keep choosing harmful behaviors.

I wish I could help them, Kath, but that is not just not up to me, it is beyond me alone. I hope they find help, within and without.

I think maybe now I can put this aside for a while. I just needed, again, to give voice to my grief and my hope. It helps, sometimes, just to feel it, to say it, and to accept what is while acknowledging what might be, what I hope for. Thanks again, sister, this really did give me a little peace in the moment. I know you would understand. It is hard to love some people, but we have both had lives with a lot of that kind of love. And it can bring so much pain and destruction. But we love who we love. We just both didn’t get taught to direct enough of it our own way.

The goal is the balance, not to stop loving. I think we both have known plenty of people who have tried to, and pretended to – but they still feel what they didn’t show, and it never protected them from grief when the people they loved without treating them lovingly were lost. It just left them to live in the then-irrevocable truth that they had hurt the ones they loved, and would never get a chance to show the love they feel, and hiding it didn’t protect them from the pain they feared, after all. I want better than that, Kath, for all the people you and I love who still haven’t allowed themselves to go over the wall.

I hope the ones who have lost already will learn from it and love better with those they have left, and I hope those who haven’t faced that kind of permanent loss yet will learn from the pain of those who did, and make those changes before they have to live with regret. I have lost people I love, people who died with important things left unsaid, and that changed me. I have said the important things to the people I love since then. I would still be deeply pained to lose anyone I love, especially people I have already lost in a less total way. But I would not be adding to my regrets. And I know how badly the ones I have already feel. I don’t want that for anyone. Even for a total fucking stranger reading this because they are wiling away an insomniac night playing wordpress roulette.

Don’t say the important things because you expect to get the responses you want; and important things to say aren’t those intended to cause pain. They are the vulnerable things too many people keep inside. Even if you never get a response at all, the pain of rejection is, I promise you, nothing to the pain of someone you love gone forever who didn’t know how much you loved and appreciated them, that you were sorry for hurting them, that they made a difference in your life. I have experienced both. I choose possible, even probable, rejection every time. No contest.

Fucking hell, I miss you.

 

 

Three Topics

There are a few topics I think are worth looking into, for people generally, and probably particularly so for people who have been traumatized or are dealing with some form of dysfunction.

I am just going to name them and maybe throw in a couple of links as starting points if anyone is interested.

(I am not a mental health professional, these are just things I have personally found valuable in understanding some things I have experienced, as well as understanding some people of my acquaintance. I can’t vouch for the quality of the material I have personally found valuable in terms of how a person with a professional understanding of the subjects would evaluate them, just offer that they explain these things in pretty clear terms, from my perspective.)

The first topic is compulsive repetition of trauma (and its relationship to PTSD and CPTSD).

 

The first link is to a survivor’s blog with a brief piece on the topic:

https://ptsdme.blogspot.com/2005/12/betrayal-bonds-trauma-repitition.html

 

The second link is to an article by Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist who has done a lot of work on PTSD. It is a little longer and more clinical in its discussion than the previous link, if that is something that might be of interest to you:

http://www.cirp.org/library/psych/vanderkolk/

 

The second topic is narcissistic abuse. (In learning about it you will likely also come across information about narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder, and less often, it seems, histrionic personality disorder, which can be confusing to distinguish. They used to be categorized together as “Cluster B Personality Disorders,” but I believe that has changed recently. And depending on the source, it also seems like the term can apply to these behaviors even when the person has one of those disorders other than narcissistic personality disorder. And in my opinion, narcissistic abuse seems like a predictable set of behaviors that are psychologically/emotionally abusive, so just from one human being to another, even if a person is not engaging in the full array of behaviors, or does not fit a dignosable disorder, it does not mean you have to dismiss the behavior as not abusive. And in any case, learning about psychological/emotional abuse more generally might also be useful. Lastly, I would add that whatever the most prevailing narratives might be, abuse is not limited to certain kinds of relationships. Could be a parent, a sibling, a child – whether a young child abusing other children, or the adult child of an ageing parent; it could be another family member, a spouse, a friend, a member of the clergy, a healthcare provider or caregiver, a roommate, a family friend, a stranger, an employer, a government official…not by any means a comprehensive list of possible relationships, but just bear in mind that abuse is about the behavior, not the person’s title.)

 

 

There is a lot of material out there, and reading pieces written by survivors is particularly illuminating, I think, but for a summary introduction, a portion of the Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_abuse) on the subject seems like a good starting point. Narcisstic abuse also happens to children (“Parental narcissistic abuse is where parents require the child to give up their own wants and feelings in order to serve the parent’s needs for esteem”), but I chose the excerpt about adult relationships because it goes into motive somewhat, defines narcissistic supply, and gives examples of some of the specific abusive behaviors:

“Narcissistic abuse may also occur in adult-to-adult relationships, where the narcissistic person tends to seek out an empathetic partner in order to gain admiration of their own attributes and feelings of power and control – narcissistic supply. The narcissist creates a dynamic abuser and victim relationship through a cycle of abuse resulting in traumatic bonding that makes it hard for their partner to leave the increasingly abusive relationship.

People with codependent-type traits may seek relationships with narcissists.

The narcissists’ relationships are characterized by a period of intense involvement and idealization of their partner, followed by devaluation, and a rapid discarding of the partner. Alternatively, that scenario can loop, with ghosting (ceasing communication with the codependent) and hoovering (luring the codependent back) instead of discarding. At the beginning of a relationship (or its new cycle) with a narcissist, the partner is only shown the ideal self of the narcissist, which includes pseudo-empathy, kindness, and charm. Once the partner has committed to the relationship (e.g., through marriage or a business partnership), the true self of the narcissist will begin to emerge. The initial narcissistic abuse begins with belittling comments and grows to contempt, ignoring behavior, adultery, triangulation (forming any relationship triangles), sabotage, and, at times, physical abuse.

At the core of a narcissist is a combination of entitlement and low self-esteem. These feelings of inadequacy are projected onto the victim. If the narcissistic person is feeling unattractive they will belittle their romantic partner’s appearance. If the narcissist makes an error, this error becomes the partner’s fault. Narcissists also engage in insidious, manipulative abuse by giving subtle hints and comments that result in the victim questioning their own behavior and thoughts. This is termed gaslighting. Another common abusive tactic is underhanded public humiliation, when the narcissist says something seemingly neutral but offensive to the victim and enjoys the emotional reaction. This is called dog-whistling. Any slight criticism of the narcissist, whether actual or perceived, often triggers narcissistic rage and full-blown annihilation from the narcissistic person. This can take the form of screaming tirades, silent treatment or quiet sabotage (setting traps, refusing communication, hiding belongings, spreading rumors, etc.).

The discard phase can be swift and occurs once the narcissistic supply is obtained elsewhere. In romantic relationships, the narcissistic supply can be acquired by having affairs. The new partner is in the idealization phase and only witnesses the ideal self; thus once again the cycle of narcissistic abuse begins. Narcissists do not take responsibility for relationship difficulties and exhibit no feelings of remorse. Instead they believe themselves to be the victim in the relationship as because of their self-debasing projections, their partner can only ever fail to meet their expectations.”

 

There are more MedCircle videos on YouTube on this and related subjects; there is also a channel called “Surviving Narcissism” that has a variety of clips on the topic, as well:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIELB1mz8wMKIhB6DCmTBlw/featured

 

The third topic is a strategy advocated for by some survivors (I have no idea what, if any, mental health professionals endorse the idea) of narcissistic abuse referred to as “gray rock.” Whatever its actual value or not as a survival strategy, I think its description is pretty useful in understanding some of the relationship dynamics involved around  narcissistic abuse.

https://www.thriveafterabuse.com/going-gray-rock/

I hope some of this will be useful to someone, whether just in being aware of some things should they ever cross your path, or that may be be relevant to someone you care about, or because you are already experiencing some form of abuse (maybe the often-hard-to-pin-down kind of abuse that is psychological/emotional), or because you might be living with a personality disorder yourself.

For those fortunate enought to have access to mental healthcare, a lot of the mental health professionals whose work I have read or watched talk about therapy both for people with personality disorders, and for people who have been in abusive or otherwise dysfunctional relationships. If you have experienced abuse or other trauma, whether or not you also engage in abusive behaviors, and the option is available, you might find it helpful to choose a provider who specializes in trauma, as such a person might be more competent in dealing with a person with such a background in a sensitive manner – whatever the profession, its practioners are only human, and have human limitations, including some not be great at everything, and some just being bad at their jobs, or having unhelpful biases. You don’t have to give up if your first attempt is not a good fit, it is okay to change providers and find someone you are comfortable with so you have a better experience.

I am neither condoning abuse in any circumstance, nor am I condemning all people living with such personality disorders as abusers. (If there is any such data available on the overall rates of abuse perpetrated by people with these types of personality disorders, I have not come across it yet; but I have seen it mentioned repeatedly that such people are often victims of abuse themselves at some point in life. And again, the latter does not negate such behavior as abuse when committed by a person who has also been victimized.)

For those people I have known who have been diagnosed with one of the formerly-Cluster-B disorders, or those I suspect would be if they sought treatment and were honest with their mental healthcare providers, I have never gotten the impression that they are particularly happy or at peace. On the contrary, I have always felt those people of my acquaintance seem to be trapped in a pattern that keeps them from experiencing the very things they seem to long for.

And for those who have experienced such abusive behaviors, many seem to have a hard time naming the abuse as such (and that has seemed to be the case both in those who seem to have in turn engaged in such abusive behaviors toward others, as well as those who have not). And often people who love the people who are engaging in abusive behaviors wish to help them, as the pain behind such behavior is often obvious , though it really does seem to me that it is only a mental health professional who is really going to be of help in that regard . I believe the impulse to help and focus on the suffering of the person engaging in abusive behavior, rather than the suffering caused by the abusive behavior, as often seems to happening when the person suffering abuse has experienced such abuse in the past, often prolongs and worsens a person’s experience of being abused. And it is just damned difficult to communicate if the other person is dishonest and/or manipulative.

This is a strictly-in-my-own-non-professional-opinion bit: I have noticed, over the course of my life, that many people who engage in behaviors that fit the description of narcisstic abuse in adulthood still seem to also be susceptible to being abused in that manner, whether by those people who are presumably the source of the abuse in their formative years (and the root of developing such behaviors in themselves), often parents or other realtives with whom they maintain relationships, but also with peers or partners.

In my experience, those who engage in such behaviors seem to primarily focus them on one or a few people, and mostly maintain a facade with others; and as the abuse seems to tend to be focused around perceived disparities in power, the person tends to focus the abusive behavior on a person or persons whom they perceive as weak or vulnerable relative to themself, but when they come into contact with a person who engages in similarly abusive behaviors they perceive to be stronger or more powerful than themselves, they can revert to the role of being the person suffering the abuse. I have not seen any mental health professional discuss this as of yet, but I am just adding the observation in the event that there is a person you have a difficult time viewing as abusive when they engage in the behavior because you have witnessed them being subjected to similar abuse.

I would also add, again, just in my opinion, that I would guess that virtually everyone in this former-cluster of disorders, as well as those prone to being in relationships with such people (like sufferers of similar abuse in childhood), likely would be diagnosed as having PTSD (or, in my opinion, likelier still,  CPTSD, where practioners recognizes that as a discrete diagnosis). And I take issue with some aspects of how what is defined as “codependency” is addressed, but that is a topic for another time.

I certainly wish I could offer the professional level of insight and advice here, but as one human being who has lived through some shit (and loved a lot of people who have been, too), whoever you are, whatever you are going through, I hope you will reach out and find some help, and allow yourself to believe that you can change your life for the better with the right help, some hard work on your part, and enough time.

For those without access to adequate mental healthcare, I would imagine good starting points might be some hotlines, like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY); The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (which explicitly states it is “…for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals,” so keep it in mind that if you are not actively suicidal, or you are concerned about someone else in your life who may be, it is still okay to call); and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). These calls can be made anonymously (not that they won’t appear in your phone records or call logs, though), so also a plus for those who are hesitant to share with people they know, or who might find their own possible support groups negatively impacted by a person engaging in abusive behavior of the “smearing/sabtoaging” kind.  These hotlines also have websites, if you prefer to look around that way, they all seem to offer some other informational resources, as well as alternate ways to contact them:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is at https://www.thehotline.org/

They offer a live chat feature, though as all organizations that deal with abuse tend to do, the first thing their site shows is a pop up “Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.” So proceed with due caution if you are concerned a person who is abusing you might have access to your computer, whether physically, or remotely through some form of malware – the latter can also go for your cellphone, unfortunately. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/05/victims-of-domestic-violence-challenged-by-abusers-using-technology.html)

(Use your judgement. Maybe a phone at a friend’s home, or get a burner phone if you are able – these are strictly my own thoughts, but I would guess a landline that does not belong to you or the person who is abusive, where they won’t see a number on a bill, possibly, or in caller ID, would be the safest bet.)

They also offer additonal options: “Advocates who are deaf are available Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST) by videophone (855-812-1001), instant messenger (DeafHotline) or email (deafhelp@thehotline.org).”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ (They also offer a chat feature: the link is a little easy to miss, it is in the upper right hand corner of the homepage, right next to the phone number, and to the left of the search tool).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is at https://www.nami.org/

They offer a lot of information and resources; they also have a text option, Text NAMI to 741741, or you can email them at info@nami.org

Whatever it is you may have suffered, or be suffering, be it the sort of abuse talked about here, or other forms, you didn’t, and don’t, deserve it. Even if you have inflicted suffering on another person, you don’t deserve to suffer (though that does not change that those to whom you behave abusively suffer because of it, and they don’t deserve it, either).

I hope you will find your courage (and I know it is there, because to behave abusively or be vulnerable to repetition of suffering abuse both suggest you almost certainly were abused yourself, and here you are, alive and kicking and reading some rando lady’s blog – or maybe not rando to you, in which case, hello, person I know, I hope you are well, and if you are not, I hope you reach out – to me, if I am a trusted person and you are someone who is, in my judgement, safe for me to communicate with; or to someone else who is trusted and to whom you do not represent a lack of safety, whether someone in your personal life, or a hotline, or a mental health professional).

In any case, you are alive.

That makes you a survivor.

You may well have been little and helpless and put through hell, and still, here you are.

That takes strength.

It takes strength to do what would otherwise be small things when your fight or flight is all fucked up and may even be kind of constantly switched on, or alternately, when you may not feel like you can feel much of anything.

It takes strength to admit you are scared or need help, especially when you may have learned early on those things meant danger. Especially when you might have to ask many times before someone helps. Especially when some people, even people in “helping professions,” might be the kind of people who seek positions of power to take advantage of vulnerable people. Use your judgement. Acknowledge when someone makes you uncomfortable. And if someone does exploit your vulnerability, know it is their wrong, not yours. Keep asking for help. Find people who will prove worthy of trust over time. Seek out support groups of other survivors. Find what works for you. Just try. There are loads of resources, and lots of survivors and resources online, too. There are blogs and discussion groups. It is okay to take small steps, to start out where you are just looking at information, not engaging with a person.

It takes strength to admit you fucked up and hurt someone else, especially if you learned early on that you were not “allowed” to fuck up in even the most inconsequential way without being subjected to intolerable pain. Especially when on some level you know hurting someone else is not an inconsequential fuck up. Especially if you have decided what happened when you got hurt was unforgivable, and that the person who hurt you deserves bad things. Hard to admit out loud that you have done the same kind of hurting, then, since by your own rationale you are unforgivable and deserve bad things. But those are feelings, not logic, not reality. Maybe the people you have hurt won’t forgive you – but you can still stop hurting them. You can walk away from the relationship without doing any more harm. You can stop putting yourself back into one role in a dynamic you probably grew up longing to escape. And you can, in that way, finally free yourself from a life with regular violence in it. And you can work with a professional who can help you – but you have to be willing to be honest with them.

If you are able to bear hearing some really specific details of childhood abuse described, and of the violence that child then engaged in as he grew up, I very much recommend Sammy Rangel’s TEDx talk, “The Power of Forgiveness.”

 

 

Or you can look up his organization, The Forgiveness Project (https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/)

He can stand as an example of a person who suffered violence, caused others to suffer – and himself to continue to suffer – by inflicting violence on others, and who found a way to leave violence behind. If you believe your experiences of being  subjected to violence were too extreme – his experiences of being subjected to violence were quite extreme. If you believe you have done too much harm to change – he did a great deal of harm, and has reached a place where he can not only own it, but where he has ceased to engage in violence. Just if you need to maybe see a little evidence, some example, of hope.

It takes strength not to revert to habitual bad behaviors that are the only ways of coping with fear and pain you know – whether they are abusive of others, self-destructive, or both. There are other ways, and you can learn, and those ones don’t cause you or anyone else injury. And they don’t leave you feeling like you are divided inside between the ugly truths and the supposedly pretty lies that cover them.

And just because your nervous system got fucked up and/or you never learned how to relate to people in healthy ways, or got help dealing with your damage, doesn’t change that you are a human being, you being hurt was wrong, and you can try to get help, and learn, and heal.

Treat yourself as worth the effort.

I wish you all the best, and that you find people closer to you than a stranger, and sources of information and assistance better than some rando lady’s blog, to help you on your journey.

And it is a journey.

And the road out of hell can be unpleasantly scenic and winding, and it may bring you through similar territories (or worse ones), but it truly does beat just remaining in the same ring of the inferno indefinitely.

Same pit, different day is no way to live your life.

Even if you start with the teeniest of steps, you are still on your way. Fucking up is not just allowed, it is inevitable. If you accept that, and don’t give up when you stumble, and don’t let yourself off the hook for hurting someone, and don’t blame yourself for being hurt, and get what help you can, I believe you can find your way out.

From my road to yours, I wish you good luck.