Tag Archives: Trauma

More than a victim: letting go of blame and learning to embrace accountability

104HTen years ago my family discovered that I was in the process of transitioning from female to male. No one in my family was happy about it. My father felt that he couldn’t accept it. My mother announced that unless I changed my mind, I was no longer her child. When my father eventually died from cancer, my mother wrote me to say that she wished it was me who had died, instead of my father.

My gender transition was a shock to my family and they responded accordingly. It may not have been such a shock to them had I felt safe to speak up earlier. But I remained silent about my gender dysphoria precisely because I feared the reaction I eventually got – one of rejection and condemnation.

Ironically, my inability to speak openly about what was going on for me inside partially contributed to my worst fears coming true.

The lesson I took from all this was that to reveal who I am, who I REALLY am, is dangerous and will cause only pain to me and those around me. But I could equally have taken a different lesson from the experience – that to conceal who I am, who I REALLY am, means alienating those who could possibly learn to accept (or even love) me for who I am.

My birth family and I have minimal contact today. I haven’t spoken to my birth mother in eight years. I occasionally communicate with my sisters via email maybe 1 or 2 times a year – to wish them happy birthday and happy holidays. The damage done to our relationship was severe, traumatic and, likely, irreparable. I don’t foresee our relationship improving in the foreseeable future. They have shown little indication of wanting to know me as I live my life today. No phone calls, no visits. No acknowledgement of the sacrifices I have made to live my life authentically.

I still carry with me the hurt, and yes, that anger that comes with feeling like I have been wronged. And with that hurt comes rage that my birth family turned their back on me, or at least did nothing to help me, despite my pain starting at a young age, when what I needed most was compassion and some place safe. I never felt safe with any of them.

But being a victim isn’t a place that leaves you feeling empowered. And when everyone involved in a conflict sees themselves as the victim, the conflict can’t resolve itself.

My family would probably claim that they were victims of my self-destructive behaviour and of my refusal to reach out to them for help. And I do feel responsible for the pain I caused them. Especially for the pain and stress I caused my father so short before his death.

For a long time, I have blamed myself for having let my family down. For having these cross-gender feelings in the first place, or for struggling with suicidal depression as early as age 12. The depression waylaid me for most of my childhood and rendered me incapable of functioning for most of my 20s. I exhausted my family’s goodwill in the process.

I blame myself because if I don’t, it doesn’t make sense why my life has gone so drastically awry. It has to be someone’s fault, because then at least there’s a narrative, a coherence to the chaos.

I blame my parents for their emotional neglect and their lack of empathy for when I struggled as a child with what was even then a serious case of clinical depression.

I blame my sisters for deserting me in that house, with parents who didn’t know how to love or care for me. And later, when I spoke my truth, for distancing themselves from me. Like I was some kind of pariah.

I blame God for making me a freak, for giving me feelings as a child that I couldn’t control or comprehend or safely share with anyone.

But blame has a funny way of killing you from the inside. It becomes an avoidance strategy that covers up another emotion – deep sadness and grief. A bottomless pit of it. And I’m afraid of letting myself feel that grief. Afraid that if I do, I will disintegrate and lose what little self-control I still have.

But there has to be an alternative to the rage or blame. There has to be a way to forgive myself for my perceived sins. After all, I was a child when this all began. How was I to know how to process these complex emotions? I had no one to show me how, and nowhere I felt safe to explore what was going on for me.

Oddly, when I let myself feel compassion for the child I once was, the anger towards my family lessens too. Because I realize that they, too, acted mainly out of fear, and out of not understanding. I can have compassion for that even if the consequences of their actions continue to hurt. I can’t say I forgive them fully, but maybe that’s because I don’t forgive myself fully either. Having your pain denied or invalidated leaves you feeling weak and unable to move on. And letting go of the need to have others validate your pain, well, that’s not easy.

I haven’t quite figured out how to hold them – and myself – accountable in a non-blaming, non-judgmental way. Maybe sharing these thoughts is my way of trying to start that process. I’m taking it one step, one day at a time.

*Photo by Ryan McGuire (http://www.gratisography.com/)

Falling

I seem to have tumbled over the deep end this weekend. A reminder of what depression feels like. A reminder that sometimes, I am not well. A reminder to be gentle with myself.

Depression is more than a disease. It is a death sentence. It robs you of the words, the images, the hope that makes life worth living. It’s an implosion that shudders through your body and emanates out of you like waves, like what I imagine a city goes through when it is hit by an atom bomb. The strangely beautiful mushroom cloud, then the air full of dust and debris and bodies.

The bodies I face are those that never existed or that should have. They are the mother who should have loved me, the father who should have been healthy enough to defend me, the sisters who were adult enough to see that our family was a disease in and of itself.

How dare I write these words. How brazenly I condemn my family. What if it isn’t true? What if it isn’t their fault at all?

What if my own misery belongs to know one but myself. I am its creator, its nurturer.

How do live with myself then?

The truth is I am going through an identity crisis. Or should I say, a lack of identity crisis. The facts are like leaves falling off a tree. They land here and there but there’s no pattern to it, no reasoning with it. They lie there on the soil, dry and dead, waiting for someone to rake them up again, throw them away or compost them.

Worm food. That’s what I am. I can feel myself rotting.

I had a teacher once. He told me to write at least 4-5 hours a day. “If you want to be a writer,” he said, ” you need to write”. I told him, essentially, to piss off. I worked until 6 pm each night and didn’t have the energy to sit behind a desk and write for four hours more. A person needs to have time for life as well. “It’s you choice,” he said. Yeah, it’s my choice not to spend my life doing something meaningless that no one cares about anyway.

Yeah, it’s my choice not to indulge the side of myself that is constantly seeking attention, pity, sympathy.

In Jeanette Winterson’s powerful memoir “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” she writes: “I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.” How do I forgive myself? And how do I know if I deserve to forgive myself? There are bad people in this world. Maybe I am one of them.

The apartment is empty tonight. M is away, camping with a group of friends. I was invited but declined. i needed some time to myself, I said. What I really needed was time to feel sorry for myself.

M has been thinking of planning a pity party. Maybe once a month. We would save up all month on all the reasons our lives suck, we would gather these reasons together and once a month we would share them with others. Together, we would feel sorry for ourselves, and then, at the end of the night, we would wander down to the ocean, with pieces of paper on which we have written these feelings down. We will burn them in the night. Let them go up in flames. We will experience some sort of catharsis. That’s what ritual is for.

How many months will it take before the catharsis is complete?

What if the pus of self-pity just goes on and on. What if that is my identity.

I’ve been thinking, lately, of dabbling in fiction. My father didn’t have a high opinion of fiction; he felt it was just make-belief. Ironically, he loved Homer and Virgil. As long as it was myth; as long as it was Literature, I suppose it was alright.

But I don’t think it matters what my father thinks anymore. I’m 34. He’s just shadow of a ghost that still, occasionally, haunts me. He’s just the man imprinted on a medallion I wear around my neck to remind me. That he once was. That he once claimed to love me. That I once let him down. Or more than once.

In Jeanette’s memoir she writes: “I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer, there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We  get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.

I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence.”

I’m done with conspiracies. It’s too painful.

Stop being a victim

Bad shit rolls downhill. So does good shit, and any other kind of shit you can imagine. But what I want to talk about is the shit in my life. The kind that’s been with me since I was a child. I’m done with it. I’m done worrying about it. And I’m done looking away. Let’s deal with it already – and move on. Let’s turn it into fertile ground and plant some plants in it. Let’s, please, just get rid of that stinking, awful smell.

It’s hard to accept that I might not ever truly know why I am the way I am. All I know is, I want to take my own experiences and make them meaningful somehow. I want them to mean something to someone other than me. Otherwise, what’s the point? I don’t know how many other people there are that can relate to what I’ve been through or where I’m headed. I sometimes feel like I’m an alien of some sort. But that’s pretty common, right? Feeling like you don’t belong? Because difference is something we all have in common.

But no matter how weird I am, or screwed up I think my past was, I don’t want to be someone who constantly makes excuses for why I can’t get ahead in life. I’ve gotten this far in life and I’m doing OK. Build on the strengths you have and learn from the weaknesses. Learn to work with those weaknesses, because ultimately they make you more interesting and more rounded. Or so the theory goes.

My partner, too, suffers from trauma. It can be hard to handle sometimes. But I know I want to build a future with her, and we are getting the help we need to help each other. I want to learn to support her. I want to be there for her in a way that no one else has been able to be there for her. And I know she wants to be there for me too. She is helping me see my own value for maybe the first time in my life. My trauma is pretty different from hers. It’s about moving to a different continent at a very vulnerable age (11 years old), a country rife with racism, bloodshed and hypocrisy. And no one really to talk to about my difficulties adapting, no one who really understood what I was going through. Then it’s coming to terms with my gender and the storm of pain that followed as a result. It’s about losing friends to suicide, and struggling with suicidal tendencies myself. It’s about losing my father in the worst possible way, and losing my family’s support in the process.

But I’m ready to look beyond all that now to something else. It’s also about recognizing the suffering of my parents and how that rendered them helpless to truly be present in their children’s lives. It’s about how a culture of lies and deceit and repression, and a legacy of emotional, verbal and physical abuse spreads like a virus through generations – until someone stops to treat it.

I want to understand how trauma changes people and how it can be transformed into something positive. I want to turn my life into more than just a dirge and speak out, not just for myself but for those who came before me and for those struggling today and tomorrow.

Maybe if I truly understand how trauma works, maybe if I am able to truly communicate that to others, I can make this world a slightly less troubled place. Maybe, just maybe, healing is possible. Wouldn’t that be wonderful.

We all deserve to feel safe, in our homes, in our bodies and in our souls. That is what I wish for myself and everyone else.

Let’s make it happen.