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Monday, February 06, 2017

trauma, survival, safety, relationships, and my bed as safe space

After recently reading a lot about the science behind trauma, this morning I came to a revelation about my own life, specifically my behaviours in my romantic relationships. I have classically put up with a lot of shit in my relationships - not to discount these men also having to put up with me - sometimes, for far too long. I remember my three years with C as a waste of three years of my life. When faced with shit I have to put up with in my marriage, I always tell myself to continue to bear it, to never give up, to lean towards loyalty and longsuffering. These are my values. Nothing has changed.

I am not known for my survival instinct. Instead, because of emotional trauma in my childhood, the neuroplasticity of my brain has changed. Instincts have been thwarted. I have become chronically suicidal, viewing my life as worthless to this very day, believing my life is expendable. I ended up becoming hypervigilant, as Marcus once said to me, a good person to have in a team in the event of a plane crash on a deserted island. The ideal sense of protecting one's self is far from being in equilibrium in me. I oscillate between wanting to die, and having panic attacks triggered by simple things.

What I realised today is how my values in the relationships of my life pair with my thwarted survival instincts. I innately believe I deserve to be emotionally abused or neglected. My parents, whom I love, were my protectors, providing me with a safe space to grow up in while I was living with them. But they were also the people who threatened to abandon me, who stifled expressions of my fear and sadness and anger, who criticised me incessantly, who neglected me by not being around - to pick me up from the babysitter, to be at home with me, to not treat me as invisible or a burden. It was something I got used to, and my brain equated the safe haven of love with emotional neglect and abuse. i believe I deserve it.

My Bed by Tracey Emin

When I did imagery work with a psychologist during my hospital stay last year, I pictured my safe space as my bed, in my current home. I have gone through a lot of ups and downs while being in this bed, whether asleep or awake, for over a decade. To cry, I curl up in a foetal position in bed with my pillows. To ponder life choices and meditate on what is important, I spend time thinking and writing in this bed. The times I felt such emotional pain that I overdosed on pills, most of them occurred in this bed. To temporally feel the pleasure that anhedonia prevents my brain's circuitry from experiencing, I have spent time with various men and boys in this bed. The times the men I loved have hurt me, I retreated to this bed to try and heal, and often re-invited them into my figurative bed as well, to try and re-enact the traumatic incidents. I have received far too much emotional abuse and neglect in this same bed too, the treatment that I feel I deserve from the men I love. I believe I am that flawed, to deserve the kind of emotional pain that has been inflicted on me, whether consciously or not. I blame no one but myself, and feel a deep sense of shame only belief in God can alleviate.

In trying to recover from the physiological response to emotional trauma, I have thought about all these things and how best to realise what my heart, mind and body need to be able to live well and live fully. I cannot keep thinking that I deserve to be treated badly because I believe that it signifies love. I should not equate love with shutting up and putting up with various forms of emotional abuse: being ignored, being blamed, having my emotions invalidated, being misunderstood.

I have nowhere else to go but writing here to say the following: J has been emotionally distant from me, from our marriage, almost from the time it began. Of late, this has reared its head as a cold war initiated by him, catalysed by my not understanding the sequence of events in stories he tells me, because his words are often unclear to me. He got annoyed with me for this again recently and said angrily that he doesn't want to talk to me anymore. This overflowed into him telling me not to text him, because my texts trigger anxiety in him. He said that when he does talk to me openly, I get upset and suicidal, even though those times he opened up were not in vulnerable confidence, but in hurtful blaming words and tone. He says I threaten him with suicide, even though I have never attempted suicide as spite and revenge towards him. Hence, for all this and more, he no longer wants to talk to me, at all. He admitted that I am not deserving of high regard as his wife.

The turning point happened around the time J's mom fell ill and subsequently lost the battle with cancer. We got married during that time so as to have her present as his witness while she was still alive. When she went back to the hospital during her last days, I couldn't get to the hospital often enough to visit her, because I had to go to the cattery to feed medication every day, because SGH was far from our place and going out of the house and having to commute are stressful activities to me.

During her final moments, J's mom's bed in a C class ward was overly surrounded by people. A tape of a Buddhist chant was repeatedly playing. Chanting is something I find to be an auditory trigger, though I do not know why. But more so, being in an overcrowded scenario, I eventually succumbed to a panic attack. I had to leave the ward for a walk. During the time I was walking around hospital grounds, J's mom passed away.

I was not present for him during his time of need. What did I do for his mom? I can remember weak, discrete efforts of mine. I hugged him when he came home from the hospital visit that was the official prognosis. I arranged for her to see a private respiratory specialist for a second opinion. I only had to pay $200 for that. I suggested marriage earlier than I promised, so that J's mom could finally see her older son get married. I arranged for a pastoral visit to the hospital during which J's mom found salvation in Christ. A list of items anyone could count on one hand. J said I did not help him with any of the logistics of her death. He understood why I couldn't do more, but was and still is disappointed in me. In a text he recently sent me, he said, "And you expect me to view you highly as my wife?"

Our only semblances of a union are in shared meals, his doing of household chores in my stead, and his providing for me financially. I truly am a burden, because I feel like I am seen as a duty, and obligation to fulfil, something he feels he needs to do so as to do the right thing. But because of my somehow unyielding loyalty and willing capacity to put up with emotional trauma, I hang on, and accept all of the abuse, silence, and feeling like I am nothing but a responsibility to bear. I deserve all of this, not only because I have hurt him, but because love to me means to limitlessly accept this kind of emotional trauma, from the very people I love. I should not expect to be esteemed, to be held in high regard, because I truly don't deserve it. I am not saying these things to be melodramatic. I am clear-headed while sharing these beliefs of worthlessness, beliefs that I have upheld for almost all my life.

I was writing in my journal earlier, around noon. Although it was hard to express how I felt about the cold war J is having with me, I knew I had to at least try and write some of it down. It started with me writing about how J said he wouldn't go and pick up ear medication for a fungal infection Scotty is suffering from, simply because he didn't want to do it. This exchange of words happening at breakfast time. Writing all of that made think long and hard, as journalling often does. In a moment of clarity, I recalled how the human species, like other animals, has the same brain that wills us to survive and thrive. This should be the norm, this is to be expected. While we cannot avoid unpleasant events in life or even trauma, we are still wired to protect ourselves. For me to believe I should put up with the lack of love and attention, that I deserve to be emotionally neglected and attacked, means that my survival instincts have short-circuited. Fight or flight, nothing else; not to stand there and get attacked by a predator believing that I do not deserve to live.

I cannot survive without J. I have no income nor means to support myself and the furkids. Even J himself has said, that he feels his mission is to help me recover to a point of functionality, such that even without him I could survive. He prepares his investments such that in the event of his untimely death, I could access those funds. This is important to my survival too, but it is in opposition to my misdirected belief that the one who provides for me should also have the right to emotionally abuse me. As a result, not only am I once again being traumatised from this cold war and his apparent lack of willingness to try and reconcile, I am faced with a paradox from my screwed up neurobiology. Fight or flight - I don't know which to choose. But today I took a step towards realigning my beliefs, to try and think of myself as worthy of love, as someone who shouldn't have to go through emotional abuse and neglect and not recovering from it. I don't know if I should continue to tell myself that love is patient and therefore I must continue to bear this pain.

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