Sunday, January 22, 2017

Snapshot of Recovery

Some days, I feel like Rip Van Winkle: awakening from a long slumber to find a world I don't know or understand. Mostly, this is horrific. Facing 'the truth' so often is. I've lived in denial so long, so incredibly long. And mostly, I can barely stand it.

Here's the thing of it: I used to think I didn't have emotions. That I was calm, rational. Controlled. But that was a self-deception. In fact, I was filled with emotions. Emotions charged my relationships, my work, my every encounter in the world. Emotions debilitated me, emotions overwhelmed me. I was dying inside because I had all these damn feelings that I could not identify, could not manage, and mostly just strongly wished to ignore.

And, for a long time, I did. Growing up, I would read books. When I was a kid, I could just sit in daycare and read and read and read. I wouldn't hear anything, see anything. I would just fantasize and escape. As I grew up, reading became harder. I started playing online video games. I obsessed over them, literally filled my every waking moment thinking about them. I stopped eating, using starvation as a tool to punish myself, to control my guilt, control my needs for love and comfort. I stopped fighting. I just... gave in. And when I stopped playing my online games, and everything felt awful all the time, I started thinking of suicide. Again. And again. And again.

Victor Frankl said, "an abnormal reaction to abnormal behavior is normal." And it has taken me a very long time to understand this. Intellectually, I knew what my home environment was. But it's only been in the past year that I've actually done the work of exploring the fallout of it. It started when I first went to Al-Anon (an organization that I feel is less about alcoholism and moreso about being addicted to other people), and that program continually prompted me to look at my own life and my own attitudes and my own self.

I have not liked what I've seen.

In short, my father was a violent alcoholic. He screamed and raved, threatened and tormented. I'm fairly certain I got the worst of it in my family (though I didn't know it at the time). He cornered me, targeted me, wanted greatness from me while feeling threatened by everything I did. I grew up in a madhouse where there was no safety, where I was made to feel like a worthless burden, where I believed it. Believed it all.

And so, to cope with my feelings, I escaped. Those were the tools available to me; the same tools my parents used to cope with their emotions.

And as I've turned 30, I see so many things. I see that my father was 30 when I was born, and I understand how he could have turned out like he did. I see how my life has played out so far, in contrast to so many others. I read my students' papers with new eyes, and I see how they have so many different concerns, more stable self-esteems, more realistic dreams, more ability to function in the world (to work with others, to accept themselves). Whereas I (at their age) was the walking dead, barely hanging on, unable to realistically relate to or comprehend anyone around me.

They date, they play, they work. I avoided and ruminated. It is not so black and white, of course. But most of them (not all, but most) don't try to kill themselves (or at least dream of it constantly). This is not to say their lives are easy. But it is to say that since I was 12, I have felt as if my life is constant chaos, desolate in affection with the potential for disaster at any moment. I have been on a runaway train of which I feel I have no control, hurtling towards God-knows-where, and I can only scream silently as it plummets forward.

Until now, that is. The upside of awareness is that it offers more choice. More easily, I understand self-confidence. Every day, I have an increasing appreciation for emotional intelligence. I used to think this meant understanding others. But really, it's almost entirely about understanding one's self. Identifying, managing, directing my own emotions is what allows for the possibility of connecting with others. And gosh, I wish I'd learned that sooner.

So that's where I find myself. Caught between the horrors of the past and the shaky possibilities of the future. I have no guarantees; on many days, I am torn apart by despair, fearing it is to late or that I am too broken to find another life. But on some days, in some moments, I glimpse through the clouds a different life. A stable life, with stable relationships, stable work, stable feelings. I wish I had had it when I was younger. I wish so many things. So, so many things. But I have some small hope too. We'll see if that's enough.

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