“…we came in?”
(First words on Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ album)
“Isn’t this where…”
(Last words on same)
Bear McCreary, soundtrack virtuoso for Ron Moore’s re-imagined ‘Battlestar Galactica’ series, said of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ that the song is a circle, it ends where it began. Circles and cycles are very potent human symbolism: “All this has happened before, and it will all happen again,” a recurring quote in the same series, was lifted from Disney’s animated ‘Peter Pan.’ Looking at stories and at art and even at our own repetitive patterns of behaviors and relationships with enough perspectives the phrase ‘nothing new under the sun’ comes to mind. (Although so does the phrase ‘there is evil under the sun.’)
Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ is a fundamental need for me. Every once in a while I have to listen to it on repeat endlessly. It literally ends where it began, the music and words at the end matching up to the intro. It’s a validating externalization of my repetitive somewhat mercenary patterns when it comes to other people and communities especially. Whether or not I’m listening to it, I am continually building up and breaking down my own personal Wall on various fronts, sometimes both at the same time in several places.
I know I’m not normal, and was not born to be normal or raised to be normal. Mark Twain said that the two most important days of one’s life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
It wasn’t a day but a dark night of the soul that took years to bring me to that understanding, as well as Sharon Old’s poem ‘I Go Back to May 1937.’
Sometimes when two people hate each other very much, to the point they are stalemated in their emotional codependent abuse, an ice queen and a volcano, they have a child. That child becomes a symptom bearer, a focal point for terrors that adults have immunities to, terrors adults can leave behind and ghost out of their lives. The babe, knowing nothing of this, may understand only that their role is perhaps mediator or go-between or buffer. Lacking exits, lacking contact with reality after being yanked out of school and stranded in the woods and surrounded by culty white middle-class Baby Boomer adults with postgraduate degrees in thrall to a channelled entity, lacking escape, a child may spiral inward to her own reality, the only corner of herself she can hide and protect from others. Stories she reads, watches, writes. Nothing provides a real magic door at the back of the closet escaped to in order to escape the screaming. The only thing for it is to develop a rich inner life.
Yet years pass, and even all that she loves about art and imagination can be worn down by ongoing trauma and people who never live up to the virtues of characters on a page or in a mind. Life doesn’t go well for someone who can’t bear being dominated, told what to do or believe or feel. Even in the small normal ways that make us a social human race of creatures. When the most saccharine-sweet intentions and words contain within them control and manipulations, nothing can be trusted.
This is why in Pete Walker’s book ‘Complex PTSD,’ when he talks about the profound crippling affects of prolonged captivity in childhood (like being hobbled like in Stephen King’s ‘Misery’ to ensure one is incapable of escaping or standing on one’s own two feet)—because, after all, Parents Know What’s Best is an unspoken but fanatical belief of even the irreligious and certainly legislation—Mr. Walker validates that those of us who have been permanently bent by seashore winds and malformed by psychotic shrub-pruning often cannot participate easily and freely in human interaction. I too easily feel trapped, ordered, patronized, put down by others’ behavior I was never trained to stand up to.
It doesn’t help that predators smell the blood in the water of how I was raised to walk in this world, defensive, suspicious, withdrawn, quiet. Honey for predators. People without this invisible handicap often don’t understand what it’s like to be hyper-vigilant always, and to be repeatedly targeted as I move alone through life. The smallest, stupidest remark isn’t any such thing when it activates my frightened coping skills of placating and submitting just to get through the day. And predators never ever believe they are predators, they are the heroes of their own story, and get very upset when this self-image is called into question should I dare say “no.”
There’s no succinct way to say I don’t get on with people in the most profound sense. It can take so little to throw a broomstick in my bicycle wheels so that I cannot get up again. It’s almost impossible to understand for those who have learned to get along with others, growing a shell, strong where they stand in their own truth, resistant to the vague aggression that underlies all human interaction. What we’re not aware of, we can’t fathom, and we can’t change. Denial, that most basic of all human characteristics that keeps us doing what we have to do to survive, keeps us also from understanding even while we parrot “I understand” followed by a personal anecdote that amounts only to projecting our own experiences and feelings on others.
I’m in a Wall-up place right now, where I know I’m vulnerable to the least thing said to me. Years of surviving insidious, post-graduate psychological torture has left me so that I question everything that is said to me. I believe that the ‘fake it till you make it’ syndrome has blown up to the point where most people have faked it so long they believe in their own stories they tell themselves without reserve, and faking it has replaced making it. Holden Caulfield, predictably, thinks you’re a phony, and despite my general dislike for the book I have to agree. The problem with phonies is not that they are phonies but that they mix lies with the truth and believe it all sincerely. There is no talking to someone who has bonded to their own convictions of who they are and what they do.
Bullies and Abusers aren’t what they told me. They believe they are justified, they are heroes, their behavior is aligned with what they say even when it’s patently obvious it isn’t. And the bullies I’ve met, when you stand up to them, rally their equally crusading supporters to not only hit back but take out anyone who ‘rejects’ any part of them or what they say. Everything is not just personal but a part of them, and a disagreement with them is an attack on their very self.
It is so easy to be derailed by these people, and not just derailed but train-wreck derailed, where I have to pick up the pieces.
I don’t like the conceit of trying to be one’s ‘best version’ of oneself going into a relationship or a job, because it isn’t sustainable, and once things get comfortable, then gradually the curtain pulls back to reveal not just some bumbling old man but a heavily armed individual prepared to take down anyone who sees beyond the veil. We can code it with language like ‘defensiveness’ and protect monsters with the insistence that all points of view are valid. But from the point of view of the torturer, torture is not only all right, it’s not torture: it’s For Your Own Good and Tough Love. Because Love the way many people define it means justifying treating other people in ways that make the person doing it feel better and then conflating that feeling to Doing the Right Thing, and reassuring one another that it was For the Best.
Things aren’t that black and white. As the Queen of Ghosting I know all too well that sometimes breaking contact with another person who is hurting one is the better course. Not everyone is worth everyone else’s time or friendship. Trust is earned, not a right. Forgiveness, too, must be earned, and the burden of responsibility is on the person who did wrong to make things right. Sorry means making changes, otherwise it’s just a word; you can apologize or keep doing the behavior but not both.
Some people will never be sorry for the consequences of their actions and blame them on those who suffer as a result. These people have drunk their own Kool-Aid so long there is no hope for them.
After all I’ve been through I know a lot of people wield their own insecurities and pain as weapons, and maybe I do too. The difference is I am willing to work with someone who is willing to work with me, and such people are more rare and valuable than blue amber.
Right now I’m in a bad place and I hurt a lot. I don’t respond to people I ordinarily would, knowing how fragile I become when I have been hurt too often by how I have been treated by others. I don’t trust easily, and once lost my trust has never been successfully repaired. People have other lives, other friends, other family, other concerns that dominate their lives.
Meanwhile I am building the Wall and tearing it down, up and down, in a cycle.
And in the meantime I have no outlet for all the unresolved anger, both at others and myself, for all the times I have been hurt by others, and that hurt has only been compounded by all my efforts and years of building and practicing interpersonal skills.
I think part of it is that I have put a lot of effort into knowing myself and working on my stuff, and I rarely meet others who have. Those few precious gems of blue amber, which look so violently different in different kinds of light, those few who have self-awareness and work at it with me, pay the price of the many I meet who swim in Denial like there is no tomorrow and it’s Tartarus or bust. Those who slam into my life like abusive, controlling trains and set fire to my imagination and leave me burning inside with no remorse.
When I’m so badly hurt, up goes the Wall, and I lose touch not only with those I love and appreciate but also with myself. I doubt myself and my own worth for being treated like I have none.
It’s so easy to feel that way being so disabled and poor and desperate and terrified so much of the time about my own survival. Knowing always that like it or not, those with choices have no understanding of the fight I go through every day just to keep surviving any way I can with a selection of only bad choices. It’s too easy if you have choices, if you have a job, if you have a home, if you have supportive family and friends, to not understand that it’s entirely possible for another person to not have those things—not because she doesn’t fight for them every day, work harder at it than someone without her challenges, not because she’s not motivated, but because of circumstances that can’t be fully understood by someone who has not been there.
Maybe this sounds like whining, maybe it sounds like making excuses, especially to someone who has not faced this darkness every day of her life. I’m not here to sugar-coat or leash in my anger that this is how things are. There have been people who have known me through this and know I only still live because I fight with everything I have.
Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. And don’t assume someone with Walls needs to just tear them down and let you in. The best people say ‘no’ to each other all the time and it’s not a big deal. Share your vulnerability with those who have earned the right, to paraphrase Brené Brown. It is not a good idea to share your vulnerability with everyone unless your idea of a great life is painting ‘WELCOME’ on yourself and lying down.
I have spent so much of my life explaining myself to others and too often this is interpreted as a request for advice or rearranging my life so it looks more like theirs. I am not you. You do not live with the results of what you advise me to do—and often I get the impression such people would never take their own advice. Advice is like cooking—you should try it yourself before offering it to others.
My problem isn’t that I’m stupid, or that I haven’t thought of everything people suggest or even rant at me. My problem is that I am not like the people who are in a hurry to tell me how to live my life. This is some of what disability is, and being raised with totalitarian abuse and control during the years of the development of my personality and sense of self.
There are people out there who are lonely, looking for connection and understanding, but go about it aggressively, by projecting who they are and what they’ve been through onto others and expecting intimacy. Forcible, non-consensual, and self-centered.
If you want to know yourself, take a walk on your own dark side. Spend some time alone with yourself and do not run away. Learn who you are without other people around, learn how you feel and what Walls you build.
And unlike unsolicited advice, this is not given as a stiletto to who you are and the choices you make. These words are here for you to take what you want and leave the rest behind. And unlike intimacy, this is not me inviting you behind my Wall, but me narrating what it has been like living a life of strategic barrier-building and self-protection in a life where human hostility was the ground on which I was planted and grown, a twisted, gnarled, pruned life that cannot be understood without sitting in reverent silence and taking in how I grew into who I am.
I am not complacent in my misery. I do what I can. But what I can do is not what trees who have grown straight up in a forest can do. I can move small things, but I will never not have been born in a tempest and hurricane of violent winds. I will never be a forest-tree even were I transplanted. And if I were, I would perish in the shadows of the other trees who did not grow as I did.
Experience has taught me I am not like others. I may have the capacity to visit, but not to live, in a forest, or outside my Walls. They are there for a reason, and to paraphrase Robert Frost, never tear down a wall until you know why it was build. Don’t try to change what you don’t understand. I’ve come to believe that understanding is the most important part of change. Without understanding, we may destroy what is necessary and beautiful. And questioning what I have been told is not just the beginning of wisdom, but the never-ending process of it. The day I stop questioning and seeking to understand is the day I begin to turn to stone, petrified wood, no longer to grow.
Maybe these words are too abstract, never too be heard, howls in the dark, but they represent a great deal to me. Being alone is not the absence of people but the absence of understanding.