Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Drawing the Line

This is going to be one of those painfully honest posts. It's not exactly what I intended to write today, but that's how it goes, sometimes.

Part of my journey at this point in my life is learning how to set boundaries. And so far, I am really, really not good at it.

Many of the traumatic elements of my past revolve around non-existent boundaries. Unfortunately, much of my childhood wasn't a childhood at all - I was exposed to a lot of adult content and behavior, never understanding that I was a kid. That I deserved to be treated like one. Recently, I was digging through some old photographs, and I had a moment of dissociation, because those pictures were of a little girl - me - and I couldn't remember being that girl at all. My perception of myself was always as an adult - powerless in the way only children can be, but with an excruciating mental and emotional maturity. I was aware of too much, of everything except the fact that I was a child.

That lack of boundaries between my childhood and the adult world continued when I entered high school, when I started drinking at home, when more and more layers of inappropriate behavior emerged. I wasn't a child anymore but a best friend and a drinking buddy. I was biddable, bribed by affection which hadn't existed when I was physically a child. I couldn't tell where I ended and others' needs began.

As an adult, I have had to live with the choices of those around me, and part of me is still starved for affection and approval. If someone shows me love, I find myself falling, twisting myself into whatever that person needs. It's caretaking on a pathological level. It is sacrifice - not selfless, but starving.

Three and a half years ago, I received multiple - entirely justified - panicked phone calls informing me of my father's hospitalization and cancer diagnosis. And I've been glued to my phone ever since, convinced that the next call would herald some new disaster, some new demand. And goodness knows there have been some disasters. In the years since then, I have been waiting with anxiety for a life to begin, my own life. But I haven't allowed that to happen. I've been twisting myself up yet again. And it may be invisible, but there are so many days when I fear my phone, when my heart pounds, when I betray my values, that I wish I had not been born.

That's the icky honest bit that I recently shared with a new therapist - someone who specializes in trauma and with whom I am about to begin my next adventure. I shared that thought with my husband last night when I got a phone call that elevated my heart rate. Once spoken, I need to speak it often and out loud, just as I feel it necessary to talk about my bipolar disorder, my endometriosis, my problematic relationship with alcohol. Honesty is the only way forward. My trauma makes me wish that I did not exist. A lot of the time, when these disaster situations occur, I think - God, it would be easier if I were dead.

Don't worry too much, folks. I'm not going to do anything about it. But I hope, I guess, that by sharing that thought I can make it a little more normal. Complex trauma has a long shadow. Maybe, if more people knew that, they'd work harder to prevent trauma from happening.

Figuring all of this stuff out has made me realize how much of myself I push to the side in order to be available to others. And there is a helpfulness and even duty which is nourishing, which is healthy. But when I stop my life - no, when I am too scared to even start it - I go beyond helpfulness.

I am so, so lucky that I get to stay home and work on my art instead of going into an office or a classroom. And frankly, I need that, because between pain and fatigue and anxiety there are days when I can't do what normal people do. But I've let the circumstance of my unemployment lead to a sort of general availability, as if my time were not valuable just because I have more of it than others. And then I can't write, I can't paint, I can't pursue anything, because that burying of myself indicates to me that I am not important just as I am. My time is worthless in that context. I am nothing until the phone rings. When I hang up, mouth dry, breath short, I'm nothing again.

And who the hell am I, at the end of the day? I'm probably not alone in wondering - I bet most people have moments of feeling that way. But hell, I am thirty-two years old, and I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of feeling like I'm a mistake.

I'm tired of being ashamed that I can't be what each and every person on the planet wants me to be. It rips me up that I don't want to be the Alice that I was trained to be. I like to sing, but I like jazz and musical theatre and pop music, and my voice just isn't suited for choral music or opera, and that's okay. I like noodling around on the piano but I just don't care enough to be a real pianist, and I'm not good at it anyway! Hell, my best piano playing occurs around ten thirty at night when I've had people over for a party and I'm signaling them to get the heck out. And that's good enough for me.

I hate watching television all night the way we did when I was small and nobody would talk to me. I hate eating dinner at the table but I love eating off fancy plates and drinking mocktails out of crystal. My best writing is literary and it's usually about food and sex - about mental illness, and recovery, and intimacy, and love.

More than anything I love to cook for other people, but I absolutely hate measuring or following recipes and my plating skills are nil. I will never be a gourmet chef, but people usually leave my home well-satisfied.

I have become somewhat agoraphobic. So please come on over and enjoy my cooking and company, because right now I cannot come to you.

I am incredibly vain. I have no problem with that.

I'm a loving person with a tremendous capacity for loyalty and affection but it is not endless - and I'm learning how to enjoy being selfish and loving me, first.

I think the highest form of wisdom is happiness. I know I have complex trauma. I'm ready to work through it.

This long, long post started because I was trying to justify turning on the do not disturb function on my phone, if you can believe it. I felt I needed to write a treatise explaining that criminally selfish act. You know - come up with some "working hours" so I can also prove to people that I'm working towards publication (which I am, but slowly) and not lazing about (which, I threw my back out yesterday, so I also currently am). Maybe, I thought, if I can make some comparison between my art and a "real job," it will be okay. Sheesh. I'm beginning to doubt that I can go five minutes without trying to be accommodating.

But do not disturb is on, and I've given you a very thorough tour of the inside of my belly button, and I'm about to settle in on top of a heating pad and write some abysmal poetry. Because I have to learn to set boundaries. Just because my life doesn't look like other people's lives doesn't mean I can't say, no, I will not, I do not want to, I need to be myself. I need to put my work first. I need to believe that my life is not a mistake, and I'd rather not wish I were dead half the time. And if anyone is unwilling to love me, the real me, because of that, then that's okay.

I'll just play Chopin's Raindrop Prelude until they see themselves out.


  1. So well done. Brave and beautiful honesty.

  2. Props to you, Alice. You may not know who you are, but you know what you need and are doing something about it. That's more important.

  3. Ripping back the curtain on real pain and self doubt will save lives. Thank you for your honesty. We all need alone-time, and few of us acknowledge that. Be well...