My head is full. I sit, in a bar. Before me are a pint of Elsie Mo, and a short of Maker’s Mark. These seem like the right things to have. There are people moving around but I can’t feel them. I’ve decided that writing immediately after counselling sessions is a good idea – the meat is fresh, unspoiled and still has the shape it had before I killed it. Don’t make it easy though, hence the rambling prologue…
Today I began with analogies. People describe therapy as a journey. I dislike the metaphor. It (to me) implies a starting point, route and destination. That just feels inappropriate. I started long ago – and while assembling a time line of sorts has proven useful, that kind of literalism isn’t intended. I go from a point of tired, angry confusion, regret, shame – I travel through the past and my present (real and imagined) – but the act of travel is to place those things on a map which doesn’t exist; the landscape of the mind – a futile, half-remembered, changing entropic playground subject to the emotional vagaries, chance connections and brain damage of life.
This is a stupid journey. Not only is there no clear destination (and please don’t give me the whole “the journey is the important bit” – if so, why the fuck would I go somewhere? May as well just wander aimlessly), but the route which is to be travelled is unreliable and unreal. Basically, the metaphor fails badly for me.
This, I suppose, is both the reason for metaphor and its vital problem – we take them too far. It’s the sense of the imagery that’s important – the further you chase it the more it falls apart. However, we crave them. I crave them. I want a way to describe what I’m going through in a romantic shorthand which conveys my wrestle with the false constructs, memories and beliefs. Ideally, it should elevate me to an heroic status…
I’ve temporarily scrapped the journey notion in my mind. It’s endless, potentially, and the more we try to fit it to a map, the broader it will grow till the infinite dark sea overwhelms us and we drown in our own hopelessly imagined aims. Ahem.
What I’ve found consistently helpful though, is to find an apt metaphor for understanding memory and why some ideas have such radical prevalence in my own mind. I’m fond of boxes. Today it’s helped me give shape to the thoughts of that fucking cunt Ric which pop into my mind unbidden.
You see, the memories and associated emotional memory of Ric and the abuse he chose to perpetrate upon me as a teenager have a disproportionate mass (and consequently gravity) in my noggin. In a balanced sort of view, the time between meeting him and being coerced into being masturbated occupy a period of perhaps four years. And even in that time, the events themselves add up to less than a few weeks in total. There are many, many things I have done for that length of time or been involved intensely with that have far less hold on my mind. The gravity of those memories is such that they have drawn other associations to them. Emotional memory is a ghastly mess. We remember being distressed, and for the memory of being distressed we extrapolate further that it must have been fucking awful, so awful it’s more worthy of recall than anything else.
We bolt memories and feelings together like the Germans do words, till everything is stuck together and to remember a face or a touch, or a word is to recall everything. Worse, you can get the feelings alone, without the concepts that might serve to moderate those emotions. So I can be brushing my teeth, undressing for the shower, have my arm brushed by a stranger at the train station, look at the sky a certain way and am suddenly struck with an intense feeling of horror. But nothing else. Or be hit by the memory of touch and feel revulsion. Often it makes me want to drive a knife through my chest. I can lie awake imagining leaning on that blade, feel it tear through skin muscle bone and body. It’s a relief. A counterweight – an imagining of vast pain and suffering to draw my mind away from the past. I read today in my diaries that I started doing that after I came back from Amsterdam- fantasising about perpetrating fantastically violent acts on others and myself to get to sleep. Now that sounds pretty fucked up I’ll grant you. It works though. For a bit.
Thing I’ve figured out (belatedly, in my slow stupid way) is that I’ve bolted that feeling onto the chain too. So, hoho haha, now, when I think about Ric and the fucking bastard exploitative shit he did, I get the whole lot – I get the shame and hurt that I remember (but is, remember, a memory of feeling – many times remembered and misforgotten), I get the anger and hate (which I justly preserve) and the knowledge that hurting, or imagining hurting will bring me succour. Fuckin’ genius.
So, ultimately I feel bad (in part) because I remember feeling bad before and know that hurting badder (I know…) will make me feel better.
Our minds are remarkable things. What’s especially brilliant about them is that they actually do this to protect us!
What I’m right now amused by is that this gravity metaphor is not the metaphor I wanted to write about. That’s one that popped unbidden into my mind. I blame the beer. The metaphor I wanted to talk about is the one we toyed with in counselling today. Boxes, yeah. It’s a conception of memory chunks I get sometimes (being fond of boxes and tins as I am) and the notion that there are some boxes on the shelf of the mind which are open, carelessly locked with contents that creep out. I dislike that particular version. I dislike models which reduce personal responsibility and give independent agency to ideas and aspects of ourselves. I suspect that it leads to magical thinking and futile imaginings of gods. Anyway… I see it this way:
Most things in my mind are not in boxes. I do not have Alexander’s Memory Palace (seriously, look that stuff up, it’s awesome), rather I have a Memory Shed in which someone broke the shelves (yep, me) and dumped pretty much everything on the floor. Really we’re talking about Sets here (yup, it’s time for some bastardised philosophy of mathematics). I can draw together certain memories into sets, or boxes if I wish. I can integrate my memories of university as a set, or put my relationship with The Lady M into a box that contains all memories associated with her. But that ain’t the way that most of my memories seem to work – I access them randomly, through delightfully surprising chains of association. These are the scattered trash on the floor of my Memory Shed – I love ’em, but I can’t find them when I want them.
On the other hand I have some very well ordered boxes: I have several about work, which allow me to access related information quickly and effectively – this is purposeful and useful on a daily basis. I also have some boxes for improv – slightly messier given the nature of the subject, and for writing. And then I’ve got a fucking glitter covered neon box which glares out from the general depravity of memory – unavoidable, overriding the chains of coincidence and connection which link the rest. Yup, that’s the cunt box. Or Ric box, depending on how much alcohol I’ve consumed.
(An aside because I am conscious that some of my friends and family read this, as well as some people new to me – I personally have no gender or sexual association with the word ‘cunt’. I have a degree of respect and love for the word based on its remarkable history and the evocative pugnacity of shouting it when angry. My use of it therefore is a personal choice and I have no intent to offend – if you feel offended then you are applying too much of yourself to something which is about me, not you. I offer no apology however. Insert smiley face here) And that glowing box just screams out whenever I even pop into the Memory Shed.
I think that what I need to do is empty that box and smash it. My goal (my journey’s end – yeah yeah) is that the contents of this box be rendered as important/unimportant as all the other crap in the shed. I want to tip the contents out and forget about them.
I believe that it is not just the past that upsets me, it is the associated mass of seventeen years (half of my life) worrying, fretting, cutting myself, ruining relationships, occasional impotence, fear and horror that I have subsequently applied to the experience of being abused which causes me distress.
What is worse: I’m invested in that chain of emotional weight. It’s hilarious actually – by refusing to look back at what happened, to balance it and seriously evaluate it I’ve added to it that fear of doing so. How much does that suck? So – my conclusion (of course), being a practical sort of fellow is to rip back through that – back to the source. I know my memories are unreliable, and even though I also have a horrible lurching sensation when I realise that perhaps, just perhaps what is worse than the feelings I suffered when I was abused, are the accumulated feelings I’ve piled onto that since. If I look back, and discover that how I felt, that what happened wasn’t so bad (relatively speaking), what does that do for my feelings? What do the years of pain then mean?
It’s fascinating. Say I look back, and despite all that happened, I say “meh” and move on – what then? What does that leave me with? Seventeen years of pointlessness. How do I resolve that? I don’t know. I can say that I was wrong – or that how I felt at the time is not how I feel now. To change my mind, to grasp as an adult what happened to me as a child is not necessarily to reject it – it is to encompass it, to understand that we do change. It is easy to assume (as I have written much about) that how we feel now is how we felt then. It isn’t. It so, so, so isn’t. We forget how we are just these beautiful fleeting moments of consciousness skipping like fairies across a breezy leaf. We have no true conception of yesterday.
To deny myself freedom because of the weight of the past… madness. I’ve forgotten tonnes of stuff. I spent more time cumulatively on glaciation in year 9 than I did being felt up by a paedophile. I can forget feeling bad, or at least relegate it to the same quality of recall.
But what do I keep? Make no mistake: having this cunt’s actions in my head has several times come close to ending my life, caused me to bleed, caused me pain, ruined my mind. But do I give him that satisfaction? Do I fuck. I will persevere. I will persist. I am change. The memories of abuse and the pain that followed are a part of me. I am the sum of all of these things – I am not the minutiae. My self is greater than the aspects it has passed through – I am literally greater than those things and they are my past. My future is a mutating amalgamation of the past.
I grow drunk and prophetic. I need My Lady M.