Slightly Broken: A Short Lesson in Labelling

Had counselling this evening after a fortnight’s break. I’ve been a bit up and down, though largely I feel like I’ve gotten a much better grip on the contents of my mind. In part that’s from getting the strange opportunity I recounted the other day of confronting an abusive person (in this case a manager) and asserting a number of issues about their behaviour. High among them is the notion that they, not me are are responsible for their behaviour regardless of whether it was a mistake or “just how they are”. Well sorry pal, but that might be something you want to address…

It’s important to me to know that what I’m dealing with are not my abuser’s intentions and actions – those are very much his problems. My problems are only how that makes me feel. Sounds simple laid out like that doesn’t it? But it’s roughly a third of the things I maybe once thought I had to resolve. A bit of arbitrary arithmetic does wonders for the soul. So what I have to figure out is how I do feel about how I feel. Yeah, we is gettin’ meta. Necessarily I think. One of the things that has always intrigued me, and did when I studied philosophy is the theory of mind, specifically the notion of continuity that most of us persist in believing in. I’ve discovered, of myself, in the reading of notes, letters and diary entries from when I was 17 and 25 that I have been through this process before, at least in part. In my diary from just after I was molested in Amsterdam I’ve got clear descriptions of how it’s not my fault, of whom is to blame. Then I buried it all (after some judicious self-harm and tears) and it resurfaced after university.

Man I was fucking tormented by that stuff. I did my best to kill it with drugs and obtain that happy ambivalence that cannabis can bring. It didn’t work though and when I was 25 I had to tell my Dad what had happened because it festered within me, eating me up. And again I knew that I wasn’t to blame, remembered what had happened and wrote it down, tried to work through it. And failed… and now I’m back there again. I have been several times before – getting to a certain point and having to restart from scratch. All because I was too afraid to read what I’d previously written, what I’d previously felt.

I had to figure it out again each time. Well not anymore. Tonight I finished reading everything (I think). A fortnight ago I read what I thought was the worst, that fucking manipulative cuntish letter. Between then and 2005 there isn’t really anything – I hid my mind from my writing and just suffered in silence, verbal and scrawled. In 2005, for reasons that aren’t very apparent to me I found that it was time to tell my Dad what had happened in 1995. Ostensibly it was triggered by Dad and my step-Mum being about to visit Ric in Antwerp. I have no details about what else prompted this, but I wrote Dad a letter – a terrible letter. That’s what I read this evening. I’ve actually shocked myself by what I wrote. It starts with tonnes of preamble and prevarication but it has all of my questions:

1. Why did no one notice?

2. Why did no one ask me if I was alright?

3. Will you believe me?

4. Will you blame me?

5. What should I have done?

They are valid questions – I have answers to them now.

1. Because these bastards are clever, and our family was a mess – we were all vulnerable and exploited.

2. Because I’m a good actor; I could never bring myself to do enough to prompt someone to bully the information out of me. Also, see 1.

3. Yes.

4. No.

5. There was nothing else I could do. Choice is an illusion.

I’ve actually given myself horripilations in answering those questions for myself. I’m gonna choose to believe that’s because they’re true answers.

The letter continues, and oh… it goes into such detail. It’s a graphic and brutally honest letter. I’m almost embarrassed that I sent it to my Dad. Any yet – I needed to. There are details in the letter that I had forgotten, things I’ve never written before or since, that I’ve prevented from sliding through my mind. I can only apologise for sending such a detailed letter. I needed to though – I can see my desperation to get it all out, just once. It’s evident in the handwriting which gets increasingly stressed and difficult to read. It’s not a letter I want to reproduce here.

I realise that I had thought all of these things before – I’ve been here, but with slightly different answers and slightly different pieces of the puzzle. It feels a lot like The Three Doctors. I’ve got the 17 year old me – utterly distraught, semi-suicidal, the 25 year old me – desperate, but able to express it and reach out for help, and Me me – 34, ready to deal with it. Able, for the first time, to go back through this. I’ve read the 17 and 34 year old me. I feel sorry for them. 17 year old me was broken, 25 year old me might even have been worse. And me? I’m not sure. Older, wiser (maybe), certainly more reflective, definitely more distanced, more centred and in control. I’ve got a chance this time. I’m engaged in treatment, more people know now than have ever known before about what happened to me and how I feel about it. That’s a good thing – for me it’s the secrets, the hidden-ness of it all that burns, makes it sordid and different.

Most folk I know would probably note me for my honesty, outspokenness and willingness to open up. I want all of this bollocks to be the same – something of as little worth and note to me as how I felt when my parents split up. (Not to demean them, but those feeling aren’t part of Me me anymore – just the memory of them.) I’ve got to separate myself from the me of the past – his pain doesn’t have to be mine. The agony is in his memory, I just remember feeling like that.

I’ve talked before about how one of the things I feel like I have to deal with is the fact that I’ve been upset about this for so long. That in itself is investment in feeling this way, and a perverse reason to keep feeling that way. But I’m only 34. Sure, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow (or tonight, cycling home), and that 17 years feels like a lot. But in ten years it won’t be as big a chunk of my life. I’ve been with The Lady M for 14 years. It’s catching up. Time to re-prioritise how I feel and accept that I am not a continuity – I am Me now. Now. Now. Now. Now.

My diaries and letters give me an insight into the me of yesteryear (always wanted to use that word) but it’s a mistake to take on their feelings and emotions. They just aren’t me anymore. I carefully sealed away the breakthroughs or breakdowns I had when I was younger so that I wouldn’t accidentally read them or stumble across them. I hid them too well. Perhaps if I’d read my letter to Dad sooner (I’d never read it, even when I wrote it), with its savage summary of what happened and how I felt about it – maybe I could have worked through this stuff sooner. Maybe. Like I said before – choice is an illusion. We made the choices we did; there’s no going back; there’s no way of making a different choice. Pretending we could have done something differently is just a special kind of torture.

My Short Lesson (as promised 500-odd words ago, sigh) is one of labelling. If, like me, you are a hoarder of letters and diaries, for fuck’s sake label them. I’ve had to go through thousands of badly-handwritten pages of ideas, thoughts and teenage petulance and depression. The smartest thing I did was cover them in little post it notes so I could find what I wanted. I was always good at sealing things away, knowing that one day I would want or need to re-read them. But I could have fucking labelled them.

The finest example of this, for me, is one that has bothered me since I embarked on this voyage of self-discovery. In my wrapped up books and ribboned letters is a manila envelope, sealed with wax, with no words on it whatsoever. It was bundled up with the letters from Ric and has had massive high status anxiety for me. Since I sealed it, it must have been both important and something I needed to protect myself from. I’ve idly fingered it each week in counselling wondering if now is the time to open it, but no – there are other things to read first. It’s attained a mythical, terrifying status in my mind.

Tonight I finished reading the last of the diary entries and letters. The one I’d written to Dad shocked me so much I though, “fuck it – what could be worse than this?” There were no letters left – at worst it would be a copy of the letter to Dad, or from Ric, or the photographs of him (more on this later). So I tore it open… extracted the contents… and… it has nothing at all to do with Ric or abuse. It’s just a letter of apology from me to my girlfriend, Miss L, back in 1994 when I’d done something stupid and felt horrible about it. It’s totally innocuous. The Me now can’t even imagine why I sealed it up. Still less why I sealed up two draft letters and the final typed letter… (yeah I know). Maybe I never sent it. I don’t care. It was hilarious – I’ve never felt so silly and relieved and happy. It was nothing! Nothing! All I needed to do was write a single word on it and put it in the right bundle of letters.

So my lesson – to you – is to label stuff. Never imagine that you’ll just remember what it is. What was important to You of 18 years ago might not be important to You.

Fuckin’ tit.

image

Photographs. I strongly recall cutting Ric out of a whole bunch of photographs and removing them from albums. I expected them to be in this bundle of stuff, but they’re not. What I’ve probably done (and I’ll need to check), is separate them in their own sealed envelope, but left that in the giant box of photos. because they’re photographs you see – so they couldn’t possibly be anywhere else. That would be a category error, and that would be awful. For fuck’s sake.

Label stuff and put it in the right place!

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