The basic point of being flayed, of being beaten with a multi-tongued whip which repeatedly tears at your flesh, is to impart enough physical and psychological trauma to make you want to avoid doing whatever it was that got you tortured again.
I went out for the first time after my incident in the parking lot and what I noticed is that my anxiety levels are very, very high. I am gun-shy, repeatedly seeing reminders of that experience which trigger high stress levels in me.
My anxiety is never about what other people will do, about the stresses of living in the world. My anxiety is always about me, how I will contort and twist under that pressure, crumbling inside while having to maintain an appearance of stability, appropriateness and even grace in the face of what is hurting me.
The only thing I can control is my reaction, making a conscious choice in the moment between stimulus and response. This was a very early lesson for me, needing to keep in control even when I felt under assault, threatened and emotionally shattered.
There is, however, a clear, sharp and brutal price to that behaviour. I know I can pull up my mind, be defensive, go into concierge mode and do the proper thing, but I also know that my willpower is about totally shot after decades of living in paucity, facing the mind capturing scarcity of understanding, mirroring, love and caring.
My anxiety levels are up, way up. I don’t feel safe in the world, don’t believe that I have the reserves to find ways to face even more shit.
Enough battering, enough isolation, well, it will break your body, mind and spirit. Your experience tells you that abuse is the rule, not the exception, tells you that warmth and safety are not for you.
Being needy in the world is a bad way to be. People are focused on their own needs, their own concerns, their own fears. They don’t have energy or focus to deal with much stuff outside their purview. Appear a bit too challenging and you won’t get asked back, won’t be welcomed, won’t be valued.
One solution to this is supposed to be service, being there for others. It’s a solution I gave my life to, though without much reward at all.
The nail that sticks up gets pounded down. How stupid was I not to give in to my Aspergers parents, to heterosexist normativity, to a world which doesn’t want to see and think?
I learned to know the lash. Back in the day, Christine would often look at my back and see stigmata which surprised and disturbed her, even if they weren’t the marks of actual floggings.
Speaking my piece is what I do, what I have always done, but it rarely brings me peace. Communication without feedback is just monologue. I work hard to listen well, to help people process, but I am aware they have difficulty listening to me.
“That’s fine” is my only soothing, a rational understanding that people are where they are, are doing what they need to do and will heal in their own time and their own way. “Sure, they shut me down, but that’s fine,” I will say to myself, “they are doing the best that they can.” That’s fine. That’s fine. That’s fine.
But it isn’t, of course. It hurts like hell.
Trying to fit between their limited possibilities and my unmet needs, though, has always been where I get ground away. Do I show myself and let them act out or do I play small and feel my own shame and denial? How do I attenuate myself to be who they can accept while being big enough to feel affirmed for who I am not just th way I service them?
Walking through the minefield, staggering between feeling inadequate and feeling overwhelming has worn the crap out of me. My body tells me what my years of denial has cost me, but my threadbare feelings tell me the cost of being exposed, present and visible costs me.
The smart thing to do is rarely the joyous thing to do. Discipline is great, but without abandon, it becomes cost without reward, especially if you had to start implementing the plan of mental toughness & denial well before you were seven years old.
Being the grown up without living in rich connection, well, that leaves you skint. Sacrificing for love is one thing, but sacrificing just to get through another damn day is another. When we feel dismissed and abandoned, erased and devalued, we question the worth of our hard, hard, hard work to be effective in the world.
Who heals the healers? Who cares for the caretakers? Who parents the parents? Where do we get nurturing, compassion, safety and love when we are frayed to the point of breaking? Where do I go to feel touched, seen, mirrored and validated?
Without support to recover and renew, shutting down becomes the only option. Sure I pull out my mental tricks to process and understand, to put things in context, but over time the result is that I become faster and clearer to see what is going on in front of me. And that is usually people putting up their rationalizations and defenses, shutting me down and out.
It’s lovely to imagine me finding community where I feel included, embraced, and respected, but the practicality of finding such a magical place is very limited. Life is full of bumps, of costs to pay, especially in the process of trying to find and fit in and my accounts are depleted.
In the end, the very techniques I found to stay stable become a block to my integration. I’m just too cerebral, too sharp, too intense, too queer, too overwhelming to be useful as anything but a knife to be used and thrown away. Sure, I come in handy, but being easy and connected with me? Too hard, too challenging. My skills are my edge and my edge is disquieting.
I am who I am, I know that. And after being in this skin for many decades, I know the costs of being me in the world. I know what it feels like to be flayed by the world when I show up too much and be flayed by my own pain when I play too small, run too cold.
My anxiety is flaring, badly. And I have no idea what to do about it. The cycle of becoming too sensitive and then not being able to get past that sensitivity plays out, just like it has so many, many times in my life.
Change seems out of reach for me, crushed between the limits of my reserve and the patterns of this society.
That’s nothing new, of course, but as Joseph Campbell would remind us, we come into this separated world to experience the finite, to be forced to make hard choices.
Hard, hard choices.