Becoming the whole self

Trying to make a man of myself was a betrayal. How can I heal that trauma now?

Quakers will be considering trans rights in August, and I am optimistic and pessimistic at once. Possibly we will have a revelation, as we did with equal marriage in 2009. And Quakers can be conflict-avoidant and arrogant, imagining we know best and we can reconcile conflicts. So some well-meaning Quakers might try to find a reasonable middle line between trans people and the anti-trans campaigners. And some Quakers are anti-trans campaigners, imagining themselves good and righteous and wanting all trans women out of women’s spaces, and all treatment for trans children to cease.

I must convince them trans is real.
I fear nothing I can say will be enough.

I thought, if I can show trans people cannot be other, are not making a lifestyle choice but expressing our essence, then they might accept trans rights are at least of equal importance to others’ rights. If we could be other, I would be. I fought to make a man of myself. I paid privately for aversion therapy. I asked a priest to lay hands on me to heal me.

And I am weeping helplessly, wordlessly, convulsed in my pain and grief, screaming and moaning. I fought like that to make a man of myself because the fear of death was in me.

There is a me that just wants to survive
That, with hands round my throat holding me underwater
will do anything.
There is one goal.
What I preserve of myself there is mere life.
Everything else is stripped away.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is a metaphor. Being drowned is the only metaphor that captures the fear for me. It is the small child, dependent on parents, distraught when love is taken away. And, to forgive the betrayal of ceasing to express me, becoming the male-acting automaton, I need to fully acknowledge the threat I experienced. I was forced, and it was not my fault.

That was when I was broken, as a horse is broken.
After, I would do anything to avoid being underwater.
I worked it out, so I did not need telt.
I forgave my mother’s, and the world’s, betrayals:
there is nothing to forgive.
The betrayal I cannot forgive is my own.

I want to be Perfect-me,
that being that does everything I ought to do,
want to do,
would like to do
have to do to survive
effortlessly.
Without perfect me
all I have left is failure and betrayal.

There is no perfect-me. My betrayal of myself was under pressure I could not have borne.

I take a postmodern view of Wisdom-sayings. If it has some meaning or value for me, I accept that, and I don’t care if that is its “true” or “original” meaning. If it’s a proper wisdom-saying, I doubt it could have one true meaning. If it has no meaning for me, I can let it go. Sometimes, when I loathe a wisdom saying, it can be particularly fruitful. I can’t get my head round Jamie’s idea of the “walking permission slips”, being ourselves and allowing others to become themselves too.

I know I am myself
interpreting a statute
comforting a friend in tears
cycling uphill and downhill
confident and assured, or doubting and fearful.
Always there is the sense of threat.

And there’s something there, of being fully aware of the feelings, of being in the doubt and fear without regressing to the traumatised child, who felt fear and shut down. Fear must not be a switch, to turn me off, or to beat me. It must be integrated into my adult self. So there’s another bit to my verse which is true but difficult. I don’t want to say it and it is just cheap consolation.

Oh the beauty and wonder of it
It is too much for me to bear
and it is all glorious.

The glory comes if I can feel the feelings fully, and still function. The glory is in being fully myself, feeling all my feelings. It is not easy.

Then, to a Zoom group. How is S? I saw his email. He is detained in a mental hospital, and desperate to get out. I am pretty sure he needs the anti-psychotics, and he hates them because they mute his spiritual experiences. Right at this moment I sympathise. Feeling the full range of feelings seems insane: people will be shocked and disgusted. I feel disinhibited, tempted to behave inappropriately. I want to stop twitching.

A Black woman went to Kenya when she was twenty, in a gap year, and saw a picture of Jesus Mary and Joseph. She could see it was them, the haloes proved it- and they were Black. It was the first time she had seen such a thing, just in a souvenir shop, hunting at the last moment for tatty souvenirs. It touched her deeply, and she expresses that. And I am feeling all the sense of liberation I imagine could be in that moment. I am remaking myself, closer to the image and likeness of God.

All glorious? I want to insist on that. Everything that is. All of humanity. And one says the larger the church, the more evil can hide in it. Yeah, s’pose. Possibly the glory is me, the full feeling self. And I am not alone.

This is not for everyone. My colleague was born again, and felt liberated from a life of drunken sexual promiscuity. The rules felt protective. She wanted something formal, secure and comforting. And I want something more: the Glory of God, the full glory of my whole self. To be the whole human, and give permission for others to be whole too: answering that of God in every one.

Sunday 16th: before worship, I read various stuff on conversion therapy, including a transphobic lie. I am wound up. Then in worship Dugan quotes QFP 2.12. Suddenly

I am the light. I am the Fullness.

I am the light, noticing, accepting, loving. Rather than descending into that part of me which is wound up, and stewing in it during meeting, or attempting to suppress it, I am the Light, aware of it, noticing, accepting, loving it. Noticing, accepting, loving, all of me- body, thoughts and feelings- and being in the Love. It makes me think of George Fox’s instruction to dwell in the power of life and wisdom. Ministry moves on to the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. It is hard to hear this in love. Now, there is my reaction and the other person as well, to hold in awareness and to love. Finally there’s the sound of a music keyboard through someone’s zoom account. That’s against the rules. What is he thinking? Still there can be the other person, my reaction, and me in the Light, noticing, accepting, loving all. That would be a dwelling-place of tremendous power. It is something to practice. It is a religious experience this morning, an hour of fabulous wonder, and I want to take it out into all of my life, so it becomes my normal state. I ministered, explaining some of this.

Pain

If you share your pain, you risk three possible responses:

  • So what?
  • Deal with it.
  • Prove it.

And, there are other possibilities:

  • You gain sympathy, which is different from pity
  • Others agree there is injustice here, and they will work with you against it.

I feel better after sharing my pain if someone says, yes, that should not have happened. You were wronged. That was a mistake. They should have known better.

Eventually I deal with my pain. I suffered sustained bullying at work for six months. I can describe it mostly unemotionally now. It stripped me of self-confidence at the time. It was more than ten years ago. Yet the first three responses leave me vulnerable. If I describe what happened, I want my hearer to accept what I say. Challenges reopen the wounds.

My poet friend said that when she had processed pain, she could use it in her art. She can go on stage and express the feelings which the incidents evoked, and communicate them to an audience- an authentic theatrical experience, a whole room feeling with the performer- because she has processed it. She cannot until she has processed it. The healed pain can be catharsis for the hearers. We feel with the performer, and deal with our own pain, or, we feel with her and gain empathy, gain a broader understanding of what it is to be human.

Yesterday I knelt to meditate, and thought, what am I feeling? Hope. I immediately started second-guessing it. It is after playing Metamorphosis III, which rather than being bright and beautiful is the blaring bombast of the Dictator. Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t; maybe it is an arrangement of chords which can be interpreted as you wish, the harsh sun on the desert or a unique move not in other music. I felt hope, and possibly it was authentic.

Yet sharing pain, at whatever risk, can bring together opposite sides. We see the other as human. There they are, doing their best under difficult circumstances, and our heart goes out to them.

Amos Oz was a child in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate, and he was a child hurling stones at soldiers with rifles. It was, he said, the first Intifada, which translates as “shaking off”. Now children throw stones at soldiers, and their oppression is his oppression.

I want to make the thing that hurt me impossible, so that I will never again feel that hurt. It cannot be done. As long as we are alive we may be crushed. I want to heal your hurt without sublimating myself.

Dammit. Put down the shield of your rage! The shell crushes and isolates even as it protects.

Spiritual exercises

To love others, you must love yourself.

I have a lack of confidence, and a deep desire to heal it. I deserve more confidence than I have. Over the last month I have produced a detailed concept of part of myself I now call the Pain-bearer, that part of me that holds the feelings which are too strong for me to bear consciously, and which then stew inside me. Feelings can be fuel, the energy to deal with my problems, or a burden making those problems more intractable.

Perceiving or imagining the Pain-bearer, the ideas came from my unconscious. First I saw a part of me curled in a ball, cowering, broken, head down, hugging herself. I imagined myself sympathising, getting her to uncurl, or perhaps uniting with her. The feeling part of myself is in control. The rational part can offer suggestions but not give orders.

Later I saw her as the Pain-bearer. She is not curled up, but standing, bearing all the burden of my unacknowledged pain without being broken by it.

This morning, I cleaned my living room and especially the rug where I kneel in meditation, my Ritual space, in preparation. I was not clear what would happen, but I was clear that it was important.

Two nights ago my dear friend suggested I join a Zoom webinar spiritual exercise for the Hunters’ Moon. After a visualisation Tina H. asked us to write down the feelings we were bearing, and needed to release. We would then recite the mantra,

I see you, I hear you, I feel you, I thank you
But now it is time to let you go.

Um. I wrote down, Anger Frustration Resentment Fear Rage Terror HURT
Loss of confidence

but did not feel these were the real issue. I was just writing what I had perceived my feelings to be in the past. Even more, I felt that I could not yet let my feelings go; that I had escaped feelings by pushing them onto the Pain-bearer, so if I were to “let go” or even release feelings I would be loading her further. First, I had to integrate the Pain-bearer into myself, to be one, and then when I let feelings go they would be taken from her burden and we/I would be rid of them. I tried to explain this to Tina, but then left the webinar to avoid disrupting it for others. The moon was beautiful, in a clear sky.

This morning, I knelt. I had not thought of writing out my feelings as Tina H. suggested, but did. They came to me in the form of stories. The advice for meditation is to see your wandering thoughts as passing clouds, and let them pass rather than fixating them, but I found my thoughts relevant. They were stories from which the feeling became apparent. For example, as the pre-bought train fares are much more expensive for the next two months, because of Christmas shopping, I imagined myself working out how to come home from London on buses. This revealed confusion and feeling out of control. Some of these feelings were my mother’s too. I wrote:

Terror of not being accepted: Withdraw.
Rejected- Worthless.
Confusion- desperate scrabbling for Plans.
Sadness- now alone from own doing.

I realised that forcing pain onto the Painbearer is clinging on to it. One may bracket feelings, storing them away to be dealt with later, but I do it all the time, and never release. It makes me think of Richard Handley [the link is appalling].

I know what I must do. I wrote,

Cleanse her
Feed her
Warm her
Love her
She is Me.
I am Alive.

Love


Possibly, later, I might consciously release, but right now I am feeling content. I spent a quiet day reading, after tidying my books to make my room look better. And- I made a pigeon!

Fight or flight

Of course, fight or flight are not the only responses people have to immediate threat. I find myself freezing. Yet the common phrase for primitive responses to physical danger is “fight or flight”, and this moulds our understanding of those responses. If that is the phrase I know, my different way of responding merely confuses me. I don’t have the words to describe it, so I don’t understand it.

Fight or flight might seem more useful responses. What possible good could come of freezing? Possibly a predator would not notice you; possibly fleeing you would be caught, fighting you would inspire retaliation, so freezing is least bad; yet the others still seem more active to me, and therefore more admirable.

Carl Shubs, PhD, wrote in June 2014 that Popular culture has long recognized three typical patterns of response to experienced or perceived threat: fight, flight, and freeze. Whatever the stories in popular entertainment, the basic phrase was “fight or flight”, as far as I was aware. I had to work out that I was freezing for myself, though I had heard phrases like a rabbit caught in headlights. I knew “fight or flight” are the primitive responses; I came out with a wrong response, and get more confused and ashamed.

If you google “Fight or flight”, you find articles like this pdf from the University of Nottingham. It is aimed at students using the university counselling service, and explains in simple language why you might feel sick in such a situation, and what long term anxiety can do; but it is titled “What is the fight or flight response?” That is, even though psychologists knew people froze, they still wrote about fight or flight, and if you knew no better and searched for that phrase you would not necessarily learn better. That article says The Fight or Flight response evolved to enable us to react with appropriate actions: to run away, to fight, or sometimes freeze to be a less visible target, but otherwise does not mention freezing. Autocompletes in my search box suggest hormone, stress, freeze, hormone, gland, definition.

If you search “fight, flight, freeze” the next suggestion is “fawn”. I posted in facebook, “Fight or flight” is a false understanding. Many people do neither. Instead, we freeze, imagining I was telling people something they didn’t know, or at least putting into words something people had an inkling of but could not express, Luke wrote, Fight, flight, freeze and fawn are the four characteristic responses we recognise in psychosexual somatics therapy. “Fawn”. I had not thought of that at all, but seeing it makes complete sense. Sometimes people use “appease”, going for rhyme rather than alliteration. Most of the threats that frighten us come from other people, though I might try to calm an angry dog.

This post, also from 2014, reassured me. Most of us are already familiar with the concept of the ‘fight or flight’ response to perceived danger… However, there are two other responses to threat which are less well known – the ‘freeze’ response and the ‘fawn’ response. I was behind the curve, but not quite so bad. Some traumatised people have these responses on a hair trigger, and go into them in inappropriate situations.

The fawn type will often go out of their way to help others, perhaps by performing some kind of community service, but without building up emotionally close, or intimate, relationships, due to a fear… of making him/herself vulnerable to painful rejection which would reawaken intense feelings of distress experienced as a result of the original, highly traumatic childhood rejection.

What I see as my good, innate, qualities might be a response to trauma. But- someone’s got to be like that, or society would fall apart.

On popular culture, TV Tropes told me “Fight or Flight” was an episode title in Star Trek: Enterprise, Supergirl, and Burn Notice, and a chapter title in It lives in the woods. Searching for “freeze” was inconclusive, but I learned “damsels”, that is, girlies who exist mainly to be tortured by baddies and rescued by heroes, are particularly bad at fight or flight. Wikipedia has an article “Fight or flight response” which mentions freezing, but only under the heading “Other animals”. Its article on “Freezing behavior” refers to prey animals and animal studies, rather than human responses. “Fight, flight, freeze or fawn” redirects to “Fight or flight”, with no further mention of “fawn”.

Someone else on facebook gave a fifth alternative, “flop”: Freeze is more of an adrenalinised response – the body is tense and ready for action, whereas in flop the whole body is floppy – literally like playing dead and the brain is also shut down. The more words we have to understand threat responses, the more choice we have.

(c) Larne Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

To engage with all that I am

Goodness is a bad thing. Goodness is weak.

Why would you want to be “good”? To curry favour, perhaps, to be safe by fitting the rules. For goodness is an external standard, goodness according to someone else. It does not fit reality, your situation or what is the ethical or truthful in that situation. Goodness is slavery.

When I was a solicitor, we acted for a debt collection agency with Scots and English clients. 90% of the debts were recovered without court action, and 90% of the court actions were undefended. I, a second year trainee then a newly qualified solicitor, dealt with the defended actions.

I have some sympathy with the clients. They felt they had fulfilled an order and were entitled to be paid, and I wrote to them saying I needed several senior staff in Inverness or Perth on a particular day to prove it, or I asked them about a defence they thought spurious. I put the defence to them, and some complained to the debt collection agency. The English office wrote to me and said I should not write to their clients direct, but to them, and they would write to their client. They rewrote my questions in their own words, sometimes misunderstanding the point of the question. Getting the letter dictated and typed took days. Then they did the same with the client’s response. I would wait weeks and get a response that was little more use than “They tell us the debtors owe them the money”.

There are risks in this. You might be able to settle the day before a hearing, but you might not. The creditor might not accept half the debt in full and final settlement. The debtor might sense weakness and not make an offer- one defender’s solicitor refused to negotiate, saying I had attempted to bully him. I am a careful soul, I like to dot all the ts and cross all the is, and found this stressful. The partner could have backed me up, but he was a chancer. Later he was sent to prison.

I joked to him Responsibility without power- the plight of the cuckold through the ages. But I did not analyse it clearly enough: we should have warned the agency, our client, of the risks of their policy. I don’t know whether we did. Instead, I tried to make it work, pursuing a claim without enough information. In the end I got sacked over some other error, but I am sure the stress of this contributed to that error. And now I notice the hindsight: I was not good enough to make that work. I should have done something else. Or Alistair should have. It is my bad qualities, such as lack of resilience, and even my agreeableness, not wanting to confront, was weakness in that situation.

At this point a sign comes up on the screen that there is an internet connection problem and Skype will try to restore the connection- but I can still see her movements, and we can hear each other, so that appears untrue. We carry on talking, hoping we will continue to be able to. Eventually the sign goes away.

Is agreeableness a bad thing? I should have more self-respect, more care for my own rights and well-being. Whether the problem is my neither making that system work, nor changing it, the problem is my failure and my inability to see, my bad qualities. Hindsight is a curse unless mixed with forgiveness.

I have told of that man before. He was a pitiable creature, but I felt disgust first. Before I saw him Andy told me he was a paedophile, and when I met him he put on the table a key ring with two or three keys and about five fobs, each with a picture of a child in it. I could not take my eyes off the keyring. I had to ask him to put it away, it revolted me so much. He said it was his grandchildren. What had he been in prison for? “USI”, he said, as if that were an abbreviation everyone would understand- underage sexual intercourse.

Later he phoned me and complained about various things, but I could not find what had gone on. Security guards had ejected him from the hospital, and he wanted to complain, but I could not find out what had happened. After twenty minutes, I asked him what he thought I could do for him, and he said,

“I want you to make it so I don’t have to fear any more.”

My heart went out to him. I wanted that too. Others would see him as a paedophile, and the important thing to prevent him from being a threat to vulnerable children. I saw him as a vulnerable human, lonely and frightened. For the avoidance of doubt, I would want to protect children from him- but not by destroying him.

Soft-heartedness is a bad thing? It is Love. Love is not a bad thing. Love is me, and I am Love. I would not be other than I am. But caring can make life difficult.

Soft-heartedness can be a bad thing, but when people lost their benefits they wanted someone to sympathise, and did not want to answer my questions until I showed I did. And they wanted to tell me the problem the way they saw it. I had strict time limits imposed by the Legal Services Commission, but my attempts at robotic time-limiting, insisting on my own questions, did not actually save time. Sympathy oiled the wheels.

I might slough off “goodness” for integrity. I was inadequate to the challenges.

-Being a person of great intellect and deep emotion is a bugger, she says.

As usual at this time in the session, my intellect seems to be bringing it all together, just one piece missing or one piece too many, and I change it slightly then desperately and my incipient Great Understanding all falls to pieces again. How could I either bring together that Intellect and Feeling, or separate them?

-I see you as a person of honour, integrity, intellect, deep feelings and distress, she says. What steps can you take, so that you can engage with all that you are?

Confidence, acceptance, belief? Trust?

Affirmation IV

I am as I am because I am traumatised.

I could trot out my stories again, to try to persuade you- that is, persuade myself- that it really was that bad, that anyone in these circumstances would be this hurt. But that does not matter. If any person of more than minimal resilience could bear my burdens, hardly noticing them, they have still overwhelmed me. However strong I was, I have been overwhelmed.

Now, having self-respect for the first time, I no longer deny my trauma. “Get up, get up, Get On With It!” cried the inner critic, and I reply that I would if I could. I had a lovely time this morning: I cycled in the sunshine to Swanston for tea with Richard, who complained that the OED has accepted the “wrong” use of the word “refute” to mean “deny”. I can cope with complex human interaction.

These stories: serious threat of loss of funding and job; bullying and failure; failure; failure and loss of funding and job; failure. Ah, that’s interesting. Thinking of this post, I was planning to talk about various unpleasantnesses, but I am quite happy in certain social situations and even with Quakers. However I am quite literally work-shy, though that term is a pejorative, rarely or never thought to be a mental condition. The thought of going into an office, paid or voluntary, or starting the kind of project I used to undertake puts me into avoidance behaviour. I called this post “Affirmation” and thought of writing about how I was going to self-care by seeking out social situations. This realisation changes things.

I am Abigail.
I have been badly hurt.
I will care for,
nurture
and value myself
as best I see how.
 ♥♥♥

And then, something wonderful, and passing strange.

I am- upset. Sad, and likely to weep, without knowing why. And-

part of me-

asks, What is it? Something existential about my whole life, or some small matter just today?

That- part- is not unsympathetic, but still misses the mark. It is like a man seeing his wife crying, and asking “What’s wrong?” However kindly meant, his intention to find the cause of the problem and fix it is not right, in the moment.

I think of Robert Holden’s mirror exercise. “I am willing to make today the best/happiest day of my life.” Perhaps “let be” might be better than “make”. I want to let go of judgment as to what “best” might look like. What

part of me-

is doing the making?
In the shower, again. I permit the feeling of upsetness. Then,

Another part of me!
A wonderful part of me!
Beauty and Delight

in the upsetness
starts saying

I

I

I- I- I- I- I- 

I- AM! I- AM!

feeling the upsetness
permitting the upsetness

I am!

I- beauty and delight- repeat

I am

feeling the upsetness, then joy, and finally singing it, to a simple I , , , V , , , IV , , , V , , , … chord progression, bass line and descant, dancing to it….

I Am
is the only affirmation I need

Boldini, profile of a young woman