Sunday, April 27, 2014

Escaping an Internal Prison... or Play at the Jewish Museum Tonight

I post the following not to throw blame on any person or group of persons, but instead to try to figure out how my blame and shame buttons got installed so that I can figure out how to un-install them. I strive for an emotionally healthy future and to be an emotionally health person. In order to do so I need to examine my life closely, perhaps more closely than some people might like. I refer you to the famous quote "An unexamined life is not worth living." The following are my thoughts in response to the play I saw at the Maine Jewish Museum tonight, which relates very much to internal prisons.

Puppetmaster of Lodz, Play at Maine Jewish Museum Sunday April 28 2014 at 730pm

Its getting freezing in here windows are not very good. I am trying to write and process all the thoughts in my head before I go to bed so I can go to bed. It's kind of interesting negotiating my physical body and mental body at the same time - but when is it it ever not (read difficult)??

I met a nice girl waiting for the bus at 245... I easily transferred from the 1 to the 4 as they connected very well... Like literally at the same time which doesn't usually happen when you try to connect buses.... Not that I have tried much.... But it was so easy this time! I got the 4 and got off by the USM library and found the apartment building I was looking for AND WENT IN IT and got my hair cut by this woman I know from the time dollar network. And spent 2 hrs having intense emotional discussion with her. Way cool. She dropped me off at whole foods where I attempted to eat but mostly spent time trying to get all the hair off me so I could keep functioning in the world. Then wandering around parking lot listening to music and trying to recover from intensity of going into new apartment building and getting haircut experience. And finding myself feeling a sense of joy .... a sense of happiness, of calmness, of just.... joy that I didn't expect and don't usually feel. That was nice...but weird. Then I had to hightail it from whole foods to the Jewish museum because the play was starting at 730 and I left the whole foods parking lot at 717pm.... Apparently you CAN get there by walking in about 11 minutes.... Not bad timing especially considering it was uphill.

Ragdoll by Four Seasons is on radio... Love this song. So I burst inside without resting not wanting to miss the beginning and fortunately it hadn't started. I saw several people I knew but most of them left before I had a chance to talk to the after. People do that I guess. The play was so intense and with all that I have been experiencing lately there was another layer of intensity that I want to get into in a seperate writing. I... was pretty much left in pieces by the end of it. And it had nothing to do with the Holocaust or violence against Jews that left me that way . It had everything to do with the theme of... This guy has been in a boarding house of some sort for 5 years. When he first arrived he was hiding (a Jew in Nazi Germany).... the war hadn't quite finished yet and it was still a crime punishable by death to be harboring a Jew. But the war has been over for 5 years.... and no matter what the woman who runs the boarding house tells him, he refuses to believe the war is over. He comes up with detailed explanations for her announcements.... She's creating false newspapers, or what have you. He will not be convinced that the war is over. Five years this goes on, and she has no choice but to buy into his delusions. But she keeps trying to chip away at his resistance... Bringing him soldiers and such to tell him that the war is over, all to no avail. On a surface level this would not have moved me very much. In fact, I even read the script at the very beginning before they even started rehearsing it, and I couldn't get into it at all. It didn't move me in the least. But what a difference there is between a simple script... and the way you breathe life and emotions and dialogue into it.  

They say that nonverbal communication makes up about 80% of communication but I'm not sure that was ever quite as clear to me as it was tonight. The difference between words on a page - simple, verbal words on a page - and the way that human beings can use tone of voice, emotion, and body language to express language was stunningly obvious after seeing what they were able to do with that script. It made me start to realize how much I had been missing, relying only on literal words for communication and not being able to take in the non-verbal language cues. (Or taking them in but not being able to interpret them!)

On Trust

So on a surface level, while the idea is intellectually intruiging, it's still not all that moving, at least to me. But when you really get into it and probe the nitty gritty of it...especially when you're having the week that I've been having... it's life-changing. Why is it life changing? Let's explore this. The character in the play is having an awfully hard time believing that anyone could actually care about him just for the sake of caring about him. Everything has to be manipulated for some reason, everything has an ulterior motive behind it. It wasn't until we got to this part that my heart really fell out of its chest.... because I saw myself in him. So unlikely, in a play about a Holocaust survivor who doesn't believe that the Holocaust is over, to see yourself... I thought I would have related on a more of an intellectual level, instead of a purely emotional one. I saw myself in him. Just a week or so ago I was having a rare conversation with a girl about my age who does not identify with the disability population. In other words, that elusive "normal" that I rarely get to interact with. And I was called paranoid, after what seemed like very surface conversation. And it really hurt, it struck a nerve. We have made our peace with each other since, more or less, but it still stays with me, to realize that there is some truth in what she says. I have good reason to be paranoid....but that doesn't make me any less paranoid or any less suspicious.

I have had very little experience in my life to cause me to trust others. I have had very little experience in my life that tells me I can take on faith that other people understand my experience, or even care about my experience. This was not the deliberate act of anyone trying to be malicious, it was more like a lot of people all thinking that someone else would do something to help me.... and no one ever did, until it was pretty much too late. Until my self-concept and view of the world was pretty well formed, and nowhere in it was a provision for trusting other people. Nowhere in it was the idea that other people would care for me just because they would care for me. Instead, my self-concept was mostly one of shame. Abundant shame. It was one of difference, of awareness of difference but no words to talk about it. Awareness of difference, no way to talk about it, no words to use to connect to others. Shame over sensory differences, communication differences, and the usual garden variety shame of watching other people seem like they are happier than you, more together than you and more connected than you even if they really aren't. People came into my life and tried to repair my image of myself as best as they could, but they didn't realize how deep it ran. I had no concept of normal, so I couldn't tell them what I was missing other than that I was missing something big. I emulated others pretty well, though, and I was smart, which in many ways got me into trouble... because I was able to fake being like others far too well for my own good. No one ever seemed to suspect the problems that lay beyond the exterior. No one ever talked to me about my differences, and no one ever gave me the words to use to label them. It is important that people know I say this not to blame. I know those in my life did the best that they could, and I know they loved me. But they were limited by their own limited emotional expression. I say this because I am realizing that if I can figure out how these buttons got installed in the first place... I can figure out how to un-install them. And then I can figure out how to live an emotionally healthy life. One that doesn't include 24/7 self-hatred barely disguised. How wonderful and amazing that would be if I could find a way to feel my way towards it.

Emotional and Physical Applications of the Themes in the Play

So there he is, in the boarding house, going on 5 years, not believing the war was over.
 Now, just on that level alone, I could have related, because of my struggle with chemical sensitivities and my recent discoveries of the emotional nature of some of my difficulties. I even said as much to the woman I had been talking to before I went to the play, that I suspected not going into buildings for seven years because of being traumatized by physical reactions to stimuli in buildings and trying with everything you have in you to protect yourself in the future by not going into buildings was not all that different when you looked at it from refusing to leave a building because you didn't believe a war was over. In fact,  I have no idea how literally the playwright intended for us to take this. I have no idea if other people can relate or not. I wonder very strongly if other people are imprisoned by various prisons of their own making without even being aware of it. As I was wandering around the Eastern Prom tonight thinking when I got back, a song came on the oldies station, probably by the Eagles but I'm not sure, with a line something like "So often we live our lives in chains not realizing we have the key." I thought to myself, my Gosh, that line sums up tonight and the play and all I've been thinking in just one line. How amazing.
Maybe this feeling is more common than I think it is, if it's in a song.

I still don't know though. I would like to know, if other people can relate to this experience.

So I had that going on, really, I had both going on at once. Thinking about the nature of trusting others, what does it take to trust others, how do we get to a point where we have an expectation of others to care for us? While also relating to the physical prison that I had by sheer necessity made for myself for the last seven years, which I am just now starting to find ways to get out of. The two themes at once felt very intense to me. The play finished and people just left. I'm sitting there with my heart ripped out of my chest, raw and open, and people are leaving without a single word of discussion about the play. Usually I try  so hard to put my emotions and feelings into an appropriately superficial level of communicating so as to be able to connect with others... or as my new friend from my meetup last week would call it "guessing how intense it's okay to be" at any given moment. But I just couldn't.... the whole world felt like it had been ripped from under my feet, and I had nowhere to stand. People are joking, waving goodbye, just not emoting at all. And their lack of emoting made me feel SO shut out and so ... wrong. Paul Collins wrote a great historical memoir on autism called "Not Even Wrong." The particulars of which I will leave for another discussion, but the title just popped into my head.

Struggling with my Emotions after the Play

I struggled with my emotions..... Not even being able to fake smile or squash them down at all in an attempt to connect with others, as was usual for me with effort. I looked at people.... they looked back at me. No one wanted to engage. I forced myself to stand near them in an effort to find a way in. The schism between their output and mine became too great and I started to sob and to be on the border of truly losing my mooring and truly losing control of my emotions. It was at the same time both an eminently familiar place to be and an eminently difficult one, because no one likes the feeling of losing all sense of control of themselves. Thankfully, I was rescued. This time I was rescued. Thank God for my connections to people now. Someone noticed I was having trouble, and asked "Are you okay?" I allowed to myself to shake my head. I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to admit that I was not okay. "Do you need to talk to someone?" I allowed myself to nod yes. To believe that someone cared because they cared, and not because I was a burden, or a mess they had to deal with before they went home. To believe that someone cared was revolutionary to me. It still is, writing this and trying to process it.

There was a time in my life not all that long ago, where I was punished for emotional expression. I have never been very good at emotional regulation. Throughout my life I have struggled to control my emotional expression. When I was not able to control my emotions, instead of being offered a safe place to have them, I was yelled at... criticized... or just plain ignored. I was seen as a "behavior issue" that could be stamped out if only I wasn't given any "encouragement." If they just ignored me for long enough I'd "realize" how "emotional" I was being and stop. Only, that never happened. What child has the ability to control strong emotions without having been taught any skills around it? What happened instead was time and time again of losing control of my emotions, and free-falling deeper and deeper into levels of despair I had only before imagined, sobbing so hard that I thought I was going to suffocate, and being ignored, because "obviously" it was all just a tantrum to get attention. Obviously they wouldn't want to reward behavior that was just used to get attention. Because having someone say "I care" is just too much to give to such a badly behaving girl, right? My oppressors meant well but the message they sent could not have been more damaging. Struggling with how to ask for help and more than that how to actually receive it - how to believe that you are worth it, how to believe that others could truly care instead of just look at you as a burden - is a question that may take me the rest of my life to figure out, but I won't stop asking. Because that is the only path to emotional health is to figure out how to make sense of this. And I can't go on much longer as a broken person. As the quote says.... The only way out is through. There may be no more painful emotion that exists than screaming in the only way you know how "I hurt" to people who are supposed to care for you and getting silence in return. Small wonder why I spent most of high school and half of college obsessing about cutting myself, even if I never actually did it. I simply didn't know how to make people hear me when I said I was hurt. And I didn't know, later on when I finally began to find the words, how to understand if people were hearing me.

When I was a small child, I had speech issues and I am told that no one was able to understand my language. How fitting it is that I spent the first few formative years of my life trying to express myself and having people literally not understand me - and then I would spend the entirety of my adult life expressing myself in well developed verbal language that I am told is perfectly understandable but still *feeling* as if no one could understand me. Whether it is the lack of social skills that would later be identified as a form of autism, or simply having had far too many years to mull these issues over in my head and emerge as someone with a far deeper need to discuss emotions and emotional experiences than most people, whatever of the many issues one could cite that caused it, I emerged as an articulate, verbal, outgoing young woman who seemed like she knew what she was doing to other people but who inside still had no freaking idea that other people were like her, or that other people liked her. A person who was still consumed by a sense of 24/7 self hatred which she was only able to put aside long enough to engage other people so she wouldn't have to be stuck in her own head - but not long enough to ever feel truly emotionally connected to them.

To believe, even tonight, that someone cared was and is revolutionary to me. The process of communication was a lifeline to me, to just express my emotions about the play and to try to figure out where they were all coming from and why my output was so different than others'. It moored me, to have this connection with someone. The connection felt caring and non judgemental. It was not able to answer my questions, necessarily, but it was totally validating in my right to have and express them. In knowing that the questions were cared about by someone, they lost their sense of desperation and despair, and were replaced instead by connection. How difficult it is to admit your need for help. Even as I wrote this sentence, I was in my head preparing a mental defense of why it was okay to ask for help.... so conditioned I have been to thinking I am a burden on others. It is impossible to feel emotional closeness to others if you feel a burden on them. It is impossible to feel emotional closeness to others if you don't have a sense of your own worth in the relationship. But to find ways to throw off that shame is to find ways to actually feel other people's emotions in your heart, to feel something in your heart other than your own anxiety and shame about the interaction. It is nothing short of revolutionary for me. I want more of it, but I need to process what I have if I am going to be able to move forward.

Man, today was an intense day. But so much better than a shallow day!

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