Visiting the past

This past weekend, I visited my hometown.  It’s the first time I’ve been back in over five years. Being back there was awful, healing, confusing, and so much more.  I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but need to write something down in order to start the reflective process, and ward off it being lost in the dissociation.

There were some beautiful moments, such as going down to the beach near sunset.  There was humour, with my mother, brother, and I talking about movies we’d seen… it soon became obvious that our respective approaches to movie going is very different!

But, there were also endless triggers…

On Sunday morning, my mother met my sister to go to church.  I had never connected it before, but this reminded me of when my father decided to “find God” when I was a teenager.  This was the final trigger that prompted me to visit places of importance from my past.  The main place I wanted to see was the bar associated with my father… the place where I have different memories that are so disjointed…

As I drove out to the bar, I passed a factory filled with bad memories… or rather, where the factory once stood.  There was a wave of relief to see that it was now totally different, filled with various industries and businesses.  I passed my old high, and middle schools… and again, so much had changed.  They were still recognisable, but it was obvious that 20+ years had passed since I walked across those fields.  Even though the suburb that was my home for so long has changed dramatically… new roads and malls; it still has the same feel.

Then the bar itself… The first thing that threw me, was that the entrance had changed.  I can now see where the extensions were added; but at the time, I was totally disoriented.  As the place was closed, I could walk around and peer through windows undisturbed. I started off by looking through the main entrance windows, and saw the short corridor that had the toilets going off each side…  That was enough to create a sense of panic, and an immediate free-fall into dissociation.

I walked around the building in a depersonalised state… looking at the different parts of the building and clinically ticking them all off on my internal check-list.  When I got around to the changing room entrance, things shifted… it was locked, and I was unable to see down the corridor.  I could tell each room based on the windows outside, but this wasn’t enough… I needed to see down that corridor.  But, it was impossible.

I looked into the main hall, and saw so many changes… some of them were about perspective (the hall looked so much smaller than I remembered); but other things such as the new carpet and different tables, were more tangible… But then, I saw the kitchen area, and it acted as a grounding moment.  I snapped back to some sort of awareness, and started taking pictures… I took pictures of all of the areas that I remembered, then wandered around the streets, trying to ground myself.

During my walk, I found this mural…

At the time, I called it “Don’t Speak”…  There seemed something fitting about the red being painted over the mouth.

After the bar, I visited my old elementary school, the kindergarten, and a couple of significant houses… Again, there were so many changes.  I found one of the houses, only to see that the wood shed was being pulled down.  Another now houses a charity; and while it still looked the same, the entrance was totally different… where there was once an opening in the fence for the driveway, framed mosaics are now hung on a continuous fence.

In so many ways, these changes were disorienting… But, there was still enough of the old elements present, to allow me to see the historical context.

I know that memory is not an exact thing… I know it can be influenced, and change over time… So, in many ways, going back to these places was meaningless.  But, it was also healing, in that many things were confirmed, and I could also see how time had changed the places which once housed so much pain for me.

As for the rest of the trip… well, it had its ups and downs… I had a panic attack in McDonald’s, and had to go for a walk to try to calm down… I did some dissociative shopping, and had to return some rather odd clothing choices…  I had a fun birthday evening with my brother and mother…

But, probably the most important thing happened on my last morning there…  My mother and I went to have a coffee, and started talking about my sister.  It seems she has moved past the idea that I had the best childhood known to mankind, and has instead started seeing things in a different way.  My mother relayed how much sorrow (guilt?) my sister feels for “abandoning” me when she moved out at the age of 16.  This seemingly simple admission stirred so many emotions… a feeling of validation, that I wasn’t imagining how bad it was growing up in that house…  compassion for my sister, who was burdening herself with responsibilities that aren’t hers to hold…  compassion for my mother, who was obviously now looking back on the damage done by the past…

There is nothing simple about a trip down memory lane… but, it can be healing.  It helped me to see that, although I live with the effects of those events every single day; the events were a long time ago.  That doesn’t make what happened right, nor does it allow me to forgive, or forget… but, it does mean that I can help ease those fears when I’m caught in the flashbacks…  If nothing else, that knowledge made the trip worthwhile.

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Now playing: Taylor Swift – Safe & Sound
via FoxyTunes

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Personal space and abstract thinking

I noticed a very odd thing yesterday while playing FarmTown on FaceBook…  My issues with having a large personal space, seem to translate to my online avatars.  In FarmTown, you can go to market to sell your produce and see if someone wants to hire you to harvest their crops or plow their fields.  If you’re waiting to be employed, your avatar can be “standing” with a number of other avatars for a period of time.  There is a certain amount of psychology that goes into the strategies behind being hired – the “spammer”, where you repeatedly ask to be hired; the “dancer”, where you move around or get your avatar to dance on the spot; or the “loner”, where you get your avatar in a spot alone so they’re easily noticed.  I’ve always adopted the “loner” strategy, and have always attributed this to my game strategy.  I now realise there might be something more to it.  I can sometimes cope with another avatar being near or overlapping mine for a short period of time, but never long – even my ugly little avatar must have a large personal space.  For those of you who think I’m being cruel about the relative ugliness of the avatar, you obviously haven’t seen FarmTown graphics – they’re UGLY!

I wonder if this is an indication that I’ve been playing the game too long and are therefore personalising it too much, or whether I have extreme boundary issues.  When Carol (previous therapist) asked me about arranging the room in a way that I felt comfortable, we did an exercise about personal space.  In order for us to feel even mildly comfortable, we had to be in one corner of the room and she had to be in the opposite corner.  We would’ve preferred for her to be outside the room, but that wasn’t feasible.  During therapy with Carol, we’d often end up on the floor tucked around behind a cabinet that she had – this was mainly when the young ones were present.  They often felt a need to hide and create physical barriers between us and Carol.  During sessions with Liz when the young ones are present, there is still a pull to sit on the floor in the corner, but we’re too scared to do it in case it makes us look too odd.

We felt that need to sit in the corner today during our session with Liz, Aimee and SO were strongly present and felt like hiding.  It was a rough session in many ways – the main topics of conversation were denial and self-injury.  It brought up a very odd concept of how to cope with the denial.  We’d tried to construct a basic timeline of events to try and create some order out of the memories, but had found it too difficult to write them down.  We got about four events written, but then the derealisation started.  As this way of coping and “getting the memories out” hadn’t worked, Liz suggested something which is too bizarre for my very literal brain – think the memories or whatever is bothering me onto a piece of paper, fold it up and give it to Liz to keep.  This will mean that we don’t have to worry about those pieces of information again as they are being kept safe and separate from us.  To us this didn’t make sense…  How do you “think” something onto a piece of paper without writing it down?  How does giving Liz that piece of paper signify anything?  It was all too abstract and alternative for our very concrete, narrow way of thinking.

A therapist once told us that our education was lacking because we hadn’t studied any of the Arts.  That’s true, we don’t understand the beauty in art, music or philosophy.  In many ways we deliberately avoid studying them, because if the intellectuals amongst us get hold of the ideas they have this tendency to strip away the magic and enjoyment.  So we take photos because they’re fun… we listen to Beethoven, Foo Fighters, Brooke Fraser or any music because it moves us at the time… But when it comes to having to think through an abstract idea, we need the intellectual ones to come on board with some assistance.  This is fine, unless they get faced with something which they can’t dissect or reason through logically, then it sort of gets lost in their cynicism…