It’s my dad’s birthday tomorrow. Birthdays were always bad. For my own birthday I’d be given a ‘present’ (brutal rape). For any of the abusers’ birthday, it was my duty to give them their present; be extremely submissive and obedient. Needless to say, I am very on edge today and the thought of tomorrow makes my stomach churn. It’s hard for me somehow to see past tomorrow; it’s just such a terrifying anniversary that my head has rooted itself firmly in ‘live in the present and just get through the next minute alive.’ Already the visual flashbacks are starting – I keep getting a split second image flash in front of my eyes. Just a second, and in some ways these quick flashes of memory are more disorientating than the full-blown re-living of a flashback. In hindsight I am starting to wonder whether some of my ‘need’ to look like a little girl recently has come from this upcoming anniversary. The punishment for not looking like a little girl on their birthday could be severe and terrifying.
I feel like a little girl right now; just so scared about tomorrow despite knowing my dad can’t touch me. I’ve deliberately made tomorrow as busy as possible, so that I’m a) constantly around people and b) distracted. I am an adult now, not a little girl. I am not his daughter anymore. I am not their’s. I do not belong to them. I do not therefore need to bow down to their need out of fear. And yet, I can feel bile rising in my throat, and my stomach feels like there’s a dead fist inside it. Heavy. Already I feel in a state of high-anxiety and I have a horrible feeling tomorrow will pass in a blur of meetings, panic attacks, dissociation, visual flashbacks, and mad anxiety. I just know tomorrow will be horrible. There may well be nice bits, and it won’t be anything close to as horrible as it once was, but it will still be horrible. The memories are not dealt with. I can feel them, in the back of my mind, chomping at the bit…ready to plague me, to be seen and listened to, soothed, processed, dealt with. It sometimes feels like a conveyor belt, with the emotional impact on me not considered. I am not a puzzle. I am not a machine. I can’t handle memories being fired at me like a machine-gun. I just want my teddy and I know that’s not a feeling belonging to me 20 year old self. I know that belongs to a memory. Tomorrow is going to hurt. It will hurt differently, but it will still hurt. I can feel the physical pain of the memories in my joints, and the panic I had as a child in my chest. I have a vivid memory of myself, maybe six years old, watching the digital clock next to my bed. Little red digits. I hated them; flashing red lights did my head in, and they looked like little red worms too. I watched the time… 23:57…23:58…23:59…00:00, daddy’s birthday. I remember gulping, and jumping away from the clock as though it would see me awake and report me to daddy. I remember getting back into bed and pulling the quilt over my head, tucking my knees under my chin and wrapping my cold arms around them. I remember distracting myself by wriggling my cold toes against each other and trying to work out which toe I was touching.
I also remember I was crying. Tears of blind panic. I knew, at such a tender age, what daddy’s birthday meant…and I was rightfully afraid. I cried whilst I had the opportunity to and when I heard the footsteps coming, I went rigid; my tears stopped, my body anesthetised already by a mixture of adrenaline and preparatory dissociation. Daddy’s birthday. On abusers’ birthdays I absolutely lost my right as a child or even a human. I was nothing more than an object to them…and object to bring them whatever level of pleasure they wished, and god help me if I dared to resist or protest.
So I have this memory of fear building up as the clock draws closer to midnight…even though it’s only 7pm. Tomorrow is going to hurt and I’ll just be one big ball of anxiety. However, I’m going to try and not resist this. In the past, this anxiety was forced to be dissociated. It wasn’t safe for me to feel how scared I was, even though it was my right. Tomorrow I will let myself feel that fear, so that I can finally soothe it, soothe my younger self, and try to move forwards….
Today I went to the sea, with a good friend of mine. There’s a particular area of the coast near here which holds a lot of comfort and meaning for me. It’s very peaceful and calm, and so absolutely in touch with nature that the beauty of it is just everywhere…not overwhelmed by tourist attractions like arcades. I stared at the sea and for a couple of precious seconds, hot tears gently rolled down my face. This place lets me see all of the children playing, some of them touching me, some of them calling me and others completely oblivious to me. For whatever reason, this place takes me as close to them as a suicide attempt that goes slightly further than unconscious does. This place plants me firmly in the space between life and death. I don’t understand it. I don’t think I ever will. But it doesn’t matter. In this place I live alongside the children, and they look and sound so real that for just a few precious moments I can forget they ever had to leave me. For a few moments the struggle between letting go and keeping hold of them ceases….the effort for me to carry them all whilst continuing to live vanishes. We are together. I am alive, and so are they. And so my tears were of grief but also relief and of love. I thought briefly about tomorrow, about daddy’s birthday, and was grateful I had this place to escape to. I breathed slowly through the anxiety and focussed on the children. On my babies. On my little ones…. and on the little ones I grew up with….
And a realisation dawned on me: tomorrow will be scary and hard. But once upon a time, that was normal. Once upon a time, ‘tomorrow’ always looked scary and hard, but if I had ever focussed on that fact, I would have drowned in fear and I wouldn’t have survived. I watched the ghost-children at the sea today; remembered our tired smiles and laughter despite the terribly harrowing situation we were in. As a child I rarely focussed my attention on how difficult tomorrow might look. I focussed my attention on how I could make the present moment more bearable. That’s how we found laughter. That’s how we found smiles.
So now, even though I’m feeling so anxious and panicky, I’m trying not to focus on the fact that tomorrow will be hard. I’m trying to focus on the fact tomorrow will have a moment of laughter, somewhere. I just have to trust enough to look for it…