is this the real life, is this just fantasy . . . caught in a landslide, no escape from reality

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have always been great favorites of mine.  I still have the copy my dad had when he was young, passed down to me at some point when I was young.  The version I have has both books in one volume, with the ink sketches that so define Alice for me.

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In both books, young Alice finds herself inside a world that is much different from her own, where what she believes to be true may or may not be.  Reality is altered in these strange worlds, to a point where Alice has to really question her own concept of what her true knowledge really is.  While this question is the central concept of epistemology, it can also be disconcerting, even frightening, to have one’s reality questioned, or to question one’s reality one’s self.  

An interesting phenomenon that began to appear in the 1990’s is one called “False Memory Syndrome”.  Research supports that it is possible to plant a memory in someone’s head that is actually not true.  In abuse cases, this concept of false memory surfaced most often in psychological patients who were in what is termed “Recovered Memory Therapy”, in which they were led through “rediscovering” things they had forgotten about their abuse.  In fact, many court cases have hinged on whether or not memories were actually true.

One thing that all false memories have in common is that someone suggests them to the victim.  These memories do not just pop into someone’s head and become reality for them, except in cases of truly delusional individuals.  Another thing that researchers have found is that false memories are generally very narrative in nature and tell a whole story, from start to finish, as is Loftus’s “Lost in a Shopping Mall” studies (1994), which have been said by many in the scientific community to be unethical.

That being said, research also shows that traumatic events may be remembered little by little, over time.  According to Vander Kolk & Fisler (1995), 

When people receive sensory input, they generally automatically synthesize this incoming information into narrative form, without conscious awareness of the processes that translate sensory impressions into a personal story . Our research shows that traumatic experiences initially are imprinted as sensations or feeling states that are not immediately transcribed into personal narratives, in contrast with the way people seem to process ordinary information. This failure of information processing on a symbolic level, in which it is categorized and integrated with other experiences, is at the very core of the pathology of PTSD (van der Kolk & Ducey, 1989).

I do not have full-blown narratives of my abuse that I could share with you or with my therapist.  My memories of the things that happened are flashes of insight, sparks of memory, such as my stepfather kicking my cat across the kitchen.  My memory of that moment is very detailed.  The kitchen had the stove and the refrigerator on one side, the sink at the far end and countertops and cabinets across from the appliances.  The dishwasher was on the same wall as the sink.  When he kicked my cat, she slid across the linoleum floor towards the closed door to the basement which was across the entry hallway from the front door.  I was thankful that the door was closed so she did not fall down the stairs.

I remember my mother crying and pleading for him to stop hurting her; I remember laying on top of her trying to shield her from him–I was face up and could see the rage in his blue eyes.  The bedspread was sort of patchworkish, in browns, and their bed had a wooden headboard.  The bathroom door was right next to where I was laying on top of my mother on her side of the bed.  Her dresser was to the left of the bathroom door.

I remember her taking his gun out of the closet where he kept it and threatening him with it once when they had a huge fight.  I remember how crazy she looked wielding it in front of her.  

I remember being almost completely flat chested and when my stepfather saw me naked, he pinched my nipples, laughing and saying, “Button Pinchers!”

I remember April 2, 1982, when I drank a huge bottle of wine after school with a friend.  I remember watching her take out the mailbox as she backed out of our driveway when she left and thinking of how upset my stepfather would be by that.  I was supposed to work in the coat check room at the country club that night.  I remember him coming home and finding me drunk.  He was so angry that he shoved me; I ended up falling down the stairs to the basement, breaking the middle knuckle of my index finger in the process.  I remember they dropped me off at the ER and told me to call when I was finished.

I remember him coming home from work one night in 1985 and being angry with me about something (I honestly do not remember what; I may have not folded the laundry as I was supposed to, or any of a million things I could have done wrong).  He came at me with those eyes so full of rage and something inside me snapped.  This time, I was NOT going to be the victim.  And so I fought back.  I fought back so hard that we ended up on the slightly-Middle Eastern themed ceramic tile foyer floor, me straddling him and holding him by the shoulders, slamming his head into the floor over and over, yelling, “YOU WILL NEVER TOUCH ME AGAIN!”  And he didn’t. (This is how most abuse ends, when the abused actually fights back)

And I remember the wooden handle on the small kitchen knife as I sawed at my wrists, trying hard to stand the pain of cutting myself open long enough to get to the vein.  I was sitting at the butcher block table in the kitchen, sawing away at myself, sobbing, until I finally gave up and wrapped my damaged wrists in paper towels and tape.

Why is all of this so important?  Why do I share all of these fragments of memory?  Because they are NOT false, they are 100% true.  I am no Alice to question my reality.  This are my real memories, not imagined.  The bruises, the treatment, the abuse, all were seen by my friends.  I’ve asked–they remember too.  And as my therapist tells me, “Why would I make this shit up?”

I had a message from my mother last night.  It came in about 9:35, so I am pretty sure it was bourbon enhanced (note capitalization and spelling errors–something a perfectionist like my mother would not normally tolerate).  Apparently she saw my blog about seeing her at the mall the other day.  Here is her message to me about that, about me, and about my reality.

Yes, I walked away… but first I had to walk TO you! Had our roles been reversed I doubt that you would have taken that walk TO me, but would have run like a mad woman to avoid confronting the woman about whom you have leveled so many false accusations. You would not have had the courage to confront me. But I did the right and courageous thing. You must have seen me, because you were not at all surprised to see me! You said to me ‘We both need help,’ and I responded ‘We don’t BOTH need help — I am not an alcoholic or any of the other things you have falsely accused me of — YOU need help.’ You sobbed. No I did not reach out to touch you — nor did you reach out to me. How would you have responded to a hug, a touch…? What was I do to if not walk away? Crawl on my knees? Rant and rave? if you are so sure that your accusations are correct why did you ‘dread’ seeing me — or why were you ‘afraid’ I would find you there? if you were so sure, you would have welcomed confronting me with even more lies and delusional memories. You will always be my daughter — your heart and mine beat in synchronicity for nine months and that will never ever be taken from me. I love you and cherish you, but I will no longer insinuate myself into your life. You have chosen to sever our relationship, and I will accept that. I am here if you need me, but I doubt that you would ever admit any need. it is interesting how different the perspective is when viewed from different sides of a coin! You write well — even though what you write is in accurate and biased with the animosity you hold toward me. I feel sorry for you — it is so hard on one’s emotions to hate.

How do I know for sure I am not delusional?  Here’s some good, hard evidence.  This is my left wrist, some 30+ years after I sawed into it there at the butcher block table.

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Scars fade over time, but they never fully disappear.