Am I not a victim?
I am trying to “just be” in this moment; I am trying to be the “good client” and to “just exist” in this push-pull agony and torment called therapy. There is a torture-flame of anger inside that is inevitably linked to fear. There is the shrapnel of self-condemnation ricocheting around my innermost depths. And it is exploding and thundering loudly inside me, trying to drown out that whispered roar that it was them, not me; it was their fault, not mine. Doesn’t it seem counter-protective to accept the blame? Doesn’t it seem counter-productive to step into that familiar failure-stance that we have always prepared for ourselves? Isn’t it counter-intuitive to choose to stay in the gutter of abuse and trauma at the same time as stepping foot in front of painful foot on this road to recovery?No matter how logically illogical it apparently is, I know I choose to listen to barbed words and vindictive self-beliefs about me: I am a subhuman being. I wrap the heavy chainmail-blanket of blame tightly around me. That is my fall-back position.
That shame-filled, excruciating plane of existence is actually my comfort zone. It is my protection. It resolves the conflict – that almost unbearable conflict that is dominated by panic. The racing heart, can’t think, can’t sleep, can’t eat, get-me-out-of-this-hell panic, laced and intertwined with body-wracking pain and nausea. Who would willingly choose that over the comfort that actually it’s your own fault anyway so give up, give in and submit? In retaliatory denial of any conflict, I proudly say out loud to others, “I will not be a burden, I will not be a victim, I am self-reliant, I need no one or nothing.”
Yet I am starting to wonder if this is just another facet of learned helplessness. I am fighting the accusation of ever having been a helpless victim by helplessly saying that I wasn’t one in the first place: I accept instead the belief that I am just intrinsically evil.I feel self-loathing clutching the base of my throat, churning my stomach and tightening every muscle in my jaw. I sneer at that pathetic “helpless” child who allowed it to happen … I sneer at the “helpless” child who allowed it to happen to me, the tough, strong, don’t-mess-with-me, fiercely independent adult. Concepts of helplessness and being a victim are still tangled up in my ‘truth’, the belief that I just made poor choices, that I was culpable, I was responsible, I was to blame. My ‘truth’ is that I helplessly allowed it to continue. In my worldview I believe still that I had a choice, so I was to blame.
When I roll the word around my being, like a child tasting a new food, “helpless” reeks of excuses and a victim mentality. It elicits such an intense reaction of loathing, of retribution, that it is easier for me to accept the blame, to lick up the pungent taste of shame. I am almost drowning in the helplessness of trying not to be helpless. The pain, the loss, the anger, the soul-drowning grief of admitting I was helpless … it seems unfathomable.So to protect me from this pain so real, so tangible, accusations ring out loud and sweet like the first birdsong at the break of dawn. If I accept that I was a victim, if I accept that I was helpless, then I am being like my mother, the professional victim.
To this day she still cannot face the blame. She still cannot take responsibility. She can only bear to glance at cropped and edited thumbnails of what I endured. I wrap her in bubble-wrap: “Mother, I know you didn’t know … I know if you had known it would have been different … It must be so hard for you to hear this … I don’t know how you managed to cope …” I have to protect her from the raw pointy edges of the reality of my life. She invited abuse into our family, blind, accepting, unprotective … learned helplessness. So I will not be helpless like that, or need anything, or want anything. Ever.
When I decided never again to be helpless or a victim, I abolished the idea of being needy or wanting anything too. I took responsibility for all my actions, for all my behaviours, in a classic, dissociative, all-or-nothing way. Black and white, everything or nothing. And so I had to take the blame for the abuse too, as a way of unlinking myself from the past, as a way of evading its foul dictatorship. It didn’t control me; I controlled it. It was my fault – all my fault. And if it was my fault, my responsibility, under my control and in my power, then I could ensure that it never happened again. Right? I was in control now. I am the powerful one.
And so, helplessly I wear the burden of blame and self-disgust. I am seemingly incapable of contemplating even for a nano-second that it doesn’t belong to me. The truth as others state it slips off me in an instant. In my world, being helpless feels like an invitation for abuse – a welcome-home mat for rejection and abandonment. It becomes an addictive, blinding stranglehold. My life has taught me lessons of ridicule and rape, abuse and humiliation. I have learned those lessons. I will never be a victim and say abuse me please. Not now.
Now around me are other people. Some have trauma backgrounds similar to mine. Some do not. They ask for help and in doing so seem ‘helpless’. I recoil in disgust and anger. I vomit in hatred at their annoying but acceptable pleas for help. Their demands for their needs to be met seem like an open-handed invitation to be abused. And the anger that flares white hot in me at them is the life and soul of the hatred that I feel for myself. I don’t really hate them; I hate me. Because I forgot one thing and seem stubbornly unable to approach it: the idea of forgiveness.
I know I need to forgive me. I need to forgive the small child parts of me, for doing what they thought was right. I need to forgive my human failings, my self-centered, judgemental, survivalistic views. I need to forgive the totality of me: after all, I am human. I am not the centre of all evil. I am not spawn of the devil himself. I am not endowed with such unbenign malevolence that I am irredeemable. I am forgiveable. I can forgive myself even though it hurts.
I am not helpless to forgive myself; I do not need to abuse myself with my own unforgiveness. This is new, this is different.
But I am not a victim.