Tonight Pastor Jake said that when he is old and looks back on his life, he wants to see that he celebrated three times as much as he criticized. And I thought for a bit and said, “Maybe when I remember how to smile that could be true of me, too.” You will smile again, he said. I want to believe him. Smiling used to be my default face; the more uncomfortable I got the more I’d flash my teeth. I’ve since stopped. Now, Ted will do anything to get a real smile out of me. And when he does, he gently cups my face as if he’s trying to catch it and make it stay.
But this feels voluntary. Before I started psycho-therapy, I didn’t have uncontrollable nightmares or flashbacks or addiction like many other PTSDs. I had massive dissociation, consistent sleep problems, a lot of silly startles, and strict control over my emotions; but all these I rationalized. I spent years barricading myself with coping mechanisms and turned my weaknesses into my own strengths. My hyper-vigilance became my problem solving and organizing gifts. My “foreshortened sense of future” became my hunger to not waste an hour of precious time. My uncontrollable emotions became controlled, and I learned to force such self-control beyond temptation. My strength is my weakness and in it I have no hope.
The more that I associate and am healed, the more terror grows in my heart. The more emotions I get, the worse my symptoms become. For years I’ve been holding them back like a child who believes, “If I can’t see mom, mom can’t see me.” But mom can see me with my hands over my eyes and my nightmares have increased. My flashbacks flash stronger and my panic stays longer and the only thing that makes them go away is dissociating. But I want to have a feeling when my husband says, “I love you,” so dissociating is no longer the solution. Which is why this feels voluntary. But when healing feels like digressing and a return to molestation, hope is hard to hold.
But hope, too, has started growing these past few weeks. I stumble across it in little moments, like when I ran 4 miles. Or like yesterday when we went to Spa Castle for Stephanie’s 27th birthday. It was “Red” at its best. We sat in hot tubs and cold tubs and Greco-Roman-women-only-nudist-saunas all day. We talked about the inalienable beauty of every woman’s body and the freedom of being feminine without competing with each other. We talked about all the death of friendship we’ve gone through lately, about justice and grace and not fitting in with other people, about giving birth and organizing societies, and about what you need to have to disagree in friendship. We talked about Jesus and Plato and John Rawls; Matt, Ted, Matt, Ben, and Richard. We talked about someday bringing our daughters on these trips, and we smiled because we know we’ll still be friends then. At the end of the day my muscles were relaxed but my cheeks were sore; I haven’t smiled that much since August.
“Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come,
had I known the danger of light and joy.” Gimli son of Gloin