A Case Of Mistaken Resilience

People told me that I was resilient. When things got tough, I persevered. When situations knocked me down, I found ways to get back up. Life turned me to ash at a very young age, and somehow I came back. Over and over, there would be perceived failure, pain, rejection, and abandonment, but I just continued to redefine and redirect myself.

Moments of strength emerged from seeming eons of weakness, until I realized what was really happening. What appeared to be resilience was actually me outrunning my pain, getting ahead of ever feeling it, and escaping a deepseated conviction of being irreparably broken.

As a child, I learned to escape abuse by studying. Even as I cried and quietly begged to be erased from existence, I buried myself in books. Whatever potential I had I turned exclusively to training and honing my ability to think. When in pain, I resorted to solving math and physics problems. I became incredibly adept at feeling everything and nothing while lost in mental puzzles.

My resilience was a farce. I didn’t have the guts to face what happened to me. Instead, I learned how to dull my pain, detach from feeling, and even dissociate from heartbreak. I was a skinny runt, raped and beaten for years. When I got older and my brother was born, I was simply forgotten and abandoned. To be noticed, which felt like love to me, I had to do extraordinary things. I had to be a superhero, a mountain mover, and unbreakable. So, I trained myself to excel with no tolerance for failure.

What began as a coping mechanism turned into an obsession. I effectively internalized being “faulty” and unlovable, and invested all of my energy into cultivating performance – competitive piano, martial arts, yoga, math and physics, technological expertise, writing, public speaking, and innovating stale processes in corporate settings. I was compensating. I was faking success. Until I began to break down. It was inevitable.

My first repressed memories tore through their cocoons in my early twenties. Reliving my past put me in shock. After coming to, I doubled my efforts to hide my true ugliness. I must have been horrible to have had such horrible things done to me. Memories and flashbacks continued to bleed through even as I fought harder to keep them at bay.

This past year, another wave of repressed memories engulfed me. But this time, I knew what was happening and was onto my tried-and-true methods of escape. This time, I didn’t want to run or hide or distract myself. I just gave into the reality of my past. My previous ways of coping helped me to survive an untenable situation, but they would not help me to heal. This much was clear.

So, I gave up trying to hide and deny the brutality of my past. Looking back, I can now recognize the times in my life where I responded to life in flashback mode. I didn’t know that I was having flashbacks at the time, but I can see it now. I was seeing the present through the narrow lens of the past – small, terrified, and ashamed. I was “back there” without realizing it. This is PTSD….

For several months now, I have been studying my flashbacks and reliving old pain. The light is there to support me. Some days it feels like I may drown in this ocean of pain, but I know I won’t. I threw myself into the kiln once again and fully conscious of what used to lie beneath.

It occurred to me a number of times that I could feel sorry for myself and just give up. However, I don’t feel that it’s really possible for me. Something keeps me going even when I want to just…stop. Maybe it’s different this time because I no longer feel like my life belongs to me. Maybe it’s because I am not attached to any self-image. Maybe I know full-bodily that the only way is through.

I admit that it’s pretty rough right now. I’m not quite sure how I am managing a job, two kids, and my Masters program while also doing this healing work. I want to get through this and have no idea how long it will take.

I know things are improving because I find myself happily being a nobody. No ambition. No need to excel or move mountains. It’s quiet in the eye of the storm. I feel a quiet love even as I am being dismantled at the atomic level.

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