Starting to See

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Please be forewarned that content might include
details of abuse and potentially triggering language.
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If I had a time machine–or twenty-twenty hindsight, I’d go back and chronicle a couple of takeaways from each therapy session so that I could see where I was when I started and how far I’ve come. 

In the blink of an eye, five years have gone by.  Yet like a kid who doesn’t notice how tall he’s gotten because his peers have also grown, I’m not super aware of progress.  I need to see it.  My therapy-session reflections would be like pencil markings on a vertical height chart or perhaps a horizontal timeline.  In a perfect world, I’d record two bullet points for each weekly session:  how I felt, and what I came to understand by the end of the fifty-minute meeting.

Earlier in therapy, I wrestled with the uncovering of a wound that oozed with the feeling that no one had suffered worse.  In part this feeling emanated from the injustice of having been singled out from among six siblings — as a baby — for a specific type of long-term abuse.  There are layers to the sentiment, and I’m admittedly still shedding some.  For one, my mother, for her own messed-up reasons, refused to see me as hurt or hurting.  I envied my siblings for the care they received, but internalized the rejection, telling myself, “I am not worth anyone’s love or attention.” 

Recently, I feel some breakthrough in that I’m no longer trying to claw my way up and out from the bottom of a sibling-rivalry pit my family threw me in; I can see others around me, see that they suffer, and sympathize.  All along, I’ve been able to empathize.  Yet lately I feel a different sort of sympathy, one where my own suffering is more settled, that is, not stirred up when considering what others have been through.  Unfortunately, for now, I am less compassionate toward my siblings for what they went through than I am toward others who have suffered.  In my defense, I’ll say that because each of my siblings at one point or another crossed the line from co-victim into abuser, I see them through a particular lens.

My recent shift in perspective is directly related to the current upheaval in society—it’s as if a fault line that runs through the fabric of the nation ruptured, unraveling a blindfold covering the eyes of people like me.  I’m faced with the previously unspoken reality that I am safe in a way that black people currently cannot be.  What I’m finally beginning to grasp is the difference between fear derived from a present threat of abuse and fear reverberating from past trauma. 

Having been a slave, I have an undertow, still, of “less than.”  I know what it’s like to be treated as less than human.  Having been abused, I tense up, cower, and startle easily.  But my reaction, my triggers, are usually just that:  triggers.  For black people, the threat of abuse still exists.  They do have to be concerned that racist systems, bigots, and people in uniform might do them harm.  They are marked.  As a baby, I was given a slightly disfiguring permanent mark so that child-sex-abuse perpetrators could easily identify me.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like for the mark to be the color of your skin, something you can’t cover up—at least not without drawing further attention to yourself. 

“Healing of mind and emotions” is an interesting arena.  There are scores of textbooks on the subject, yet no clear consensus.  The bulk of my healing has come through the steady influence of my longstanding therapist, through her kindness and expertise.  Her input and the work we have done must have laid a foundation for what I am experiencing now—a groundswell of revelation, of changed thinking, of genuine understanding.  My journey continues, but I’m starting to see.

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