memory

Self, Identity, Past, Present

There was a strange thing that happened in my head a bunch over the summer and fall last year, that I have never thought to write about until just now. I think I only mentioned it out loud to one person, even, when it was happening.

My internal monologue kept slipping into the voice of the my younger self.

And while I know that’s a very accurate way of describing the experience, I’m not 100% sure what I mean by it. I may have mentioned before that when I dissociate, my internal monologue turns into a robot. This is like that, but not robotic?

To be honest, these days I don’t know how I relate to my past self, or more realistically, my various past selves. It doesn’t feel at all correct to refer to this person I’ve been… hearing? remembering? experiencing? (or whatever) as Kasey, for instance. I don’t feel like Kasey is a person who has existed my entire life, though once again, I’m not entirely sure what I mean by that. I just know that it is accurate.

Rather, this person definitely owns my birth name, though since I have always been fond of my birth name, and it has always been a significant part of my identity, that’s not terribly surprising, I guess.

I wonder about their gender – I’ve never been particularly attached to the idea that my weird fluid sorta agender-ness is an in-born trait, but at the same time, past me definitely didn’t have a particularly strong gender identity, and to be honest, I do think that my relationship to gender hasn’t really changed that significantly over the course of my life – the only things that have changed are the vocabulary available to me and the extent to which I’ve given it any thought at all.

So yeah, I think this past me was pretty much non-binary, I guess?

The entire experience was weirdly uncomfortable – when I was a kid, I used to super hate the way my voice sounded in recordings (I think I’m over this now, though it’s not as if I hear many recordings of my voice), and I found myself having a similar visceral reaction to this new internal voice (though I think the voice sounds like what my old internal monologue sounded like, not like my child-voice from the outside, so this is definitely an imperfect way of capturing my negative feelings here).

I think to some extent, this is my brain stitching my back together for myself. I need to be re-acquainted with the person I was before… what exactly, I’m not really sure. Before transition, yes. Before changing my name, sure. Before I ever was raped? Before…. well, before I started identifying my father’s abusive behavioural patterns.

Which is to say, not before I experienced those patterns.

I haven’t talked much about my father as an abusive person in the context of my childhood. His behaviour only began to stand out to me in that way after I identified the abusiveness of my rapist ex. To be honest, I still largely consider my childhood to be fairly stable and healthy, though I no longer trust that assessment as fully as I used to.

In fact, I have been questioning this idea more over the past year, poking at strange unanswered questions like: how in the heck did dissociation become such a go-to coping mechanism for me? It’s been with me for as long as I can remember, to the point where it is simply a part of my very basic existence: I am, therefore I dissociate.

I am quite certain that my unstructured attempts to reflect on and better understand this and other aspects of my selfhood are behind the resurgence of this past-self voice in my head, but I’m not sure yet what to make of it.

Other than, I guess, I think I should start writing about these questions and the memories that are kicking up around them. This space has worked wonders for me in terms of working through my memories of my abusive ex, and I suspect it can do the same with these older ones, too.

So yeah, thus begins my new project I guess?

Every now and then, something new shakes loose

[CN: this post mentions but does not directly describe or go into any detail about abuse and rape]

There are just so many weird, little ways that my abusive, rapist ex continues to have na impact on my life and my brain, that eight years later I am still finding new ones.

The thing about my ex is that I knew him for years before we ever dated. We were in the same social group. We were probably friends even (this is hard for me to determine for a bunch of reasons, but most notably because it is only in the last five years or so that I’ve actually managed to convince myself that anyone really sees me as a friend, and also because I instinctively avoid thinking about that or him and because I don’t know how to parse memories I have of him from before I understood what an awful human he was.)

Which, that latter point is what’s messing with me today. Because I realized I have no idea what to do with that entire period of my life anymore. My high school years and memories are tainted. I still have a photo album full of pictures of me and my high school friends and my rapist. I have so many (generally good!) memories that, whenever I start thinking about them, I have to stop, because suddenly there’s his face, there he is in my brain where I don’t want him to be.

I can’t write him out. He was there. And I don’t know what to do with his presence in those places in my brain, the ones I would like to keep parts of.

On the one hand, I am much better than I used to be, than I was when I started this blog. None of this is causing me sleepless nights anymore (I have new, less traumatic reasons for those now! :P); even when a new random anecdote of awful that I don’t think I’ve ever shared with anyone bubbles to the surface – just another puzzle piece of memory that never quite completes the picture – it doesn’t make me feel like my guts are trying to claw their way out of my throat anymore; I can sit quietly with those memories and be at peace.

But I don’t want that to be the only way I can engage with these other memories, the good ones with friends, during a time when I was only just beginning to figure out who I was. Right now, there is just this 7-year gap in time where I don’t tell stories about my life – if we’re close, you’ll hear about when I was a kid, and about everything since I finished my bachelors degree, but those formative years of adolescence and young adulthood are mostly a big no-fly zone.

Really, this all brings me back to a point I’ve made before: I hate, hate, HATE so much that one person’s actions, which have no consequences for themselves (unless you count me eventually breaking up with him, which is pretty minor in a grand scale) have had such a far-reaching, damaging impact on me. I am permanently altered by the things he did to me. And the ugliness stretches across a huge part of my life, and it always will. And I, when all I did was survive, am left with the exhausting work of fixing it all myself. Or really (more often than not), of finding ways to work around the scars, of ways to cope with what can’t ever be fixed.

It is not my fault. It shouldn’t have to be my responsibility, but it does. There is no one else’s it can be. And I will never not be angry about that.

Abuse-logic and Memory

I find it extremely difficult to talk, or write, or think clearly about the fact that I spent some years in an abusive relationship (which I’ve written about before, here and here. And it’s not that the thoughts are clouded by emotion – I can be dispassionate about most of my memories from that time. It’s something else entirely that’s going on.

Here’s the thing – the ways in which that relationship was abusive were definitely kind of nebulous, and not clear-cut examples of your standard after school special an abuse. And even now I’m often like “well, you know, it was kind of abusive, but not like super abusive” with whatever caveat I might have about it. One of those caveats is “I mean, it’s not like he raped me or anything.”

Except that, you know, I can actually point to a whole litany of occasions when he did sexual things to my body without my consent (up to and including penetrative acts, in case you’re a purist about these kinds of things).

So, honestly, I have no idea why I kind of just (conveniently?) forget about these things all the time.

I know it took me years (literally, *years*) after the fact to actually link any of these incidents with the way I felt about him and about our relationship. But it’s still hard for me to actually integrate them into any narrative of things – it’s like the way they’re stored in my memory is incompatible with the way other memories are stored, and they just don’t fit together. They’re random isolated islands of memory, oddly context-less, and my brain resists attributing any sort of causal relationship to them and anything that happened to me since, or any feelings that I have.

Even at moments like this, where I explicitly remind myself that actually, you know, he did rape you, I mostly don’t feel the truth of that statement. It’s not internalized in any way. Or rather, I suspect it’s already really deeply internalized, but that it’s somewhere that I can’t actually access consciously. Part of me resists it very strongly, to the point that I am entirely uncomfortable providing any kind of details about the incidents I’m referring to above.

I mean, I guess it shouldn’t matter what the details are, and it’s not like I feel like I have something to prove*, or that somehow sharing the actual story would allow me to get external validation on the fact that what happened was fucked up**.

I really think a lot of this links back to the kind of thing I was talking about in my post on “abuse-logic”. Being gaslit has a distinct effect on the ways that you understand the things that are happening to you in an abusive relationship. If, every time you have a moment of clarity, every time your brain wakes up enough to tell you that this maybe isn’t ok, your experiences are denied, ignored, and minimized, you’re told that your memory is incorrect, or that you’ve misinterpreted things, over time you develop an inherent distrust for your memories of the events in question. I don’t know why so many of us fall for it, either. But we do.

And unfortunately, the effects last well beyond when we manage to escape the cycle. Even though I know, intellectually, that my memories are accurate, and that my refusal to interpret them in the ways he insisted I should is valid, still I can’t interpolate these things into my existing narrative in any real way. Still, I can’t stop instinctively second-guessing myself, and doing the kind of generous rewriting that I had started doing as a matter of course when I was in the relationship. Because that’s the other thing. I was gaslit so much in that relationship that by the end, I never even confronted him with things, because I could have his side of the conversation with myself. I could tell myself exactly what was wrong, and exactly why I was being unreasonable, and I would do so because it was less emotionally draining than talking to him about it. And, by the time the relationship had developed to that point, the largeness of the pile of things that had been shoved under the rug to keep me in the relationship made me more and more reluctant to even look directly at each new piece of the puzzle.

The narrative is clear when you actually look straight at all of the facts pieced together, but the full picture is also just too scary to contemplate, and so I usually don’t put the pieces together, and certainly never more than one or two at a time.

And so it’s hard, but I’m getting better at reminding myself that it actually was that bad. It’s far enough away from my day-to-day life now that it looks smaller in the distance, and I’m processing it and putting the pieces together. And maybe one day I’ll stop minimizing my own experiences of it, I’ll stop second-guessing, and I’ll trust my interpretations. But I don’t think that day is quite today.

*Of course, I very often do feel like I have something to prove. This is exactly why I’m so often internally dissembling about whether it was “real” abuse.

**I’m actually perfectly comfortable framing the whole thing as fucked up, and that’s a depiction I can feel the truth of. It’s just the words abuse and rape that I can’t get to really stick in a way that’s convincing to myself, even though I would have no trouble if the same story was told by someone who wasn’t me.