Client Journal: From Numb to Love

“Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called ‘the love of your fate.’ Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, ‘This is what I need.’ It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment—not discouragement—you will find the strength is there.”

– From “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.

“Being numb was/is the biggest way I protect myself. My heart. But so many things go into that. In your email, you mentioned feeling my heart, my belly and my vagina. I think for this week, when I do this exercise I want to focus on my heart before I move into other areas of my body.When I was young, I had to train myself to be numb. At first I had to really fight hard to pretend. A memory that is coming up for me, was my middle school experience. Middle school sucked for me, it was borderline traumatic. I was the only black female most of the time in my honors classes, and because I lived in a middle/upper middle class area my mom had me do activities such as horseback riding, swimming and tennis. My dad would tease my mom about her slight southern accent (in an abusive way), so she became overly sensitive about the way she spoke. Because of this, my mom wanted to make sure that my brother, sister and I spoke eloquently. All of this translated to some of the other black kids at my school as me trying to “act white”. So for three years they teased me, called me names such as blackie, tar baby, Oreo, sellout, the list goes on. One girl even spat on me in gym class. They would knock over my books, do stuff to my locker and humiliate me in front of large groups of people. The teachers wouldn’t say anything or stop the behavior. And even though I knew I that what they were saying was stupid and ignorant, that I was/am proud of my heritage, that speaking proper English to me wasn’t a “white thing” but a “I want to get into a good college thing”. It still really hurt to experience such brutal racism especially from other black people. But, I was taught not to cry, never show weakness. So, I acted like it didn’t matter. My face would be like stone, expressionless and I would feel cold and like I wasn’t there while they were calling me all these names. I would checkout, daydream. Or fantasize about ways to kill them all. I was trying to protect my ego, my pride by acting like it didn’t matter. But it did, and it hurt. A lot. And I felt a lot (and still do when I really feel it) a lot of just pure rage about it! Eventually what happened then was one day I snapped at one of the girls who was picking on me and threw her into a locker really hard, yelled at her (I forgot what I said I just remember feeling the rage) and then spouted out a bunch of black history facts facts that I knew she didn’t know. I made her feel stupid. And it felt good!

Intelligence became another form of protection. After the locker incident, it got around that I had a short fuse. So when I got into high school, aside from the stupid comment made here or there, I wasn’t bullied. But I discovered that I could use my words in a way to make people feel really bad about themselves if I wanted to. Since I was kind of quiet and observant I would say really mean things when I felt threatened. Because being cold and “super witty” felt safer than saying,”I am really hurt. Or I am really angry you said that.” I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Because if I was vulnerable, that meant you really got to know me. And if you really got to know me, that meant you knew about all my traumas, my messed up parents and one day you could use those things to hurt me, betray me and reject me. And I would have rather felt nothing at all than feel rejection and betrayal. Because I felt rejected or hurt in some way everyday and I just didn’t want to feel more of it anymore!

When I got older, into my early 20’s, I tried on a different persona. I tried to be this badass hard as nails chick that no one could fuck with. I would still be numb, I would still use my intelligence, but I added more walls to it. I tried to “act strong”. Like the Angelina Joile characters in movies. Because that was what I so desperately wanted to be. I wanted to be strong. Tough. In control. Aggressive. I didn’t want to feel my pain. I didn’t want to express it. But at that point because shutting down and being numb was so second nature, I didn’t really know how to express my feelings. When I would try, I would go back to using my intelligence, either by trying to rationalize or by speaking in metaphors to describe what I was feeling. There was one point in my 20’s where I hadn’t cried for a really long time, like 5 or 6 years or something! I didn’t want to feel my weaknesses. I didn’t want to see them. And I didn’t trust anymore to see or feel them, but I guess also, I didn’t trust that anyone would love me and accept me in spite or because of my weaknesses. In my mind, the badass never got hurt. But I was wrong. Because I was still hurting. And hiding. I just started to delude myself that I wasn’t anymore.

When I breathe into this, I feel sad. Really sad and hurt. Sad and hurt that I can be so mean to myself! When I ask my heart what it needs, It says that I need compassion. Compassion for myself. It also needs to trust. It needs to trust that my close friends wouldn’t betray me or hurt me just to hurt me out of sport. It’s also telling me that I need to take my time when getting to know people, not to tell too much too soon. That was a tactic I would sometimes use with men. I would try to create the intimacy and connection I really wanted by “putting all my shit out there”. Now I realize, I wasn’t respecting myself, or loving myself or honoring the trauma that I had been through. I would say, “hey I was molested.” they would feel uncomfortable, I would then shutdown and not express my feelings about it or my feelings about telling them, and then I would never hear from them again! I was traumatizing myself even more because I was forcing them to reject me and abandon me, the very things I was afraid of happening!

My heart also is telling me that I need a lot of reassurance and unconditional love. I am mainly familiar with conditional love. Yes, those are things I need from other people. But most importantly, those are things I need to start giving to myself.

Client Journal and Painting: It is Safe Being Numb

Being numb is the only safe place to be.
I cannot be hurt there.
I can hide in that numbness.
I don’t dare think about how bad I am and why I got the beating.
Being numb is the only safe place to be.

He brought me chocolate and a toy after he beat me.
He cried and asked me to forgive him.
I was so scared I said yes.
I found out later that his mom yelled at him for beating a nine year old.
Being numb is the only safe place to be.

I realize now that he hated his mother.
He hated my mother.
He hated me when I did not do as I was told.
I think I have to stay invisible now as
Being numb is the only safe place to be.

I am waking up now from the deep freeze and I feel so sad.
I am so mad at a grown man beating a young girl.
I want to protect that child from being hurt.
I felt safest being numb and now that freeze is starting to thaw.

I abandoned myself when I was nine.
My mother abandoned me too.
I disconnected. I felt lost.
I always blamed myself. I thought it was my fault.
The freeze is melting and I see puddles in my life.
My tears are streaming down my face.
I am making those puddles.

My child self wants to be bathed in those puddles.
When her wounds are clean she wants to splash and play.
And be lovingly dried by me her true mother.
The mother who will protect her.
I feel safe protecting my little girl self and she now feels safe with me.