"I was able to approach the frontier separating me from others, to the extent of actually believing that I could sometimes cross over it.
"I measured my time differently, with all my body.
"I discovered what people are capable of, in other words, anything: sublime or deadly desires, lack of dignity, attitudes and beliefs I had found absurd in others until I myself turned to them. Without knowing it, he brought me closer to the world."
~ Annie Ernaux, Simple Pleasures ~
Translated by Tanya Leslie
I have loved the works of French writer, Annie Ernaux, for many years, finding them mesmerizing. Best-sellers in France they were translated into English and I am so grateful that they were. Her books are very slim, the kind you can read in a sitting, but don't let the size fool you, every word packs a punch. A powerful book on relationships, what we do for them, what we give up, what we won't give away, and our relationship to the world around us. This is of great interest to me, because it is, in many ways, lodged in the center of my being. The new frontier, crossing the border, invisible to you it is very real for me. You may be standing a foot or so away from me and I can guarantee you that there is a firm, invisible boundary between us. Very few people are allowed to cross it. I am slow to trust, and trust won is easily lost.
I will say, briefly, because I've dealt with this in therapy for more than thirty years, written about it, and processed it quite enough, and am well medicated and have a wonderful doctor, that I am now living a life that I am comfortable and happy with, having crossed over a line in the sand so to speak wherein I would not spend my life talking, for the rest of my life, about sexual abuse. I carry it inside of me, for certain, but don't think of it much anymore. What I think of, what I have to deal with now, is the fact that my abuse was the gift that keeps on giving, and while it ended when I was 18 (having started at 4) and I am now 54, it is long since past. The reverberations, however, will be a leitmotif throughout my life. I was abused by 2 men, not just one, and it wasn't pretty. That was the beginning of trying to find my way into life, fragmented and trying desperately to pull the pieces of myself together, over and over again. Being hospitalized numerous times for nervous breakdowns, and finally, 30 years hence, a string of diagnoses, five to be exact, have left me with a bit of a peculiar life.
I am much stronger now. I was never insane, nor psychotic, nor schizophrenic, nor many other extreme "mental illnesses," but I've got enough going on to make me have to go slowly through life, every moment I move through may reverberate for days, I may sink into my safe cocoon, I will disassociate from the world. I am intelligent and gifted in ways that some people would not understand, and I do not, I repeat, I do not feel sorry for myself, or bemoan my fate. and I won't let anyone else go there and say, "Oh, you poor thing. What a terrible thing to happen." It happened, just like there are many horrors in the world, our men and women either killed in war times or returning home forever changed, their world having been shattered. They can fix our bodies, but not our souls. I know there is some help for the returning troops, support groups and such, but the medical world does much better patching up broken bodies than broken spirits. The horrors done to me were done to my physical body, but the most damage, in the long run, was the fracturing of my soul.
I have had a history of getting hurt a lot, physically. I have a theory that, as often happens during abuse, my spirit flew out of my body, and for most of the rest of my days has been flying on ahead dragging my body bumping along on the road behind me. I have a mind/body split. To fuse the two would perhaps be one of the great triumphs of my life, and I feel that time is coming. There are some hurdles to cross to get there, but I believe that I am on my way.
I become terrified, as many might, when they are stuck in a comfort zone that feels as though it keeps them safe, while all the time it is keeping them from being whole. Today, I am working toward wholeness, even if in baby steps.
The last five years have been the beginning of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, even if I have to squint to see it, I am steadily moving toward it. I am at a major turning point in my life with some very significant changes on the horizon. Seeing my way through and to the other side will be a big part of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Yes, I become afraid. No, I do not let it stop me.
Many of you have followed my writings, some back to the inception of the cottage 9 years ago. You know about my life, living in a little cottage, surrounded by gardens, filled with plants, books, fiber art, and my twelve beloved animal companions. In a way it is a very magical world I have created, and it is a world where I feel I can be both productive, and feel safe. Some people are enchanted, some think I am an ostrich with my head deep in the sand. I am definitely not an ostrich, I am very well aware of the world and my surroundings, and yes, I have created a magical world that enchants and delights me, provides fodder for my writing and art, but more importantly, has given me a framework in which I can accomplish all that I believe I was meant to. Learning more and more about myself I have come to believe that the word "normal" should be thrown out of the dictionary. "Normal," for the most part, means that you follow society's norms, no matter what you really feel or need deep down inside, for fear of being ostracized, not fitting in, as if that were the answer to everything. I believe it has led to a world of "Stepford Wives" and those forced into two incomes just to afford the fancy houses and unbelievably expensive cars, memberships to the Country Club, and designer clothes. Now, I am not criticizing, I am making an observation. If one can live comfortably, is it necessary to have a brand new car? How many people literally work themselves into an early grave just so they can "keep up with the Joneses?" Again, it is just an observation, but a question I wonder about. And it's not that I think women who want to work shouldn't work, it is the women who are forced to work to keep up a lifestyle because society dictates that it should be so. I find this simply horrifying.
And so when the world worries about me, a single, divorced woman with grown children and a delightful grandchild, living simply, surrounded by my animals and everything else, I wonder about them. I wonder if they can even imagine the joy I feel, more often than not. I am not child-ish, but the fact that I have retained a child-like sense of awe and wonder, that I delight in blowing dandelion seeds as well as bubbles, all over the place, that I would rather dig my bare hands deep into the soil with no gloves to feel how friable it is, sometimes finding worms and sometimes tiny treasures, and that carefully planting a perennial that will gift me year after year with it's beautiful blooms rather than out shopping for a car that costs as much as our first house did, well, who is the world to judge me? I will leave the rest of the world to themselves, but I will carefully guard my privacy and my little oasis with everything I have in me.
Would I like to cross the Great Frontier? Well, I can imagine myself going out a little more, perhaps coffee with a friend, or the occasional nice meal out, but truly, I love my little home, and it feeds and nurtures me quite well right here where I am. And when you write with a parrot on one shoulder, a pug sprawled on the arm of the chair, and a big black dog stretched out across the ottoman, his nose on your knee, it's hard to feel lonely. No, I feel loved. And I have a great deal of love to give. I hope to be able to give it through my writing. I would love to be able to give it to another person, but there is only one person for me, and no matter what happens she will be dear to me for the rest of my days. For 6 1/2 years I have loved her, and when she said, "You are not your diagnoses," it opened a whole new world to me. At the end of the last piece I put a link to a heartbreakingly beautiful story about a little two-legged dog. I have a tiny black pug here who is 13 years old, deaf as a door and nearly blind as a bat, and yet finds her way around her familiar patterns and is my little "Peapod" whom I carry about like a baby in my arms and kiss all up and simply adore. Yes, Babs is my darling girl, incompetent ears, untrustworthy eyes and all. So what I have learned is that "normal" to me is simply who I am. As Whitman wrote, "I celebrate myself, I sing myself...." even if I am thought of as the odd woman on the hill who has been known to go out for the mail in that flamingo hat. Best to keep one's reputation up of being odd, I think. Don't let it slip.
So, will I cross the Great Divide? I will , in my own small way, infrequently, but just enough for me. There is no one right way to live or think or be. And no, you do not have to be like another single solitary soul to be healthy, whole, and free. Be yourself, your whole self, your grand and glorious, full, unbridled, wild and cuckoo, if you will, astonishing self.
The first thing I taught my tiny grandson to say was, "Grandma is goofy and cattywompus." I felt I should start him on the right track from the get-go so when things got too "normal" in the world, he'd always know he had a place to go.
Celebrate Yourself, Sing Yourself, I'm singing right along with you...
Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings to All,