Trigger Warning: This essay contains depictions of physical violence, staged events, and simulated death.
I hope that every cell and every fragment of my being will one day see that there is room for mistakes on this planet. Mistakes do not have to cause collisions.
Even if you did not read the remainder of this essay, from the title and the trigger warning alone, you might be able to infer what mistakes mean to me.
I was not given chances to make mistakes as a child.
Children sometimes simulate mistakes and collisions in play. Maybe this is because in real life, mistakes are often not allowed, sometimes not forgiven, and always lead to consequences. It can feel so frightening to know that mistakes can lead to collisions: a car crash, or a broken heirloom, or the ending of a friendship.
Children who grow up in settings of extreme abuse and slavery are taught that their mistakes can cause the sun to explode. They are shown that their mistakes are what cause the slow, painful deaths of their beloved pets, their soft friends, their kind caregivers, or their own children. They are told that they were bred out of a mistake, and therefore they are a mistake.
I am deathly afraid to make a mistake.
When I make a mistake, and it is witnessed by another person, I fill with dread.
When I make a mistake, I fill with the dread of no one loving me. I was told that no one would love a non-perfect contract. This particular phrasing was used with me because I was not a person, I was a slave, and thus they could not refer to me as a person. But they could refer to me as a contract, or as an automaton that does not live up to its programming, its contract. I was told that no one will ever love me if I ever give their mind pause.
When I make a mistake, I fill with the dread of being pummeled, beaten by fifty child soldiers. Sadly, those soldiers were friends of mine. Like me, they were forced to rip so much to pieces.
When I make a mistake, I fill with the dread of watching my friend’s face painted—as a sad clown—and seeing him hanged. As this happened, I was restrained, and told that this is happening because I dropped a ball I was asked to hold.
This experience was meant to teach me never to drop the ball.
At other times, I was told that our abuse was happening because I told a joke that didn’t fly. Or, because the man who raped the two of us didn’t rate it a ten-out-of-ten. My friend and I were often made to be clowns, and placed on stage to fill abusers’ funny bones with our marrow. Then we were raped for being clowns.
In the memory of the hanging, my friend’s death was a simulation. I know he did not die that day, because I have later memories of the two of us that span much of my life. Just like children, my perpetrators also enjoyed simulating mistakes and collisions. They simulate destruction to scare us from every angle, to keep us from moving, to keep us from breathing.
Eventually, a person who is scared in this way, from every angle—fear shoved into every cell—may eventually die of suffocation, without even seeing it coming. A person can be shown so much fear that they become too afraid to move their arms, and then their legs, and then their mouths, and finally, their lungs.
This is why, every day I remind myself to breathe. When I make a mistake, I try to take a deeper breath. I try to give myself more than I have ever been given before. More air, more sensitivity, more space, more possibility.
I am afraid to make mistakes in my outer life, and I am also afraid of the mistakes I carry within my inner life. For example, when I hear the voice of a person in my system, having fear or upset at someone in our present-day life whose actions do not warrant it, I am overcome with the extreme need to heal this emerging internal dynamic within myself, my system—us—because mistakes can be lethal. I feel that I must stop whatever I am doing, sit down, and tune into my solar plexus, to excavate this old wound before it can reach out and touch my outer life again. I do not want to lose another friend to a mistake.
Mistakes can be lethal, or worse. There are much worse things than dying. There are experiences that are harder to bear than dying. There are experiences that are harder to witness than to die from. This is what my past has shown me. More than that, the constant threat of beyond-lethal consequence formed the atmosphere in which I breathed my first and every breath. It was the atmosphere in which I was raised, groomed, trained, beaten, raped, soldiered, and hugged.
This is the atmosphere in which I was bred.
Recently, a friend shared her artwork with me. I loved it so much that I spent a long time looking closely at it, studying it. But, there was something else happening inside too. I heard a timid little voice in my mind—a boy in my system who was afraid that if his friend paints evocative artwork to express her feelings, then the masses will flock to her, and he will be left for dead. Fear immediately surrounded this thought, making it hard to see anything clearly, and I filled with shame.
I should want my friend to express herself, shouldn’t I? What is wrong with me?
In a state of self-rejection, I suddenly started to despise this fearful little thought inside of me. And then I start to feel despisable.
At this stage of my recovery, and with a deep understanding of my own fragmentation, I recognize that these are the thoughts and feelings of a little boy inside who is trapped in his memory. And I do not despise this little boy inside. In fact, recognition of the youngness, innocence, abuse, and deprivation that bore a thought such as his, is what is helping me to open up to its existence, and treat it well.
By dialoguing with this young boy inside, I have learned that when we were little, we were placed in a room with our friend. In the room, there were two canvases, and two sets of paint brushes and paint. We were asked to paint our feelings. We were both young and did not know what this meant.
The canvases were placed on two easels that faced each other. Therefore, my friend and I needed to turn our backs to each other as we both picked up a brush, and painted. While our canvases could face each other, and our feelings could be reflected in one another’s artwork, our bodies were forced to remain turned away, so we experienced loneliness and separation.
When we were both done, the adults in charge entered the room, and flocked to his painting. As they rushed to praise him for his artwork, they collided with me. I was trampled, kicked, and then left. In the process, my painting had dropped onto me, and smeared the paint—my rejected feelings—across my aching body.
After receiving some unconditional love from safe people, within my recovery process, I now have a strong-enough and safe-enough container from within which I can view my unhealthy internal dynamics. I can now trust that they always stem from trauma, even before I become aware of the particular memory that caused a certain dynamic. Communicating with my system, and spending time in meditation with them, I uncover the details of painful experiences that we endured, years ago. It feels as though I learn new things about my past every day.
In recovery I find myself owning my trauma, but still disowning it on a deeper level—still unable to hold that this truly happened to me, and that it was not my fault.
It is not my fault that I fill with fear when witnessing the creative expression of others. But had I not looked deeply into my unconscious, I wouldn’t have known this, and I would have blamed myself for being unloving.
As a child, I was originally hurt, deprived of love and friendship, and tortured, by other people—adults who had minds and bodies of their own, and spirits residing within them.
I did not cause this. My spirit did not cause this.
Long before I ever hurt or judged myself or felt shameful about who I am, I was hurt, rejected, and abandoned by others. Long before I could protect myself, or take responsibility for anyone’s actions, I was betrayed. Long before I deprived myself of friendship and connection, I was deprived of it by my caretakers.
Long before I could witness real love, I was told that my daddy loved me, and that is why he was hurting me.
Perhaps this early abuse was the very first test of my loyalty, and perhaps it began at such a young age that I did not stand a chance.
If my owner rapes me, beats me with a chain, and then stands back and opens his arms to me for a hug, will I go to him? I knew, as a toddler, that the answer to this examination must be “Yes.” And so I found ways to drag my body over to his, which was hard to do because of the severe contusions, and the damage from the rape.
It seemed like rape occurred every time his body came anywhere near mine. In fact, he told me that I was a rape magnet. Sometimes this was said lovingly, confusingly. Other times, it was said with blame and shame, and with the intention of placing infinite responsibility into my mind.
His hugs hurt my toddler body. He had beaten it up so badly, and gouged my skin with hooks.
The tiny particles that settled among the dust within my deadened soul, in the crevasses of my lungs, and in the chambers of my heart, were molecules of loyalty. They are invisible, quiet, and have hardly any olfactory notes. I was not meant to notice them, but they were meant to secretly steer every vehicle I drive—every thought I have.
My loyalty was supposed to outweigh my desire to be free. My loyalty was meant to convince my mind to accept its slavery, for the full duration of my life. However, my loyalty was not built by me, it was built by them, and therefore inorganic to my body. I will not let it outlive me.
I have an older body now, and a more fully developed brain. I have stuffed the openings of my mind with healing threads, every chance I’ve gotten. I have given my system whatever I can find, including a home, therapy, nurture, stickers, new friends, stuffed animals, and story books.
However, the amount of tragedy I have processed on behalf of my system and my body has not yet tipped the internal scale of responsibility off of me, and onto my perpetrators. The tiny molecules of loyalty within me are remarkably heavy.
If I do not start to open up to the truth, and realize that I have been abused and defiled, through no fault of my own, then I am never going to find my own unconditional self-love and self-kindness. If I do not find a safe way to admit to myself that there were other beings on this planet who were unjustly permitted to shock me to death, many many times over the course of this lifetime, then I will never be able to allow myself to make a mistake.
If I do not cough up the loyalty nestled deep within me, then I will never be able to lift the burden of perfectionism off of myself, and drop it down onto the people to whom it truly belongs.
I imagine lifting this burden off of myself, and I wonder what it will transform into as it enters their energetic space. Perfectionism is what it grew to be in me. I imagine that for them it might be something unique to each of them—something of a mirror for their actions, their own histories of abuse, and their deep weaknesses. Without any judgment, I can tell you that the men and women in suits and ties who enslaved me were not strong. They were not strong enough to break out of the chains of their own self-annihilation. Instead, they painted their own reality, and they used my body, my friend’s face, and the entire world, as their canvas.
No wonder self-expressive paintings induce such fear in me.
To the little boy inside of me who fears his friend’s paintings, I want to say that he is allowed to be afraid, and have all of his feelings, for however long he needs. He can worry, he can get scared or angry, and he can make lots and lots of mistakes, in our internal world.
Using blocks and toy trees, he can build a house of pain. And then he can smash it down. And the blocks will tumble and fall. The dust will settle. The foundation of the house will reveal itself, and across its floorboards will be etched the word Innocent.
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