I think at first I was too young to understand that anything could be anyone’s fault. I just experienced a long sequence of unnatural pains. Then, when I was born, and I found myself living in a separate body that could be abandoned, approached, and even invaded, I began to witness the difference between cause and effect, and the difference between abuser and abused. My experiences began to form a belief system that now lives around me, invisibly.
Where I was raised, the abusers of babies understand this process. They make sure to warp and twist the abused child’s young belief system. They place traps within it, to ensure that one can never conclude that anything was ever their fault.
To keep that belief system safe, they place another belief system over it, which tells the child that no abuse ever happened in the first place.
To keep that belief system safe, they place another belief system over it, which tells the child what did happen to her or him in childhood (such as neglect, family dysfunction, or mistreatment at school or in the community), to account for the roots of the inner brokenness.
To keep that belief system safe, they place another belief system over it, which tells the child that she or he is not worth healing, and commands the child never to look into any causes of inner suffering.
To keep that belief system safe, abusers may discreetly watch their victim, continue to enslave and reprogram their victim, or release the victim with a programmed addiction or other path to self destruction.
That vicious bundle of belief systems is the only thing that the surviving victim is left with—the only remnant of the child’s deepest bonds and most meaningful life experiences. To keep that complex belief system in tact, abusers condition loyalty. This profound loyalty might seem to the victim to be the most precious foundation to preserve, yet once it is questioned, it becomes the most unrelenting, destructive inner force imaginable.
Abusers make tiny children promise loyalty and sincere love to them. I was once strangled by an abuser when I was very young, while he commanded me to love him, over and over again. He commanded me to love him with all of my heart, or to never breathe again.
Now that I am in recovery, the distance I have from this man can feel painfully dangerous to the small girl who still lives inside, and who has never been released from that traumatic moment. I am barely able to breathe. If I want to breathe, I need to love him. And if I want to live, I need to release this burdened love. Such is the double bind.
Because of the complex setups that my system experienced over time, I am barely able to remember this man enough to release the attachments I have to him. Deep psychic amnesia can make an earnest attempt to be free much more difficult.
A promise to love this man includes so much. It includes a promise to never remember him (which is circumspectly ironic). It includes a promise to always mentally and emotionally separate the times he loved me from the times he punched me. It includes a promise to get sick if I am ever without him, to beat myself up like he did, to spill water all over the floor, and to lie to myself about my very nature and identity. I have promised to never be happy.
When I made that promise, I did not know what happiness was. I had never seen it. I certainly had not seen it in him. He was not happy, he was very sad.
I was not happy, I was blank with terror and subservience. I did not know what I would miss out on one day, if my feet were ever free, and hundreds of other versions of myself quietly invited me to peek out and see the new day.
I think, back in those days, I might have felt the nearest to happiness when I was resting in his arms, or when I was getting beaten close to death.
In his arms I was always wary of something, a surprise attack that could come at any moment. So no, I couldn’t really feel happy then.
Close to death, I was almost too collapsed to be any more hurt. This was my closest relationship with empowerment. My only power was in being filled up, beyond survival, so that no more harm could be done to me. As I got closer and closer to death, parts of me who cared would care less. Parts of me who needed would need less. Parts of me who wanted were already dead, as they had been on the front lines.
The ability to stand up was gone, so there was no need to have any relationship with trying.
Pain could no longer hurt me because pain was all I was. The need for need was gone. The separation between myself and other energy was starting to fade away. I no longer felt compelled to maintain my own sense of identity—to think of myself as separate from anyone else—or, maybe I was no longer able to.
It was too hard to think of a life with loving parents, and of riding a bike to a playground full of friends, while I was dying. Had I known of such experiences, I might have noticed that I was about to die in deprivation of them. I might have sensed the adults’ betrayal of me.
Had I known that I should be allowed to rest gently in a caregiver’s protective arms, without expecting a surprise attack, I might have sensed the betrayal, and the loss.
Because I can recall parts of the programming and the setups that formed my personalities and behaviors, I am consciously aware that psychological betrayal was involved. Yet I still cannot feel it.
I believe I glimpsed it, though, recently. I was thinking about this man, one of many adults who used to hurt me. Other alters in my system had shared mixed feelings about him already. He had been like a teacher. He had been referred to as the love of my life. He had been a child beater. He had been described as someone who falsely promised love in order to control me. He had been referred to as also a slave.
For a moment, I sensed how much attachment and care some of us inside have for this man. And then, I sensed what it was like to experience being punched in the face by him. Brave alters in our system lovingly put those two memories together, for us to feel the impact of this combination.
It felt like a small freefall. It felt like a love becoming a loss. It felt like a hope becoming a betrayal. And then it disappeared.
For those few seconds, we released a tiny piece of the deep inner divide that keeps our programming operating. That is what it took. And we can probably do it again.
I think the reason that we can do it now is that we have experienced some consistent love and support in our life today. Thus, the old sources we had for meeting our needs—the calculatingly cruel adults who raised us and kept us intentionally separated from communities of love—no longer feel as necessary in our life.
In addition, we are learning that they lied to us, about how to receive love. They made us believe that we had to be trained for it, and that we had to be trafficked for it, and that we had to think, act, and even look differently than we truly do. They made us believe that we had to become exactly what they wanted, before any love was even possible for us.
This has not been true. Not only did they sell us and keep the money, but in our recovery life, we have felt the most loved when we have been the most authentic. In our authenticity, we are the most reachable by love.
In our authenticity, we were the most threatening and dangerous for them, for our programmers and perpetrators. This is why they lied.
There was a specific thought that came to stop us from being able to further explore the ways in which this man hurt and betrayed us. It was the notion that he, too, was a slave.
How can I be angry at a slave?
How much of what he did was chosen by him, and how deeply was he trapped?
How much was he trapped by his circumstances, and how much was he trapped by his own fears or perceived limitations?
As a system, we feel that we will discover more about this as we move further through our memories. Perhaps it will also give us some insight into our own experiences of adult trafficking and forced perpetration. Maybe we will find some similarities between ourselves and him. And maybe we will find some differences. Maybe the differences will scare us. Maybe it will scare us to know that we have been raised by someone weak, and that his weakness perpetuated so much harm.
Maybe taking a full look at our earliest role models will truly terrify us, so we have to do it little by little.
We sense that if we realize he had other options, and he did not take them, we will feel betrayed. We will feel that he had valued his own self-preservation above ours, even when he had a body big enough and old enough to maybe help both of us. And maybe this will make us feel unloved, and unlovable.
We were little, and children are truly powerless and vulnerable. We figured this out ourselves by running away, as a small child, and finding that the institutions around us were all too big and too interconnected. We were surrounded, even when we were all alone.
It will get easier to feel the betrayal as we realize that we do not need him, or any of them, anymore. The only reason that we survived is because these perpetrators fed us. They trained us to handle attack (such as by an out-of-control perpetrator), but never to truly protect ourselves.
We are finding other ways of feeding ourselves now, though not without great inner conflict, because we are not sure whether we deserve to be fed.
Some of us want to get rid of all of the betrayals we carry inside, and all of the promises and agreements, all at once. Those of us feel this incredible disgust, that these places populate our inner world and are active. But the betrayals we experienced obliterated our self-worth, and its dust lies everywhere in great density, making it hard to move, hard to see, hard to breathe.
When we take the risk of being vulnerable and authentic, we feel ourselves taking the risk that no perpetrator or adult slave ever took on our behalf. We feel valued by ourselves, and we heal a little bit.
When others find value in us, when others empathize with the horror and sorrow of child trafficking, and when others acknowledge the reality of the global slavery of the small and the vulnerable, it helps to transform some of the thick dust that has settled in us and around the world, and we heal a little bit more.
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