“I’m so sorry, Geri. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
“Don’t be.” She shook her head. “Like I said – it’s in the past. It’s OK.”
She shrugged and her sudden calm frightened me. She seemed so distanced, so disconnected from it all. As if what she had gone through was the norm, nothing special – not worth thinking about.
“No,” I said quietly. “It’s not OK.” I steadied my voice. “It’s not OK at all, Geri.”
The above is an extract from DGB, from a chapter called “Honesty”, and it rings truer than I realised when writing it. The book is not an autobiography, but I guess it’s fair to say that there is a lot of me in it and to a certain extent I suppose it can be justifiably argued that the character of Geri is largely biographic, or at the very least semi-biographic. The way she acts and reacts is sometimes much more close to the bone than I was aware when writing it.
A prime example of this is the passage above. Geri’s behaviour, her way of acting, is what is really at the very heart of what I’m currently trying to work on; the sense of complete detachment from the traumas in my life.
I guess it’s a defence mechanism that’s kicked in to shield me from the raw reality of my own story. “If I don’t feel it, maybe it didn’t happen. And if it didn’t happen, then I’d be happy.” Something like that. That’s basically how I’ve got by all my life.
Only now I’m trying to break this habit of switching off, and it’s proving much more difficult that I’d imagined. I’m so skilled at keeping my guard up that I don’t really know how to lower it anymore, and more often than not I need someone to steer me in the right direction.
I’ve spent many nights throughout this past year on the phone with a friend of mine, and I’ve talked to her about things I haven’t really been able to talk about with anyone else before. There is just something about her that makes it possible for me to do it. Not only the fact that I feel she’ll be able to handle whatever I throw at her, but also that she has this way of listening with an intensity that is almost palpable. It’s so vibrant I feel I could reach out and touch it. She’ll hold back, listen and think, sometimes letting the silence hang heavily on the line between us for minutes before she’ll relay her opinion to me. And, during these nocturnal conversations I’ve come to see that more often than not she’s right. Not in the sense of her being right and me being wrong, but in the sense that her ideas and suggestions seem to link in very closely with what I need to be doing; they tend to be both valid and valuable.
I’ve found myself dropping off the cuff remarks, and rather than just letting them slide, like most people would, this very special friend of mine will hold on to them, examine them and return them to me in a more manageable form.
Counselling works a lot like this for me also. I make a statement, not really thinking it holds much meaning, and D. will grab hold of it, turn it around a little bit and help me explore it. Sometimes I’ll argue myself silly to prove her wrong only to leave our session and slowly, over the coming days, realise that things are exactly as she had suggested.
It’s not that I’m unintelligent or particularly blind to my own situation. It’s just that emotionally I’m something of a slow learner. Or rather, I learned some lessons much to soon, at a much too early age, and I now find myself struggling to unlearn them. And, I guess, like any scholar I need a mentor to point me in the right direction.
There are many, to other people, basic skills that I find myself lacking. Take trust, for example. I learned very early in my life that if you trust someone it can leave you enormously vulnerable. The consequence of this is, of course, that I avoid doing this. I keep people at arm’s length. They can come knocking at my door, and I’ll help them as much as I possibly can, standing on the threshold, but I won’t let them into my home. And I certainly won’t let them help me.
Or at least that’s how I used to be. I am trying, as I said earlier, to unlearn some of my habits. And I feel I have made some progress, especially in the trust department. Although I am still a far cry from being trusting, I do try to let people take at least a few steps into my life. And it makes a huge difference, I’ve found.
In a counselling session some weeks ago I said that I have always had very high expectations of myself, always strived to be able to manage everything I set out to do. Following this statement D. pointed out that it is almost the polar opposite to how I treat everyone else around me. That, in fact, I seem to never expect anything from anyone. She used herself as an example, asking me what I expected from her. At first I drew a complete and utter blank, and I had to really think before I finally came up with the answer “That you’re here when you’re meant to be here.” I didn’t express any hopes or wishes that she’d be able to help me or that she should care about what I tell her, care about me – nothing like that sprung to mind at all. And I think that says a lot about me. About the way I have been relating to people all my life. And I know that it is something that I need to make a conscious effort to change.
Luckily I am blessed to have a lot of people in my life who are more than willing to let me practise on them, who will hold on tightly to my hand as I test the waters for the first time in a long long while.