Inside My Shell

Unexpectedly speaking out.

What It’s Like 13 May 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — turtlesally @ 6:16 am
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[Possible PTSD Trigger Warning]

How you sometimes wonder if you’re just imagining it. Everything. Because you don’t really remember what happened anyway, and you’ve only just recently begun to entertain the notion that anything actually did. Because you have to reconstruct things based on an awkward combination of nebulous feelings and (mostly second-hand) outside observations. The intense dread of going down the stairs. Not wanting to see your friends anymore. Your father mentioning, years later, that you exhibited all the warning signs back then. Your therapist suspecting, but not wanting to plant ideas in your head. That sort of thing.

The way I’m still afraid of men who are both significantly taller than me and noticeably overweight. And I feel so bad about it because I don’t mean to engage in some kind of weight discrimination. I don’t believe that people are overweight because of laziness or lack of self-control. I don’t guess whether they’re unhappy with the way they look or not. I hardly notice a person who is overweight but my same height. And I have no fear of tall men, even especially muscle-bound ones. It’s just that when a man is both taller and further around than I am, I can’t shake the feeling that he can’t be trusted. And I know it’s silly, and normally it’s no problem, until we ever have to be alone in a room together. And then all I want is out, and never to see them again. The way I never understand that feeling.

The obsession with control. The uncertain feeling that if you ever were to lose control of your emotions, of your actions, especially if you were around other people, then something horrible would happen. The way you have no idea what that means.

The way everything over the past few months seems to have led toward figuring this out. Like you were being prepped. The way the words shot through you. When your director talked about the experience of people who go through sexual abuse and can’t remember it. When they mentioned it at church. When the people in charge asked you to consider that your fictional character was ‘abused’ and you panicked, even though they meant an entirely different kind.

I hate that word. Abuse. It’s cliche and painful at the same time; worst of both worlds.

You keep thinking if you can figure this out, you can put yourself back together. Like part of you is broken, and since you didn’t know how to fix it you braced it up and hid it so no one would know there was something wrong (wouldn’t want to hurt your resale value), and yeah, you’ve always gotten along just fine, but now it occurs to you that if you can get back down there and figure out how to fix yourself, how to use all of you, you’ll be so much better off. But things aren’t getting better. Do they get worse before they get better? Why is it always like that?

Story time. I’m browsing around online one day when I happen across someone who describes the (alleged) Johnny Vegas incident as something like “penetration with a single digit”. All of a sudden I am not quite OK like I was a moment ago. It doesn’t help that Vegas is large and heavily-built. He’s even got dark hair. I close the site; I get away from the computer. I have the weirdest urge to go to sleep; anything to shut my brain off for a while. And I do, I sleep for an hour, and when I wake up everything’s fine again.

Hours later I’m sitting with my boyfriend on the couch, watching a movie. For no reason at all, it comes back. You know the feeling you have when a spider crawls across your arm, and even after you brush it away, even a long time after it’s gone, you swear you can still feel it there, just in hints? Sometimes it’s like that, only it’s not a spider and it’s not your arm. But it comes in little flashes. Hints.

“Tell me something,” I say.

“Hm?” He’s in that boyfriend stupor, the one they get into when they sit on your couch with an arm around you, watching a movie.

Little ‘feeling’ memories. Nothing but impressions. Terror. Confusion. The dread I had of going down the stairs. “Anything. Tell me what you did today.”

I’m glad he finds my random request amusing instead of only strange. He’s telling me what he had for breakfast. I tell myself to listen. Think of the way his chest feels under your fingers. His tee shirt. Is that cotton? It’s got to be cotton. What was downstairs?

It’s nice that his hands are almost the same size as mine. I wonder if he’s embarrassed about that, about how his hands are small. But I like it. They’re not at all like…

Did someone ask me a question? I look up. He’s waiting for a response. “Sorry?” I say, unable to come up with something fake on such short notice.

To my relief, he laughs. “Never mind.” And then he looks at me. I hate it when he looks at me like that. And I always feel so guilty, because I know to most people a look like that is a compliment, when it comes from someone you find this attractive. When it comes from someone you trust. But it scares me, so I lay my head on his shoulder so he won’t notice I’m really just averting my eyes, and I watch the movie. I’ve seen this one before, haven’t I? And I try to breathe his rhythm, the outside-in approach to relaxation.

The way you can’t say what you’re really thinking. Because you aren’t sure it’s even real. Because you know no one wants things that are damaged. It’s everywhere, this idea that flawless things are just plain worth more, and you don’t want anyone knowing that you’re worth less than they think you are. Because no matter how much they say they won’t, they will see you differently. Because you’ve got to be able to prove something like that, haven’t you? Or how are people supposed to believe you? How are you supposed to believe yourself? When you can’t even give them details. Not about then. Only about now.

How most of the time it doesn’t even bother you. As long as you stay in control, and you don’t see or hear the few things that might possibly set you off. Which really means that most of the time it doesn’t bother you at all, not directly anyway. The way you tell yourself it probably doesn’t even matter.

That’s what it’s like.


2 Responses to “What It’s Like”

  1. Book Girl Says:

    Beautiful, beautiful writing about such a painful topic. You have a lot of courage. So much of this resonated with me, even though my abuse was never sexual.

  2. turtlesally Says:

    I’m so glad! And I appreciate your wonderful compliments. Personally I don’t think that in myself I am very brave at all…but I know that other people have written their experiences with these kinds of things, and that helps me feel like it’s alright to do the same thing. It’s also easier when you don’t use your own name. 🙂

    Thank you very much for reading it.

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