Alienated from shadows, butterflies, and waving ferns


window view

Photo: view out one of the studio windows. I’m going to plant it with many kinds of flowers.

This feels strange. I’m still not used to living with so many windows. My nervous system is not yet familiar enough with the world outside them to be fully comfortable.

For instance, I frequently turn expecting a threat at the nervous system level, only to realize at the cognitive level the threat was the movement of the ferns in the breeze, the flight of a bird or butterfly, or the passing shadow of a cloud.

I’m reminded of that scene in “The Piano” in which Ada, having stopped speaking many years before, following a traumatic event, after which she was a mail-order bride.

In her new life, she’s with Harvey Keitel. Actually, the character Keitel plays, George Baines. Ada is alone in a Victorian living room, practicing making sounds with her body. She’s learning to speak all over again. For reasons left up to the viewer to determine, Ada wears a black lace veil or shawl over her head. She moves around the room as if led by her hands. Sounds from her mouth make the black lace billow.

Many times in my recovery from recurrent psychiatric and medical abuse and neglect I have felt something like Ada. Like I have to learn basic skills from scratch because my nervous system was so damaged I could no longer access those neural pathways. So damaged by psychiatric abuse I could not even hold a paintbrush. I lost numerous other capacities, too. Too many to list, and too painful to bear.

Also like Ada, I feel there are words in me yet unformed, a voice that still needs to come forth. Like I’ve been isolated in a faraway land for years, and as my doctor described it, I am now “reentering the culture that caused me tremendous harm.”

But this, the sense of having been so tremendously alienated from shadows, butterflies, and waving ferns! The concept is difficult to integrate in part because of the profound level of isolation I experienced. Three weeks into my new home I’m still discovering how much. I’m also discovering the return of my capacity to experience feelings I have long missed out on due to the dysregulation of survival mode. In the last week or so I have felt glimmers of joy, peace, and even little whispers of the sense that it’s good to be here.

This year has already been one of tremendous change and forward motion. The improvements in my quality of life are largely due to my determination and focused attention, but also my commitment to “never stop talking it,” as the great Maya Angelou advised us.

“Talking it,” telling the truth about my lived experience no matter how unpopular, helped me land in this cottage. I had told it to the landlord when I encountered him in the forest years ago and had no idea who he was or would be to me. Talking my truth also helped me develop a very safe and integrative relationship with my most beautiful doctor, which has fostered my capacity to build integrative relationships with other doctors. I gained two additional good doctors by telling my truth and teaching the neurobiology behind it.

Telling my story is pretty much all I have left. Everything else was stripped away by abuse and neglect. Cruelty and contempt at the hands of caregivers and others in positions of power. How we treat each other changes who we are.

This is why I can no longer accept compassionless medical practitioners. Compassion is the number one healing modality. If the relationship is not integrative, it is not healthcare.

I can also no longer accept any other meaningful relationship that is not clearly integrative. The social status of the relationship is meaningless to my nervous system. I simply need to be with people who treat me well. “Treat me well” is a double entendre.

Here’s to reclaiming and building the neural pathways for safe connection in my new environment and into the wider world.

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