Sunday, 8 January 2012

What Lies Beneath

Someone wrote to me recently and what they said sparked me off thinking about appearances and reality. I have always possessed an uncanny knack for presenting well in even the most dire circumstances. In fact, in recovery I have found that my ability to seem confident, sorted and well have counted against me when I've reached out for help. People look at me and see nothing wrong - no help needed here! Move along! The reality, the damage, lies much deeper, can be hidden for the most part, though in extremis as of late my muteness and frozenness have been a little more difficult to stage manage. Dressed in long sleeves and gearing it up, meet the articulate, educated woman. Dressed in a vest top and playing it down, meet someone who's a little rough around the edges, a harder woman with tattoos and serious self harm scars. The language and the manner change to match.

Both are real, but which one is me?

Those are the public personas, and all the shades that lie between. I do believe to some extent that everybody adapts a little to suit their situation. The problem I have is one of degree. There are actually numerous personas my head flicks between, each one existing in its own right. I find it hard to remember quite how I am in one headspace if I'm in another. Cold, Detached, Savage, Angel, Emma, Destructive, Compassionate... The memory problem I find as I flick between personas adds to the fragmentation, the disconnection, my experience of life as a collection of snapshots, a series of events with little apparent connection, my difficulty with time. I find I lose track of days, that an hour can be a lifetime or else be gone in the blinking of an eye. Sometimes I look at the clock and an hour has passed, or more. I'm someplace else, gone, lost in a trance.

I have a love-hate relationship with my outward appearance of competence. There is power in wearing a mask. And I can be competent, so it's not a lie. Not always, anyway. Sometimes when I'm struggling, when the PTSD's bad I put on my outward appearance, Angel: hair done, makeup perfect, fresh clothes. Wearing it as a cloak, I interact with the world one step removed. I'm very well, thanks for asking, don't get too close there. But this mask, this cloak can also act as an iron maiden, closing me in, suffocating me - the metal digs into me and hurts me and it traps me there, alone.

I found this writing, something I wrote back in my drinking and using days, when I first felt myself splitting, found myself carved in two and me lost somewhere between, out in the ether. I fragmented further as things got worse, as I found myself beaten and sold. I became we, and we did what we had to do to get through. Sometimes all that can be done is to get through. Survival is everything, hour by hour, minute by minute, though one beating, then through another. Me but not me, there but someplace else, one but many, together yet apart.


I’d be sectioned if I told them what was really going on in my head, inside my mind. So instead I feign normality, humanity, I smile when someone cracks a joke, in fact I smile a lot, I’m known as the Smiley one, but it’s just pulling facial muscles, a dumb contortion of facial muscles that doesn’t mean anything, it’s just acting, it’s just pulling a face, just playing the part. I’m not smiling inside, and if they could see what was inside they wouldn’t be smiling much either.

Inside is darkness, brokenness and damage and a cloying, decaying sense of evil that feels somehow primeval and is shot through to my core. Don’t come near me or I’ll rub off my DAMAGE. I’m like putrefying meat, going bad from the inside out, this evil’s eating its way through me and the pretty smiling exterior just serves to make it all the more terrifying because if you met me just to chat with you might be mistaken in thinking there is Nothing Wrong and I’m a Lovely Girl. I see the devil sitting at the end of my bed. I want to inflict pain, pain like I’m feeling, I want to damage as I am damaged. I stop looking myself in the eye in the mirror.

I’m scared of myself and trust no one. I scorn the people around me. They see only what they want to see and that is not the real me. I am the consummate actress, the director, pulling the strings but they don’t see it. It is better, safer, to give nothing away, knowledge is power and I'm not about to hand that over to any fucker right now. It’s not that I lie, I just don’t tell the truth.

The divide between the Smiley me, the Normal me, that I present, and the Other me, my dark side, becomes cavernous. I feel caught between the two, detached and lost. I am living two lives, one visible and fake, one hidden but more real, those two aspects of myself meeting only because we share the same body. My body feels alien to me, separate from my mind and the darkness, just a canvas to etch with cuts, a vessel to indulge in the substances I choose, something I wear and flirt with and fuck with. My mind – that’s someplace else.

I am a voyeur in my own life.

I love and I hate the Smile, the Mask, it allows me to feel aloof and to pass unnoticed in a world in which I increasingly feel I don’t belong. I belong someplace else, someplace darker, and I find myself seeking out the dark and the dangerous. I flirt with it, it part scares me, part thrills me, it’s playing with fire and I know I’ll get burnt but I can’t leave it alone. I never can leave things alone: I’m an Addict, an Obsessive. The smaller part of me wishes people would notice, see my pain, see my turmoil, help me up and out of this Pit I’m in. But I’m way too far gone to be able to let people see the Real Me. My state is Unacceptable, and I know it.


It's slow progress, piecing Angel back together. I'm not where I was when I was when I was drinking and using, no longer the subject of chemical hallucinations and the added complications: I know now that what I'm dealing with is me, not the side effect of self medication. But in many respects it would be less painful, easier, to remain fragmented. Reintegrating involves acknowledging and experiencing the extreme trauma I endured as a battered woman, as a woman who was sold. At bottom, I want to be able to engage in authentic relationship with others, to not be alone, and that requires that I start with myself. Until I am whole I will remain at a distance, and liable to cause confusion and damage, to others who care and to myself. Trust is a big thing, to process and begin to heal and piece these shards back together, I need help. It's a tricky one. But I am getting there, even if it feels like one step forward and three backwards some days. I want to be able to say - what you see is what you get. Take it or leave it, but that's me. That's Angel.


  1. Angel, you are so brilliant.This is very powerful writing.

    Reintegrating involves acknowledging and experiencing the extreme trauma I endured as a battered woman, as a woman who was sold. At bottom, I want to be able to engage in authentic relationship with others, to not be alone, and that requires that I start with myself. Until I am whole I will remain at a distance, and liable to cause confusion and damage, to others who care and to myself.

    One of the things that was most difficult for me as I recovered from the trauma was being with kind people. I was so used to being with brutes and people who hurt me. I could handle them. But kind people freaked me out. It was an immediate fight or flight reaction. I guess I had this feeling that even though they were nice to me, they'd figure out how horrible I was (because that's one way of feeling in control -- to think we deserved the abuse -- it makes the world make sense). I felt sure that once they figured out how horrible I was, they'd turn on me with a viciousness that surpassed all abuse I was used to. Fear of the unknown I guess.

    The truth was I didn't deserve the abuse or cause it. It didn't happen because of who I was, and kind people would not ultimately react the way I feared. In other words that rotten feeling was an introject from my abusers.

    A very wise friend suggested that I make plans to spend small amounts of time with people I felt were wonderful, even if I was afraid of it. Let's say meet them for coffee for 45 minutes. Stay with my discomfort, my fear -- and ride it out. Because the only way my body/mind would learn it was OK to be with good people was to experience it -- go through the discomfort, and see that it was OK.

    It worked. It was excruciatingly difficult at first, but eventually I was able to let good people get close to me -- and I met someone I love i've been married to for fourteen years. It hasn't been easy -- I don't mean to say it's all roses. But it's do-able. My recovery was in large part getting myself acclimated to be in good situations with good people -- I didn't need to put the burden all on myself.

    What also really helped was learning to recognize when I was beginning to dissociate, even learning to prevent it sometimes. Before learning this I'd dissociate all the time without realizing it -- which made me a sitting duck for abusive people. I lost track of time constantly -- it's terrifying. It doesn't happen much now -- only when I'm really stressed, and I've learned to recognize the signs. I learned this from a wonderful therapist --

    I'm a lot older than you -- but I've learned to see the spaces between the fragmented parts of me as a kind of gift -- I have a different kind of consciousness -- in many ways I know more than most people. I wouldn't wish what I went through on anyone, but having survived it, I have strengths others don't. But of course, integration is good, especially integration of feelings. For me that came mostly from being with people who helped me feel safe. No one really does anything alone. Remember that. It doesn't mean you have to give anything up to anyone else until you're ready.

    Just my experience. Sending you so much love darling.

    I know you will do brilliantly. And I respect your experience, whatever it is. I'm not saying it's the same as mine. XOXOXOXOXO

  2. When I said no one ever does it alone, above, I didn't mean prostituted women aren't alone -- that's a huge part of our problem - that we are.

    I meant no one in a meaningful life free of abuse ever does it alone. They might think they do because they take the safety net of people in their lives for granted, but they are not.

    You are splendid.

  3. Wow, just wow. I can relate to so much in this post it`s crazy. I was a sex slave to a child sex ring and a lot of what you`ve posted on your blog relates to what I went through. Thank you so much for sharing, it helps me to know I`m not alone in how I feel.