I am not sorry to see 2014 go.
That said, I wouldn’t trade the year I’ve just passed for anything. Not for all the tea in China. Not for love nor money. Not for nothing, no way no how.
Certainly not for 2013. During a party last new year’s eve, I won a round of the ever-popular(-but-not-remotely-healthy) game, “I bet my terrible year was worse that your terrible year,” with the line: “I spent four days in June locked in a psych ward — and that wasn’t nearly the lowest point!”
My 2014 was very far from that terrible year.
Of course, it was also far from the year I anticipated, after last December drew to a close.
Heck, it was far from the year I anticipated needing after last December, a month in which I confidently declared, “I’m going to give myself the next three weeks — all the way until January! — to do nothing but get this whole rape/trauma thing resolved.” At which point, I figured, I could enter the new year primed and ready to return to life as it had previously been. Goals all set, head all shrunk.
I hear my inner children sniggering as I type these words. Turns out three weeks was…insufficient.
For most of my life, the turning of the calendar year always felt affirming and full of possibilities. A fresh start, clean slate, blank page, choose-your-metaphor kind of time. Even before scribbling in notebooks became my committed habit back in ’94, I took time each January 1st to write out a vision of the year to come. Nothing radical: diet and exercise dreams, repeated (I suspect) almost identically year after year. Dreams about career and school. At rare intervals, even ideas for relationships or romance.
It didn’t matter that these were not resolutions that I kept. These were not even pages I ever glanced at again. I wrote them down to experience the feelings of openness and possibility and hope that such writing gave me.
I’m not planning to do any dream writing this year. (Even if I change my mind, it wouldn’t appear on this blog.) But conversation with a friend on Monday reminded me of the importance looking back can have, too.
It occurred to L and I both, as we did our standard eating-sequentially lunch (one of us spills her guts…er, talks intently…while the other eats her sandwich, then when the first listener is down to her last fry and the speaker’s grilled cheese has long gone cold, we switch), that we have lunched like this, right around New Year’s, each of the last three Decembers. Each time has come after a long, though unintentional, gap in contact.
After hearing me describing thankfully the radical changes in my head just over the last three weeks, L reflected on how I appeared to her both two years ago (“bad shape. Like, frighteningly bad”) and just last year (“even worse”).
This year? So much improved — both to her judgment and my own — that a comparison feels almost impossible.
Ain’t gonna let that stop me from trying, though.
alice at the end of 2013
I stopped sleeping in October of last year. Too many unwelcome insights and too much unpleasant remembering to handle all at once.
That first month without sleep was rough. I remember one “evening” (it was actually about 4 in the afternoon) when I so desperately needed the day to end that I took myself to bed with a tumbler full of vodka, which I then chugged until I passed out. [Let me reassure you, if I can: there was a touch of soda in there too — and a splash or two of a lovely peach-ginger shrub I had recently made. In an effort to remain a (relatively) responsible middle-aged drinker, I also pre-dosed with some Excedrin and brought a bottle of water to bed, together with my vodka.]
By December, my body refused to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time, especially once it was dark out. I did not allow myself daylight naps, thinking if only I got tired enough, surely I would sleep. (I dropped this policy in January as a failed and futile effort.) After three weeks on little more than 2 hours sleep a night, I must have looked like a drooling zombie.
Gods know I felt like one.
In an effort to understand the problem — also, yknow, as a means to pass all that time from 2am to 6am, as the days and weeks racked up — I used to stand in the bathroom and stare at my face in the mirror while talking. Part after psychological part floated to the surface and took control of my throat: arguing, cajoling, demanding, exhorting, insulting. I listened intently, unaware until the words left my mouth what thoughts rattled through my skull.
My brain, in addition to protecting itself against whatever danger it clearly felt nighttime sleeping posed, wrapped itself in mechanisms for defending against other threats, commonly known as thoughts and memories. Against daydreams, too. In the middle of journaling about a difficult issue, I’d find myself losing consciousness uncontrollably: great if one is at home and in bed; less great when one is sitting in the middle of a crowded coffeeshop at the moment her head suddenly droops to the table.
Still, I preferred such momentary blackouts to the alternative. Starting that November (and continuing through April of this year), I had near-constant hallucinations about knives and razors slicing into my limbs. I felt the blades, saw the severed flesh, smelled the blood.
And then there were the fantasies. Me, in a room filled with friends and acquaintances, and some man — a person I imagined I knew from a fictitious past, which I had lived under a fictitious name — who was determined to harm me. Each day this happened had its own particular script, usually no more than two minutes in length, played in a constant loop. On a good day, the man might be a sniper stationed across the street, and I would almost get out of the building, my hand reaching for the door to the street, before I returned to the starting point and found my friends again in danger from bullets targeting me.
On bad days the man bludgeoned me nearly unconscious while my friends watched in silence.
[I tentatively described this experience to a group last fall, unsure which troubled me more: the visions themselves, or the possibility that everyone thought this way — and I alone felt bothered by this universal phenomenon. I’ll never forget the therapist’s response, as he bellowed joyously: “That’s fantastic! That’s your brain protecting itself!” He then added, in a more conversational tone, “It’s also mild psychosis.”]
Throughout 2013 (and much of 2014 as well), the person I had been — the one who responded to my name; the one whose professional experiences appeared on my resume; that person whose actions and emotions I remembered once claiming ownership of — felt inaccessible. More than that. She felt traitorous, dead, decayed.
I could no more step into her head, or even make myself want to step into her head, than I could reanimate a corpse cobbled together by Frankenstein from grave-robbed remnants.
alice at the end of 2014
Just in general, everything has improved dramatically from this time last year. While sleeping through the night remains a challenge (oh, such fond memories I carry of that May night when I slept eight hours all before dawn!), I now typically get five hours: still less than I need, still profoundly more than I was getting.
Three weeks ago, though, everything radically shifted. I feel like I imagine actors feel, when they experience “overnight success” — that moment that redefines all others as either before- or after-, despite being itself the product of long-sustained (and now seemingly-invisible) effort.
Thing is, I’ve been running a low-grade anxiety about this new year’s for the last six months at least. Since the events of four years ago, as each New Year’s Eve approaches, I get progressively squirrellier. And flashback-ier. Last year I thought I finally had myself under control by the night-of, mingling sociably at my friends’ shindig, drinking no more than a small rum-and-coke, perfectly fine — until suddenly I wasn’t. At ten minutes to midnight, as we all filed into the street to watch fireworks, I made my apologies to the hosts and skedaddled. I got home just in time to break apart in heaving sobs.
All in all…not an evening I care to repeat.
Writing it all out for the blog in early December was a move explicitly designed to make tonight easier. That process, and its aftermath, have unexpectedly yielded so much more. Something settled in my head — or simply moved out — leaving, suddenly, room.
- I am able to read books for the first time in 18 months. Today, two more chapters — and I’ll have finished a third novel.
- I have stopped needing Netflix streaming my apartment with constant sound and voices, especially through the night. In fact, since the ALL-NIGHT TV NOISE was a habit begun by my ex, this December marks the first time in over six years I have experienced simultaneous silence and darkness in my home without a sense of dread.
- A few nights I have even woken up aware that I had been dreaming: those gentle, daily sorts of dreams that evaporate as soon as one attempts to remember their details.
It feels as if the last remaining broken-off piece of my mind became suddenly accessible again, an experience difficult to describe. Like an iceberg calving away from a glacier, only in reverse: a sonic boom reverberates, and the whole becomes larger, more complete, than it was moments before.
Or perhaps it is like accessing a long-abandoned apartment, left in a hurry by someone who intended to return but never did. Other than a thick layer of dust, all objects remain laid out as if their owner were expected home at any moment: hairbrush still sitting on the vanity, breakfast dishes in the sink, the bed unmade. I walk through its rooms, in this section of my mind I fled as disaster struck, picking up each thought and memory with startled recognition. Oh, yes — I remember now, how I made that decision and never regretted it… And look! I had forgotten this too, this love that drew me to teaching…
I don’t know how to end this post. To write of daily living is necessarily to slice artificial divisions through an organic whole, and today I am feeling everything that is the opposite of divided, or tidy, or conclusive. So I will pass the task to someone else. Please dance along with me, if you like, in your own grace or awkwardness.
And as we dance, I hope you feel how you too are loud, and beautiful — and so so brave, as are we all who face the days that find us.
“I Feel Like This Post Deserves…” is part of an ongoing memory project.
Additional installments can be found here.
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H/T to Dances With Fat for introducing me to this song and video. Lyrics can be found at link.