The story of this blog begins, as all good adventures do, with a quest:
In May 2012, a woman stops. Already retreated almost to the beginning of herself, she thinks: “Only death could be more silent.”
It is not the first time the careful construction of her days has collapsed. Her life resembles a too-often-rebuilt bridge still resonating at the frequency of past traumas as yet unacknowledged. Always she forges a new prosthetic self, a new stuttering engine of dreams and hope to propel her mind forward another year (or, if she’s lucky, a few) before her life crumbles once again.
She is tired of masquerades. She decides to find her own self instead.
This blog records her journey back into voice.
Into my voice.
Of course, this is simply the telling of the story of the story-that-became-my-blog. Events were actually far less poetic, and far more jumbled and chaotic, as they transpired. In a nutshell, after a year spent wrestling myself into and out of suicidal ideation, and following three serious attempts in one month that landed me first in a psych ward, then in intensive outpatient therapy four days a week, I decided to start a blog.
As a means of proving to myself how Totally Recovered And Fine I was now, y’see.
That first post—written 3 years, 5 months, 13 days, and 236 essays/ poems/ articles/ observations ago—seems faintly prescient now, what with its humorous threading of gender and cultural issues through the weft of patriarchal family patterns and pain. But my most recent post, written already 7(!) weeks ago now, belies every early assertion I made of quick or easy resolution. On that day, I was working through “yet another well of despair…another unresolved pocket of pain and grief.” The essential thing, I reminded myself, was to focus on every positive, no matter how seemingly small.
Yeah. That was then.
And now? Wellll…
For any of you who read the last pages of a book first, let me spare you the suspense: neither today’s post nor my recent hiatus signals the end of Coffee and a Blank Page! In fact, once I can get back to a regular writing schedule, you may not even notice much difference (then again, maybe you will). But I am uncertain what its function for me will become, over the next months and year.
I’m barely certain what I’ve just become, myself.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Narrator: Alice! A touch of backstory, if you please!
Alice: Yes yes, you’re quite right, to be sure. Mustn’t let the story run away with me entire, or no one will have any idea what I am talking about. Nor why I am even bothering to do so! Let me see, let me see…how best to explain…
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Over these past 4 years, I have learned a certain formula to manage my recovery. First I trip over something broken in my head—like a crack in my thinking, or a missing piece of myself that I can’t manage to function without. Next I go back to the earliest point I can think of when the break might have happened. I revisit memories, sort through any files or records still in existence, talk to people who knew me at that time about whatever they might remember: about me, the situation, the broader contexts. I write it all down in narrative.
And then, if I’m lucky, change happens.
Often the change is something small, like noticing the physical sensation of my hands growing cold. On rare occasions, the mental break itself heals and my brain undergoes a radical transformation: the return a set of emotional memories I can suddenly access, for instance, or cognitive functioning I can suddenly control again. The best analogy I can give is a glacier calving icebergs, but in reverse. There’s a deafening boom, the impact of a shock wave hitting…and now the icecap is larger, more complete, than it was an instant earlier.
And, I now know, on the rarest of rare occasions, one may have a day like I had 45 days ago.
On Saturday, November 19, 2016, at 2:00 in the afternoon, I fully recovered.
From, like, all of it.
All of everything.
All of everything all the way back to the beginning.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Instead of a single BOOM moment reverberating across a frozen ocean, this change came in a rushing torrent. That Monday, I did the last of my intentional memory spelunking, and on Tuesday and Wednesday gabbled my frenzied way through the reconstructed narrative to my therapist (one regular appointment, one last-minute “holy carp I need to get this out NOW or I may literally explode” emergency session). I slept, hard.
Woke up on Thursday like this:
And then, over the next 48 hours, the following:
- My body felt like mine again. Full sensory awareness, full motor control.
- Everything about how I ate changed. [Took a day—or three—longer to fully revamp my refrigerator to keep up. But still!]
- My circadian rhythm returned to normal. [By which I mean: the wake-sleep schedule I followed my entire life until the ex decided, some 13 years ago now, that going to sleep when I got tired instead of waiting up with him another 3 flippin’ hours would mean I was a bad, BAD person.]
- I began craving exercise. It suddenly made sense how to walk around without re-inflaming the ankle injury that has plagued me for over a year.
- Getting tired at night no longer made me scared. It just made me, y’know, tired. And so I went to bed.
- Getting hungry no longer made me ravenously angry. It just made me feel, y’know, hungry. And so I ate. [Ditto with full bladder, physical pain signals, etc.]
- I began sleeping straight through the night, consistently for the first time since I cannot even remember. [Five years, at a minimum.] Now I’m back to: in bed by 9:30, asleep by 10, awake by 6. Like clockwork.
- I started reading books again. Easily. Pleasurably. And without sobbing uncontrollably the whole time. [Fiction, scifi, critical theory, memoir—I have not language to describe how deeply the loss of books has pained me, these past four years.]
- I DREAM AGAIN. And not just big, flashy, remember-it-all-when-you-wake-up dreams, either. That drifting, gauzy haze of dreaming that evaporates just as you begin waking, the details dispersing like foggy tendrils in dawn light. [Understand: I have been aware that I could not dream normally since taking part in a dream study and having it professionally confirmed. Back in NINETEEN-FREAKIN-NINETY-SIX.]
- The scars that cover my body shocked me, as if I hadn’t spent the last 14 years being just this scarred. As if I hadn’t spent the preceding 11 years putting all those scars there. [For days, a glance could take my breath away. I wept grievously for the pained soul they represent, who still does not feel entirely like she was once me.]
- I realized I was no longer responding to men as dangerous. Or as anything, really, other than just other human beings.
Most important of all, I remembered everything about my own history. It all makes sense to me: what happened, how I got lost, how I got back. Like a haze I have been squinting through, ever since the events of that summer when I was 18, suddenly cleared. And all the cognitive fracturing and dissociation that I have lived with and compensated for—ever unwitting even as the issues grew more entrenched and severe, year after year for decades—corrected and dispelled.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
I’ve been surfing emotional shock and turmoil for six weeks now. Waves of grief, with all the rage and sorrow grief entails, at 25 years stolen from my life. Piercing, almost ecstatic hope, at the possibility of a future life in which I—fully as I am—actually make sense.
When I finally could manage putting any of this in words, I began chronicling the continued fallout of my reintegration on Facebook:
Every day since Nov. 17th continues to be one of the weirdest, most freakiest days of my life. Extremes of everything from beatific gratitude to profound grief; cascading memories and emotions so overwhelming, I am frequently brought to my knees. I can go from gasping sobs to pealing laughter, all in the space of time it takes to put on my shoes. (Granted, putting on my shoes ~does~ take a bit longer, in this frame of mind.) Lay in bed an extra hour the other day, just moving my limbs back and forth, marveling at the different textures and temperatures of the sheets against my skin. Put my hands to my face, and I can feel both sides of the touch. Which is, like, whoa…
All this, and I still remember everything. And it all makes sense.
Is this how most people live most of their lives? NOT terrified every time they get tired at night, NOT furious every time their body gets hungry—reading a good book NOT making them wish they were dead…? Holy hells. If that’s really the case, I get now why people consider being alive a good thing. Or, certainly a preferable thing.
Now, if the world could just spin a teensy bit slower so I could catch my breath…that’d be greaaat…
Update from the ongoing saga of my sudden cascading return of memories and self-awareness: on Day 22, I realized that my name feels like my name again.
I am glad to have all of my memories returning. I am truly gladder than I can say. Unsurprisingly, however, not all of the memories are glad in and of themselves. [TW ahead:]
Today, mid-afternoon of Day 23, I got back full memory of the first rape—the one that happened to a girl on the far side of what became a gulf so wide, I have hardly even thought of it as an assault, let alone as mine. The one where I actually ~did~ fight back. The one where I screamed. The one that left me with handprint bruises across my thighs for weeks.
The one that taught me not to fight back again. That there’s no point.
So, glad as I am to be capable of remembering even all of THAT in full technicolor and surround-sound, I do believe I’ll be retiring to my kitchen for the remainder of the day. If you’re in my area, grab a plate and stop by! I anticipate cooking enough to feed an army for a week…
DECEMBER 12 [State of the Memory Cascade, Day 25]
I’ve been trying to tune this out, but honestly? The soundtrack in the back of my head has been running a series of questions on a loop: ‘Where did the last five years just go? Who the fcuk is “Alice Isak”? Who wrote these things? Who bought these books? Like, where the HELL did those five years just go??’ [REPEAT AD INFINITUM]
I mean, logically I ~do~ know. And I’m sure that all the bits of my brain will get on the same year eventually. Like the part that started pulling out a bunch of dusty books on the history of sex ed this afternoon (suddenly enthused about a project I forgot in 2006), or the part that shifted into writing French halfway down a page for no reason (a language I haven’t written in since 1992). I mean, I’m sure this will feel normal—or at least marginally less freaky—any day now. But in the meantime, I really just want to know:
Where the hell did the last five years just go??
DECEMBER 15 [State of the Memory Cascade, Days 27-28]
I looked in a full-length mirror yesterday [looked again today and yup! The effect is persistent]:
I SAW MYSELF.
Holy shitballs, y’all. I mean, instead of just a jumble of pieces (leg, shoulder, ear, you-get-the-idea), my brain processed what I was looking at as complete body/full human person. And I recognized that person as being ME.
Woahhhhhhhh. I cannot begin to describe how weird and amazing and disorienting this feels. So I will restrict myself to a simple: SUCK IT, all you psych researchers convinced that severe [ie, onset prior to age 16] DPD is a permanent, untreatable, unrecoverable disorder.
Behold the recovery, mofos.
I’ve settled on my next tattoo being a forearm quote: some snippet of language to represent and encapsulate a profound truth of my life. One option up for consideration is a line from Margaret Atwood’s poem “Spelling” (which is all about language and witchiness and women’s bodies and the force of knowing our own names):
“A word after a word / after a word is power.”
Proposed to me just yesterday though, via a most thoughtful and perspicacious gentleman on Twitter, the other top contender manages to succinctly encapsulate another eternal aspect of my personhood. To wit: “Proud Libtard Feminazi.”
So you can see why I’m completely torn.
[By that last one, as I’m sure you noticed, a bit of my old mojo and equilibrium starting to return!]
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Now here I am, on January 2, 2017.
I’ve got my work cut out for me, in terms of recuperating from the financial, professional, and physical damage that comes with five years of functioning as another person, under another name, living in gods-know-who’s body. But those are just details, requiring time and steady effort to address. What I also have now is an infrastructure of hope, confidence, and self-assurance, which no amount of time or effort guarantees us.
I have a mind that works again, and that feels completely mine.
I have dreams again, in every sense of the word.
Of course, here we all are, on January 2, 2017. And a thin-skinned, lying, manipulative, corrupt narcissist (see also: misogynist) (see also: racist) (see also: rapist and serial sexual harasser/assaulter) (see also: religious bigot/Islamophobe) (see also: professional cheat) (see also: willfully ignorant and dumber-than-a-box-of-hammers on any subject other than his own self-aggrandizement) (see also: wait, did I already mention “rotten with corruption to his core”??) is about to assume the authority of president of the United States. The kleptocracy has already begun. The worst impulses of a nation founded on genocide and slavery are being given free reign over all three branches of government in the most heavily-armed empire this planet has ever seen.
So, y’know, there’s that going on too.
I don’t yet know how I am going to respond to all the challenges of this year. How I will face them as a writer, as a feminist, as a survivor of sexual violence, as a white USian? As a newly-sutured human soul?
My memory project has at last come to its conclusion. What will take its place in my life remains to be seen. But if I had to take a guess?
Whatever I decide, the work will look something like this:
after a word…
after a word…
after a word…
I hope you all will join me on this journey too, wherever it leads.
# # #