In my last blog, I wrote about the pieces of my self never quite making a whole. Now I will tell you why, and how arts therapies have helped me to heal some of those fissures.
I have always felt like I was missing things- information that I should know, memories of daily activities, and other things that indicated gaps in my world. In fact, I used to refer to the years of my life between ages 6- 12, as the ‘black hole’, owing to the fact that I really didn’t remember anything from that time. I had shards of memories, and flashes of recognition, and that was all.
And yet, I knew. I wondered why I had someone else’s memories on the inside of my eyelids. At least, that was how it felt to me.
Anyone who is familiar with classic signs of trauma will recognize this as a hallmark of serious, complex trauma: black out events, inability to articulate what is wrong when under stress or triggered, etc. Taken with other behavioural ‘symptoms’, they would be clues to all current day therapists that there are, more than likely, trauma issues on board. When I was growing up in the late 50’s and early 60’s, nobody was familiar with these topics. Nor were they aware of issues such as anorexia, that appeared as I got older.
So I layered many different coping mechanisms, one on top of the other, until I was utterly unrecognizable to myself as ‘Yona’. The coping mechanisms served as a means of pushing down memories of trauma, allowing only snippets of past experience to rise to the surface. And so it went, one day after another, and the next year to follow the one before. Patterns of trauma, creation of new, more complicated coping mechanisms and behavior meant to distract, were incubated during those years. They all became entrenched ways of being in the world by the time I was an older teenager.
The most debilitating of those coping methods, though not the most prominent one, was Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as Multiple Personalities). In the most simplified terms, this is simply a disconnect between our mind and body. We have all experienced the sensations of being ‘out of body’, from being ‘in the zone’ in an athletic endeavor, to finding super strength when called upon during an emergency. This is a natural way that our mind/ body protects us. DID, then, is a way to protect ourselves from pain, harm, and even from knowing.
Simplifying again, I created ‘others’ for myself so that I literally wasn’t there while traumatic events were taking place, the others took my place so I would be protected from pain, harm and knowing. I have described my adult experience of DID using a variety of metaphors: my own internal solar system, running up and down a steep stairwell, and none of the doors will open, to name a couple. (I will bring up my art representations of those at another time.)
I have also used the language that I use here- fractured pieces of a shattered image.
With this art, I tried to answer the question for myself: why can’t I see/ accept my aging?
The answer is simple. I have never really seen my own image staring back at me. My self, and my image have been preserved as the fractured pieces of others who stepped in to feel trauma for me.
While, I dare say, most aging people will tell you a similar story- they don’t know who the person is that they see in the mirror, or they don’t know when it happened that they got so old, there are some major differences. For me, weeks, months and years have been erased as I wasn’t in them. So even upon logical reflection, there are times when I simply can’t identify the process of getting older- the mirror was fractured, showing pieces of the others that didn’t seem to make a whole yona.
I have a very clear image of a memory that occurred just before my 12thbirthday (an indelible flash that frightened me for years). I was in my sixth grade class, June, and the windows that opened to the back lane behind my school were on my left. I could smell the lilacs exploding with their delicious scent; the first real sign of summer coming on. I was suddenly aware of the teacher yelling at me, and I hung my head in embarrassment. As I looked down, I noticed that the body that was attached to my thinking was not my own. This body had the swell of a young woman’s breasts. I felt panic rise. And then it was gone- I was gone again.
This was the first time I can pinpoint my recognition that “there was something wrong with me”. That is what I believed for many years, because I had no other plausible explanation as a child. It was scary and confusing, and I had no way of knowing that it was a natural function of trauma I had experienced, but I believed, too, that if I dared say anything to anybody, they would know for sure that I was crazy, lock me up and throw away the key.
This ‘altered puzzle’ is constructed of layers: paint, paper, tape and more paint… It is the result of attempting to answer the questions I have asked myself about who/ what/ why I see what I see when I look in the mirror. It is how I imagine myself as I try to heal the gashes in my persona. It is the understanding that this is who, and how I am: fractured pieces of a shattered image, glued back together with years of hard work and pain. I am the imperfectly reformed puzzle that shows where the pieces fit back with my lines and scars still showing.
As imperfectly perfect as it is, it is rich with love, humour, experience and joy that are sometimes hidden under the chiseled exterior.