Now it’s been years of seeking support through political groups working on accountability and therapy and staying committed to the process. The things I now understand about healing, in the wholeness of my experience, as both a survivor and a perpetrator, look very different than the ones that I've read about or that people have talked to me about, where it's healing only from surviving abuse or violence.
The three biggest emotions that I've had to contend with in that healing and transformation—and this is something that I've only articulated in the last month of my life—the three biggest things are guilt, shame and a traumatic response to being vulnerable.
I think those three things, in myself at least, are the sources for the self-hate. It took me a long time trying to figure out even what guilt and shame are. What the emotions are, what they feel like. I would read those words a lot, but without being able to identify the feeling. Someone told me that it seems like a lot of my actions are motivated by guilt. And that was strange to me because I never thought that I had felt guilt before. I thought, “Oh, well, I feel remorse but I don't feel guilt.” It was years of pondering that before I even understood what guilt was or what it felt like in myself. Once I did, I was like, “Well damn! That's actually just about everything I feel.” I just hadn't understood what it felt like before, so I didn't know how to identify it.
Now my understanding of guilt is that it's the feeling of being worthy of punishment. That guiltiness crops up when I become aware of the harm that I've done. I might engage in minimisation, trying to make that harm go away, so that I don't feel that guiltiness for it anymore, so that I don't feel worthy of being punished. I might try denying it—same sort of thing. Maybe I'm going to try to numb myself so that I don't have that feeling any more. Or maybe I'm going to make that punishment come to me, trying to bring a resolution to that sense of impending harm by harming myself.
Another thing that I can see in myself is trying to get out of that sense that harm is gonna come to me by dedicating my life to amending the harm. But the thing is that it's different from compassion, trying to right wrongs because of guilt instead of because of compassion. Doing it through guilt, I notice that I can't assert any boundaries with myself. It's like a compulsion, and it leads me to burnout. Because any time that I stop, that feeling comes back, and it's like, the harm is gonna come. I’m learning how to stay present with that difficult feeling and breathe through it. It helps me a lot.
As far as the shame goes, my understanding of shame is it's the feeling that I am someone who I cannot stand to be. I was at this workshop where somebody was talking about their experiences with addiction and said, “My whole life, when I was in the middle of this addiction, I had this combination of grandiosity and an inferiority complex.” You know, this sense that I was better than everyone else and that I was the worst scum of the earth. That's the manifestation of shame—that this is who I should be and this is who I really am. When I've seen myself in that kind of place, then usually I'm reacting to the shame either by trying to drown out that awareness of the side of me that's scum, and one of the primary ways that I did that was through finding ways of getting sexual rushes or something like that. And the other thing that I've seen myself do is trying to eradicate that part of me that's the scum. Mostly that happened through fantasies of doing violence to myself, targeted at that part of myself that I hated, that part of myself that I couldn't stand to be, and trying to rip myself into two. I think that's a lot of what was fuelling my desire for suicide, too.
One of the things that happened with the accountability process is that once I started talking to people about the things I was most ashamed about, and making it public, then that grandiosity went away. And instead I had to come to terms with this other understanding of myself that wasn't as caught up in illusions of grandeur and instead was this forced humbleness. Like, I'm a person and I'm no better than anybody else. I'm a person and I can also change. Through talking about the things that I'm most ashamed of, that shame became transformative for me. That was a really big aspect of healing for me. It required a lot of grieving, a lot of loss. That's something that I was going through during that first year when I was talking with people about it.
As I was talking with other people about it, all these possibilities were closing off in my life. I'll never be able to do this thing now. I'll never be able to have this type of relationship now. The world was less open to me. Like, I can't think of myself in the same way anymore. A lot of times I didn't have the capacity to really face it. But in the moments of insight I had, where I was coming to terms with it, I was grieving, weeping, over the things that I was losing because of the accountability. That was a big part of healing for me, finding and connecting with and expressing the grief. And also the grief over everything that I had done.
There are still some things that I probably will have to let go of but that I haven't allowed myself to grieve yet, some possibilities that I'm still clinging to. I've found that when I get on a power trip and find myself in this controlling attitude, one of the things that resolves that is if I can find a way to grieve. The power trips, the controlling attitudes, tend to happen when I'm trying to control things that are changing. If I can just accept the change and grieve ways that possibilities are changing, then that brings me back. I mean, I've come to terms with a lot of the things that I was grieving when I first started talking with people about it. I'm starting to be able to find ways in my life now to some of the same things that I wanted for my life, but paths that have a lot more humility in them. And I think that's one of the really valuable things that accountability has given me. Any time I start that thinking big about myself, then I bring it back to this accountability that I'm doing. It's helped me a lot, helping me find ways to stay connected to humility. That's something that I really appreciate about it.
The third one's a traumatic response to vulnerability. This is one that I don't understand that well because I'm just now starting to have some understanding of it. But like I was saying before, because of the violence that I've experienced in my own life, a huge portion of my life has been dedicated to keeping me safe. And for me, those behaviours have been enforced in myself through that same type of self-hate and violence. So if I leave an opening where I'm vulnerable, then that self-hate comes to close it down. If I ever mess up in a way that left me vulnerable, then I find that I start having all these fantasies of doing violence to myself. It’s a way of enforcing in myself to never let that happen again. I don't really understand it. One of the things that I've been working on more recently is learning how to be open to vulnerability. That's the last part of self-hate that I've healed the least.
One thing that my history of surviving violence has created is a huge dedication in my life to making sure that I never allow myself to be vulnerable. In the past, it's been impossible for me to allow people to see that I'm any sort of sexual being and has also made it impossible to talk about any emotions of importance. Or just asking for consent, there's a sort of vulnerability that's involved with that. So this created this wall that set me up to make it really, really hard to have consensual sexual interactions with anybody. In my family, we had no communication about anything whatsoever. I didn't have any models around communication. Now that I'm in a world where communication is possible, it's hard for me to convey to people what it's like to be in a world where that's not possible. For a huge portion of my life, there wasn't even a glimmer of possibility. These things that I was feeling, they weren't in the realm of talkability. It meant that I couldn't ever be present enough with the emotions to learn how to intervene. Any time they would come up, I would just try to eradicate them with all this violent self-imagery, without even realising what I was doing.