dignity of risk

Because all you can see from the outside is what we show and what we say, people are very easily tricked into thinking we’re doing okay. When we do this ourselves, they call it lying; when they teach us to do it, they call it therapy. All they can see is the same: a smiling face. crossed legs. someone who speaks up just enough, articulate and intelligent but without needs or identity. They call it recovery.

*

They look at your body and all they can see is sadness and fear. You wrote it there, years ago, for yourself, to try to scream to the world: I am sad, I am afraid. This is not what they see. They do not see anything–they feel the emotions I broadcasted to the world. They feel the sadness, voices dripping with pity I never asked for. They feel the fear, shying away, groping eyes unsure. Never bothered to ask me what I think, what I feel about it, instead projecting their own views onto you: it must be so hard with a nightmare of a body, it’s really no wonder you think you’re ugly. Nevermind that I don’t think I’m ugly. Quiet, girl, don’t you know that it’s only what other people think you think that matters? won’t you just let us fix you? it’s for your own good, just let us help, let us give us your sympathy for those scars.

They see what they think is wrong with me and try to fix it. I tell them, no, you’re making it worse. I tell them I don’t care if I have a body made of monsters, I beg them to fix what’s underneath. I tell them, I’m not a girl, I thought you were going to teach me how not to be quiet, how to care what I think, how to be free. They don’t listen. They never do.

They recommend scar creams.

*

I am monitored. The eyes feel like they’re in the air, pressing in on you from every direction, an oppressive atmosphere heavier than the worst humidity. I do not know how to say this. I am not allowed rope or sharp objects; my pills are doled out in small packets, twice a day, so I can’t overdose. Fear and pity, fear and pity, permeate the atmosphere. Danger to herself is whispered in hushed voices. The unspoken question hangs in the air as everyone’s emotions vacillate: Is she the monster or is she the victim? When I shower, my mom knocks on the bathroom every five minutes, ear to the door to make sure I do not stick my fingers down my throat while the rushing water hides the gags. They ensure I do not get even the smallest of self-destructive comforts.

It is supposed to help. That is what everybody says, that this is supposed to help. It’s for my own good. I can’t hurt myself like this.

I am once again working very hard to be neither. My training to be perfect student, daughter, friend is shown off as I become the perfect client. Compliant, that’s always the highest compliment that can be given. Compliant, meaning yielding, bending, pliant, submissive. Not assertive, not strong, not honest, not authentic.

I untie the noose hidden in my room, as per the contract, but I keep my razor blades, even though I don’t use them. A small resilience. A statement: noncompliant.

*

It is always in absolutes: Don’t do that to yourself. You’re not allowed. You’re worth more. Abstinence-only.

I want to tell them: How did you decide this? How did you decide what counts and what doesn’t, what’s normal and what makes you crazy, what is enabled fully and what is stigmatized, driven underground? It sure as hell isn’t our feelings about it–I’ve seen too many people, quietly miserable, hurting themselves with exercise or smoking or high heels or diets or alcohol or working while sick or even compliance to believe that. It’s how it looks to the observers. It’s the sorrowful silence when they see my body, the disgust at the vomit trailing down my chin when I wash up. It is the extreme, the primal: drugs and sex, blood and bones. That’s what gets attention, what gets you the heralded label of crazy. There are the things that you are required to do, and there are the things you are forbidden to do, and some of it feels pretty goddamn arbitrary from the inside but I’m not allowed to notice that.

They declare their ultimatums, and they have guaranteed one thing: that we will not trust them with our freedom, that we will not go to them for help. If we do hurt ourselves, or have sex, or do drugs, we will not know how to do it safely. They do not give us condoms, or replace rusty razor blades with clean ones, or tell us to gargle baking soda instead of brushing our teeth after vomiting. They do not do needle exchange programs or buy us extra-large bandages and burn cream. They tell us, as if it were easy: Stop. Don’t. Say no.

There is the unspoken threat: We will do whatever we need to to make this happen. We will take away your privacy and your freedom as much as we need to, so that we can make sure you’re never a danger to yourself. It’s all for you, really. Nevermind that I am begging for my freedom. Don’t you know, they say, that you are our prisoner? Don’t you know that we are doing this all selflessly, for your own good?

*

Because that’s what looks good. It looks like you’re not allowing dangerous behavior. Not, god forbid, enabling. It signals to the world: no scars here, no messy and imperfect freaks, no outbursts. Just a quiet, intelligent girl who doesn’t know how to say I want anymore. Doesn’t matter that you feel worse. You look better. No more behaviors. So you’re doing better.

(This is how they tell you, insidious as love, “your feelings don’t matter.”)

Dangerous behavior is everywhere. Humans invented roller coasters and skydiving and extreme sports. To control me with concerns for my own safety is to push things under the surface, to let them fester in the silence and distance that seems like it stretches on and on. If I do not have the freedom to say yes I have no choice to say no, to recover and grow and be kind to myself. If I do not have the freedom to say yes I cannot own my desires unashamed, cannot fight for my autonomy and rights. My own desires and boundaries are overwritten–too crazy to think for herself, to know what she wants, got to think for her (“not a her,” i say, quieter this time. barely audible). The ultimate control. Strip me of my personhood, my individuality, my bad decisions and the pieces of my identity that are jagged and sharp and inconvenient, and fill in the blank pieces with compliance.

*

It’ll make you better. The first step towards recovery is just following directions. Don’t be so hesitant–don’t you want help? You’re lucky. You’ll be grateful someday.

I know. I know. I should’ve known better than to think you’d listen.

*

I wish I could be free from the fear of this essay being used against me. Of a therapist reading it, getting on me about the razor blades. Of it being used as evidence of my insanity, as proof that I don’t deserve freedom.
I’m not. I’m so, so afraid. Fear and sadness. Fear and sadness. But this time it’s not because of what things look like–no. If it happens it will be cloaked in sugar and kindness. I will be the one in the wrong: bad girl. if you’d have just let us do what was best for you, this never would have happened. if you’d have just been more quiet.

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everything in this forest

Jupiter ♃: I want to touch.

Jupiter ♃: I want to be touched.

Jupiter ♃: I want to hurt.

Jupiter ♃: I want to be hurt.

Jupiter ♃: And if you feel the same way, you’re as bad as me.

 

 

Josie–her name was Josie, and we were four years old.

 

And she was my second friend, the first one I chose, and she humiliated me, and that’s how it was. That’s how I would be allowed to be her friend. And I was okay with it, and I told my mom over and over again, she is my best friend, and I want her.

 

Friendship is hurt, closeness is hurt, intimacy is vulnerability, love is pain. I learned these lessons in my bones. From as far back as I can remember I knew them.

 

Some people, when learning these lessons, decide to make themselves invulnerable, isolated, strong; I did the opposite. I decided that the love was worth it, every single damn time.

 

 

My memories after that are fragmented into bits, shattered glass pieces of my life that dig into me when I try to get too close. I wasn’t with Josie anymore, but I was with–I don’t know. I was with more people, more girls who are like her. Girls who are in my fifth period, now, who I stare at all period with tunnel vision and fear until the bell rings, and I am late in my homework because I am distracted and my breath stutters whenever she looks back at me because what if it starts again, and she was my friend.

 

 

The friend I talk about most on this blog tried to kill me, once, and I talk about that a lot. I don’t know if she meant to do that, but she did, and she did a lot more, too.

 

But what hurt me the most, what I remember the most, what made me truly, unbearably suicidal, it wasn’t that pain–physical and mental–she inflicted on me every day. It was the loneliness that came with her leaving and taking all of my friends with her, the whispers she spread through the school: don’t touch her, don’t be friends with her, don’t talk to her, ever… That was what broke me. I would go up to her and beg–you can do whatever you want with me, I promise, I’ll do anything, just be friends with me again. Love me. Come back.

 

And she said, “What do you mean? I’m not doing anything to you,” and she rolled her eyes at me and tossed her hair and turned her head away, and she would laugh at me and everyone would laugh with her, and that cut deeper than every lie, every fist thrown, every time she implied that I was ugly and worthless.

 

(And I couldn’t talk about that, for a long time, because, well. Not talking to someone–that’s not abuse. It’s normal. It’s fine. Attempting to kill someone, that’s bad, but bullying? exclusion? No. Of course not. Use whatever words you want, but make sure to shut me up. That’s just elementary school drama, no big deal. I’m making inappropriate comparisons. I’m trivializing things. I’m not supposed to have this experience, these feelings. I’m inconvenient. I’m not supposed to exist.)

 

 

I learned to love pain in seventh grade. Sure, I felt it before then, banging my head against walls in elementary school, scratching at my arm to try and draw blood, finally cutting myself with scissors and safety pins in sixth grade. But I didn’t love it until seventh grade: in the bathroom of my room, with a pink disposable razor, cutting it up until I could get the blades out. Waiting, baited breath, and then–slice–and then I could feel calm, and happy, and safe, and okay, my brain sparkling with light, and I fell in love. I cut myself almost every night; I do not regret it. I don’t cut anymore, but it made me happy, and kept me alive, and my scars are one of the only parts of my body that feel like me.

 

 

I remember being in kindergarten, dreaming–during the day and at night–of gore, of torturing my best friend, of betrayal, of deadly diseases and parasites that eat you from the inside out, and feeling the dread and bile rising in my throat and playing pretend with Maddie and playing the villains every time, feeling the sick want together to torture, to take apart, to take over.

 

I remember sometime in middle school: crying, screaming it can’t be THAT bad; and no, it’s worse; seriously, what did you do? i promise it’s not as bad as you think; i slapped him–i slapped a kindergartener–i slapped maddie’s little brother. And it was as bad as I thought, and all of my worst fears came true, and I almost killed myself that night, and my mom stayed up all night to lecture me but also to make sure I didn’t die.

 

I remember learning what sex was in sixth grade, and immediately, vivid thoughts paralyzed me, dreams and dreams and dreams, of gore and torture and betrayal and parasites and mutilation and then sexuality was added into the picture and getting aroused by it and concluding that I was irreparably, irredeemably evil.

 

I remember asking to hold my girlfriend’s hand, and she wasn’t ready, and she had been sexually abused by three different people by that time, and I asked as gently as I could if I could hold her hand, told her that I knew she didn’t want to be kissed and that I would never ever kiss her because of that but that I thought she was beautiful and I kind of wanted to kiss her for that, and she had a panic attack. And if that was enough to hurt someone–then my true self must be an unspeakable sort of evil.

 

I remember hearing that my existence is a trigger to one of my internet friends and relapsing. I remember reading about Scott Aaronson, and crying, and crying, and crying, and having a screaming panic attack where my mom tried to hold me down to keep me from hurting myself.

 

I remember hurting myself to punish myself for the fact that people out there are hurting worse.

 

I remember being a crazy, self-hating child. I remember being a queer freak, an outcast in a world that didn’t want me. I was raised on stories in which I was the monster, and I was at once afraid of that and sure of its truth. I was lonely, and I was reaching out, begging for love in the only language I knew: pain. Look, I cried, look at me, I can hurt you, or I can hurt myself, and won’t you see me then? won’t you love me?

 

But I stayed invisible, and I stayed alone.

 

 

I have feelings that I’m not supposed to have. When my close friend confessed to being a cutter, I wasn’t horrified–I was joyful (and my conscious guilt and horror over that secret joy was what propelled me into a year-long unhealthy relationship with her). I get aroused or find solace in things I’m told are degrading or disgusting.

 

 

In group therapy, a girl confides about her experiences with street harassment and sexual violence, and my first thought is: Why can’t that happen to me?

 

I have never been afraid of rape and I have never been harassed on the street for one simple reason: I’m unlovable, psycho, an ugly not-girl not-boy monster. And I would take that pain, the anguish, the soul-crushing trauma, over this–over being alone, unwanted, unloved.

 

 

Hurting someone, or being close to someone, involves closeness. Intimacy. And often I mean this in the physical sense–to choke someone, to rape them, to break their bones one by one, you have to touch them. As someone who spent their childhood undesirable, the children scattering, running away, nobody willing to spend recess with the weird girl, I took friends who punched me, who drowned me, who threw me to the ground, who twisted my wrist, because at least they would touch me. And sometimes I don’t–rape also goes hand-in-hand with sex, seen by many as an expression of love; psychological torture requires a knowledge of the most intimate workings of the victim’s mind; betrayal requires an initial trust and closeness. And I took friends who lied to me, who betrayed me, who gaslit me and insulted me, because at least they would talk to me.

 

 

As someone who spent a childhood being hurt and an adolescence hurting myself in fear of hurting someone else and a lifetime of not knowing that love and pain are even different things, of course I’m in love with pain. Of course I see it and love as so overlapping to be almost indistinguishable. Of course I want to say to someone I love “please, hurt me, love me and touch me, cut me and kiss me and let my brain sparkle with endorphins.” Of course I want to be able to take the power back, to be the one to hurt other people, and to be in control of it–for it to be something they like, instead of it being something that hurts them (a stupid decision or an accident or irrefutable proof that I’m a monster). Of course I want to be able to control the way other people hurt me–to say “please, touch me, hurt me”, and to have them listen, but also to say “stop hurting me, please, leave me alone” and to have them listen.

 

But I shouldn’t feel these things. I know. I know.

 

So I apologize for existing again. I make myself a little bit smaller, a little bit more ignored, a little bit less seen.

 

But I can’t stop myself from feeling, from wanting.

 

 

Jupiter ♃: But if it’s only what I feel inside that matters, what am I supposed to do?

Jupiter ♃: I can’t stop that kind of touch.

inertia

inertia: a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force

 

 

inertia: drifting or rushing or standing still, powerless to do anything other than what i’ve been doing, powerless to change the course of my life

 

 

inertia: learning the scripts, learning to dissociate and recite them, learning to talk less, smile more, learning to keep walking and keep your head down and your chin up, learning to hate yourself into silence, to keep doing schoolwork while your brain is taking a break from reality, and continuing on, keep going and going and going and going

 

 

inertia: eight years old, trapped, waiting, going to school every day, crying every day, realizing one day that i could just stop. nobody put the idea in my head, i just realized it: death, easy as falling asleep, stopping forever, not having to live anymore in this body, in this life, in this world that i hated

 

inertia: twelve years old, deciding i will die this year, it makes perfect sense, 4-8-12, counting by fours: starting school, starting self-destruction, starting suicide, wake up go to school don’t say anything that isn’t a response to a question, come home, do homework, smile, cut, sleep, wash, rinse, repeat until suddenly one day you turn thirteen and don’t feel anything except disappointed that you came this far, but you’re stuck in your pattern, as unable to kill yourself as you are to ask for help

 

inertia: fourteen years old, not sure how long i’ll live, bombarded by statistics of 48% of trans youth and 1 in 5 anorexics, and still holding my funeral fantasies close to my chest, casually letting my friends know how i want to be buried, what song i want to be sung, what i want them to say, just in case, because in my story i’m supposed to die young but i’m older than eight and older than twelve, living on borrowed time because every day i just wake up, go to school, stay quiet, stay on the script, smile, come home, do homework, cut, sleep, wash, rinse, repeat and i can’t break that schedule

 

inertia: fifteen years old, alive today because of inertia but trapped by it, trying to get free from the spiderwebs that force me to go through the same schedule, the same scripts, every day, the narratives that give me room to die young or else to keep getting by, but never to actually live, trying to break out of them and failing, failing, falling

 

 

inertia: saying yes because i can’t say no, saying i’m fine because i can’t say help me, saying a fake name as automatically as breathing, trying to go off the script and losing my words, my throat closing and choking and not letting me say anything that i actually mean, being articulate so you don’t have to listen

 

inertia: trying to say something i actually mean and being punished for it, being honest and being punished for it. admitting i have a problem and having my phone taken away for not hiding it, losing friends for “my name is sofia, don’t call me casey”, reprimands for rocking back and forth, criticism for getting Bs and being happy instead of being suicidal and dissociated and getting As, for talking too much instead of having panic attacks at the idea of speaking out in class, careful punishments designed to force me back into inertia whenever i got too close to being free, punishments designed to teach me what to say and who to be and how to stay there at all costs, even (especially?) the cost of my life

 

 

inertia: clinging to stories and to the internet, going and going and going and not stopping to let myself think, staying up too late on my kindle so sleep deprivation clouds my thoughts, desperately trying to stay out of my thoughts, reading and reading and reading, writing this because i can’t stop writing, writing desperately whenever i get better because i know it’s only a matter of time before i get bad again, writing this because i’m manic and paranoid and i can’t think, writing about my problems so i don’t have to face them, blogging and reading and chatting and not letting myself off my phone, avoiding and avoiding as the problems pile up and up and up, as they become bigger with every passing moment, as i need even more to avoid them because i can’t face the fear that grows exponentially with them, them trying to overwhelm me, and me turning my face away, because if i let my guard down for one second then i’ll notice what it is that i’m trying to hide from, an endless cycle of avoidance, a self-perpetuating trap

 

 

inertia: not being able to recover, taking steps forward slowly, with the help of adjusted brain chemistry and prompts from other people because i can’t do it on my own, knowing that i will be living with this for the rest of my life and not knowing how to do it because this isn’t in the script unless “the rest of my life” is short and miserable, searching for a new script and finding a couple, small ones, tiny stories from online bloggers, and keeping them secret because if i tell anyone then they’ll ruin it and i’ll be back to living without any script at all

 

inertia: knowing that i can survive anything, that i can stay alive, wait it out, get used to hell and keep walking until i get out, knowing that i can find happiness anywhere eventually and that i have no time limit because i can just keep going and get through it, knowing that i will survive the worst, knowing that i have time to worry about life because inertia saved mine

 

 

inertia: not being able to move for two hours, staying in whatever pose people put me in, frozen solid, an object at rest staying at rest unless acted upon by an outside force, being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, knowing that once I start moving I won’t be able to stop, remembering how to move my eyes and then how to move the rest of my body

 

inertia: waking up day after day, same routine, moving robotically, reciting and remixing and repeating scripts, punctuated by long periods of silence i taught myself trying to escape from the ridicule that followed me when i let my brain connect to my mouth, not acting unusual or out-of-the-ordinary ever, being unable to cry after years of being the crybaby, being unable to do anything except to keep going, each day exactly like the last, the last thing my brain clings to in a desperate attempt to keep me alive

 

inertia: pacing and pacing, writing and writing, 25,000 words of a story in a day, 4,000 words of essay in a day, throwing myself into books, not letting myself have any time to think because it hurts too much, talking to myself nonstop, pacing around a classroom, around my room, around the school, hours on end, not being able to stop, copying down essays and lyrics and chapters from books, translating them from code to code, tripping over myself in the library during my pacing and taking 15 minutes trying to remember how to stand, living life spinning around and around in a roller coaster and not knowing how to get off

 

 

inertia: wanting to do things when i’m stuck frozen

inertia: wanting everything to stop or just slow down when everything is happening too fast

inertia: being controlled for so long that you get stuck in a feedback loop, controlling yourself so they don’t need to do it, not being able to stop

inertia: wanting to have control over your own life, what you say, what you do

inertia: not having any control over your own life, your own body, your own words and emotions

inertia: not having your own life or body or words or emotions, just ones that are given to you

inertia: having a million words but not being able to say any of the ones that aren’t on a script, a narrative written for you in advance

inertia: not being able to do anything

inertia: running on autopilot and not being able to turn it off

 

 

inertia: losing independence, losing control, losing freedom, losing autonomy to nothing and nobody but yourself

 

 

inertia: wanting to die but not being able to

inertia: wanting to live but not being able to

inertia: wanting freedom but being kept captive by your own mind

inertia: saved my life

inertia: won’t let me live it