i turn to alcohol now.
i wonder if they all know what they’ve done.
it’s death by a thousand cuts.
not one instance bad enough to do any real harm.
but thousands of off-hand comments,
of nasty looks,
of berating me every morning,
of commenting on my personality or appearance during the day.
of course i’m not talking about one man alone.
one night stands.
you’ve fucked everything up.
i already had
OCD, MDD, GAD
how many more can we add to the list?
is that the final nail in the coffin?
i think it is.
because now it’s alcohol. or valium. or cutting myself.
just to get through.
and i can’t do it anymore.
it’s ruining the one thing that’s ever meant so much to me.
it’s ruining me.
and i am lost.
how was i ever to find my way out,
of this dark tunnel,
if the only source of guidance,
was your gaslight?
3 thoughts on “gaslight”
Storms – I read this with great sadness that you are in such pain; we both know alcohol, valium, cutting, only have power when there is huge pain to be switched off.
The gaslighting you describe is strongly reminiscent of my own experiences, especially from family members.
The stinging rebukes of those men in your life are not in any way, shape or form any kind of truth about the beauty of your femininity, your sexuality, your artistry, your intellect, your very heart and soul; they are just adverts for their terrifying insecurity in the face of the beautiful power of your womanhood.
Often when we try to take back our power, and be who we are, against daunting odds such as you have had to face much of your life, the distress and anxiety increase, because we are changing the deepest parts of our being, our selves that are built of countless sedimented interactions with those who were supposed to love and care for us regardless, but didn’t. Those who vilified us and forced us to wear so many hats, and crushed our own truths to make way for theirs, that we were denied any realistic opportunity to cultivate our own true selves, robust enough to take on the world and succeed occasionally, to love and be loved.
And so one can easily fall prey to the fear-driven hostility of such badly-frightened men. Like the subject of the phone call 11 years later?
Don’t overlook the fact that facing down some of the things you have been through, the evil violence you have been subjected to through no fault of your own, represents a massive re-wiring task for the brain. It is cataclysmic change.
Thus it is no coincidence that your anxieties are resurfacing at this time – you have successfully undertaken two gigantic psychological renovations – your coming out and that phone call in ‘slow motion.’ Perhaps you have been through some other powerful change process recently as well?
Could be that you are sat on a particularly uncomfortable fence between the brave REAL new you and the gaslit victim of your youth? One side offers the short-term relief of alcohol, valium, cutting, and the other offers the uncertainties of an unknown future – ‘and I can’t do it anymore’. So the good news is that deep down you recognise that the old sources of relief can never work again, which then puts the fear right back up, because a once-trusted coping strategy is dead and gone and the future is uncertain. But a bigger part of this is also your growing recognition that the gaslighters were wrong. Their opinions are completely irrelevant and worthless. Could it be some of your anxiety is actually sublimated rage, that the gaslighters made you suppress for so long?
This is why gaslighting is so toxic; it fosters the habit of assuming the negativity is the truth. But obviously for you it is the other way round. Could that be another reason for your anxiety rise – ‘it’s ruining the one thing that ever meant so much to me?’ You have at long last arrived at a delicious beautiful truth and starting to feel frantic that it is going to go wrong. Perhaps it feels too good to be true?
That gaslight can go in the trash where it belongs because you now have something so much better – your burgeoning self-acceptance. Temporarily under-rehearsed perhaps, but she will soon catch up and experience growing delight in disturbing and then mastering her universe. It takes enthusiastic and diligent practice, just like every other skill.
Your relationship shows that you are actually winning. Don’t forget, for your partner, the love and intimacy of being with you was as delightful and heartwarming for them as it was for you.
So I think it is actually wrong for your final stanza to say ‘now it’s back to reality’. The reality of your life is much, much more the love and warmth of your mutual companionship, as recently experienced in Greece, not the subsequent separation. (And also the impressively high quality of your writing.)
The more you put your head above the parapet, the more you feel shot at; but often times the snipers are not for real, they are just an internalised habit of deprecation by others, another black echo, that was put on you when you were powerless to resist.
You are blameless here.
Could your fears be more about what you never got in childhood rather than what you have lost in adulthood?
My perspective is that BPD, MDD, GAD, OCD, addiction, depression, anxiety, are all things one does, not things one gets. They are typically driven by unconscious processes which is why they can feel beyond one’s control and thus so alarming and overwhelming.
Their real purpose is suppressing the fear of annihilation that bubbles away underneath conscious awareness with such energy that it threatens to upset the equilibrium of the conscious experience of oneself. They are a kind of safety valve that kicks in to preserve the threat of overwhelming feelings, like rage, that would have been the natural response to trauma, including neglect, experienced by a fragile developing mind in childhood, that the child could not, or was not allowed, to express at the time. Like trying to put a lid on an emotional volcano.
Eventually the ‘symptoms’ develop as fearing the fear starts to become worse than that which is being suppressed.
However, whilst the power of the threat is over estimated, because it is subjectively experienced from the perspective of the terrified powerless terrified child, it is occurring in the here and now of an adult who has the power to understand much more deeply, and thus change her perspective.
The secret is self-acceptance. As clinical psychologist Dorothy Rowe explains in her excellent book ‘Beyond Fear’ (pp 382-384):
“The most terrible fear we can experience is the fear that our identity, our self, is about to be annihilated. We sense ourselves falling into chaos, into emptiness, a withering away, a disappearing a wiping out. Where there was once a person will be a nothingness. We defend ourselves with whatever comes to hand. Some people even kill their bodies in order to preserve their self.
We can kill our own body, but we cannot annihilate our self. Our self can be annihilated only by other people.
Other people can annihilate us only if we give them the power to do so …
The way we give other people to annihilate us is to see other people as more powerful than us, as more valuable than us, as better than us, as having the right to criticize us, to talk down to us, to insult us, to deprive us, to punish and to injure us.
We give other people the power to annihilate us when we do not value ourselves.
If we value ourselves we are not impressed by the claims to power that other people make. If we value ourselves we see ourselves as being as valuable as other people. If we value ourselves we see ourselves as the equal of all other people. If we value ourselves we accept helpful advice, but we do not accept destructive criticism, or allow ourselves to be belittled, or insulted, or deprived, punished or injured …
Tragically, most of us were taught as children that we were not good enough. We grew up not valuing ourselves, and thus are for ever giving to other people to annihilate us.
Other people do try to annihilate us. They may not wish to wipe us out as a person, but they want us to know our place, not argue, be obedient, accept their definition of reality and abandon ours. We can go along with what they want, and be, if not annihilated, never ourselves. Or we can decide things for ourselves.
There are two main problems about deciding things for yourself. First, it means you can’t blame anyone else when things turn out badly. (But you can take the credit when things turn out well.) Second, other people can get very angry with you for not doing what they want.
Valuing yourself is a risky business.
Which risk is preferable? The risk of making your own decisions or the risk of not valuing yourself.
Undoing the training of our early years, when we learned that we weren’t good enough, that we had to be good to earn the right to exist, and never even think about, much less question, why and how we were taught this, is not easy. If you have spent all the years you remember feeling that somehow you have to prove yourself by your achievements, or that you have to earn the right to breathe by working hard in devoted service to others, for if you don’t prove yourself to be brave, or a winner, or a hard worker, some vast hand will come down from Heaven and pick you off the face of the earth like a flea of a dog’s back, and cast you into nothingness, is this is simply how you have spent your life, then deciding that you are simply going to be and that you accept your being is a revolution in thought that you aren’t likely to achieve in the twinkling of an eye.
Though some people do do it, just like that. They say to themselves, ‘I’m not going to go on carrying this load of shit that other people have dumped on me over the years. I’m dropping it now.. They are free, just being themselves.
But some people, I find, don’t even know what I am talking about when I say, ‘Just be yourself.’
So we have to begin by asking, ‘Do we have the right to exist?’
If we exist, we have the right to exist.
We do not have to ask anyone’s permission to exist.
We do not have to thank our parents for creating us, for we did not ask to be born. We can appreciate the love and care our parents gave us, but if they demand that we owe them a debt of gratitude which our lifetime will never be long enough to repay, then they are demanding that we give up our self for them, and that is a price no parent has the right to demand.”
In this context parents who scorn and ridicule their children’s artistic ambitions, like music, drama, poetry, whatever, or the truth of their sexuality, are in effect demanding the child gives up a big part of themself in order to appease the inappropriate parental expectation that the child is there to meet the parental need, and not the other way round. which can so easily be unconscious.
I think often that parenting can sometimes be the ultimate example of meaning well but doing it badly, typically because said parents were similarly treated in their own childhood.
Take care Storms, you are so worth it!
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Again, thank you so much for your kind words and your thoughtful response to my work. And again, I find myself crying at parts of your comment because it rings so true.
The words you are saying and the advice you are giving are like therapy to me. I cannot thank you enough for always supporting my work and taking the time to give such thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.
I will certainly look into that book that you’ve recommended and give it a read.
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Storms – Thank you for your kind words. I am delighted to help.
I discovered Dorothy Rowe when I was a patient on a locked ward all those years ago. It is the one book above all others that helped save my life, as it gave me such useful insights, and I still dip into it occasionally even to this day. She also wrote ‘The Successful Self,’ a sort of follow up, and several books about depression. Theoretically, she is descended from Szasz and Laing.
Much of what I have said on here, if not actually verbatim, is my version of the gospel according to Dorothy Rowe, especially my replies to ‘splendid suspension’ and ‘a shit scrabble hand of mental health diagnoses.’
I too have been deeply moved by some of your posts – they articulate things that I don’t always acknowledge so easily – and thus I find writing my replies means I have to think things through in a way that can be quite challenging, but always worth it.
I love reading your stuff. You are a brilliant writer.
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