My ‘River of Life’ is the River Lethe

Hi all,

Eek! I realized today that even though it feels like just “a couple of weeks ago” that I last wrote a blog post, it has actually been a full month! ADHD: it means all time is either “now” or “a couple of weeks ago.”

I think I alluded to the fact that my sibling had been ill with covid-like symptoms, and he had been having more challenging behaviors as a result. We couldn’t get him tested because the county the One-Horse Townhouse is in is ridiculous and still – nine months on in our global pandemic – won’t test anyone who doesn’t have a fever. Even though we all know folks by now who have had covid without having the classic fever. Even though my Partner and I were among those who had fairly ‘classic’ covid – with loss of taste and smell! – without running a classic ‘fever.’ Because we run low in temperature normally. And we absolutely shared that with One-Horse County public health officials.

Well, the “ill” part is over, but he has had more seizure activity and bit through his lip during one of them while recovering. And, he has continued having more challenging behaviors this past month. And, that remains challenging to deal with for medical care when there’s been both two holidays wherein Americans want to pretend covid doesn’t exist since then and, simultaneously, healthcare appointments for non-covid non-emergency issues like the mild reconstructive surgery are harder to get because covid continues to exist anyway.

And, yes, there’s a covid vaccine now. So, of course, the 9th Circle of Hell has…absolutely no plans to distribute it with priority to group homes! Even though residents of group homes are just as vulnerable as residents of elder care homes! Because the 9th Circle of Hell truly doesn’t care about the disabled! But, hey, at least the One-Horse Townhouse is working with us, instead of against us to deal with the bitten-through lip issues? And, they managed to handle their covid exposure without any true outbreaks among their residents? For once, the 9th Circle of Hell not giving a damn about their vulnerable isn’t directly screwing my family over. It’s just reminding me that if the One-Horse Townhouse ever goes out of business, we’d be screwed.

There is, though, – and probably always will remain – still a folder on my desktop entitled “Nuke [The Real Name of the 9th Circle of Hell] and Spit on the Glass” on my desktop. It is what I call my folder for dealing with official paperwork from that state. I will still, I’m sure, end up yelling – completely unsuccessfully, I’m equally sure! – at public health officials from that state in an attempt to get group homes included on the priority vaccine distribution list. Because other group homes haven’t been as okay as the One-Horse Townhouse these past nine months. But, given I’ve been through 2018 and prior years, I will also simultaneously count my blessings that, at the end of 2020, I’m only yelling about the 9th Circle of Hell on behalf of others and because its very existence stresses me out. Not because it has put anyone in my immediate family into dire crisis this particular year.

But, did I mention that the very existence of the 9th Circle of Hell stresses me out? That any mention of the 9th Circle of Hell – even if it isn’t actively destroying my life at the moment – stresses me out? Because there’s still a part of me that always feels like the life I built for myself is the dream, and that someday I’ll end up back there broken and defeated just like my childhood taught me I would? Because there’s still a part of me that thinks I’ll never truly escape that place? So, I do my best never to think about that place when I don’t absolutely have to?

Well, I know I’ve mentioned that on this blog a time or two. I certainly hadn’t ever mentioned it at my current workplace though. And, I certainly never planned to.

Except that my work in the past couple of weeks decided to hold “social justice” training. That somehow involved all of us doing weird pseudo-therapy like exercises wherein we were made to dive into the “impact of our own childhood privilege” on our beliefs and values if we happened to be white (while BIPOC were part of another ‘circle’ wherein they explored their own social justice issues.) Which led to a glorious disaster wherein several folks in my ‘privileged’ group shared extremely triggering trauma stories of their own that they clearly weren’t emotionally equipped to have to dive into in under those circumstances. And our trainers required everyone in the ‘privileged’ group to draw our ‘Rivers of Life‘ from childhood on to share with our coworkers. In a big public speech with everyone in the group watching. Which, of course, sucked balls for the roughly 1 in 6 of who, statistically, in that group have four or more childhood ACES. And, who didn’t particularly care to share the details of those ACES with Joe Schmoe from the office down the hall. For a couple of coworkers, sharing specific details of their ‘Rivers of Life’ led them to near tears and to seeming what I, at least, would call a little ‘dissociated,’ but which they called, ‘a little weird feeling’ by the end of it.

For me? Well, it led to angry ranting. Because I can’t share my ‘River of Life.’ Because my ‘River of Life’ is, for all intents and purposes, the River Lethe. Because I’m so dissociative that I can write literal poems about how much I hate the 9th Circle of Hell that I later can’t even remember ever writing until I find them again a year later, but it’s a coin toss on any given day whether I can wade through the thick glass that separates me from from years of my childhood (and 2018 and….) to even share a coherent drawing (or blog post!) about it.

For me, that ‘healing circle’ for social justice led to my responding to a question about my childhood beliefs and values worded, “When did you first realize that not everyone belonged in their childhood culture the way you did?” with:

“Pretty much the day I first started remembering anything, I assume. Because I never belonged there a day in my own life, so it was never that much of a cognitive leap to assume that there could be others who wouldn’t belong there, either. Yes, my area was exactly the sort of place you assume it is by looking at me now. White, upper middle class, extremely non racially diverse. Extremely insular and judgmental. You just made a very incorrect and non-trauma-informed extrapolation when you then further assumed that – because I am also white and my family of origin was also upper middle class – that that meant we belonged. There are so many more ways to ‘not belong’ than you seem to realize. And, by failing to realize that, you’ve forced 1 out of 6 of us to relive things that you both clearly can’t truly comprehend because you never had childhood trauma without any of the proper scaffolding or support to appropriate to ask us to relive those things. And, that’s just wrong. Yes, I’m sure it would have totally sucked to be any sort of member of a racial or socioeconomically marginalized group growing up in my hometown in Hell. I have no trouble whatsoever believing that. None whatsoever. Mostly because – since the place I grew up in was so incredibly non-diverse that they didn’t have even have any representatives of those traditionally marginalized groups around to discriminate against, they looked for basically any conveniently available marker of ‘difference’ to define their in-groups and out-groups. And, one of those differences they found was, ‘the autistic/ADHD freak girl with her even freakier sibling.’ So, after facing such intense bullying that I had to literally leave my first school because of what my peers threatened to do to me with (no absolutely no repercussions from school staff), then learning early on that if I said anything about what was going on with me in the rest of my home life to anyone, I’d only be leaving my sibling to the mercy of the system, I decided that I hate the state I grew up in. Enough that I have a folder on my desktop entitled ‘Nuke [The Real Name of the 9th Circle of Hell] And Split on the Glass’. Because I never belonged there, and I don’t care to remember that. So, if you don’t mind, I don’t think I’ll be answering any more of your questions about ‘when did I learn that not everyone belonged like I did‘ in my idyllic childhood today. Because my childhood was far from idyllic, I never belonged, and I don’t need this training to teach me to treat others like human beings. Thank you very much.”

Or, at least, that’s what I think I said. Internally it was what I said, at least.

Because did I mention I had a less than idyllic childhood? Or that I’ve hidden that fact for most of my life – from very little on – to protect others from some very non-idyllic things that the 9th Circle of Hell still lets happen in the present? To the point that I’m dissociatively fragmented as a result? So, I am more than capable of going on a several minutes-long rant about how not trauma-informed it is to hold a training wherein the default assumption is that everyone ‘belonged’ as a child, and yet I may still only half remember any of what I said during it afterward? Those half-trained ‘trainers’ of our ‘healing circle’ dove head first into some pretty intense exercises – some of which I’ve even tried to do in legitimate trauma therapy previously and found too much – without any idea of what they were doing. And, without any seeming ability to comprehend that ‘privilege’ is inextricably bound up within intersectionality, and it’s entirely possible to have a lot of privilege on one axis and a lot of trauma on another.

My Partner – who also is home during the day because covid and was kind enough to listen in off of my visible Zoom screen window to support me through what he knew would be an incredibly difficult ‘circle’ – said that the session overall was a spectacular disaster for at least a few folks who shared more than they were ready to share in public. But, he also said I did a surprisingly good job of ‘self advocating’ for why those questions were inappropriate. And, that I mostly sounded ‘upset but firm and well-informed enough to call them out.” (Though, he does tell me that I only half-managed to say everything I thought I said in the quote above out loud. I was coherent. And, I said mostly stayed on the themes above. I sounded ‘professional’ while being upset. What I actually said word-for-word, however, will forever be lost to the dissociative recesses of my mind. Because apparently I spoke a bit too fast for him to accurately record it for me.)

I refused to present my ‘River of Life’ to random strangers giving a half-day b.s. training and my still-mostly-strangers-because-I’m-socially-awkward coworkers. I simply refused. And, I’m proud of myself for doing that. After seeing what it cost some others to share, I felt like the most trauma-informed thing I could do in presenting my ‘River of Life’ was to present the radical idea that the most important part of confronting all the many, many things wrong with U.S. society at the end of 2020 should be adhering to the absolute and inalienable rights of those people who have experienced trauma – whether community, systemic, personal or all of the above – not to have to share their trauma story with anyone except those they choose. No one has the right to silence a trauma survivor, but no one has the right to force them to use their voice in a way they don’t feel comfortable with, either. The right to not speak is as critical to healing as the right to speak.

I didn’t particularly want to choose to have to explain dissociative fragmentation of memory to two random paid consulting ‘trainers,’ or to have everyone I have to work with day in and day out know about parts of my life I’d, frankly, rather not have to think about on a daily basis either. I truly believe that at that moment – in that particular ‘healing circle’ that wasn’t very ‘healing’ at all in the way it was led – not speaking was the most socially progressive thing I could have done. Because by explaining why I was choosing not to speak, I opened up that option for others. And, I know at least one other person chose to take that option.

But, as I told my therapist, afterward, I also know that there was more than one reason why I didn’t choose to speak. One reason was because I shouldn’t have to. And, I wanted to enforce that I shouldn’t have to on principle. The other reason was because I wouldn’t exactly have known how to, even if I did feel ‘ready.’

The instructions for the ‘River of Life’ were to tell the coherent narrative of your life, with all the smooth parts, whirlpools and rocky shores therein. I…can’t exactly do that. Because I am dissociatively fragmented. I only ‘know’ my own trauma story like an old-time silent movie I can watch sometimes in my own head – through a very weird warped projector – with most of the emotion siphoned off into splinters. I’ve spent the past two years of trauma therapy (since the Crisis of 2018) trying to map the way my trauma brain works. Because if (when?) there is another crisis in Hell, I need to have a bit more control of my own mind than I did during the worst parts of 2018. I’m pretty sure if you read carefully some of my more intense blog posts from 2018, you’ll see subtle evidence that I am a bit piecemeal in my own brain. But, I have only formally ever alluded to the fact that I am my own unique version of dissociatively fragmented on this blog.

Because the whole reason you end up dissociatively fragmented is that it’s safer just not to say some things. And, that means it’s actually incredibly hard to organize your own brain to actually even say that it’s hard to organize your own brain. It’s actually incredibly hard to acknowledge that you can have a situation wherein you aren’t sure how much of what you ‘said’ you actually ‘said’ versus just mused about to your own personal Greek chorus.

Which, for some reason, started bothering me this month. For some reason – although I absolutely do not wish to share anything approaching my true ‘River of Life’ with random coworkers – I kind of would like to share it here. With a drawing, like we were originally instructed to in that ridiculous ‘healing circle’ at work. Because I draw now, and it’s soothing and grounding even though I suck at it.

I have spent a month trying to figure out what the ‘sharing of my River of Life’ on this blog would even mean. What I’ve finally decided is that I have no idea what it would mean, and a month is longer than I care to go without writing a blog post. I like my blog. I don’t exactly know how to write the post I want to write – the post that would be what I’d ‘want’ to share, if ever I did ‘share’ a River of Life – but I don’t want to just ignore that I wanted to try. I couldn’t quite either bring myself this past to go ahead and write my River of Life, but neither could I quite just ignore the whole thing and go on writing about other topics instead.

And, I kept thinking – because ADHD – that I had time because it had only really been ‘a couple of weeks.’ Except, now it has been a month. And, I would like to actually keep this blog going in 2021. So, I probably should post some content before 2020 ends. Which leads me to here. A blog post in which I simply admit that I can’t write or narrate a ‘River of Life’ – even though I’d kind of like to – to ‘own my story’ because my River of Life still remains the River Lethe.

But, I do draw now. And, I did actually draw a very sarcastic verison of my ‘River of Life’ as my own form of grounding exercise while listening to other people share their trauma stories. Given the wonders of Zoom calls in the era of a global pandemic, it is surprisingly easy to draw off screen while still being ‘on’ the meeting. Especially when – as part of the ‘healing’ – all circle members at my work training were allowed to have their cameras off to prioritize the one sharing their own ‘River of Life.’

I drew my ‘River of Life.’ I just didn’t share it with anyone at my work. I have no desire to ever share it with anyone at my work (and that’s okay.) I’d kind of still like to share it here.

I still don’t quite know what ‘sharing it’ would even mean. Coherent trauma narratives are not easy when there are multiple traumas both past and recent present, and my brain wants to slide off most of them. But, have the drawing I made. It probably does a better job than the past 2500+ words I’ve just written of explaining my ‘trauma narrative.’ Enough of a better job that I am not even going to give this drawing a formal series marker in my ‘Where’s Whoopsie’ series. Because, in theory, I can’t make a ‘mistake’ in the telling of my own trauma narrative, even if I do have to keep a reality journal just to keep my life narrative straight sometimes. And, that, probably, is the point of this whole post? (And the past fourish sessions of trauma therapy I’ve done with my therapist to address why this whole ‘River of Life’ exercise affected me more than expected ‘even when Hell isn’t even winning right now’…)

<Image>: The rivers Acheron, Cocytus, Phlegethon, Styx and Lethe flow from the Caves of Hypnos. They divide Gaia from Hades. The Rivers are labelled with questions from a ‘training’ that the speaker is attending that she doesn’t know how to answer, such as what it felt like to ‘belong.’ The speaker, Lavender, invokes her own internal Muses and asks them to help her to narrate her own story. They reply “What if we’re not sure either?” Externally, she speaks at a podium in Gaia and introduces herself with, “Hello Earthlings. My name is Lavender, and I come in pieces…”

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out my Glossary of Terms.

9 thoughts on “My ‘River of Life’ is the River Lethe

  1. “…the most important part of confronting all the many, many things wrong with U.S. society at the end of 2020 should be adhering to the absolute and inalienable rights of those people who have experienced trauma – whether community, systemic, personal or all of the above – not to have to share their trauma story with anyone except those they choose. No one has the right to silence a trauma survivor, but no one has the right to force them to use their voice in a way they don’t feel comfortable with, either. The right to not speak is as critical to healing as the right to speak.” ~ YES! I agree!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve missed reading your posts.

    I’m left with a couple thoughts here. One) your brother is incredibly lucky to have you. I mean it. A part of me thinks you go through the motherly motions with him not thinking twice about what a toll that takes, because well, life goes on, but it really is commendable. I know you don’t share for praise but I also feel like it’s important to hear – hey it’s awesome you’re being a good human. 🌸And two) recently I heard someone on tv say ‘compartmentalizing is the key to life’. And I thought why yes, yes it is. I doubt there’s a single therapist that would agree but it totally works for me. At some point the trauma has to be put somewhere neat and tidy so you can go on living, and not for instance unboxed at work. What were they thinking?? I wouldn’t ever, in a million years, share such details at work. Sounds like someone came up with a marketable packaged idea, based off numbers and not people, to sell to HR departments with no forethought of the toll it would take on people’s minds, outside of their box. The problem is not all of us grew up in Mayberry.

    Hoping this year brings you and yours a peaceful year. 🌸

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Gotta take some time to process this one. I’m furious for you. I know my emotions are easily amped up to holy-crap-intense levels due to, well, everything damn thing going on right now, so i’m taking a minute to breathe, and maybe have a bit of a cry. Also, i’m having trouble writing through this intense fog, and this might help that, as well.

    (Don’t worry about the crying part – it’s been days coming and it’s for me, mostly. My body’s been trying to discharge and i’ve been resisting. Getting upset for you is helpful, actually. It pulled me out of dissociation. Sorry if that’s an overshare. I’m foggy-brained lately.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Actually, I get that. Reading others’blogs and seeing how much easier it is to see that they deserve more compassion than they inevitably give themselves, or that they are beating themselves up for *others* violating their boundaries or something is honestly a good way to remind myself a) how far I have come (that I can recognize they where they are taking on emotional responsibility for something they don’t deserve to) and b) that if I identify with their blog enough to read it regularly, there’s probably a reminder in there to show the same wisdom to myself!

      Liked by 2 people

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