Thursday, March 24, 2011

Have You Ever Found Yourself In a Book?

Look out, people... It's about to get real up in here.

(Trigger warning: sexual abuse)

Watership Down is my favorite book, not just because it's an incredibly well-written, moving epic, and not just because my only truly happy memories of my dad were his rich bass voice reading it out loud to me and my 5 siblings when I was young (he read it to us more than once... just like the Bible), and not just because I felt a strong connection to the rabbit, Fiver, his helplessness, his strange too-sensitiveness and his knowing.

No, the reason why Watership Down is my favorite book is because it gave me a word for something utterly unnameable to me as a child. "Tharn" is a word Richard Adams used "to describe an animal frozen in terror," which was the closest thing I'd ever heard to what I felt like when I was molested as a child. I felt like my brain went somewhere else, but my body would just lie motionless as I stared off into space (at least, according to the part of one time I remember - I purged my memory banks pretty damn good of all that).

It may not sound like a big thing, but to a child of 8 or so who had no words to describe her experience (and who was never talked to about it in any direct, helpful way until the age of 19), and who felt the world was one big confusing mess of sound, color and sensations that she largely didn't understand [which I now know was because I have Asperger's Syndrome] - hearing part of herself identified in the words of another made her feel like she belonged in the human race maybe a little.

It also made me realize that I could find parts of myself in books & be comforted by the experience.

Re-reading Watership Down always feels like finding myself again.

Related posts:
Open Letter to a Ghost
Why I Love Comic Books

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Byron said...

For me its Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse.

Tharn is why you can actually catch rabbits (& some people) if you don't give up.

patientanonymous said...

Oh, I definitely wanted to come back to this one and comment! However, prepare for quite the long speech.

When I first read the title of your post in my feed, it was fleeting, as I was only checking my PA account quickly. Only later did I get the real story.

Initially, I thought it was a bit like identifying with a character in a book, and seeing a lot of qualities, characteristics, traits, then saying: "Whoa, that's me!" Not quite?

Now, for the heavy stuff. Plus, I have some personal contributions to add. Plus, I hope you won't mind me bringing in another diagnosis.

You are completely correct about a child not having the proper words to describe what is happening when they are being abused. Most definitely sexually, as they have no comprehension or concept of what "is sexual."

If they manage to get anything out, it may be a simple, "...feels/it's weird..." or some variant, thereof. However, so many more times. that won't happen. For at least for one reason, abusers make threats.

Not having words, or taking time to develop them, can also happen when you are a teenager, or an adult, as well. This is where I'm going to tie in a lot of what you said to PTSD--and me.

I'm not going to disregard having Asperger's, though. Hey, I have both! And I know Alexithymia issues, having them, too.

So, for you, there was so much of a rush, and an overload with your senses, being an Aspie.

For me, as an Aspie kid? Tough call. Due to a huge history of more trauma and my PTSD, I'm going with the latter. But I do know the Asperger's was still wrapped up in it.

The Alexithymia came out later, even though I obviously "knew" what happened. I couldn't express how it made me feel (that's Alexithymia if anyone doesn't know--incredible difficulty in finding words to describe how something made/makes you feel.)

Re: the PTSD, I just sort of stumbled through the events over and over, until I could finally say them more coherently.

Your brain going somewhere else, you just laying there, it almost feels like you're not even on the planet, right? Dissociation. PTSD. I know this feeling all to well when being sexually abused.

PTSD can (well does), act as a defense mechanism for you in this way. It protects you from hurtful and traumatic events.

PTSD is different for everyone, but I know I've gone off into dissociation land when I've gotten triggered.

Something's happened that's brought me a little too close to something else traumatic. Then, when it kicks in, it can also guard me from remembering anything else traumatic (a flashback.) Less pain! Maybe it will even keep me from getting any flashbacks!

I was actually in denial I had PTSD for years. I was in denial I had been sexually abused (and even raped?) as a teenager. You see? I STILL have problems naming, describing. Some people have said I WAS raped.

So then, we get to play the game of believe/blame, or who knows WTF, with "the victim." Well, I didn't say, "No." Well, it was kind of hard under the circumstances because...(and not just my dissociation, literal circumstances.) Can we take that into account before we bang the gavel?

All in, I am really glad that you did feel like you could "re-identify," with things by re-reading the book. It can be scary as all hell, but I feel you have to confront these issues in order to get ahead with your life.

True story. Recently in pondering a lot of stuff about the sexual abuse things I do remember, I found what I think is an answer to a problem in present day.