It’s a question my therapist at Riggs asked me.
I was curled up on her couch crying–this happened several times a week, at least at the sessions where I wasn’t pissed off and ranting. I told her everything hurt, that I couldn’t be around people or even leave my room most of the time because it was too painful. It hurt so much I thought I would die.
No one had asked me that question before, not really. I expected people to hurt me, even when they told me they wouldn’t. (I have an unfortunately clear memory of an ENT telling me what he was doing would be “a little uncomfortable.” He didn’t tell me he was putting acid on my eardrum; I passed out from the pain. And there have been so many other cases like it.) No one had asked me that and really wanted an honest answer.
I don’t remember what I told her. I knew at that moment she wasn’t hurting me, but I knew she had at other times. But I also knew she cared deeply and fiercely about me, beyond what she had to. She was the first person who’d ever cared enough to ask the question.
Hurting people is such a hard thing, and I have huge issues around it.
When I was around 5 and my sister was around 3, my father told me I had to choose whether he’d rape her or me. I couldn’t choose; I froze; I dissociated. I was Sparrow, able to fly but still trapped in that room. My parents’ bedroom. I remember the blue-green glass and nautilus shell piece hanging in the window. And then he put his gun to my head, and I wasn’t Sparrow anymore, fluttering desperately at closed windows. I was back in my body.
Any time I’ve read something about having a gun pressed up against you, they talk about the metal being cold. What they don’t tell you is it doesn’t stay cold very long. Your skin warms it up, reminding that you’re still alive, for the moment.
I remember pain. I was still raw and sore from the last time[s] he’d raped me. I knew it would just get worse, and I couldn’t stand more pain. But there was my sister, and I loved her. All the times she’d ruined my Lego metropolises didn’t matter anymore. I was the big sister, and it was my job to protect her. But the pain was so bad. I couldn’t bear the thought of lying in my bed with its cheap pastel-striped comforter while Daddy hurt me again. I just didn’t want him to hurt me again. Just a little break, just for a little while, just so it won’t hurt quite so bad.
Daddy was getting angry. There was a metal click. I couldn’t know if the gun had bullets, but at the time, it never entered my mind that it might not be loaded. I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want to hurt.
I chose my sister.
He made me watch. He took us down to the bedroom we shared, and I had to watch. So I was Sparrow again, throwing my body at walls and windows in the futile hope of escape. There was never an escape.
It’s the one thing I’ve never been able to forgive myself for. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to. I don’t feel I deserve forgiveness, especially from myself.
I swore to myself after that time that I would never hurt another person ever. Nice idea, but impractical in execution. We all hurt each other. Usually we don’t mean to, but we do. It doesn’t make us bad people, but I couldn’t see that. I punished myself for hurting other people, and I even punished myself for having hurtful thoughts about people. I tore myself to shreds.
Even now, it’s hard. I’m past the extremes, but I still struggle with putting my own needs first–I feel like telling someone know will hurt them and keep them from getting their needs met, so I don’t do it. I apologize too much. I assume that my very existence hurts other people.
But pain is not always a bad thing. When my therapist asked me if she was hurting me, the answer was “Yes, but…” I needed that pain. Hell, knowing she cared enough to ask was incredibly painful because no one had ever asked me that before, when I really needed them to. But it was necessary pain. It let me grow.