Discover more from bren's voice
Bren Linto Morrigan
4-22-22 (5 months out)
“It doesn’t take much for you to be open to change,” my today-therapist says, having expected it to take more for me to break through what had been troubling me at the beginning of our session.
I laugh and say, “I know, right?” I then immediately stop laughing.
“It is that same quality, I think, that made me susceptible… I am open. I want to change. I don’t want to be stuck wherever I am. I just trusted—” my voice catches in my throat, as I think, goddamnit, I was just laughing, I don’t want to cry, “--the wrong person.”
I have spent at least 4.62 million moments, dear reader, thinking about this place in me, in my brain or body or heart or spirit or whatever the fuck, that wants to change. That yearns to change. To not be stuck. To find the solution.
The possibilities are endless, the whys, the reasons, the causes, the treasons taking place inside me, the drive to survive it also belies.
Someone with so intense a fervor, so willing a spirit to change must have a bear at their back, a coyote, a bird of prey - must have a predator just behind them at all times.
Shapeshifter. Chameleon. Ultimate adapter.
I see me as a child and a teenager, running through the forest of divorce, a chaotic, addicted, chronically ill mother; a serious, controlling, loving father; a fragile, dominating, grinning stepmother.
I see that child and teenager shifting shapes and sizes and colors, clothes and expressions moment by moment, person by person, with a fanny pack around her waist full of ice cream, french fries, mozzarella sticks, tall glasses of milk, and bars upon bars of 5th Avenues, fuel for the chase, for the changes, and sedation for when she needs to numb the fear and to sleep.
That child was always solving the problem.
That child turned into an adult who, when confronted with fear or grief, did not know how to accept or be still.
She only knew how to adapt and run. Adapt, adapt, adapt. Switch through the various shapes, sizes, colors, clothes, expressions like a Swiss Army Knife - until she could find the one that fits this situation. She could be anyone, almost comfortably, almost authentically. So close to authentically as to be authentic.
Might as well just call it authentic.
Ok, this is not entirely fair to me, dear reader. It is so hard to write what is completely and entirely true. There were whole years when I was truly just myself, all the molted skins hung up in the closet, all the changes quieted to duller colors or longer arcs. I was not plagued so intensely by adaptation and terror and the forest. I remember them.
But I do need to write of the chameleon. I have to be honest about the skill with which I could change and indeed needed to change. And I need to be very clear with you, dear reader, that it was often a reflex and not entirely a choice, born of - at least in part - necessity. But I could not always admit to myself that it was necessary, reflexive, compulsive - I needed to turn it into something I chose, something I did with agency.
This is not being done to me. I am authentic. I am real.
And sometimes change actually was a choice, and that was a thing to behold, and that is another way things get confusing, I suppose, about me. How I could alter my fate, how I could look at what was dealt to me with not one shred of acceptance, stomach sticking out defiantly at 14, at 26, at 30, then at 42, shoulders back from some wild impulse to suddenly stand up straighter, and I would shout NO at the cards, shaking my head side to side, flickering through a rainbow of colors over my scales from head to toes - a shudder throughout my being, and I would change. By choice, I would step out from some sick thicket overgrown with doubt and the egos of others, tendrils and sticks all around me, and I would just grow wings all at once, without asking, and change. Whoosh. Flight.
In those moments, those choices, and not necessarily what I moved towards exactly, not necessarily where I wound up exactly, were, I think - very close to me, who I am. Not any one material thing, not any one destination, or color, or scale or feather. The choices themselves, though. To dare to move towards life. One of the only things I know about myself at all is that choice. That I sometimes made. Not reflexively, but with every breathing, awake particle of my being moving together, decisively, to live. I wonder sometimes if that is what is really the stuff of any of us.
And that was the part of me he needed most.
To subjugate. To hook up to. To devour.
My childhood - I now know, though Stein would paint this all differently and did - is no more traumatic than many people’s. It’s just not, let’s be plain spoken about it. There are many people just like me who grew up under the weight of parental addiction, poverty, divorce, incest, and personality disorders. I would argue that in the colonized West, the majority of us have grown up in traumatic circumstances - it is quotidien, it is our daily bread, we can be plain spoken about it, let’s not sensationalize it any longer.
It is on the one hand a tragedy that this is so commonplace as to be nothing special; it is on the other hand very important to me now to be nothing special in this, to be one among the rest of you, walking through a regular life of both-ands, loving people who’ve made mistakes, being a person who has made mistakes, and throwing no glitter on any of us about that.
Stein, over the course of some years, loved to convince me that I had a horrific, unrelentingly bad childhood, One Of the Worst - all Stein’s groupies had One of the Worst Childhoods, to listen to him speak on it - with nothing good to say about it, and that I am permanently damaged and permanently need him, need recovery, need the Group, and need to permanently believe that I am, at root, broken. That I was, if we’re being truly honest about it, born broken, because my parents were broken, and their parents were broken.
In order to be functional as this broken thing on a string, I must first accept, every day, that I am a damaged, broken person. My first breath of the day must be this acceptance. Original sin, but without using that language. A fundamentalism so sneaky as to disappear completely. And of course, I must accept that my parents were horrible people to me, continue to be horrible people because they have not accepted 12-Step as their Lord and Savior, and I alone am the Church on the Hill in my family, because I have accepted 12-Step into my heart.
Did I say 12-Step? I meant Stein. How he would weave Himself in and out of the Word as if He and the Steps were one and the same, prescribing - yes, he used the word prescription - that we make Him our Higher Power now and again, that this was what surrender looked like, that this was what recovery looked like, but not to worry - our subservience to and reliance on Him would only be temporary - only as long as we showed him that we needed it with our broken spines and flapping, muttering mouths.
Please, tell me what Words to use; our Words became his Words.
Even as I write this dear reader, I know I will need to edit it.
How did I get from A to B? How did I get from a 30 year-old graduate student in the field of psychology, less than one year into a 12-Step program for eating disorder recovery to a person who believed these things, believed this small man, not only believed his lies about who I am, who my parents are and were, and what this all means about my life’s prospects - but also believed him so much that I would come to do his bidding, some day without him even asking? Believed him so much, I would risk losing just about everything, but first and last myself? Alpha, omega, and everything in between until almost every last drop of me belonged to Him, every letter of my alphabet?
One of the things that is the hardest to explain to people who’ve never been subjected to years of coercive control and psychological abuse in a relationship in which there is supposed to be inherent trustworthiness and beneficence is that asking me how something happened inside of ME, how did a change occur inside of ME… asking that question starts to have the same effect on me psychologically as the questioning of a rape victim about what she was wearing or why she thought it was ok to bring a trusted friend-of-a-friend home just to make out.
“Why did you think he would listen to you say that’s all you wanted?”
What are the answers to these questions that really satisfy the people who ask them? If you are asking the question - what happened inside of ME, how did a change occur in ME, I don’t think there is an answer that will satisfy you.
But I want you to know, dear reader, that I, too, am tortured by these questions. Why? How? What happened?
I think, not as an answer, but as a memory, about my need to survive, my reflexive ability to adapt to many situations effortlessly for as long as I did, for the majority of my life.
I think about his lack of boundaries that I would dress up as me being his prize pupil, in his inner circle for the first 7.5 of my 11.5 years inside, as if this is an ethical and righteous thing to experience as someone’s patient; I think about my difficulty knowing my reality that would get covered over with his reality, by force, but I would tell myself the emperor, my Emperor, is wearing clothes, because we all said so, He said so - having no awareness yet that in my gut, in the very pit of my stomach there was the real me, covered in dried mud, running furiously through a forest, fanny pack full of nicotine this time, full of new insomnia, a new panic disorder, blood running down my shins from the tall grass whipping at my legs, old feathers stuck to me here and there, exhausted to stay alive, blinking, blinking, blinking through selves.
Adapt. Run. Change. Solve the problem. You’ll feel better.
Bren Linto Morrigan