Creative Remembering or Just Craziness?
Thursday July 26, 2007
Dear Alice Miller,
You have said the following in your article, “Body and Ethics”: “I could observe this mechanism of splitting-off the consciousness and presenting the repressed truth in literature in the case of many writers. Art enables the artist to hide the truth, so he does not have to fear the moral judgements of society, because in art everything is allowed. But often the price of the writer’s denial is very high, as numerous examples show.”
I am a writer of fiction. The beginnings of the worst of my symptoms, some of which still plague me, came when I wrote two particular novels after the death of my father. (The second one is still unfinished because I am so afraid.) I began going to bed later, I had night terrors, nightmares and disturbing dreams. My husband and children would tell me that I would scream in my sleep. I would wake up with scratches and dig marks from my own fingernails, most usually on my hips, thighs, abdomen, buttocks, and a couple of times even on my breasts, throat and face. I started having intrusive thoughts and images of a rape that occurred by an abusive older man who had victimized me in relationship several years earlier. (I never called it rape and really did not understand that that is what had happened. I couldn’t remember the memory in one whole piece. I only had bits and pieces that did not come together until later.) I had a lot of anxiety attacks. I also had a terrible burning pain in my genital area and doctors could find nothing wrong.
It was during this time that my husband and I had planned to take our children to visit my hometown where my grandparents still live. I lived there with my parents until the age of five. Something bad happened to me after we made the arrangements for this visit. For no reason, I suddenly started to scream and cry hysterically. I told my husband that we could not go and I kept saying that something very bad would happen if we went there. After I stopped crying, I changed my mind and could not understand why I had done that, so we went anyway. I was very anxious and we had a terrible time. The burning pains got so bad that I didn’t know what to do. My other problems got worse after we got home. Finally, I also became depressed and ineffectual in my life. I don’t even have a job anymore.
Change began when my husband and I moved out of our old neighborhood, where my manipulative mother was our neighbor. I couldn’t deal with my mother anymore, so I stopped talking to her. We moved across town and I started therapy. A couple of months later I had a terrible flashback that brought those terrible intrusive images together and then I knew that it was actually rape, a crime, that had happened to me from that abusive older lover in my past. I remembered. My memory had started to open up for me, but it was terrifying and difficult. I thought I was going insane. My memories had terrible things to show me. My life is very different now, better in some ways, but worse in others. Having access to my memories has helped with some of the symptoms, but I still have many of these problems. There are many things I cannot remember from when I was a little girl. It is absolutely terrifying every time a little piece comes to me. First nightmares and anxiety, then a profound detachment and then I get hit with a horrific memory. This is so scary and it disrupts my whole life and makes it hard for me to function. The only thing that is left for me as it is, is that I can still give myself to my children. At least there is that most important thing. I never forgot the lonliness and the beatings and I am here for my babies and I don’t want to upset their lives by having problems.
Sometimes I think I should take a look at those novels I have stashed away, but I worry what will happen to me. Sometimes I think they have something to tell me, but believing that makes me feel like a crazy person. I wonder if this is because my mother used to always tell me that I was crazy. She would rather have me think that than to know the truth of what my father did. Sometimes I doubt that he did what I think he did, but the symptoms become worse when I tell myself that nothing like this happened to me. The first story I ever wrote, I wrote for my mother. I was five or six years old and I remember feeling scared and sad and alone. I just didn’t feel right inside. I felt… WRONG. I wrote a story about the moon and how it sees everything that happens; everything that people do… I wrote more, but I cannot remember. I remember that I needed my mother to see my story. I needed my mother and I showed only her. She got very upset when she read it. She had a fit. She showed my father. He told her to calm down because I was just a child and it was just a story. My mother shamed me for what I had written. She told me I should be ashamed and she rejected me.
This was the same thing she did to me twenty years later when I called her from across the country. It was when I was with that older abusive boyfriend. I was having anxiety attacks. I even woke up gasping one night feeling like I couldn’t breathe and I had amnesia. All of my personal information was gone and I didn’t even know what was going on that night. I was also having nighmares that I was a little girl and my father was trying to trick me into touching his erect penis. All of this made me get hysterical one night because I couldn’t stand it anymore and I was so confused and terrified and in so much emotional pain. I called my mother and told her some of the things that were going on (I left out the amnesia — too bizarre). I was so desperate and I needed help. I came right out and asked her if my father could have done anything like that to me and… she told me I should be ashamed. The bottom line for her, is that I was not right in the head and making it all up and my father would never do anything like that and I SHOULD BE ASHAMED.
Maybe I should have a look at those novels, but I worry that my children’s lives will be upset because of my reaction if I do. I am scared for myself, also. I don’t know what to do. Maybe they are just stories and have no symbolic meaning. Having said that, I admit that the stories are disturbing. The product of a sick mind is what my mother would say. I hate her. Sometimes I feel like I live in hell. I don’t know what I will do, but the last time I wrote to you, it was because I had a profound insight after you answered the letter that I wrote to you before that one. I wonder what your thoughts might be here.
AM: You know very well that you are not crazy and not to blame; and what your mother wants is to blame you instead of him. But the small child could not fathom the truth, she could not believe that her father was a criminal and that both parents betrayed her. So you have protected them your whole life and wrote novels because the truth wanted to be acknowledged. Now, you, the adult, will have the courage to know, to read the novels and to know that they tell you the truth of what you had to endure all alone, as a very small girl, without any protection, that it was YOUR reality, not an invented one. Nobody invents horror. You are honest and you no longer want to betray yourself. Why should you? Because that is what your mother wants? But should you lie to yourself so that she can live with her lies? It is your life and you need your truth. Everything you write here shows this need. Trust your memories, trust your novels, reading them can be a very relieving experience. The pain of the truth was unbearable for the child, but now it will be liberating for you as an adult. It was of course a creative way of the child to tell her story in novels, and she absolutely needs to be listened to. The first and the most empathic listener should be YOU. Your mother never wanted to see the truth of your plight; it was very mean of her to blame you for what your father had done. SHE and HE should be ashamed for their total lack of courage and honesty.