28 August 2010

Being here, and being back there

Life is often portrayed as being in one dimension, a timeline from birth until death.  A person progresses from one stage to another, big dots on the timeline are major transitions (graduating from high school, signing a military contract, getting married, your first child, etc.).  Maybe for some people life is really like that-- ordered and logical, always moving forward along the line.  My life has never been like that.  Many times, I've made it a certain distance along the path, and had to go back because the past gets in the way.  The stresses of the present are too much.  Either I haven't learned the things I needed to learn to handle life in the present, or the present is just a replay, an episode with the same plot as an episode from the past.  There have been several times when I've literally had to start over.

Much of my life has been spent alone in the company of others.  I've been around other people, sure, but they almost never knew what was really going on in my head.  I could put up a brave face, or a troublemaker face, or whatever mask would keep people from knowing the truth, and that would serve to help others classify me into a role where I was not responsible for much.  People laugh at the class clown, or look down their noses at the burnout, or discount the fat kid.

Or, they look at the veteran and wonder what the hell happened to the happy, normal person they used to know before the two tours in the Middle East, or Southeast Asia.
It's walking in two worlds; your own world, and the world that surrounds you, and over time you develop a survival instinct that reinforces two dimensions.  When you go home for Christmas dinner, you don't talk about wearing a gas mask for twelve hours or what you did during mortar attacks.  You don't talk about childhood sexual abuse.  You talk about getting a better job, the kids are in school, bought a new car this year, yes we're going to watch Christmas Story again.  At the dinner table, or sitting on the couch, or whatever "normal" thing you're doing, your mind is in the other world.

No one can see that you're somewhere else, because you're so good at being somewhere else and being in the present at the same time.  No one knows unless you tell them, and who can you trust with what you see in your head?

Life isn't a timeline anymore, it cannot be; you're in the past and the present at the same time, often oscillating between the two.  It's random, or maybe it just seems that way.  You're taken back to places and people and events that have nothing at all to do with the present that surrounds you.  Or you're just heightened, you're anxious, you're triggered, and you're not sure why-- too much noise, too closed in a space, too many people?  This is when you have to run, have to leave, have to check out, have to just stop until you can get somewhere else and get your head to clear a little.

And, then, you find yourself a few dots backwards on the timeline, and you have to work harder to get moving forward again.

This is why, I think, moving to a new apartment is a symbol for what I'm working on-- new place, new semester, new chance.  There is no place in the past on my timeline where my life is all about being in college, all about academics, all about enhancing my life.  I've always been beholden to someone else-- their opinions, their needs, their wants.  It's said that part of the adjustment veterans have to make when going to college is that there's no one around to give them orders, and so it's disorienting to just have a schedule and nothing else.  It's also disorienting to not have someone looking over my shoulder, telling me what I can't or shouldn't do.

My mind keeps wanting to go back to the past, to do the things that I know aren't healthy for me, do the things that will produce more harm than good.  I'm fighting myself, second guessing my steps, trying to make sure the past doesn't intrude on the present.  It's exhausting.  The only way (it seems) to keep the past in check is to focus only on the present, but I have to make sure that I'm guarding against the mistakes I've made before.

I don't trust myself as much as I think I need to trust myself.

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