This weekend I’m running into a trigger that’s not unexpected under the circumstances but is surprising me with its ferocity at times. The trigger is the fact that I’m going to my former community college campus this week to take care of a financial aid issue so I can go back to school in September. The reason it’s triggering to even think about it is because I was a total basket case the first time I went to school there.
The autumn after I graduated from high school I was still living at home, my father was still raping me, I could still not break away at all even though my boyfriend was trying to help me with that. He didn’t know what was going on at home. I didn’t know what was going on. Each instance was hidden away in one nook or another in my mind. It took a lot of learning about DID to figure out how I never seemed to know what was going on and why it took so long (only four years ago) to remember the abuse that went on after I became an adult.
The summer after graduation was a semi-disaster of trying to work my very first job other than babysitting. It didn’t go over very well and toward the end of the summer I ended up in the hospital for the second time. (The first time being for three months when I was a senior in high school.) I still couldn’t remember what was going on but the hospital was at least a safe haven. I stabilized some, went back home, and started community college. That in itself was quite an undertaking. We lived out in the boonies 20 miles from campus and I didn’t drive. I found someone to ride share with but I still had to walk or ride my bike at least 1 1/4 miles to meet my ride, and usually 2 miles. I had to sync my schedule with hers and when I had a psych appointment after classes it created a logistical nightmare for me. On those days the closest I could get to home on buses still left me with 12 miles to figure out. Between that and what was going on at home, I was a mess. (Also, my psychiatrist was a complete asshole to me, which didn’t help. He was also an offender against some of his patients and lost his license a few years after I stopped seeing him. I sometimes still wonder if he hurt me and I’m not remembering that yet. I would have been a prime candidate for his abuse.)
In some ways I don’t remember a whole lot about being in school for those two terms, in other ways I remember plenty. I remember looking up ways to hurt or kill myself in the school library a lot, and my boyfriend in tears restraining me from scratching myself with a paper clip. I remember having a hard time in classes and a hard time studying at home. I remember buying hot canned ravioli out of the vending machine but also going hungry many days because my stepmother wouldn’t provide anything at home for me to make lunches with and I wasn’t given enough allowance to make it through my school week. I remember a crush on a deaf guy in one of my classes. To me/us he seemed alone and needy like me/us even though I can look back now and know he was probably pretty well okay. I remember being thankful for Mondays because it meant my father was out of the house for the week for work, and feeling more and more dread as Friday night approached because it meant he would be home to wreak his terror on me over the weekend. I remember wearing my grandfather’s old blue and white railroad overalls, which I embroidered a bold peace sign onto the back of. I remember a lot of turmoil for my boyfriend and me. I remember ending up in the hospital several times before I finally knew school wasn’t working for me. I remember feeling lost and, well, a basket case. I was a mess, I really was.
About 13 years later I took a handful of classes on that campus again. It was triggering but back then my mind was just telling me that it was because I was having so much trouble with life the first time I’d been there. Now I’m planning on going back there and will be on campus this week. Now I have so much more knowledge and memory of what was going on back in late 1987 and early 1988. The knowledge is both empowering and scary as shit. The anxiety was more vague the second time I took classes there. This time it’s not vague. At moments, not vague at all. Memories bordering on flash backs, intrusive thoughts, moments of feeling like I’m going into a panic attack. Listening to a couple songs yesterday from my favorite album during my basket case community college days really threw me for a loop. Being on campus won’t be easy at times, I can tell already. I worry that I won’t be able to tolerate being there.
The good thing is that I’m armed with knowledge and memory. This knowledge and these memories may haunt me but they make it possible for me to say “That was over a quarter century ago. That man is locked up for the rest of his life and has no power over us now. He’ll never rape again, he has no say in our life. We get to have the power by proudly being well enough to not only go back to school but to do it at a place that evokes negative memories. We are okay now. We are okay!” I’m no longer a basket case. None of us are. We can do this. We can do this.