I am going to get in trouble for writing this. I know this already.
There is going to be fall out and anger around this, and the dual voices that modulate much of my behavior argue furiously about the words that I am typing.
This pattern of pre-emptive punishment is something I am intimately familiar with, as I spend alot of my time punishing myself for the decisions I make. Even when I know they are right. Punish, Punish, Punish.
Why, asks my new therapist. Why do you punish yourself Dawn? Why do you pick fights with people you love before birthdays or other events? Why?
I stare at her sullenly. My mouth draws into the tight lipped O that forms when I am biting back my words.
Because. Because if I punish myself first, then no one else can do anything worse to me. I have already done my best to make me suffer, so when the other shoe drops, it is a small annoyance rather than a cataclysm. No one can disappoint me.
She write notes, furiously. I am a unique beast in her life, I dare to believe. The self aware crazy. The smart crazy. The occasionally witty crazy.
For years, I have hidden one of the many things I do as punishment to myself, for my punishments are not purely emotional. For years I have done these things and carefully pushed them out of my mind as habits. It was only through the Envisage project that I started becoming aware of them, as I photographed some of the instances. I am a picker. I am a scratcher and a digger.
I do not bite my nails. I do not smoke. But when in private and nervous, I start to scratch. Usually my chest first, or my feet. If it is a very bad time, it will be my face. I will pick at skin, at toe nails, at imagined bumps or warts until the skin dissolves under my non-bitten nails. I have ripped off toenails in my compulsive worrying at my body later having to lie to pedicurists that I caught the nail on something. Because what is the alternative? the truth? That I pick,pick, pick at things until bleeding? That I scratch the hell out of my breasts where the world can't see them, often while under very hot showers?
I mean, I know this is not an acceptable habit. I know it has a big whiff of the crazy about it, so I hide it. There are whole after school specials about the cousins to this little compulsion - the cutters, so in my skating the edge between full blown and charmingly crazy, I hide it.
About three weeks ago my 25 year old sister drank antifreeze in an effort to punish herself. According to her, it was not her intent to kill herself, as she very nearly did having stopped breathing and having to be airlifted to a larger hospital with her organs failing rapidly. It was her intent to punish herself.
Magic words, those. Punish herself. Oh, I know this well.
We were raised in a house of secret keeping. Don't tell what goes on here. Don't betray, don't reveal.The consequences of stepping over the rules was punishment. Not physical punishments - no, that would be too gauche. Too obvious. Our punishments happened long after the event, when you least expected it. They got maximum benefit that way. Your guard was down, and the knife went deeper. As children of my mother, we learned to punish ourselves first. In this way, we deadened the later punishment that was coming - and it was coming, I assure you.
It is the super power of the narcissistic parent, this self punishment. Rather clever, don't you think? Get them to do it, so all you have to do is look at them? Get your children so hyper attuned to your ever changing moods that they begin the punishment without a word? And then deny that anything ever happened? Tell them they imagined it all?
And even now, writing this, I begin to pick at the skin around my nails. There will be trouble from this. I am not supposed to talk about these things, you know. Then people will know. Know the depth of the crazy. And what will they think then?
My sister is out of the locked ward, and back on her meds and doing well. We talk as much as I can get her on the phone. Survivors, I told her. Soldiers on the same field of battle like Madge said in her comment. During one of the talks while she was still in the ward, I told her that it wasn't her job to worry about our mother - to worry what she would think or say or do. Not your job, I told her. Her job? Get better. Start uncovering her triggers for the need to punish herself - and work to defuse those. I know I am.