“There’s a storm room in your mind. Lock the door, and think!”
-The (Twelfth) Doctor
Last session, after I shared with my doctor how I’ve come to appreciate syllogisms, I was given a homework assignment. I was to make a chart with two columns: 1) things mother (and by extension, my other abusers) said, and 2) things I (and by extension, my chosen family and friends) say, all divided by the word “but“.
While it’s a reason-based grounding exercise, it had less gravity when I just depended on my word, hence why I added the “by extension” part to the homework; eg. some of the things she said were very easy to refute while others required a little more work, remembering what others have said to support the truth. I can’t tell if that’s good or bad, needing another’s affirmation; it’s probably better that I can have confidence in the truth myself, but then, Jesus says in the Gospel that we can trust Him not because He speaks for Himself, but because He is “in the Father, and the Father is in [Him].” (John 10:38).
Finding truth and focus, therefore, is not something one comes to alone. Some might have more talent for it than others (not sure if I’m one of those people), but it’s not something one comes to all by oneself. I had to go through a lot to learn what I have, to heal as much as I have. Some things help, some don’t. Sometimes the things that help are unconventional. That’s okay; if it works, it works.
On that note, the rest of this entry has spoilers about the Doctor Who episode “Heaven Sent”. I agree with the general opinion that it’s the best episode to date, and recommend you watch it unspoiled. If you’ve already watched it (or alternatively don’t care) feel free to read on.
There’s a lot I like about Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi, the current Doctor’s actor, remarked how it felt more like “a fairytale” than science fiction, and I can see and appreciate that, from The Doctor’s often fanciful clothes and manners to his own sonic screwdriver, really just a mechanical magic wand. The Twelfth Doctor in particular has been noted to show signs of having PTSD from the long war he fought in his previous life (as Matt Smith, The Eleventh Doctor), and not only expresses it, he also shows ways how to think through it (which is one of the things that quickly made him my favorite Doctor).
“Heaven Sent” explores the psyche of The Doctor alone, without his companions (or really, anyone else but The Veil, a slow creature with death-touch in the form of something that traumatized him as a very little boy) in this labyrinthian dungeon. It made me feel better about my tendency to think aloud if nothing else, though also about my tendency to use my imagination in distress: when The Doctor gets in danger/distress, the scene would abruptly switch to him rushing into the TARDIS, what he described as “a storm room in [his] mind” to outthink the crisis at hand.
The first time it happened, he had just jumped out a window to escape The Veil. There, he observes himself from the outside via the console’s monitor (reminiscent of the dissociative out-of-body experience in traumatic situations). “Rule one of dying: don’t,” he tells himself. “Rule two: slow down. You’ve got the rest of your life. The faster you think, the slower it will pass. Concentrate.” He goes on to say, “Assume you’re going to survive. Always assume that. Imagine you’ve already survived.” He then addresses the other person in his imagined TARDIS, his dear friend Clara, revealing that this whole imagined scene was a manifestation of that assumption: “I always imagine that I’m back in my TARDIS, showing off, telling you how I escaped, making you laugh. That’s what I’m doing right now. I am falling, Clara. I am dying. And I’m going to explain to you how I survived.”
I’d always daydreamed or got lost in thought when I’m distressed, though I don’t have a lot of control over it. I thought it something I could never have any control over, like other unhealthy habits. As evidenced from my other methods of dissociation, like fragmenting or repressing memories, it’s more of a mindless escape than the tactical retreat The Doctor was doing.
I’d pray for God to help me stay grounded, take this tendency away, but He wouldn’t, seeming to prefer waiting until I felt safer to invite me back to the present where He is. Maybe this is why: that episode introduced the idea of making mindful use of this tendency. Maybe I can have better control over my thoughts when I’m triggered or something, taking response over reaction.
The base of it is already there. Somewhat like The Doctor’s life-death situation there, I’d consider what the closest people in my life would say about the unhealthy choice I was deliberating when feeling self-harmful and/or suicidal. When I didn’t have such a person, I’d take one from fiction (though that led to a lot of unforeseen trouble), usually someone paternal. When I did have someone, sometimes I couldn’t bring the words to mind; the emotions and traumatic stress would cloud my thoughts, making it harder to think of those things, and shake off what my abuse was screaming at me as reasons to pick up that weapon of choice. I could turn to my writing or art, but when it gets to be that bad, it often wouldn’t be enough. That would lead to the decision (the often very hard, but nonetheless possible and necessary decision) to contact someone trustworthy so they can say the affirming words I couldn’t bring to mind.
So, in a big crisis, I can do it to a basic level. It’s the lesser crises that I end up not doing it at all. I’d think of something distressing, and automatically tell that thought or memory, “Nope! Shut up! Stay away from me!” I’d numb myself, do whatever I can to make the memories, thoughts, and feelings go away. It’s like if The Doctor rushed into his mental TARDIS, and instead of thinking of how to get himself out of the crisis he’s in, he switches on the motor to run away somewhere, anywhere in space-time. Granted, he’s been known to do that in other situations (again, feeling better), but not when it directly conflicts with his “duty of care” and/or survival.
…And here I abruptly come to a dilemma: putting aside the whole false impression I had of myself as “all emotion, no intellect”, when I heard someone tell me to use my head, be creative, or something useless like “just don’t think about it”, I’d think they were just invalidating or minimizing the distress/pain I was experiencing. I’d take it as an attack on my character as it was for all those years, instead of something meant to help (if doing a horrible job of it). To apply reason and think through it, therefore, meant denying the truth of how bad I was feeling on this line of reasoning (which is trauma-driven, and therefore iffy).
It’s a trap all of us fall victim to, some harder than others. I’d say and hear a lot “I know intellectually this is true, but…”, or from what my mother and some others have said about having a degree, I’d believe that using reason and learning was being arrogant, and what’s more, useless (coming from untrustworthy, unkind sources, and therefore is also iffy). There certainly are “doctors” out there who don’t deserve their title as “an experienced thinker”, like “fathers”, biological or otherwise, who doesn’t deserve their titles as “one who loves, protects, and guides”. This doesn’t mean all doctors are bad, nor all fathers, so doesn’t it stand to reason that while some use of learning and reason are bad (or iffy), others are good?
Okay…dilemma resolved. Back to the main topic:
The Doctor had his TARDIS (and companion) as his storm room, his safe place. What does mine look like?
When I’d draw a space for myself (and/or my fragments) to occupy, my default was always what looks like the ruins of a stone/wood church, overrun by nature. Oftentimes, there’s a mist around the place, a lake or cistern inside the ruins that sometimes floods, depending on how I’m feeling that day. I guess it’s as good a place as any to “lock the door and think”.
A/N: I just realized I decorated my home to resemble this safe place without meaning to, with all the blue, the living and fabric greenery, the painting of that Marian healing fountain and other holy images, etc. Where did this safe place come from? Why does it mean so much to me? Something else to think about, maybe soon.
The Doctor imagines Clara there to bounce ideas with, and act as his conscience and source of courage; in his own words “I’m nothing without an audience.” Even when he’s alone, he’s not alone. I’m the same way; I need someone or something with me in here to affirm me. That someone currently is a close friend, a more tangible someone else than I’d “talk to” in the past. If for some reason he or other friends feel far away, I’d draw a flower that reminds me of them to add to the garden, adding their presence symbolically. Otherwise, I’d pray to saints, to God, my guardian angel as if they were right there with me (though I don’t take time to stop and listen often enough; something to work on).
After the first crisis passed, The Doctor has a vulnerable moment when he hears chalk on blackboard, Clara writing questions for him to consider about the dungeon and The Veil to keep him going. “Can’t I just sleep? Do I have to know everything?” he asks, sounding exhausted, something he doesn’t often outwardly express. Then later, when he recovers that terrible memory, he breaks down, first anxious, angry, then subdued, the closest we’ve seen of him crying. Both times, the memory of his friend, Clara, got him back on his feet, though that second time, she faces him for the first time in the whole episode, speaking to him with her own voice instead of writing on the blackboard. She’s closest to him when he feels she’s farthest away.
That’s certainly happened in my life, too; it’s moments like that where a friendship is made or broken (though I used to stubbornly hold on even so). Something else to work on, as I too often wait for it to get really bad before reaching out to even just the memory of those friends who’ve proven to be true. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t dissociate and daydream so much, or reach a point where the memory of the friend was enough encouragement, or that love is closest to me when I feel the most unloved.
The dungeon The Doctor was trapped in was designed to scare him, to trap him. Trauma and abuse is like that too, isn’t it? Terror is the weapon of cowards, though, especially when used on the vulnerable. It lives off the truth being twisted and/or hidden from sight. They’re not worth the time of day. The healing journey isn’t as lonely as I thought it to be, as I depend on (the memory of) my chosen family, on God and the companions He gives me, just as The Doctor eventually made his way out of that impossible dungeon with the memory of Clara by his side, even if Clara wasn’t physically present.
It’s a learning process. The healing process is very much a learning process. Learning and being learned aren’t bad things. They can be invaluable, and a source of good for others should the learner teach.
It’s possible. I can learn to have a response, not just react. My history, the abuse and my mistakes, they can be denied the last say. I’m getting there. I can make it.