I’ve found something I love now that this blog is nearly three years old. I’ve written enough to be able to take some of my earlier articles and write the shadow article, the contradictions. For me, a huge aspect of being multiple is that there is so often more than one reaction or opinion going on. I have to clarify my thoughts to be able to share them, here or in my work or relationships. Often this process over simplifies, it strips back complex concepts to a simple one. There’s huge value in this, especially for people who are in crisis or new to a field of information. They need somewhere to start, something that can be easily grasped hold of. But it gives me such a shiver of delight to be able to go back and contradict myself, to write in the shadows cast by all these ideas. Grounding techniques can be the most amazing tools for managing chronic dissociation and trauma issues. They can also be completely and utterly the wrong approach at times. Sometimes you do not need to be more grounded, more adult, more sane, more sensible and responsible, more a creature of the day. Sometimes the screaming and the madness are because the night is calling you and your spirit needs to fly. Sometimes it is not that you are too dissociated, but that you are not dissociated enough. Sometimes you need less safety and more adventure.
In the talk about recovery I give at Tafe, I usually point to a number of contradictions in my story, precisely because they are so commonly overlooked and reduced to a single, simpler story. I mention several in particular –
- My childhood was terrible/my childhood was wonderful
- Dissociation takes away from my life/dissociation protects my life
- I am vulnerable/I am resilient
- I need help/I can offer help to others
Each of these things is true, I say. And yet so often one obliterates the other. One story hides the other in its shadow. They are posited as ‘either/or’ facts when they are ‘and’. My childhood was both terrible and wonderful. So often when we talk about recovery, we hear a story arc that goes – Things got hard, I got sick, I found help, I recovered. Recovery is an endpoint where madness is no longer welcome. We do not talk any more about agony. There is a bizarre idea – totally at odds with my experience of life – that mentally healthy people do not suffer pain. Wildness is gone. The contradictions are all neatly ironed out, no more wrestling with doubt. Everything makes sense and all the loose ends are tied.
The human experience is so complex and strange. I like the contradictions and I’m suspicious of stories that don’t have any. Within contradictions I find an honest reflection of life; of the magnificent beauty, the breath taking, heart rending love, the horror, anguish, and misery of what it is to be alive. To love vulnerable and flawed people, to have dreams and watch some of them die, to struggle and succeed and fail and find that life is complex and unexpected. This is what it is to be human. Recovery as an idea, if it is to have any worth, must embrace that complexity rather than shrink from it. It cannot be a whitewashed place of pretending that we no longer bleed when pricked. That is a trap in which peer workers, those who’s very jobs depend on their capacity to prove they have ‘recovered’, will starve.
So, we have the idea, and the shadow of the idea. To be able to pick it up, turn it over, look beneath it, scrape the soil from the underside and smell the cold night scent of it, this is what I love. I built theories and frameworks and ideas and I love to do this. It helps me, like navigating the night by the pattern of the stars. I love to take masses of complex, unrelated information, break them down, and put them next to each other to see what happens. I love building ideas. And I love knocking them over, not treating them as sacred, not being scared of the truths in the shadows. I believe with my whole heart in the work that I do, and I love it down to my bones. But it’s not a house of cards that a contrary wind can blow over. They are stones in the palm of my hand. They are boulders on which I can stand. They reveal a truth, and they conceal another truth. I make them and I love them and I love the shadow beneath them. Life is not meant to be a neat, comforting story. In the contradictions are the depth and beauty. People are not meant to be so recovered that they walk without touching the ground, with no shadow, no dark uncertainty, no hint of wild abandon. We should not abandon complexity and uncertainty to territory marked ‘sickness’, ‘madness’ or ‘here be dragons’. Contradictions are also part of health, freedom, and love, an essential part of what it is to be human and to be alive.