I didn’t start counseling knowing there was anything unusual about my past. My husband and I were going for marriage counseling. Several homework assignments had confusing results before my counselor finally asked me about my past. I told him it was great, we went to the park and the zoo. He then asked me, “Tell me about an average day day.” I again said we went to the park and the zoo. I finally confessed I hadn’t known my past since high school. My past was like jumbled shapes in a black bag. I knew generally what might have happened but no details. My counselor handed me a book and asked me to read it. He wanted to see my reaction to A Child Called It. The following week I brought it back finished and asked, “What do you want me to learn from it?” He replied that he was watching my reaction. I hadn’t thought that one of the worse child abuse cases ever written about was any thing unusual. He tried 3 more books each one more severe until the last book was Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning. This book shared Viktor’s perspective of surviving the Holocaust. I Finally told my counselor, “What do you want me to learn from this is not the right answer.” Many people with PTSD are struggling every day with their past in a black bag not knowing what they are fighting.
2 thoughts on “Black Bag”
We all have our personal black bags. We don’t know what we don’t know, we don’t remember what we’ve “put away.” We pack all that “stuff” away in our black bags, place them in the attic of our minds and go about our daily lives.
Sometimes for years.
And then for whatever “reason,” the black bag springs a leak. A slow drip, maybe an occasional annoyance, at times a wet spot on the ceiling here, a dark spot on the wall there. We’re “busy.” We’ll get to it “later.” Everyone and everything else comes first because you know, that’s just how it is: The demands of our daily lives.
And then the leak becomes a deluge.
Some time passed after putting that NC letter in the mail to my “Mother” and her ensuing relentless stalking, her stalker PIs, poisoning all wells, frantically hiding all the metaphorical bodies, buying what ever time she could any way she could. I had paid and paid well for my compliance to the Family Crazy Code of Silence. If she had let up would I would have left it alone? Only once had I told anyone anything at all, just a very little bit from my carefully stowed black bag in my attic.
I keep secrets very well. I practiced from my earliest memories and experiences. I placed my black bag back in the attic decades before.
IMO, we have to feel safe before we believe there really *is* a Witness Protection Program. It’s in that black bag. Experience trumps words any day. Sometimes, words fail. Our Silence defeats us while it emboldens them, our abusers. Our black bag is our personal repository. Our very safe deposit box. In those nightmares, daymares, in between night and day there’s evening and dawn. In those spaces I opened my mouth and stopped holding my breath.
The words fell out. Finally.
Verbal vomit all over Dr. Levinson’s desk.
“Mother” dragged me to a Mental Health appointment telling the county clinic, “TW’s having a DIFFICULT TIME with her FATHER’S DESERTION!” A massive Projection on her part. A ploy for pity for her, the “displaced homemaker” with Household “Help.” A juicy morsel for her divorce lawyer to exploit. The address alone betrayed her if the last name didn’t. Dad had initiated divorce proceedings.
When I was 17 he had a massive MI at 65. He was not expected to live. I flew back immediately to the metro NY area from University and took the overnight shift alone at the hospital. Five min/hr., one immediate family member (me) at a time. I trembled as my “Mother” swept by the next morning, the angry click-click-click of her couture heels on the tile floor, ignoring me on the couch in the Waiting Room. I watched the swinging doors hailing entry, exit, inhale, exhale. Heard her harsh, screaming words pounding artillery down on Dad lying grey on the bed, echoing through the halls, through all the years of my memories. She was still trying to murder him. I saw his MD, Dr. Kaier rush by, red, angry, disappear into ICU. I stood by the doors and watched as he banned her from ICU screaming back at her, “WHAT are you TRYING to DO? KILL THIS MAN? GET OUT! STAY OUT!”
She turned on her heel, speechless, furious, coming towards the doors. I hid in the Waiting Room. She never looked left or right, head held high, fur coat billowing in Her Majesty’s wake, click-click-click heading home to plan her official Widow’s Weeds. Four months later Dad left with his clothes, a few pictures of his “girls,” his vehicle and started his life over again. Out on another shopping expedition, she returned to a letter left on the Dining Room table followed shortly by a Process Server at the door. She was thwarted. Outraged scattershot rained on my downrange position. There was no place to hide. She would seek me out, rail, scream, hands, fists flying, face contorted. I watched silently as she took that fur coat, ripped it to shreds, threw it in a large box and shoved it at me: “Mail it to YOUR FAATTHHEEERR!” I dutifully went to the Post Office. She drove. I sat with the box on my lap, another bombing run at Dad, “The Enemy’s” position.
I was again the recipient of her unbridled Rage. I insisted I would continue to see my Dad, a few hrs. of sanity on a Sun. afternoon. There was no reasoning with her. She would not allow him to pick me up at “home.” I refused to lie when she drug me to Court over their divorce. I refused to relinquish what I knew to be the Truth. I called her brother, my Uncle in Chicago long distance and begged for his help, to please come, my 17 yr. old self was in waaayyy over my head. I was terrified. He couldn’t help or come. I understood. I took a knife from the kitchen to my bedroom and slept-when I could-with it in my hand.
That’s how I ended up in Dr. Levinson’s office. I told the Truth. I had called my Uncle. Word filtered back to her via the long distance charge on the phone bill. After 3 sessions he asked if he could use the last 15 min. of our next session to speak with my “Mother.” I was hopeful. Maybe another adult could get through to her. When I asked her if she’d speak with Dr. Levinson she readily agreed, beaming, preening, anything to “assist” her “troubled daughter.” The day arrived. I was a wreck. Dr. Levinson soothed me, assured me, promised it was safe. This time she stayed in the Waiting Room for the first 45 min. of my 60 min. session reading a slick magazine instead of dropping me off to go shopping. She smiled, collected, (protected) calmly controlled as she walked into his office. I hid in a corner of the Waiting Room. I heard Dr. Levinson’s low murmur. I heard her light laugh. I relaxed a little, looked at my “shameful” bitten to nubs nails, the cuticles on the sides picked until they bled. She hated my hands. Then more sounds from his office: Staccato protests, denials, loud screeching as she burst from his office, grabbing me by the shoulder/arm, a handful of hair and yanked me out of the chair, the office, down the stairs, to the car. I don’t remember the drive “home.”
I never saw Dr. Levinson again. He was kind to me.
The power of words spoken in Truth can keep you safe or light the pyre of self-immolation.
In the beginning when I went up to the attic I just looked around and slowly, slowly I found it, the black bag carefully packed, the detritus of my childhood, adolescence, early adulthood. I was always her “Problem Child.” I was overtly compliant beyond all reason. I questioned nothing. I told no one after Dr. Levinson decades before. She tried to gas-light, re-wrote, “explained,” “someday when you grow up you’ll understand…”
I did then. I do now.
I have the most of it right here. I know there is a price we pay for our outward Silence rendered in self-preservation. No one can touch your inward world of Truth. You carefully placed it in your black bag and put it in the attic where it would be safe. When you’re ready-or most likely, think you’re not-it will be there. The integrity of your Truth will never degrade or betray you or itself: It is not too much to bear although it may feel so; it is far too precious to relinquish.
It is you and all that happened. It is your history. It is not broken. It’s all the important missing parts that will make you whole. Your black bag is initially a frightening treasure chest. You packed it yourself, alone and terrified. It’s you begging for your own compassion and understanding.
You’ve given these gifts to others. Now it’s time to give them to yourself. You survived through all of this: Now you will live through the re-telling.
I only thought about the negative things I put in my black bag. I hadn’t considered the thought I put the positive things in there too. Hiding, protecting surviving. I am glad you survived too. Hugs.