Posts Tagged ‘self-mutilation’

I recently had an otherwise innocuous experience dig up some very old and relatively unrelated trauma. Considering the disconnect and the disproportionate emotional surge, I considered this a warning sign and an indication that I should probably finally go and address the issue. I have effectively avoided actually discussing it in 15 years of sporadic therapy.

So I brought it to my current therapist. We exhumed the 17-year-old skeleton and its nearby relatives in the strata of my emotional past. Now, I have been tasked with “forgiving” 17-year-old Christina.

What does this have to do with horror? you may ask. Or writing? Or horror writing? In short, NOTHING. A sane person would probably do all this processing privately on hidden paper. I, however, am an extrovert and an exhibitionist. Besides, if I write something and no one reads it, did I even write it at all?

The idea of forgiving 17-year-old me is oddly unnerving. I think largely because my entire identity and concept of self at that age was defined by self-loathing. My pain bred self-destructive behaviors that caused consequences that inflicted more pain, a little self-fulfilling cycle. And I blamed myself for all of it. I turned all that hate and pain in on her.

But what are her crimes? What do I need to forgive her for?

Sexual assault. This is the beast that was awoken by a doctor bending me over a table to administer my plasma injection. Even now, I hesitate to classify that long-ago incident as a sexual assault. In all honesty, I do not remember what happened. My memory was fractured and hazy then, and it has not improved in 17 years. I know I got very drunk with an older guy I did not know. I know we ended up having some kind of sex. But I do not know what I consented to or did not, and I do not know the extent of what happened. I would not feel comfortable using words like “rape” or “sexual assault” if I wasn’t sure, and I’m just not. But I also don’t know what else to call it.

I knew something was wrong in my reactions though. The guy pursued me heavily afterwards, and whenever he called, I experienced uncharacteristic anxiety. Not nerves, not shame or regret, something near physical panic. Then, when I did actually see him once after, I trembled so uncontrollably that I spilled a shot all over the kitchen trying to take it. This was not embarrassment. This was something else.

Why is this my crime though? I obviously blamed myself. I should not have been there. I should not have drank whatever it was he gave me. I should not have put myself in that situation. But beyond that typical reaction, I think the ambiguity of the circumstances always turned on me. Since I never really knew what happened, I could never resolve if I was a victim or just a stupid girl who consented to something she regretted.

Ultimately, it does not matter. Whether I put myself in a position that got me assaulted or I got blackout drunk and consented to something I did not want to do, it’s not a crime. 17-year-old me made stupid, naïve decisions. She made mistakes, which she learned from. Neither scenario is unforgivable.

Miscarriage. Let’s just note upfront that this offense is unrelated to crime #1. Same year, different circumstances. But I did miscarry a child that same year. I did not know I was pregnant, and it had to be relatively early in the pregnancy.

I blamed myself entirely for this unplanned and unknown accident. I told myself I must have drank the baby to death, that it must have rejected me for some reason. Nevermind that I could barely keep myself alive at the time and would have made the absolute worst mother. It was just another, much larger transgression to beat myself up over.

I did make peace with this one long ago. Maybe even before having my children. I matured into more perspective about pregnancy and circumstances. Occasionally, I will do the mental math on how old my child would be, but largely, I have buried the loss.

Self-mutilation. I would love to say this was a coping device for the previously described traumas. It was not. This behavior predates the majority of this list. That first lighter to my stomach in the parking lot honestly feels like the catalyst to all that followed. The pain was first. The overwhelming, soul crushing, swallowing pain I could not explain or identify. The burning then the cutting was how I coped. And that always felt like a weakness.

And that is always what my father and my friends told me it was.

The practice fractured my personality, creating personas for the victim, abuser, and bystander. Injuring myself turned me on myself, made that self-hate part of who I was. I have not deliberately charred and sliced my own flesh in 15 years, but I would be lying to say that it was not still with me. Right before my recent hamstring injury, I felt a dangerous flirtation with the idea of being hurt.

I got what I deserved for thinking that.

Substances. In the spectrum of drug use, even at my worst, I probably still rank relatively low and mundane. However, it is relatively undeniable that I tried to drink myself to death when I was 17. And even more undeniable that my pursuit of alcohol resulted in a lot of the problems and crimes I’m discussing here.

I was drunk for an entire year. Every single day, no embellishment or hyperbole. I managed to find some way to indulge every day, and sometimes the cost of that resulted in more of the consequences previously discussed. I made extremely stupid and dangerous decisions in pursuit of these substances, and I am fortunate that more awful things did not befall me.

Alcohol and pills were another crutch, another weakness. And so they were another thing for me to judge and condemn myself for. I couldn’t handle my perfectly acceptable life, so I was just a weak addict.

Being crazy. The crux. I think this is what underlies it all. I think this is the ultimate root of this entire list of crimes and infractions, mistakes and regrets. At the time, at that confusing age of 17, I had no idea what was going on in my mind. I did not understand why my emotions raged so extreme and in directions opposite of my stimuli. I could not see when my perceptions were fractured or distorted. I had no perspective on myself, my life, or really anything.

All I knew was that I was broken over nothing. And that seemed like a perfectly reasonable cause to hate myself.

I fought my diagnosis with all I had. The idea of “just being crazy” like my mother, like my family upset me to my core. Everything I was feeling, everything I was had to be more than that. I could not wrap my brain around the idea of being reduced to chemical reactions and learned behaviors.

Now, that I have accepted and integrated the realities of my mind, it seems silly to harbor such resentment at myself over something I have no actual control over. Yet I feel that somewhere deep it still lingers. Maybe under it all, always under it all, I am mad at myself for being crazy. How can I make my insanity such a part of my identity now while resenting myself for it? Perhaps this duality, this contradiction is what binds me to my 17 year-old traumas.

I blame crazy for all the bad things that happened to me, and I blame myself for being crazy. It feels stupid to say yet somehow rings true.

So I guess, in the end, I need to forgive myself simply for being me.

Christina Bergling

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As some of you may recall, I recently talked at a couple schools about writing. It started out innocently enough, just volunteering at my daughter’s school as part of their readathon and helping out a friend teaching Technical Writing for the first year. Then a teacher with whom I often share the zumba dance floor heard about it and asked if I would speak to her class too.

I agreed, of course, thinking talking to another high school class would be easy. Especially talking about horror writing versus technical writing. The middle school aged group had gone so well, been so engaged and fun, that I was willing to try again. Plus my editor always insists that any promotion or publicity is good. After all, I thought it was just one more class.

Oh, no. No no no.

At some point between the request and fulfilment, it became like a real thing. By the time we were finalizing details, I was slated to speak in an auditorium all seven periods of the day, talking to 29 classes totalling about 900 students.

Insert my utter panic.

I am not entirely sure why I was so intimidated. I definitely do not enjoy public speaking; I do not have any particular talent for it. It makes me nervous to stand up in front of a group but nothing close to anxiety. I got over it every time I had to stand up in front of soldiers to train them, even when I had no idea what I was talking about.

The auditorium, the size of the audience, and the multiple speeches surely upped the ante, but as scary as they could be, these were all good things.

So, like a true writer, I gooogled the word count I needed for a thirty minute speech, and I wrote the entire thing out. I showed up at the high school, my nerves vibrating under my skin, with my entire speech printed. I even wrote it in my speaking voice rather than my writing voice (because they are very different).

The teachers were overwhelmingly welcoming. They were genuinely excited to have me there and have me speaking, and that felt amazing. I began to tell myself I could do this; I was going to do this. Under my nerves, I knew the itching anxious feeling was normal, part of it that would pass.

It was intimidating up on that stage, under those lights. My husband mocked me beforehand, saying I could not possibly be jittered over talking to some high schoolers when I have belly danced in front of hundreds of people over the years. Speaking has always just been so different from dance, a different part of the brain and my emotions. Plus, I think I am better at dancing than public speaking (it would not be hard).

That first period was rough. I clung to my printed speech like my life depended on it. I awkwardly paced the stage like a sedated jungle cat. I lived for the cough drop keeping my ill throat lubricated.

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But I made it.

I kept my speech rather basic. I introduced myself, explained I was a horror writer there to talk about writing. I started with how I was inspired to write in elementary school and sort of chronologically walked through my writing career. At this point, I could see the gaping yawns and bobbling heads.

Then my speech took a hard turn. I pulled out my battle with depression, my failed suicide attempt, my bipolar diagnosis, How to Kill Yourself Slowly. Then I suddenly had their attention. I could almost gauge the shock when my narrative changed–sort of, did she really just say that? Is she really talking about that?

I cannot tell my writing journey without including those aspects. My writing, my work does not exist without my broken brain that produces it or my unsavory life experiences that have shaped it. It would feel inauthentic for me to leave it out and speak about my books sterilely.

So I poured out my black, little heart all over the auditorium stage, and I talked to these high schoolers the same as I would to anyone else (minus the normal slathering of curse words and a few punches pulled to stay in bounds on hot topics like suicide). To my mind, if I could decide to try to kill myself at 12, how could I talk to them like children who had never experienced anything? Age 17 was the most formative in my life, and that is right where they are right now. It had to be the raw honesty.

After that chunk, I continued on my little story of being published and being an author as a side job, all the basics of my books and what they involve. Then I opened it up for questions.

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Q&A is my favorite part. I enjoy the questions; I do far better with them than giving a speech. The interaction keeps me out of my own head. The kids were really fun to chat with. They asked me a range of questions, from the canned questions their teachers expected reports on to just random things like my favorite color or favorite Walking Dead character (Negan, currently). They asked about my family, my kids reading my horror writing, why I would write if it didn’t make money, all the things I might write in the future.

After many sessions, I had kids come up and talk to me one-on-one. Some wanted to talk about their writing or being sent to the counseling center for it (been there!). Some wanted to talk about their favorite book franchise. Some just wanted to talk.

I think I got better and better with each delivery of the speech. I at least became less dependant on my notes. Though it was just utterly exhausting. By the last two periods, I was giving my speech while sitting on the steps to the stage. Maybe not very professional but it is what I needed. I do not know how teachers do it.

Overall, I think it went really well. I ended up enjoying the experience completely. The teachers were awesome to work with. The kids were fun to interact with. It was surreal to walk the halls and have them whisper about who I was as I passed. The pseudo celebrity experience is still just strange for me. Mostly fun though.

I think I started to forget that getting published really means something. It has been two years, nearly exactly, since Savages was released. It took me months to come to happy terms with the fact that it actually happened, that the dream had come true. Yet in those two years, I have become complacent with my new reality, writing and promoting every day, comparing myself to every blindingly successful author. This experience reminded me that it is something, that it does matter. Even if just to me, it matters.

It is also awkward for me to consider myself now a public speaker, talking to kids about anything. Part of me wonders if I have anything worthy to say to an audience, the same part of me that wonders if I have any writing worth publishing. Yet I keep writing, so I will keep doing this as well, as long as I am invited.

I have already been invited back to this school, and ultimately, if my silly little talk inspires one kid to write or deal better with being depressed or anything, I will happily continue to do it for free. And if it helps me sell books, all the better.

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

horror

When you tell people that you are an author, the inevitable first question is always, “Well, what do you write?” To which I nonchalantly answer, “horror.” I love seeing the reactions. Usually, it is either shock with an awkward stumbling or fascination. In any case, the reaction generally provides a pretty solid gauge on how the remainder of our interaction on the subject will play out.

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If the questioner remains interested, the follow up question is naturally, “Why horror?” Especially if we start discussing The Waning. Everyone seems to have a strong reaction to that book, one way or another. Most people can get behind zombies and the apocalypse like in Savages with how mainstream those themes have become. Not everyone can take captivity and seemingly endless (and some might say, pointless) torture, however. I have family members who could not even finish The Waning; it was too “dark.”

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It is not an easy question to answer: why horror? With most things, you can get away with the canned response that you just like it. With horror, however, being so centered around darkness, pain, suffering, and all undesirable facets of life, people have a harder time understanding why someone would be drawn to it, would willing sign up to be disturbed. A common assumption is that you are damanged, broken in some way. Being not just a voyeur but a creator of such content makes you all the more suspect.

For multiple reasons, I have been ruminating on my own attraction to pain, damage, and even horror as well as introspecting on the patterns of my own mind. It is an easy assumption to correlate a comfort and enjoyment of negative things with damage or defect. Even just in my own personal instance, the preference seems innate rather than acquired. Cultivated, perhaps, yet it seems to have been a part of me as long as I can remember.

I have always felt the allure of horror. It resonated with my mind, spoke to something inside me. A darkness, maybe. Even in the youngest, happiest, most sheltered parts of my childhood, I found myself drawn to things like Halloween, fascinated by all the morbidity that surrounded them. Innocuous though the start, it grew into something else. A symptom of something deeper. I was always fixated and intrigued by pain, my own and that of others.

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As a young child, I remember feeling so much. It was a perpetual and unmanageable swell of emotions, constant and unrelenting. I experienced the most intense happiness and infatuations, yet more than that, I had a well of pain and unhappiness. I felt such strong dark and negative feelings without seeming cause. And, in an attempt to figure myself out, I remember trying to find excuses for how I felt, trying to classify my emotions into the boxes I understood. Boxes, I would learn, that would never fit me.

Yet, as I grew older, it became more clear that the darkness was in me, not infecting from outside circumstance but inherent. The pain inflicted by external stimuli, though traumatic at times, never seemed to be as black or as consuming as the kind that blossomed from my center. Instead, I sought out excuses for how I felt; I manufactured circumstance to confirm what originated somewhere beneath and behind my consciousness. It took a lot of time and severing endless strings of denial to make peace with that part of me, to identify myself as the culprit under all the layers I created.

I lost my mind, dissolved into the darkness in my teenaged years. When I think back to the way the pain devoured and distorted my mind in those darkest days, I do not know how I made it to the other side. I do not know how I functioned. I do not know how I graduated high school early, how I held down jobs, how I kept my parents at bay, how I maintained any kind of interpersonal relationships, how I went to college. I cannot remember either. Every fragment and remnant of that period in my mind is a flicker in a blur of so many substances and unchecked moods.

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I was a mess. Yet, in that mess, I was pure. I was honest. I was unrefined. And because of that, I am still irresitably drawn to that darkness. And anything that speaks to that caged and sedated part of me.

Like horror.

I am not saying one needs to be damaged and defective to enjoy horror. Nor am I saying that is the reason I respond to it on such an instinctual level. Horror, for me, is an outlet to part of myself. It confronts realities in our world and in our culture (and myself) that may not be pleasant but remain just as real. Personally, I enjoy the experience of that confrontation.

I can write a version of myself on the page who does not have her shit together, who relents to her broken mind, who is so inescapably damaged. I can empathize with a character on the screen in their worst and most tormented hour. I can toy with the darkness inside of me, letting my fingers play in the edge of the flame, without burning down my entire life.

I enjoy the flirtation with the dangerous part of me, my undesirable yet pervasive center. It is like having an affair behind the back of my sanity. Exciting and wild.

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Horror speaks to me in the language my base self understands. I am attracted to the pain the same way I used to actively seek my own, whether through self-destructive behavior or abject self-mutilation. All that is still inside of me, and my indulgence of horror is my safe, neutered way to still interact with it.

Ultimately, despite all my therapy and self-examination and understanding, I do not know why the darkness comforts me, why the pain seems native. I do not like that I find a grotesque familiarity in suffering. Could it be the damage of deformed neurotransmitters? Could it be the absense of adequate neurochemicals? Is it some association forged in experience that tumbled out of my memory? Is it something wrong with me, or is it simply me?

I spend a disproportionate amount of my life in depression. Not because my life is unsatisfactory but because that is half of the symptomology of my brain. Perhaps my affinity for horror is merely an adaptation to this. It does substantially decrease the burden to feel at home in my own sadness; it does help to surrender and wrap myself up in the black rather than fight or resist it. Maybe it’s my survival mechanism that I never knew I would need until bipolar blossomed across the wrinkles of my mind.

Regardless of causality and circumstance, independant of reasoning, I accepted myself long ago. I have embraced and actively cultivate all of these tendancies and preferences bubbling inside my head. I find joy in the darkest places and experience the breadth of a full spectrum of emotions. I live in extremes, for the better and worse.

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I am not sure if this post is ultimately about horror or bipolar or just some rambling about weird musings I have had lately. I know I’ve written about my attraction to horror before and our cultural attraction to it. To keep the answer simple, I write horror to get it out of my brain. For whatever reason, it breeds between my cells, and I express it. I feel better letting it out and indulging in it. It is just who I am.

 

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Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling

SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com