I think of all the defensive layers of protective armor I’ve contrived over the years, some of them quite ingenious, some of them as banal as antibiotics and cortisone cream, the bacterial warriors of someone who has forsaken her larger combatants, her alternate identities and her self-cutting.
I returned from the writing conference in Ohio, from River Teeth, with a small insect bite on my neck that I barely noticed. By Friday a week ago it had grown and become angrier and redder. The next day I took my neck to Urgent Care – sheepishly, it was only an insect bite – but even though it didn’t have a necrotic center, it was different. There was cellulitis, the doc said, as he took a pair of tweezers, pulled out a stinger, and put me on two different antibiotics and a cortisone cream. Stranger things have happened, I thought, not for a moment recalling anything that left a stinger in my neck, but happy enough to have some extra defense on board.
My regular defenses tripped me up in Ohio when I tried informally to say the heart of my book in three minutes, standing on one foot, so to speak, to anyone who asked and each time found myself stammering awkwardly about Dissociation, quickly aware that almost no one knew what I was talking about, hiding behind all the wrong words. It was so much easier to write my book than to say what it was about. Speaking of it mirrored my hesitation about being the “crazy one” in the room.
I’ve been actively working on articulating this for the last twelve days at home, practicing on friends at parties, and soul-searching with my activist HIV-positive friend, an inspiring choice, as he speaks publicly and often and frankly to school groups of all ages. So he knows how to say who he used to be, and who he is now, and how he got here, openly and succinctly. He showed me his heart again, and I “got” it, that I, too, can speak as directly as I live.
I realized I could simply say my book is about survival and integration from having split into many selves, or multiple identities, when I couldn’t handle the particular trauma of my childhood. And that integration is central.
I really didn’t need to wrap myself in figurative antibiotics and cortisone cream and technical words to get past the stinger of multiple identities. I was wrapping myself in stammering and hesitation, protecting no one and isolating myself. Speaking my truth, living my life is the best antivenin. That process happens to be less isolating, too… Still, I genuinely did need the actual antibiotics so the analogy falls short… except that I don’t need to be alone; there are people who listen and there are people who have had stingers of their own.