On Straying and Being Saved

“The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places (himself), separates (himself), situates (himself), and therefore strays instead of getting his bearings, desiring, belonging or refusing. Situationist in a sense, and not without laughter–since laughing is a way of placing or displacing abjection. Necessarily dichotomous, somewhat Manichaean, he divides, excludes, and without, properly speaking, wishing to know his abjections is not at all unaware of them. Often, moreover, he includes himself among them, thus casting within himself the scalpel that carries out his separations.

Instead of sounding himself as to his “being,” he does so concerning his place: “Where am I?” instead of “Who am I?” For the space that engrosses the deject, the excluded, is never one, nor homogeneous, nor totalizable, but essentially devisible, foldable and catastrophic. A deviser of territories, languages, works, the deject never stops demarcating his universe, whose fluid confines–for they are constituted of a non-object, the abject–constantly question his solidity and impel him to start afresh. A tireless builder, the deject is in short a stray. He is on a journey, during the night, the end of which keeps receding. He has a sense of the danger, of the loss that the pseudo-object attracting him represents for him, but he cannot help taking the risk at the very moment he sets himself apart. And the more he strays, the more he is saved.”

-Julia Kristeva,  Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection


Several years ago, when I began parenting my young children, I was introduced to the world of sensory integration. Like trauma, it is something that we have only had language for for a relatively short time but that is becoming more and more mainstream (although the connection between the two is still something we skirt in public discourse).

I remember so clearly the initial evaluations my children received from developmental specialists, occupational therapists and speech/feeding therapists and the moment a lightbulb went on for me around my own challenges with something called “proprioception.”  In short, proprioception is a kind of “sixth sense” that has been identified as the ability to know where one’s body is in space relative to one’s surroundings and it is vitally important in body position and body movement.

As my children began working with various therapists around their sensory challenges, I learned that some humans with sensory related challenges are primarily sensory seeking while some are primarily sensory avoidant and that some are both. I learned about things like vestibular input and heavy work as helpful in calming the nervous systems of my children and others who struggle with challenges around knowing where their bodies are in space.

All of this knowledge opened up a whole new world for me.  It certainly helped me in understanding my children and my ability to be a more compassionate and effective parent to them, but it also opened a window into my own self-understanding, provided a key, a new lens, a different sort of interpretation that has shifted and evolved over several years as I continue making connections around this knowledge, my experiences and my experience of being human. Through being able to understand that my children experience themselves and their bodies and their relationship to the world differently than what is universally assumed to be true, and because my belief is that parenting them is not necessarily about fixing them or changing them or forcing them to conform, but rather meeting them and their needs differently  – I was able to begin to see myself,  my experience and my own needs differently. 

This passage, quoted above, that I came across in my recent reading has had a similar effect on me. It is a coming together of so many pieces and layers of things I have, perhaps individually, been able to name and known to be true for me. In reading it, I am almost compelled to shout, “THIS!” “This is it!” “THIS IS THE THING!”  These are the words. It is so rare for me to find pieces of myself  and my experience reflected in much of anything I read in mainstream culture, passages like this are a kind a lifeline fore me. If I could explain anything about my human experience thus far – there is so much of it here, contained in these words.

[I feel that, at this point, it’s important to mention that these paragraphs are taken from an essay that is translated from French and was written well before the mainstream language for trauma existed, as well as before more gender inclusive language was called for. Also that it was written from the point of view of a psychoanalyst with a great deal of privilege and so I also take some issue with the author’s implication and tone that such familiarity with abjection, and therefore being excluded, a deject or a stray is wholly a choice.]

In some ways this passage represents something I feel like I have been trying to express all of my life: the essence, the lived reality of what it is to be lacking a sense of proprioception, not only in the physical sense, but the intellectual, the emotional and the existential.  Of what it is to have never known anchoring, tethering or what is referred to in Attachment Theory as a “secure base” from which to orient myself, to venture out into the world confident in my own experiences and abilities, sure of my own existence and trusting my very right to inhabit any amount of space at all.

This reality has left me in a perpetual state of floating between spaces, spaces designed and created and languaged by others. It has left me never knowing what it is to belong, to be included,  to be at home both within my own being and in the world. I have spent much of my life precariously perched on the margins of any and all spaces, living a life in constant translation, forced to interpret what I think I am seeing into a performance I can never exactly get right but praying I can get right enough to pass, to warrant the right to stay, to not be deemed wholly invisible, disposable or worse – erased, as though I have never really been here at all. And often, in the end, forced to leave because something about the performance means never really being seen at all. 

Those of us who know this experience of being human are often pathologized for the ways in which we manage existing in a different reality than the one that takes up all of the space in the scripts of our cultural norms. Much like my children, who are sometimes maligned and even disciplined for being overly active, clumsy and accident prone, engaging in rough play, being unaware of their own strength and the force of their movements, the volume of their voices or the sensations in their bodies that alert them to things like hunger, having to go to the bathroom, etc, we are often labeled as unhealthy, imposing, codependent, addictive, needy, attention seeking. And the implication is always that we are in need of “help” of “fixing” or repair when the reality is that we simply know a different experience of what it is to be here, human and therefore require different ways of being in the world, different orientations, different ways of being met in relationship, in order to get our needs met. However, we exist in a world that does not care that we require different sorts of “input” in order to locate ourselves in space. And the ways in which we get our needs met are labeled manipulation, “acting out”, instability and any number of coded, pathological terms. .

And the idea that this is a choice, a matter of personal responsibility to fix, and the implication that there is no value in coming to the collective table of humanity offering a different perspective is catastrophically harmful, both to those of us who know this lived reality and to the collective. For this way of being in the world, this way of seeing, though it, unarguably has its costs, also has its benefits.

It was never my choice to become a stray, to know, in the most fundamental of ways, what it is to be fully fluid, uncontained, to not know where others end and I begin, to perpetually have to find my bearings, reorient and ask myself, “Where am I?” and perhaps more importantly “Who am I required/allowed to be?” according to where I am . “Who am I?” is a privileged question to be able to ask and one that I have never been afforded. Abjection was imposed on me from my infancy and, in it’s own way, erased all of the lines, all of the touch points, all of the moorings I might once have been able to hold onto and safely differentiate, had I been given a different start in life.  

And so the creation of this blog is me, straying. Locating myself and more fully inhabiting the darkness with which I am so familiar and most comfortable and from which I no longer believe I need saving.  Growing comfortable in the space outside the lines, instead of trying to find myself inside of ones that have always been too constraining – something I have come to know as an exercise in futility.  Choosing to take up residence in storm and shifting sands and not knowing any one thing to be constant, certain nor universally true, instead of on a search for the one great truth or cure that might fix me, make me more palatable, more socially acceptable or make me whole. It is an attempt at the languaging and re-languaging of what it is to live through and with complex trauma, an experience that, like so many things, has been and is being co-opted and colonized, stripped down, sanitized, cataloged and categorized by whiteness and patriarchy. And it is an invitation, a signaling to others, for whom this resonates, to join me here, in a space of our own making, away from the demands for narratives that are clean and clear and stories of inspiration and redemption and sameness, for conversation and truth-telling and not knowing and being in reality, together.

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