(All quoted material in this post, unless otherwise indicated, is found in Andersen’s tale titled “The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf.”  http://www.hcandersen-homepage.dk/eng-the-girl-who-loaf.htm)Image

Last Friday, I posted an article to this site that may have puzzled anyone who reads this blog.  After all, what connection does a fairy tale about a little girl who stepped on a loaf of bread have in common with healing Complex PTSD?  Good question!  Here is my response: 

About two weeks ago, in a moment of focused and intense insight,  I suddenly beheld in the front of my mind the complete span of my abuse and victimization during the first forty-two years of my life, and like Inger, I found myself plunging deep into a hole, a horrible dark space filled with all the monsters and dread creatures that make up any child’s—or adult’s—nightmares.   

Yes, it all came together.  I suddenly connected all the dots.  I could understand how abuse event number one when I was a very young child set me up for abuse event number two—and so on.  Until two weeks ago, I had possessed all the information, but it was fragmented and floating around in my mind.  Suddenly, as if I were taking a photograph, all the bits lined up in sequence and clicked into place, and I saw the pattern of my victimization during the entire first forty-two years of my life. I could also more than understand why I have Complex PTSD and why I am still working, at age 73, to find my way out of the hole.  I can see, too, that the process will take a while.   

But at least now I can identify the place where I landed in my plunge.  And, as in Inger’s particular Hell, mine, too, seems to be a “never-ending antechamber.” As Andersen states, “and this is how Inger came into Hell. People don’t always go there by the direct path, but they can get there by roundabout routes if they have a tendency in that direction.”  Anyone, probably, who has been victimized as a child and who had nobody to listen to her or him and to intervene on their behalf, has “a tendency in that direction.”  In my attempt at age four to find relief by telling an adult what had happened in my own home, I was further victimized by the “listening adult.” A “roundabout route,” indeed.  I learned my lesson that day: Never tell. 

At this point, however, I feel the need to differentiate between my story as a victim of child abuse and Inger’s story.  Little Inger is a proud, cruel, haughty, spoiled child who has no concern for others and who cares only about herself.  She commits an act of atrocious selfishness and pays the price.  She does the deed and suffers for her act—apparently a straightforward example, according to Andersen, of what happens, or should happen, to a person who does not care to lead a socially “good” and “moral” life.  Inger is, however, redeemed when she becomes contrite, acknowledges the flaws in her behavior, and is sorry.  She serves her time, and then she is released from her punishment, free to soar to Heaven in the form of a beautiful white bird. 

Unlike Inger, I—as are all victims of child abuse—was innocent.  I had done nothing to warrant my punishment, my Hell.  I plunged into my Hell when I was placed by others on the loaf called victimization, and only recently have I recognized my surroundings. And now I’m trying to find my way out of that seemingly “never-ending antechamber.”  It’s not fair!  That thought galls and infuriates me whenever I let it.  But I don’t spend much time letting it.  I know I have a choice:  I can remain forever angry and bitter, like gall, or I can continue to—as a friend so aptly and colorfully puts it—“put on my big girl panties” and continue the journey in hopes of finding the end of the antechamber.   

Sometimes I think I can see the light, the end of the antechamber, but often I’m forced to have faith that there is an end and that the end is where I want to be.  When I reach that end, will I be a beautiful white bird?  Will I fly into the sun?  I don’t know.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, another Nordic author whose lifetime overlapped that of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), saw his main character in Faust as “der immer strebende,” the forever striving one.  So long as Faust continued to seek the meaning of his life, he would be saved from damnation and eternal Hell.   

I see this process in which I am so engaged, this process of finding the end of the “never-ending antechamber,” my path to release from a punishment I have never deserved.  But I also recognize the necessity of seeing myself as Goethe saw his Faust, “der immer strebende.”  “Always striving” and “finding the end of the antechamber” go together.  But what if all my striving and all my seeking lead to nowhere, a blank brick wall?  What then?  That’s the risk I take.  It’s the risk those of us in therapy for C-PTSD all take.  So why continue to strive?   

My answer: Focus on the joys of the striving, the process, and the possible beauty of the outcome.  Will we become soaring, graceful white birds like Inger and fly into the sun?  Will our souls be borne, as Faust’s soul, to Heaven, whatever our concept of Heaven is?  We aren’t there yet, so we don’t know with any certainty. Maybe somebody who has “arrived” will write to me and let me know the answer. But we can choose to continue striving or we can choose to give up and sink into the quagmire of despair for the rest of our lives.  My choice is to continue striving.  I fervently hope that is your choice, too.