Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Precious and Happy

on 2012 July 10

On my autreat trip, I met a friend. We had been pen pals and this was the first meeting in 3D. She had no experience hanging out with friends in real life, so she was worried about doing something wrong. I thought a lot about this. I just wasn’t concerned with right and wrong. I wanted to make it about precious and happy instead. Sure we did some things that were wrong in our two hours together. For example, people don’t wear jackets in summer, so that was a “mistake” when you need to look presentable. Also, you are not supposed to approach someone you’ve never seen before really really slowly, then look down at the floor for a while, listen to each other’s breathing, then suddenly hug them! One’s first words on meeting someone should probably be “hello, I’m so and so, how are you?”, not “Let’s go inside because I have to pee”. Furthermore, it is wrong to eat ice cream for breakfast or let the conversation go silent for long periods. So pretty much we did everything wrong, and I’m so happy about it! If we had been trying for right, we would not have experienced precious.

So many of us seem to have post-traumatic stress. I don’t know if it is “real” PTSD like the veteran I met whose flashbacks of killing a child were triggered by everything and as a result he could never be sober, but still it’s the kind of stress that defines our lives. Some were traumatized by past relationships, past ABA therapy, institutions, or other ways of being powerless. We’re triggered by things that are common – like certain kinds of noises, male people, overly chipper people, or dogs, to name a few. Constantly being alert eats away at us. Traumas that are frequently re-ignited do not recede into the past on their own. Despite the saying, time does not heal all wounds. However, I think these kinds of wounds can be healed in safe spaces where there aren’t as many triggers.

Being guarded like this can build an armor against relationships. Two people approach, and one is set off by the other, and protection wins. I’m set off by males, and I’m sorry for all the male people who tried to connect and I couldn’t. But sometimes a person feels safe enough and we find a way through. Occasionally a person feels extremely safe and it is like the other person is inside my world with no distance. When I was eating ice cream (for breakfast) with my friend, it was like this. We looked up and saw that the place had filled with people over a period of time in which we had been in our shell, but we didn’t see them come in. These connections can be fleeting or partial, but what connects is always the reality of me, not the skills I learned. These connections are not helped by applying social skills, and they can even be prevented by doing the “right” things in fear. I suspect that these bonds are often unobservable by other people. They don’t see anything happening because it is happening in a zero-distance way and often silently.

If it is supposedly impossible for autists to connect this way – which is the only way I can connect, then according to our “teachers” we must stop doing it and be taught the “right” way. When autistic people repeatedly ask me “how are you?” I get so sad. Someone taught you that technique, I think to myself, but now what? Suppose you get through 3 or 4 lines of boring-ass conversation like that, then what’s the plan? Some of us have been taught so well to do just the introductory bit, that we just keep repeating it. It brings to mind all the painful times when I’ve attempted to present myself according to what I thought were the rules.

Autreat’s autistic space helps me a lot. First I learned that it doesn’t matter if they find out that I’m as dull as nails. They did find out, but they didn’t care. You get no mileage in autistic space from fake show-and-tell behavior. It felt like I was officially released from having to show someone off, which I was never good at anyway. Then I learned I had boundaries. I get to decide my space for me – what a revelation; I’m not obligated to let them invade and spike my anxiety. I don’t have to worry about attraction and rejection; somehow those concepts stopped being interesting. I am allowed to try things that work for other people and see if they work for me – like ways to keep out the noise and other stressors. When the people around me don’t care about constructed identities, it gets really easy to shed them. The more I shed, the more fleeting precious I notice happening.

5 responses to “Precious and Happy

  1. nan says:

    It’s the organic process, which develops in spaces such as this, that helps one see, from a place of safe vulnerability, and to feel, and find acceptance.

  2. This post made me sad. Sad for all of the people who can no longer shed these “social skills”, these prescribed ways of being that they have acquired… I want to see people being able to break free like I can. Being able to navigate among these two modes of being has become pretty much second nature to me, and I can do it with ease.

  3. Jessie says:

    That’s beautiful and sad–I wish I’d been able to go.

  4. I am so happy to have found this blog. Someone just sent me the link! I intend to take my daughter to Autreat and am already worrying (it’s still more than 9 months away) that someone will judge her and/or me, so it is good to hear that it is a safe place. I too felt sad, for Autistics who have been taught to say the nonsensical things that NTs say, for NTs for saying things that are nonsensical with protest. I guess that’s the thing about all of this that’s saddest of all, NTs teach their Autistic children to do and say things that they wish they didn’t have to say and do half the time.

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