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  • Writer's pictureCrys Raffa

Define That Word For Us...

"I do not think that word means what you think it means.." - Inigo Montoya

Back when my "mask" was fully formed and firmly set in place, I did things a lot differently. It was common for me to "fake it" till I figured things out or devised some type of hack that would accomplish the goals others expected of me. Until my official diagnosis, I never knew this had a lot to do with being ASD.

In childhood, it was survival. That is how the majority of neurodivergents develop masks. From the pressures we feel at home and in social settings to be like everyone else. "Go along to get along" as they say. In my case, again, like many others, that was compounded by the extreme trauma of my childhood. (Sexual abuse is the only form I was spared from facing.)

So in those years and situations where we are most often told we should be "discovering" who we are and what our world view is etc etc, I was hardly able to see the forest for the trees. I was my mother's indentured servant until she died when I was 16. I was kicked out to live on my own at 19 despite my new step sibling (older and way more deserving of an ass kicking) being coddled and allowed free shelter for years after. In my 20s I was making the not smart choice to move many states to live with a person I'd spent years in a long-distance relationship with that had begun as a camp romance.

In that state, I met the person I ended up marrying and starting a family with before we returned to my state of departure. Along this whole path I have been forced to realize that I was still using the terms and definitions set out for me by those who inflicted the need for my mask.

A major fact of masking I find goes untalked about, is that it is, in many ways, a form of indoctrination. When we mask and take on the traits and habits the world around us demands we have and sustain in order to both survive and please those we require to get by daily (teachers, parents, authority figures of any stripe) it also demands that part of the mask be the belief structures held by those very same people. It is no doubt part of why many of us are diagnosed after we are removed from those environments or exposed to new ones through whatever circumstances we come by them.

The common place contemporary criticisms of people being "weak" or "soft" or simply not X enough to handle how things always were, stem from fear as you'd expect. Fear of self refection, fear of anything new, fear of different/other, and fear acceptance/change. Believe it or not, fear is part of their mask.

It is, in truth, a facet of masking we ALL have in common. The entirely shattering and difficult process of unmasking is overwhelming at best and crippling at worst. It inflicts periods of depression and euphoria as well as truly random anxiety and dissociation. If ever there comes a point where we feel we have gotten to a place of stability in the process, we either continue no further or simply revert to the original state of masking. Why? Why after all that work and (if we are honest) self inflicted torture? Fear.

We experience regression and reversion states because we never fully learned how to exist and unmaking forces us to process not only the factual truth of this, but to live the physical realities of it as well. In my own journey, I have experienced this a great deal in recent months. That court class? The last week, "forgiveness", nearly shattered me like an egg.

It was for a number of reasons, but I had to face that my definitions of family, honesty, intimacy, truth, forgiveness, moving on, and so SO many more terms were being either wholly ignored by this process or outright dismissed as false.

My terms had been defined by my childhood and it was with them I'd entered my marriage. I adapted them during adulthood and the abuses my ex inflicted. This "class" vehemently insisted your history with your ex was irrelevant and that genuinely is untrue. For me and for allistics, but particularly for someone like me. Much of why this was particularly worse for me is that since my ex was discovered as a cheater *in addition to the history of abuse* and their abuse continued and more betrayals were revealed before they finally were forced to leave by the legal system.

In the ensuing freedom, I have been able to deal with the physicality of the emotional process. I have faced serious pain issues, gastric issues, cardiac issues and weight gain. All while I have 97% primary custody and 2 kids who keep saying they don't wanna have to go see my ex.

It now falls to me to teach my children, who are like me, that those very same terms do have meanings. Yet, I also have to teach them how to personalize those words for themselves. My younger already asks me why so&so isn't here anymore and I have to "age appropriate" an explanation for them. (ASD kids do not stop asking until they get an answer they consider sensible.)

So think long and well about what special words mean to you, what words even are special to you and are they the same for your person? Do your word lists match and do your word meanings match?

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