If you know who I am, I already know part of what you’re thinking: what in the world is this whitey talking about with this “raccoon medicine” nonsense? Well, it’s not nonsense to me. In fact, I hope you’ll pay close attention, because we can all learn from what I’m about to detail here.
My life has been marked by a continuing struggle with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Many consecutive years of my early childhood have been simply erased from my memories — for the sake of perspective, I’m talking about virtually all of my first 7 years on this planet, with the exception of one distinct memory that plays in my mind like a videotape of an event when I was 3 years old. This was my first indication that something was very deeply wrong. There are and always have been many, many other indicators, such as episodes in which friends and acquaintances described completely uncharacteristic behaviours to me, that I was engaged in for hours at a time, while I had neither memory of it nor even the conception of lost time. Sometimes those completely uncharacteristic behaviours could be described as hostile or even brutal. Other times they were humiliating and sexually degrading—both humiliating and degrading to me, both because of the nature of the behaviour itself and because I had neither memory of doing it nor even the faintest idea of how much time had passed while I was unaware of what I was doing. There have also been episodes in which I’ve been consciously engaged in these behaviours, as if by compulsion and not because I wanted to, while fighting within and against myself to turn off particular aspects of my emotional complex in an effort to get through it without breaking down or compromising my safety.
It is in this way that I was simultaneously living as multiple people at once: a victim perpetually on the run from one abuser (only to find herself running into the arms of another), a warrior taking a stand against abuse (almost always when someone else was the target), an adult with child-like faculties who is left to figure it out alone (and as a result, become codependent on paternalistic adults who didn’t view me as an equal), an obsessed (and obsessive) admirer of both egocentric men and women who have learned to be helpless, a sexual masochist with a persistent death wish (whose most powerful and overpowering outlet was a truly sadistic and abusive lover), and a badly wounded self-defensive animal (one who had been “tamed” by being terrorized, but whose feral nature was still alive and wild within). There was no solitary definitive breaking point. My every waking moment was a breaking point. I was disintegrating at the slightest touch, every time I built myself up again. No matter what shape I took, I was constantly being broken back down into an amorphous collective of tiny fragments.
There’s a sense in which this allowed me a certain freedom, if I wanted it. The freedom to move between barriers, like a river rushing through stones. The freedom to take up as much space as I wanted to, because I would wear down or burst through anything or anyone that tried to stop or contain me in any way. Only I didn’t want to move between barriers. I was falling in love with those barriers, because it was the only way I knew how to live with myself. It was the only thing that felt safe and familiar. I didn’t want to take up space because that was a terrifying ordeal for a person who only knew how to take up as little space as possible. I didn’t want to be admired for my resilience because I didn’t want to be seen at all. I wanted to disappear, and I secretly and silently seduced myself with the idea of someone else erasing me. Though I was not fully conscious of it, that idea I seduced myself with would be my ultimate high: experiencing a rapist’s orgasm vicariously, or perhaps even a murderer’s rush as he watched the light go out in my eyes.
I have survived countless men of these persuasions over the course of my lifetime. They were always there. Watching and waiting. Preying upon women who had either wandered or been pushed to the very brink of their reach. Simultaneously sweet-talking and microaggressing upon those reviled and despised women, until the women were carrying themselves into a dangerous game of sexual predation. By then, each of them had already learned how to keep each woman’s guard down as they twisted her perceptions against her, silently transforming her into his agent. And finally, once she was completely turned against herself, they would convince her both of her powerlessness and of their omnipotence and then take from her. They would take her money, no matter how little she had. They would take her home even if they couldn’t hold onto it themselves. They would take her body from her and they would take her blood. But most of all, they would take her voice, so that even if she survived, she would forever keep their secrets—and that truly is, if anything can be, the primary reason for leaving these women alive, as virtually every psychopathic sexual predator knows that the dead cry out for justice, but the living whose voices have been stolen from them simply can’t.
It was the last one whose hands I put my worthless life into, who sadistically handed it back to me after very brutally raping and sodomizing me with his hand on my neck, that finally convinced me to utter for the first time in the company of another human being, what I had just survived—what I had survived too many times before. To break the silence and stop carrying his secret along with so many, many other rapists’ secrets. To acknowledge how profoundly I know these men, because I have known them all my life. To take up space, starting with my direct experiences, very gradually working up to writing about the red flags I’ve learned to recognize and the lies they’ve all told me. To build myself up with all those fragments, and to not allow myself to crumble into an amorphous mess again.
But I also had to learn that those multiple personalities were all my different faces, not different people. They were a part of me, not someone else. They were all my defences against incest, rape, sodomy, battery, exploitation, and every abuse and microaggression in between. They were what has kept me alive, but they could be so much more than a survival mechanism. They could help me stop the cycle. They could help me take my power and my voice back. And they could help me exploit the secrets I have kept for so long, directly against the men who are made most vulnerable by them—the men who had created them.
At first, I learned to use my warrior mask. I stepped into the streets and threw the shame back into the faces of the people who had literally hurled it at women who are just like me. Then I quickly learned to use other masks, until I recently found myself deliberately and consciously projecting my wounded animal mask while I searched intensely for a new place to live for the entire six weeks during which I shared a home with two men who viscerally hate women, people of colour, gays and queers, and trans* people of all stripes. Men who can so barely contain this volatile hatred that it finally precipitated into one of them spitting all over my face, calling me an ignorant cunt, and strangling me in mid-December. I acted like a wounded animal because I knew, from the very first day that I moved there, that any display of integrity, self-confidence, self-respect, or the ability to assert myself, would turn violent. But I moved in there because I was homeless and had only more strenuous options available to me at the time — strenuous not only on myself, but also on the many very generous friends who opened their homes to me every few days for up to a week at a time. I made my choice between applying the same expert manipulation that had been used to victimize me all my life, but confining the strain to myself alone, and continuing to move around every few days between a few houses at a time, thus spreading out the strain of my continued homelessness to as many people as were vulnerable. I made my choice out of significantly greater respect for those relationships than towards either man I would be methodically manipulating until I had gotten what I needed and disappeared.
And when one of those men strangled me (and the other denied seeing anything, but played the role of both prison guard over the entire main floor of the house and defender of the psychopathic misogynist who had just grabbed me by the neck after spitting all over me), I might have previously thought that my attempt to manipulate them both backfired. But I made a choice as soon as his hand moved towards me, and the sensation of his fingers squeezing around my throat solidified my decision. I made sure it continued to backfire on him, by dialling 9-1-1 and taking my wounded animal mask off, to reveal the person I really am beneath. I will continue to conduct myself thusly as I prepare to stare him down in court while he pretends in front of the judge that his hand prints weren’t clearly visible even a half hour after he grabbed me.
Raccoons teach us the skill I am referring to. They teach us to don and use masks strategically, and to take them off with equal thoughtfulness. We can make remarkable observations of other peoples’ behaviour when they can’t see us for who we really are — when they only see a victim because that’s all they want to see in us, and when we deliberately perform as one in front of them to exploit this vulnerability and throw their secrets back in their faces the moment we suddenly drop the performance and break loose of them. What used to take me literally years to work through—being muddied by both emotional dissociation and the inability to see even that I was emotionally dissociated—now takes a matter of days with raccoon medicine.
I have hope that the more people I teach to use this skill, and the more people I teach to learn from raccoon medicine, the fewer people will be made vulnerable by methodical predation and the less time it will take me to break loose from it. It may not make my life perfect, but it makes it a lot easier to stand up for myself when it starts to feel familiar again.