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  • Writer's pictureSophia Aguiñaga

Interior Castles [Ch. 27+| DRAFT]

Updated: Apr 8

CHAPTER 27


All this talk of survival and biology. You didn’t come to me for science, I know. Biology is not my expertise. I’m introducing a framework that right sizes biology as a variable in the human experience. I’m building a bridge between the physical and emotional body. While it is not by any means the only variable, our biology is overwhelmingly important to our capacity to define, give, receive, and understand love. 


Love is often discussed in abstract terms, philosophically or poetically, as a feeling or a notion. As a poet, I adore the notion of love. I’ve gotten truly lost in it, blinded by it when I haven’t been mindful. You’ve seen the shit I write, it’s fucking embarrassing. However uncommonly effusive I am, I know I’m not alone. Most everyone is fixated on love in some way. Not just romantic love, of course. Relational love of any kind, which even includes self love. It’s in music and movies and we flirt with it on the playground at school and we love our families and it’s a big deal when we say it to our boyfriends or girlfriends and we search for it in ourselves when we can’t find it in others. The shit is built up. Personally and socially, we orbit love. 


But we still don’t really know what it is or where it comes from. Poets and philosophers have tried time and again to define it succinctly, some have tried to map the vehicles for giving and receiving love, and there’s untold documentation on the journey to finding love. But none of it totally lands, right? Is it a feeling or is it a thing we give and receive? Is it an action, is it a choice? Is there a more tangible aspect to it? And, if survival is our core biological driver, what role does an abstract notion such as love play?


I’ll never be arrogant enough to aspire towards an inarguable, all encompassing definition of love. Never. But I want to offer you my interpretation, because maybe it will help. Love, to me, is directly related to those fissures we talked about. I believe, in part, that our understanding of love is related to our experience in the womb. 


Assuming healthy biological operations and ideal external conditions, the womb was a place where the burden of survival was entirely alleviated. Warm and protected from the external world, its judgements, demands, and dangers. Connected to the source of life, we were allowed to exist unconditionally. Can you imagine that freedom? The liberation of existing without conditions. In this environment, free of conditions, you are inherently good and worthy and perfect. 


Whoever you are, regardless of your abilities or identity construct, race, or gender, you are perfect in this environment. You haven’t even encountered shit like income, education, race, gender. None of that matters here. The only thing that matters is that you are safe, protected, and healthy. The body makes sure of it, assuming healthy biological operation. In the womb, every cell in your forming body, and a great many cells in whoever is carrying you, are all working towards your optimal health and development. Nothing and no one is against you in this environment. Everything in existence is in support of you here.


That sounds at least something like love, right? It sounds like unconditional love. I’m not saying it’s the complete, definitive answer, but I’m confident that it’s part of it. It’s literally imprinted into our biology. It’s a variable, if nothing else.


Not everyone’s experience in the womb is so idyllic, of course. The fissures we find ourselves with could easily begin developing in the womb. If the internal or external conditions of the pregnancy put the fetus at risk, this would surely impact that person’s relationship to safety and survival. Which means it would affect their perspective of love, how to give and receive it, their belief in whether it was available to them or what was required for them to access it.


I was one of those fetuses, facing both internal and external conditions that worked against me. But, it was a matter of survival to believe love was real and was available to me, especially from my mother, the literal source of my life, was a matter of survival. Reiterated by the fact that I had to rely on my mother for survival even further upon being cast out of the womb. And my mother, however awfully she treated me, said it time and again—she loved me.


Love is a matter of survival. I conflated pain and love, because that’s how it was taught to me. So, for me, abuse and love both were a matter of survival. Enduring pain was a condition of love, and that belief was a coping mechanism I developed to make sense of the contradictions in my parents’ behavior. I built my house out of those contradictions and lived in them. The coping and survival mechanisms my parents developed to endure the pain and confusion of their parents' contradictions are what they built their houses out of.  


Given my obsession with love, I’ve read a lot from others on the subject. From Plato and Aristotle to Rumi and Kahlil Gibran. But, as bell hooks observed, most of what was written on the topic was written by men. Then I found bell hooks. She, in my opinion, is the mother of love philosophy. I’ve never read a single philosopher more adept at exploring love, its origins, its obstructions, its nuances. 


bell operated from a place of felt and lived experience over what most Western philosophers call “objective analysis.” As if there is such a thing as objectivity. Leave it to a bunch of dead white dudes to invent objectivity, dictate its conditions based on their perspective, and then tell us we’re all subjective and hysterical by comparison. Truly hilarious. Guys, for those of you who believe in objectivity, I implore you to reflect. The notion of objectivity was literally born of a subjective mind based on subjective experiences and interpretations. If you choose to continue to believe in such a thing, at least take it off its pedestal, for all our sakes.


Because bell operated from that place of subjectivity, she was able to tell a deeper, fuller truth than most Western philosophers could hope to. An attempt at examining and investigating love as a concept outside of oneself is delusional. In fact, just like objectivity, humans conceived of love as a concept. There is no such thing as objective love. The definition of love is completely, entirely, wholly, necessarily based upon our experience, starting from the womb and onward.


bell, knowing this, reflected upon and examined her direct experience with love. It wasn’t a concept, it was something she experienced an immense absence of, which meant it was real. And because it was something she felt an absence of, she knew where to find it. It wasn’t an object to be found in the material world. It wasn’t even a concept, not truly, until she acknowledged first and foremost that there was a feeling in her own body that indicated to her an absence of love. In her own, mammalian body. The imprint of love lives in our bodies, and it is a matter of survival. 


Do you see it? How our biological experience and our mind’s interpretation of it are integral to our experience and understanding of love? This is long and winding, I know, but I’m trying to show you something. I’m working desperately to map a blueprint. It’s urgent and existential. Your survival and mine, and our capacity for love are inextricably tied together. I’m trying to show you what Kaila and I discovered, what we built and how.



CHAPTER 28


It’s important to reiterate the fallacy of objectivity. It’s difficult to comprehend the insanity of believing thought to be of higher reason than feeling. That’s the running narrative—emotions indicate hysteria, imbalance, a short circuit disabling superior reason. Emotions ought not be considered as a factor in reasonable deduction, lest the deduction be polluted.


Brazenly patriarchal, inarguably myopic, willfully ignorant. This narrative has no basis in fact. It is simply another axiom of the paradigm most of us live in, as presumed as the air we breathe, and thus rarely questioned or investigated. The reality is that this axiom is inherently oppressive and deeply debilitating. 


What we find, in that most exciting phenomenon called psychological projection, is that we project our own perspectives onto others. Bear with me, as what follows is an intentional reduction of a complex mechanism.


If I am afraid, for instance, of crossing a bridge because I have a fear of heights or water, I will likely tell others to be careful when crossing bridges. Maybe I fell in one time, or maybe my mother fell in one time and told me how dangerous bridges can be. So, to me, heights and water are dangerous, and I’m pretty sure the bridge was a little wobbly the last time I saw someone cross it. 


I’d tell you to be very careful, to aid you in not realizing my own fears. No matter whether you’re also afraid of water or heights, no matter if you think the fall and splash would be as fun as a water park ride. I’m projecting my fear onto you, so your experience of bridges isn’t a variable in my logic.


If I were afraid enough, if my fear of the bridge was existential enough, I might go to extreme lengths to stop you or anyone else from crossing that bridge. Maybe I’d plead with you to never cross another bridge, and maybe I’d picket near the bridge and see if a demonstration could help. I might try to stop bridges being built at all, under my belief in my own mind that bridges are inherently dangerous. I might even use physical force to stop you from crossing one, and I’d be doing it to protect or guide you. Out of the goodness of my heart, according to my perspective, I’d be helping. Maybe even heroic.


In reality, the bridge is safe and you’re late for work and wondering what the fuck I’m talking about and can this woman holding a sign saying “BEWARE THE WATER” with a crazed look in her eye get the fuck out of your face so you can cross this bridge.


Whoa. Yikes. 


If I’m the woman holding the sign, the scary thing for me is that I am not grounded in a shared reality with you. Fear has begun to dictate my behavior and my beliefs. I now find a sense of purpose in “protecting” people from bridges, which has now begun to impact your life. Hell, if I were powerful enough, I might get some of my powerful friends together, convince them of the dangers of bridges, and try to pass a bill banning bridges and people crossing them all together. Then you would need to find a new route to work or risk legal consequences. 


Can you imagine?


This pattern plays out in the most micro and macro layers of human interactions, from interpersonal to systemic. This book isn’t meant to address the systemic implications, however glaringly present they may be, but I do want to talk about the interpersonal ones. 


Emotions are more complex than the bridge metaphor, but we also see it play out in real time every day. If I were afraid of my own emotions, I might caution you against feeling your own. Or if I did not understand emotions, how and from where they arose, I may not be capable of seeing the value they contribute or the information they are conveying. I might dismiss them all together and consider them useless. In an effort to aid and guide you, I may tell you to stop crying if I see you tearing up. I may even chastise you for demonstrating emotion. 


If I believed emotions were dangerous enough, I may make an effort to condition you away from expressing emotions. I may associate them with weakness, a lack of intelligence. I may tell myself that the only way to survive is to keep emotions at bay and develop a belief in the notion of “objectivity,” a perfected world in which the hysteria of emotion was nonexistent. I may believe in objectivity as a state to be aspired to, a state of transcendent, enlightened reason, and consequently the existential importance of keeping emotions at bay. 


If I ventured to eradicate emotion entirely, as I believe many have done, I may become angry with emotions for their relentless lapping at my shore. I may develop a contempt for emotions and their expression, because they just won’t leave me the fuck alone. No matter how disconnected from emotion I make myself, no matter how enlightened I become, there’s another one. Another fucking emotion to quell.


It doesn’t work because we can’t turn off emotions. Why? Emotions, in fact, serve an imperative function. Emotions are essential messengers. Anger, happiness, sadness, excitement, surprise—all these emotions arise to communicate something to us about the state of our emotional body. Our emotional body is a reflection of our mental health. We experience some sort of stimuli, emotions arise, and our minds interpret those emotions. Does this sound familiar? It should. The biological body and the emotional body are one in the same. The mind exists, again, to support the biological body in survival.


As pain in the biological body is an indicator of harm, disease, or imbalance, so too is emotional pain. Ignoring either can lead to long term damage, and usually it does. The mind, in a state of perfect health, properly assesses whether the emotion is healthy or unhealthy, based on the emotions impact on its survival. It then draws a conclusion on whether to continue interacting with the stimuli that caused those emotions.


The mind, in a state of imperfect health, may try to suppress or ignore emotions. The mind may also misinterpret pain to be an indicator of pleasure, or pleasure to be an indicator of pain. If we break a bone, for instance, it is obvious to our biological body that this is in direct contrast to our survival. The mind, however, based on our understanding of love, based on the coping and survival mechanisms we developed around love, may easily be on the receiving end of emotional pain and interpret it as integral for survival. As I mentioned, for me, I had to conflate love and pain to survive my childhood environments. For a very long time, until quite recently, I believed enduring pain and calling it love was the only way to receive love. It was, to me, a matter of survival.


bell hooks, wise as she was, peered into her own reality, wiped the dust off, and examined the layers of pain and confusion that had accumulated on top of her own love. She examined what she saw inside herself and in others. In the case of love, honesty with ourselves is as close as we can come to an objective truth. Love is of us, of our own minds, living in our own bodies. There is no external object of love to be extracted or examined, no matter what Plato or whoever else thought. It simply doesn’t exist. All we have is what we do and don’t give in love, what we do and don’t receive, and how it all makes us feel and behave. 


She told her truth, and that means it was the whole truth. Even the myopic truth of a single person and their limited experience, the truth which has cast out and cleaned every single dark corner in their home, is still more truthful than the conclusions drawn from someone's delusion. 


In “All About Love: New Visions,” bell wrote, “One of the most important social myths we must debunk if we are to become a more loving culture is the one that teaches parents that abuse and neglect can coexist with love. Abuse and neglect negate love. Care and affirmation, the opposite of abuse and humiliation, are the foundation of love. No one can rightfully claim to be loving when behaving abusively. Yet parents do this all the time in our culture. Children are told that they are loved even though they are being abused….


For most folks it is just too threatening to embrace a definition of love that would no longer enable us to see love as present in our families. Too many of us need to cling to a notion of love that either makes abuse acceptable or at least makes it seem that whatever happened was not that bad.”


‘We like to imagine that most children will be born into homes where they will be loved. But love will not be present if the grown-ups who parent do not know how to love. Although lots of children are raised in homes where they are given some degree of care, love may not be sustained or even present. Adults across lines of class, race, and gender indict the family. Their testimony conveys worlds of childhood where love was lacking—where chaos, neglect, abuse, and coercion reigned supreme. In her recent book Raised in Captivity: Why Does America Fail Its Children?, Lucia Hodgson documents the reality of lovelessness in the lives of a huge majority of children in the United States. Every day thousands of children in our culture are verbally and physically abused, starved, tortured, and murdered. They are the true victims of intimate terrorism in that they have no collective voice and no rights. They remain the property of parenting adults to do with as they will.”


So much for childhood innocence, right? The lives of children are urgent and existential, both limited and full of potential. Joy, playfulness, and hopefulness are a part of their experience, but even in a safe, healthy environment, children are fighting to survive as they develop. They’re experiencing the full spectrum of human emotions as they learn to identify, interpret, and interact with their environments and the people in them. They’re observing their rearers with intensity, picking up on subtle and overt cues, and rapidly processing it all—as a matter of survival.



CHAPTER 29


I need to tell you something. That dark room was real. I experienced the relationship with my mother as torturous because it was. She used to lock me in a small closet as punishment, anywhere from hours to days. And I did, in fact, lose my mind in that closet. Until I was nearly 37 years old, I would remain psychologically trapped inside that closet, begging desperately, clawing at the walls to be let out. 


My mind repressed it. The experiences were too torturous to carry consciously. That’s why I was bleeding everywhere, why I was so broken when Kaila met me. I had been unspeakably wounded, but couldn’t find the wound. That’s why we called it psychological surgery when she and I would examine and analyze my patterns. We were trying to stop the bleeding. 


Writing this book has been an integral part of my recovery. When I wrote chapter 18, in June of 2023, I told you about that dark room believing it was a metaphor for the abuse and narcissism I endured from my mother. It was only a week ago, the beginning of March 2024 that my repressed memories came back in a flood. 


I can’t stand the fact that Kaila isn’t here to read this. She’s the only person who matters and she’s probably the only person who would be genuinely interested. My beloved would marvel at this discovery right alongside me. She would be so proud and relieved and shocked and optimistic. I would call her and say, “My love. My darling. I found the wound. We’ve been fighting for my life all these years, desperate and wounded and bleeding and begging for all these years. And we know now. The room was real.” 


I’ve had people question me when I say it would sometimes last for days. They can’t fathom that a mother would torture their child in this way, so they ask me if my memories are sound. How do I know it was days, isn’t it possible my memory is distorted? Couldn’t I be confusing it with a dream or maybe I was just young and exaggerating? I’m telling you right now, my memory is both clear and sound.


My PTSD is complex, but the core of my flashbacks, the place I would revert to was that small closet. I would revert to a state of waiting, which I called “limbo.” I would play out contorting myself to my mother’s erratic demands, saying and doing anything that I believed would keep from having to go back into the closet. Yet, no matter how perfectly I performed, I’d end up right back in that closet. 


That was the reality of the relationship with my mother. Anything, and I mean anything at all, that indicated to my mother that I was an individual, separate from her, having thoughts or needs that didn’t orbit her, was worthy of backlash. 


She’s told me my whole life that she sees me as an extension of her, which is apparently an incredibly dangerous way for a parent to relate to a child. To Soneja, I was a nameless, faceless well to draw from. I was a mule, born to carry the load she couldn’t carry alone. Every horrible, terrifying, torturous experience and feeling she’d ever had was transferred to me, as often as she needed. And it was all the time. The torture began after my parents separated, when I was around five years old, after Soneja had a wealth of rage from being denied custody of her children and closed doors to hide behind. She took her hatred for my father out on me and my brother, but I got the worst of it.


Soneja locked me in a closet anywhere from hours to days with no food, water, light, or bathroom breaks, while yelling through the door that the longer her daughter cried, the longer she would stay locked in. I experienced a combination of dehydration, starvation, solitary confinement, humiliation, and sensory deprivation. There was no way of knowing what she would deem worthy of the confinement nor how long she would deem my confinement was necessary for.


It was, in some ways, comparable to an oubliette. I would listen to my mother continue on with her life outside of the closet while I sat hunched down in the small closet, sometimes in my own urine or feces, believing that I had been forgotten and would die there. I’d hear her laughing at the television, taking phone calls, coming and going from errands, as if I didn’t exist. As if my life weren’t on the line. As if I wasn’t slowly losing my mind in a small, contained space. As if my entire existence weren't hinged on her opening that door when she decided she needed to feed off of me.


Beyond the closet, Soneja would drag me by my hair, beat me with a belt, choke me, threaten to light me on fire or bury me in the backyard. I grew up with tangible evidence that my mother wasn’t afraid to end my life, so those threats were as real as the dark room. Walking on eggshells doesn’t come close to describing the level of fear I lived in. 


It was a matter of life or death that I behaved according to my mother’s demands, but it was worse than a moving target. There was no target. Nothing I could have said or done would have affected my circumstances or the outcome. 


My mother intentionally created the conditions, through torture, to controle me. I was so terrified of that closet that I would happily choose having my hair pulled or being beaten. The closet was worse, and that was how she molded me to her whim. 


This way, regardless of how I behaved, she was always justified in punishing me to whatever degree she decided at the time. She was also always justified in giving affection whenever she chose. It was a more terrifying expression of narcissism than I knew was possible. She molded me into an extension of her—if she was in pain, I was made to be in pain; if she was affectionate, I was made to be affectionate. 


The truth is, I had no agency and no protector. My father physically abused and emotionally neglected me. He was so neglectful that he couldn’t tell the difference between a safe, happy daughter and a daughter that had spent the weekend locked inside of a closet. My mother tortured me and my old brother was the only person who ever bullied me. I wasn’t safe anywhere as a child, and no one cared about how it affected me. I barely survived it, the gaping, yawning, relentless deficit of love I was born into.


Giving love was to be a puppet under threat of death. As a matter of survival, I needed to relinquish my own needs and desires, to attune myself entirely to someone else, and to be afraid for my life if I had a need I wasn’t able to suppress. So even when I wasn’t physically locked in the closet, I was psychologically. I was terrified to come out and required permission to do so. I was made to be existentially afraid to exercise any agency. I believed it was imperative to my survival to stay locked inside so, as I grew older, I remained there.


CHAPTER 30


That is why I became obsessed with the fissure, why I desperately needed to understand it. It’s why I began writing—write or die. Because love was a matter of survival and I couldn’t access it. I needed to extract the pain I had conflated with love. My life depended on it. I was in constant suffering, either debilitated by it or numbing it or distracting myself from it. Sometimes I’m still right there, aching and wounded and completely unconvinced that any of this has been or ever will be worth it. 


That is why I worship Kaila. When she met me, I was locked in a closet inside of a haunted, dilapidated house. The ghosts were violent and relentless, no one could even get near me. I was desperate for love, but terrified and in agony. I couldn’t risk letting anyone near enough to hurt me. I’d seen what people could do if you were vulnerable to them, if you trusted them, if you needed something from them.


It’s very easy to meet someone like me, in the state I was in, and write them off as unlovable. On the surface, I was easy. All my humor, intelligence, charisma, and sweetness made it very easy. I never lacked for friends. Desperately, however, I lacked for love. Love doesn’t give a fuck about the surface. Love seeks out our dark corners, leaps through their hidden portals, and obliterates them. Love finds you in a small, dark closet, caged like an animal. Terrified, deranged, haunted, dangerous, dirty, bleeding, and howling. 


Love finds you there, just like that, and it stays. Love asks, again and again, why you’re howling and scratching the way you are and, while you scramble to find an answer, it stays. While you bleed and probe and weep and wail and investigate, love finds a mop and some towels to clean up the mess. 


A surgeon and her surgeon’s assistant. Kaila used to muse about our past lives together, that perhaps I was a queen and she was my mercenary. Perhaps she protected me in battle. Maybe she was my mother who was unable to save me from something terrible, so she came back to care for my wounds in this life. 


You see now, why I was so surprised at Kaila staying after witnessing me in such a state, in such a house. I’m guessing you wouldn’t have visited me there. If you had, it would have been out of morbid curiosity. You’d probably have heard me ranting from a closet about castles dripping in gold, caught some video of this crazy bitch and her haunted ass house, then gotten the fuck out of there. 


Kaila wasn’t afraid of the dark like I was. She was familiar with ghosts and feral kittens alike and  I didn’t scare her one bit. She sat on the other side of the closet door until I was ready to come out. She couldn’t stop me from going back in, but she always managed to convince me to come out. She was my anchor, my lifeline. 


I used to tell her that this enraged part of me, the part that felt like a caged animal, reminded me of The Hulk. Sometimes I would feel angry and destructive, like I wanted to tear down a whole house. We talked about how that rage felt like some part of me trying to protect myself, but it was outsized because of the abuse I endured. Like Black Widow, Kaila would look me dead in my eyes and whisper, “Hey, big guy. Sun’s gettin’ real low.” And I would transform from a feral kitten into a precious, purring fluff ball who had nowhere to be but her lap. I meant it when I said I was her pet. For a very long time, Kaila was the only person who could soothe me. She was the only person who even knew I needed soothing, and she was the only person who cared enough to try. 


Thing is, Hulk mode is exhausting. Caged, enraged, howling, scratching all the time? It takes an astonishing amount of energy. I never fought her on it. The moment she would look in my eyes, I’d remember, “Ah, yes. I can come out of that closet. I can sit with her on the sofa. I can relax.”


Eventually, if you let it, love obliterates the closet. I wish the effects were immediate. It’s not, especially when the wounds are so deep. But Kaila planted seed after seed of love in my garden as we tended to my house. 20 years later, what she planted, the countless hours and days and years of love and care and patience she poured into me has obliterated the closet I would have died in if it weren’t for her.



...TBC...

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