There came a time, when I was around 12 years old, when the woman I would grow to be begun to peer out from behind my big brown eyes. Unlike a child, she begun to see the world not as she was taught to, but through the lens of her own judgement. She begun to find her voice, and recognize bullshit. This is a dangerous thing to witness, for an abuser. This means that the old methods of control and intimidation may begin to fail, and new forms of manipulation need to be discovered. It was during this shift that my mother begun throwing her past around, not as an explanation during an apology, but as an excuse I must accept. She turned her past into a reason for me to feel guilt when she behaved badly. How dare I stand up for myself, or be angry with her, when she had suffered the same abuse as myself? I, of all people, should understand how damaging this could be.
A master-manipulator she was not. All this new tactic served to accomplish was teaching me to feel contempt for people who blamed their lack of self control on a troubled past. It also instilled in me an absolute inability to offer myself any gentleness with my own wounds. Somewhere in the still green growth of my own beliefs, a seed took hold that said I must always heal and rise above my past - and must never allow it to negatively impact anyone I cared about, or dare to ask them to help me carry it. At thirty years old I am just now realizing this may not be a realistic, or healthy, expectation.
With the sudden surfacing of old wounds and triggers I have been forced to shed light on the dark corners of my own psyche, and finally begin to ask myself how they were created. 'I have abandonment and trust issues. I know they're not based in reality, and I'm trying to work through them.' That's as far as I usually let myself go. I took a few deep breaths, focused on pulling in my cords - instead of cutting them, and sat. I asked myself 'when did you first feel abandoned' and allowed memories to come without judgement.
The first was a familiar memory. When I think of reasons I might be damaged it's always in the top three. I saw my tiny hands clutching a stuffed tiger as I peered over her striped shoulders at my mother. She was crying/yelling while she writhed on the floor next to my bed. My grandmother yelled from the other side of the door, asking what was happening, while my mother threw up and screamed at me to grab paper towels. I scurried un-noticed past my grandmother and back into the room. I recoiled and glared as I was ordered to clean the vomit. The cats might eat it and die, because it was full of pills. The rest is a blur of cleaning, screaming voices, being hit because a cat snuck into the room, and eventually a police officer picking me up and bringing me into the living-room, where I watched as my mother was taken away. I don't remember how long she was gone. I don't remember her coming home. It was never talked about. Years later I asked for the truth, and was told that she 'just didn't want to be here any more.' I swore at her and asked if she had thought of me at all and she said 'No. I just didn't want to be here. Now stop being dramatic, the movie is starting.'
The next face to come to my mind was my father's. I felt myself stiffen and begin to push the memory away. No. He was a good father. He loved me unconditionally, and tried his best. No. I would not blame him for a wound. But again and again memories flooded. I saw myself throwing cigarettes in the toilet, and refilling the pack with rolled up notes that said "I love you" and asked him to stop - for me. I saw myself digging through cabinets to find hidden bottles and cans, and dumping them down the drain. I heard myself asking him, constantly, to stop. To do it for me. To do it to be with me. With great sadness I remembered his voice and his face as he told me he couldn't. He told me he wouldn't. He said he would rather be happy in the time he had here, than miserable. Aren't you happy with me? I asked if I was worth it to him and was met with stony silence. I remembered the months on end when he would disappear to Florida, leaving me unable to reach him. I remembered the feeling of growing up loving a father I knew I would lose early. I saw myself crying on a boat, a few days before he died, 'You're never going to even walk me down the aisle. Don't you want to see Selene grow up? Don't you want to be with me?!' That day we got into a fight as I caught him sneaking off to buy alcohol, and we fought in the car. A few days later, for the first time in my life, I got angry enough to hang up on him. I thought I would call him the next morning. I thought that, maybe, seeing me angry would help. The next morning I woke up and he was gone. There would be no reconciliation. My last conversation with the person I loved most dearly in this world had been a fight, and I would never get to say goodbye. I frantically called his phone, praying for a chance at goodbye that never came. I wasn't enough to save him.
Two years ago my mother assaulted my grandmother, knocked out her own front teeth, and tried to kill herself again all in a single weekend. As I packed a bagged to be brought to her at the mental health facility I felt nothing but disgust. Any desire I may have had to be someone's reason to stay was long gone. I had accepted that it was not my job to save anyone, but I had also let it settle deep into my bones that I could never be enough, anyway.
I remembered years of pouring my heart into friendships that ended in abandonment. I saw myself in cuffs for claiming something that was not my own, so a friend would not be arrested. That same friend, just a year later, disappearing because her boyfriend did not like that I encouraged her to seek treatment for PTSD. I saw myself open and honest, trusting and giving. As other friendships and lonely years flitted by - along with a fist fight in a parking lot, gossip, betrayal, and lies - I saw that version of myself fade and retreat. Each wound creating walls that my friends now are showing me I can finally let down, even if I chose to do it ever-so-slowly.
I saw a long series of romantic relationships shrouded in lies and cheating. I saw myself recognizing red flags, and talking myself down, only to find out I was right. I saw dreams that repeatedly pointed me to the truth, and hating myself for ignoring them. I saw emotional abuse so severe I was afraid to leave the house, and withered away to less than 120 pounds. I saw assault and years of stalking by a man so rich I feared speaking out against him. I saw myself committing to staying single, because the only love I seemed to deserve and attract was unhealthy and dangerous. I also saw myself finding my husband in that time of self imposed solitude, and finally finding a safe and loving home.
I was then brought back to a childhood of obsession with my appearance. Walking a runway at age five. Joining an agency where I learned to walk, act, eat, and move the right ways. Having it repeatedly drilled into me that everything from friendships and love, to jobs and speeding tickets, were 100% dependent upon my looks. 'The world will hate you if you're ugly.' I remembered all of the times family members fat shamed in front of me, and fearing what would happen to my own body as it developed. I remembered recovering from a severe illness that had left me emaciated, and being told (at 115 pounds, and 5'6") that I needed to be careful. I was getting a belly. I heard family members crooning about the self control others had, and how strong they were for not eating. I spent much of my life with people actively encouraging me to have eating disorders. As I matured every new curve was examined and commented on. I was given harsh medications that debilitated me, and forced into obsessive regimens because my teenage skin was breaking out. When a family member I loved dearly commented that my 4 year old daughter 'has a double chin like you,' I finally begun to see it for the unhealthy environment it was.
I saw my grandparents now, who were my safe haven as a child, pulled completely out of my life, and ignoring my children. I saw my maternal grandmother through these eyes for the first time, and realized (too late) that she was always there for me. She was the only one, without fail, who never ever made me feel less-than. The only one who ever showed me unconditional support and love. I sent all of my love and gratitude to her, hoping she would receive it.
And so these memories came, and I saw myself with compassion for the first time. My past is not great. It is not the worst out there. I know so many who have endured so much more than I have, and have handled it with grace and strength. I do not see anything insurmountable here. I do not see anything that needs to leave me shattered. I do, however, see that I am allowed to have walls to climb. I see now that, for better and worse, these things helped to create me.
As I talked to my husband about all of this last night he was nearly in tears and tried to hug me. I stiffened. "I'm fine. I'm just talking."
He smiled that I-know-you smile and said "I know you're fine. You're also allowed to deserve a hug after all of that."
Oh. Well...yes. I guess I am. And without even knowing it, he gave me the last piece I needed to begin trying to heal. He gave me permission to be fine, and still need a hug. With those simple words he showed me that I was not weak and shattered just because I acknowledged that wounds exist and that I am still working through some of them. We decided that I would (try to) stop apologizing to my friends and loved ones whenever something creeps up, and instead thank them for being there with me. I am incredibly stubborn and notoriously hard on myself, but I think this one small, yet profound shift in perspective, will be what I need.
As I spoke to my partner today she commented on how beautiful it has been to see my thrown into my insecurities, and sharing them. I laughed, unsure what could possibly be beautiful about this. She told me it was that she had known about my wounds only as abstract ideas up until this point. It was only now that she was finally getting to truly see them. She was finally seeing my well manicured walls breaking down and shattering to show what was underneath. For the first time, I saw that beauty too.
I hate this space. I hate uncertainty and vulnerability. I hate feeling like my future is so very far out of my control that I cannot even begin to view it. And yet, here I am. Vulnerable, tentative, and embracing this period of growth. There is beauty in this mess, and strength in facing these weaknesses even when (especially when) I want to retreat. What I would normally find terrifying, and run from, I am leaning into. I'm actually feeling excited to see this growth and transmutation of fears. As always, I am being taught to trust.