Today my father turned 88. I didn’t feel like calling him or sending him a card. I didn’t want to take off work or rearrange my family’s schedule by going to visit him. Though I didn’t make any efforts to reach out to him, he was in my thoughts all throughout the day.
I question myself. Why does this day mean anything to me? Why do I put an alarm in my calendar to remind me of the upcoming day? What is the point of demarcating my father’s birthday?
What is a birthday? What do they mean to me? Other than my own, which I hate, I think of birthdays as opportunities to share a bit of love and caring with the birthday person. But. But. This man’s birthday. I feel obligated to do something for him on this day too. We never celebrated his birthday. Every year, January 15th passed. We did nothing. Except me, who was plagued by thoughts of him all day long. Why?
I don’t think I have any answers to these questions. Maybe I don’t need answers right now. Maybe what I need to be aware of is the fact that he still impacts my life. My father, my perpetrator. Yes. I am still affected in countless terrible ways by his abuse of me. And on his birthday, I toggle between feeling obligated to provide acknowledgement and wistful wishes that I had the type of father who was worthy of birthday wishes.
The memories and their residue.
The pulsating fear that is not connected to day to day events. The anxiety that always worries, I am not good. The images that seemed burned into the landscape of vision. The physical sensations that haunt the body, revisiting old wounds in the places that were hurt.
Today there was the image and sensation of a large hand at the back of the head, forcing me towards somewhere I didn’t want to go. I can see what’s in front and can’t erase the image from my mind’s eye. Hours after therapy, and even with some holding at the end, I still feel the residue of having such memories in my head and in my past. I feel covered in the muck. The slimy, swampy sludge sticks to my skin, seeping through to the little bones that used to be me.
“The price I pay (paid) to belong.” This phrase from a Ferron song, “White Wing Mercy”, has been a running theme in my life. When I was young, it meant conforming to the standards of normal child actions and behaviors. Even though my home life had been anything but normal, I figured out that acting normal would be the best route. Not only did it keep me safe from further harm, it allowed me to participate in the activities of children around me without too much suspicion or wariness.
I recall, with much shame, a day in second grade when I had been running around and hitting my friends on the rear end. At one point, my best friend made it clear that I was not welcome to play with them if I did not reform. At first, I retreated, ashamed, embarrassed, and guilty. Eventually, I decided that maybe it wasn’t me that my friends didn’t approve; maybe it was my behavior. I rejoined the crowd, tentatively. I refrained from hitting anyone. I discovered that the other children accepted me again, as one of them. If I didn’t act out, I was welcome to be part of the group.
Conforming to the group’s standards of behavior has been on my mind lately. I want to be accepted. I want people to feel comfortable when they see me. I want them to be able to feel like they can relate to me, talk with me, spend time with me, and in my home. All of these are examples of comfort with the another person. I crave this acceptance. I hurt and fret a great deal when someone rejects me.
But what if I start speaking up? If I talk about the issues that are less acceptable? If I let out the feelings and thoughts that make people uncomfortable? I know of some people who would continue to embrace me. I’m rather sure of a few who would side step me or even glare in my direction. I am not emotionally equipped with sufficient self assuredness to deal with the personal attacks that are sure to come if I was speaking out loud.
So what is the price I’m paying to belong?
A negation of self. I feel unimportant, without value, not worth knowing. I am not important because I pretend to be something I am not and the other people are happier or more at ease with me that way.
Loneliness. I feel alone, like I don’t belong because if they knew the true me, they wouldn’t talk, hug, or like me.
Otherness. I feel less human because I’m uncomfortable in my own skin and the people around me seem to be very comfortable just being themselves.
I feel like a small child looking for someone to hold onto. It’s as if I’m a little person who needs a big person to validate me.
Clearly, the price I pay to belong is high. It hurts to hide in plain sight.
The old adage goes “To thine own self be true.” I suppose that for me, now, the best I can do to be true to myself is to recognize who I am, be honest about my thoughts and feelings, even if I can’t express them to the world. I can be honest in therapy and with my closest family and friends.
For the future, I hope that one day, either I will not care what people think, or I will be so comfortable in my own skin that none of this matters.
I have felt unmoored these past few weeks. I don’t really know why. In my adult life, there are varying degrees of success. My kids are well. My house maintains a satisfactory level of cleanliness and order, due to my diligence. Food is purchased and prepped, healthy, tasty, and often nutritious. I’m starting to work at my children’s school in the upcoming weeks and I look forward to being a teacher’s aide in a classroom again. Yes, my adult life is progressing nicely. Two years ago, when I had just finished treatment, I was not so competent and functional.
What then, is causing this current stage of suffering? Thinking with depression is tough. Thoughts muddle through feelings, getting stuck in the wet, heavy mud.
I posed a question to myself. What do I want to do now, or in the future, today, and tomorrow? This question seemed to be one of the thoughts that was able to rise above the muck and be heard. It arose in the middle of therapy and lodged itself somewhere in the right side of my head. Though I couldn’t tell you why this was.
What do I want? I asked again. A little voice piped up, without warning, saying, “you don’t want me.” Not accusatory. Matter of fact. Then the tears tightened in the throat, congregated in the eyes and escaped before I could stop the feelings that brought the tears to life.
What? Who doesn’t want whom? I was confused for only a moment. The answer was this. I did not want to have a small, vulnerable child inside. I did not want to have depression and anxiety. I did not want to have the history of abuse. I did not want this difficult life.
A few weeks ago, I had found this other feeling my little person carried in connection to a memory of being abused. The child I was felt great sadness. She did not want her father to do what he did. I suppose that this was the beginning of a stage of mourning for the father I wish I had, the childhood that could never be, and the adult life that I hoped to have.
Today, I understand that in a strange and convoluted way, the mourning took a different turn. My inner child is intuitive. She figured that if I didn’t want the abuse, I also didn’t want the child to whom it happened. Unfortunately, she’s right. I have not released myself from the blame.
The grieving I began over one act of abuse turned into self blame, in the form of my inner child thinking she’s the unwanted, tainted one. But she is not the one to blame. He is.
I believe that my next job is to release myself and my inner child from the blame. To make all of me feel wanted. The grieving I must do is about a child who was broken and ripped, about a father who did not act as fathers should. Then, I can accept me. I can learn to want me to exist.
Side note: If only the healing process was a straight and linear one. Hopefully, I won’t get too sidetracked. If I do, Id like to think that coming back here, to my blog, will help me remember where I was at and revisit this mourning process again.
I have been taking long breaks between posts. It’s not like I don’t have any thoughts or feelings of note. It’s that I’m unsure of how noteworthy they are. These feelings of unworthiness echo much of how I’ve been feeling as of late.
Today, I felt like I needed to hear some Indigo Girls music. I wanted to hear the raspy, deep sounds of Amy Ray. She doesn’t have a standard female voice. It’s low. I find comfort in hearing her voice. Although I don’t have a nice sounding voice, I can carry a tune and have found joy singing in choirs. But I’m not a soprano. Or an alto. I’m a tenor. I have a low voice. It’s just one of the ways that I don’t fit into the standard box of what a female is supposed to be. Amy Ray is a bit outside of that box too. I think that this is one reason why listening to her sing provides me with comfort. Her voice makes me feel like there is a place for me in this world.
Yes, I know. No one truly fits in the BOX that is supposedly the man or woman box. There is a place for all different kinds of people. These ideas are intellectually known to me. I theorized about them quite a bit in my college years. But knowing and feeling…
In the feeling part of my life, my own skin isn’t comfortable. Imagine wearing baggy denim clothes, jumping into a pool of water, and then walking around in those soggy, heavy, dripping, and slightly scented clothes all day. That’s how I feel in my body, in myself. Abuse memories are bouncing around inside my head, increasing my sense of distance from the world around me.
My own thoughts and feelings, which used to be my refuge, are frantic and menacing. Even the words inside my head, feel disempowered and disembodied. This line from the song I heard today feels most right.
“Words of my heart line up like prisoners on a fence.” Prince of Darkness by Indigo Girls.
The well of feeling
The stone well is empty, cavernous
Dark and fearsome
I don’t want to acknowledge what’s inside
Instead I notice what’s in the area
The well is surrounded by grassy fields
Green as far as the eye can see
Rolling hills and picture perfect blue skies
I ponder the open, serene space
To frolic in the fields would be fun
But it would be false to ignore the well
If I imagine what should surround the well
I see creatures, dark and amorphous
Evil, creeping, lurking, seeking to harm me
Inside the well
Feels like Death
Can’t remember what if felt like to be alive
But knows that there once was
What remains is charred and brittle
Inside the well
I let feelings come through in my therapist’s office today. My legs were shaking, my face felt hot, my throat clogged, my eyes teary. To some people this is no big feat. To others, like me, it’s a tremendous effort. I rarely cry. I don’t have feelings attached to the abuse. This is one of the coping mechanisms that I developed. I learned to keep emotions locked away. But today, I managed to let some out. It took courage for me to allow my therapist to see me in such a vulnerable state.
The second step of courage is coming back to this blog. Some of you may have noticed that I have not posted anything in months. I’ll tell you why I have not written here for so long.
A few months ago, I wrote a post that described one of the acts of abuse that was done to me. I published the post. That evening, I received an exceedingly nasty piece of hate mail telling me how gross and disgusting I was for saying such things. This person also expressed that I was a horrible wife and mother because I was speaking such things in a public forum.
My reaction was one of complete and utter shame. I deleted the blog post. I retreated inside myself and became afraid of what every person around me thought about me and what I was daring to say aloud. I stopped writing. I couldn’t bear to think of bringing more shame on myself or my family.
The holiday of Passover is approaching. It is a story of redemption and freedom from what enslaves us. With this new post and a return to my blogging, I am relinquishing the silence that enslaves me. Hopefully, I will also be freed from the enslavement of my childhood abuse through allowing myself to feel in front of my therapist and by sharing these struggles with you, the reader. I’d like to believe that I am embracing courage and strength to help me become a free person. I hope that this season also brings you the freedom from whatever enslaves you.