Faded memories…

In a previous post, I mentioned how few memories I have from when I was a child. As I pondered the meaning of family over the past week, my attention once again turned to these memories as a way to weigh my feelings against reality. The more I thought over things, the more I realized there was only one truly happy memory of my bio father before the age of six.

I know he worked days, so his time with us was mostly limited to nights, but I don’t even remember him in the time between work and bedtime except on three occasions. One I remember because I was embarrassed that everyone was laughing at something three year old me said. The other, I could only see his legs and shoes because I was a baby and sitting in the floor – not a memory of him in all reality. Take away those, and the only memory I actually have of him that is a good one is when I was standing beside him in his favorite recliner watching football when I was four.

The simple truth is, to me, there were only six years of my life in which I actually remember him being there. As I have written previously, in those memories he was mostly tearing my mother down, overbearing, extremely distant, or punishing me harshly. This means for me, I never really felt like he was my father. I felt a sense of duty because he told me that’s what family is, but in truth, he wasn’t my father just because he put a roof over my head and met the bare necessities for clothing and feeding me.

When talking to my brother last week, it hit home when I told him our “father” hasn’t been a part of my life for 28 years. Suddenly, I realized I am 40, and six years does not qualify someone as a parent, especially when a large portion of that time was punctuated by emotional abuse and neglect, endangerment, and physical abuse. He was a tiny blip in my timeline, one I think is hardly worth continued concern.

I don’t say these things to be harsh, hurtful, or vengeful. I do say these things, however, to be honest, open, and real about where I am in my life. It’s time for me to let go of the things that have held me back, to honor the ones who have supported and loved me by moving forward with my life, and to no longer feel like I should keep secrets and protect people out of some misplaced loyalty to a family that never actually existed.

Who Is Responsible?

As a child, I learned to take responsibility for a lot of things.  Sometimes, these were the things that most youth learn in order to become responsible adults.  Yet, there are other things that I learned to take on that are clearly not my own – or at least it is becoming more clear that they do not belong to me.

I remember thinking that it was my responsibility to protect my mother from the wrath of my father.  He said ugly things, lots of ugly things, about her, and I did my best to hide them from her.  Not only this, but after I was molested by my grandfather, I remained silent because I wanted to protect her.  I knew that if my father found out that her father molested me, he would find a way to blame her – even though it was his fault for leaving me with that man instead of with my mom.

As a teen, I took on a new responsibility, that of the secret keeper.  I kept the secrets of my grandfather locked away inside because I was afraid that if I told, I would bring someone else pain.  My greatest fear was that someone else (especially my mother) had been molested by him, and sharing my pain would bring back ugly memories.  I knew what it felt like to remember, to loathe, to feel shame, so I did anything I could to shield others from the past.

What is even worse is that I even learned to protect my abusers from their own shame. For many, many years, I protected them out of respect for what is most people call “family.”  I felt it was my duty not to sully the family names by bringing out the ugly secrets that lay within.  I believed that bringing their offenses to light would destroy the world that family members considered safe.  I even felt, and still to this day somewhat feel, that to point out their shame would somehow be unfair because, they are “family” after all…

In my blindness, I enabled my family to pretend that nothing was wrong.  I was, and am still, fairly certain that my father would not believe that anyone in his “loving, Christian family” would be capable of causing such harm.  I believed that my mother’s family would turn a blind eye to the ugly truth, because they have a history (in my opinion) of sweeping things under the rug.  “Talking” is something they never truly do.

Where does this leave me?  I have not the slightest clue.  Sometimes, I want to call them all together and lay it all out.  I want to tell them about the dark and ugly secrets of which they are not aware.  Yet, my mind keeps coming back to the question, “What good would it do?”  I fear that my voice would not be heard – that their collective propensities for blaming someone else would end up making me look like the bad one and once more minimize my experiences.

I guess deep down, what I really want is for someone else to shoulder the responsibility for this entire mess for a while.  Yet all my life, all I have received from others are excuses.  Excuses as to why it is not their fault and why they should not be expected to bear the burden as well.

So, I keep shouldering the responsibilities, even if they are not my own.

Is it Father’s Day?

Wow!  I completely forgot that today was Father’s Day.  Some people would gasp at that statement, because to them, it would mean that either I was a terrible daughter, or that they should feel sorry that I missed out on what they had.

Yet for me, this day is simply a day.  There is no sadness in not celebrating – there is freedom.  It reminds me that I have freed myself from the shackles that held me for so long.  Not only that, but that I have the right and the ability to choose to end abusive relationships.

So, don’t feel sorry for me, or think that I am bad on this day.  Just remember that, by freeing myself, I have been given a voice in this world – and now I can make a difference in the lives of others.

The Legacy…

Back in 2000, when my grandmother passed away, my brother and father had a very nasty falling out at her funeral.  My father invited my neice, my brother’s eldest child, and her mother, his first wife to the funeral.  His reasoning was that it was her great-grandmother, and she had a right to be there, and if my brother would not go get her, her mother had to bring her.  He also said that, just because he and her mother had gotten divorced, it did not mean that we considered her mother any less a part of the family.  He felt that she knew my grandmother, and if she wanted to be there, she had a right to be.

That did not go over too well with my brother.  He said that he and his new wife could not grieve our grandmother’s passing properly with her there, and that he did not appreciate the fact that dad invited her.  He and my father yelled and screamed at each other, and I suddenly realized that this was exactly what would have occurred if my mom had come to the funeral.

For days, other family members had been asking why my mom did not come to the funeral home.  They said they missed her, and she was still a part of the family.  They told me to let her know that she was welcome any time, and that they wanted her to be there. I kept telling saying, “You know that daddy would have a fit if mama came here.”  And they assured me that he could, “Just get over it.”  But even after 20 years, I knew that he would still cause a scene if she were to visit.  I also knew that she would never go because she did not wish for him to act an a** in front of my brother and myself and cause us more stress.

Every cruel word he had ever said about my mother was never more vivid to me than it was on that day.  I saw my father in my brother, and it hurt.  It was at that very moment that I finally understood everything that my mother had endured and realized how hateful my father really was.  I was enraged that he passed this anger and rage on to his own son, and that it had the potential to destroy another child.

Fortunately, my oldest niece’s mother left before it was too late to spare her daughter the pain of growing up in a home with so much rage.  My niece is now a well-adjusted, normal teenager who understands that she is loved.  She also understands that, though she deeply desires to have her father’s love, it is not required for her to feel whole.

It makes me so angry to know that this is the legacy my father has left for us.  And although I have chosen to reject it – it is still being passed on.

Hiding myself…

I had a dream last night that reminded me of my greatest struggle in life – to be the person I am inside.

That sounds a little insane, I know, but it is true.  There is a part of me that no one sees.  People have seen it before, my friends have all experienced it at some point.  However, when that part of me “escapes,” everyone runs and hides – and I am deserted once again.  The hurts of my childhood, and the whispers that I will never be good enough come back to haunt me.  It is then that I disappear again, only to be caught in fleeting glimpses.  That is why the song “Disappear” by Jars of Clay speaks to me so much…

Where did all of this come from? My childhood was a good start.  Constantly being told to suck it up, that my feelings didn’t matter, and that I was stupid for caring created a fairly cold shell that I retreated into when the world became to close.  Add in some “friends” whose goal was to constantly tear me down, and you get the neurosis that is me….

Yet along the way, there have been a few moments in time when I have been at peace with myself and able to share who I am with someone else.  Unfortunately, these times were generally followed by someone I cared deeply for deserting me.

Once deserted, I begin to retreat again because the only other people I am attached to want no part of the person inside.  They tell me they don’t know how to act, what to say, or what to do when I become myself.  They say they are afraid they will hurt me.  They are afraid that, because I am open, they will be forced to be open too…

Seething…

Ok, the more I think about all of this, the angrier I become.  When my father sent that message, he was expecting me to just say, “Oh, ok.  I understand now that abuse is love, and it’s ok because you were trying to keep me from being f***ed up when I got older.”  Well, maybe those were not the exact words he was looking for, but he was going for that general effect.

What I can’t believe is that, somewhere in his messed up world, he actually believes that leaving bruises, embarrassing me in front of my peers, telling me I was not loved, and constantly berating me would cause me to become a healthy, well-adjusted, successful adult.  He actually wants me to believe that he is the victim of unjustified anger, and that I have treated him terribly for things that I misunderstood!!!!!!

To top it all off, his son has followed in his footsteps and is now treating his two children the same way, and it’s ok.  Grrrrrrr.  There is a war coming.  It is seething inside of me, and this time, it will not be halted once it has begun..

What Is in a Touch?

Did you know that there are five major types of hugs? Did you also know that the type of hug you give another person is determined by the type of relationship you have with them, your social surroundings, and the need for ease of detachment? If you didn’t know this, you are probably thinking I am too analytical. If you did know this, maybe you understand where I am coming from.

Believe it or not, this knowledge has not come from an in depth psychological study, or from hours of pondering the intricacies of hugging. It actually has developed as a part of my understanding of a world that I do not understand.

What does this mean? It means that, each time I am touched, my body is startled. It sends shock waves to my brain, and my brain reacts to minimize the impending damage that may be caused if the “threat” is not processed immediately. This damage is an avalanche of emotions that were repressed during my childhood.

Because the touches I experienced as a child were generally disciplinary or sexual, appropriate touch is often difficult for me to place. Casual, comforting, and loving touches create great turmoil in my mind because it does not know which emotions belong to which touches. It is hard to have relationships because I do not know what I really feel and what is being “manufactured” by the confusion created by touch. This confusion tends to cause me to decide to break off relationships for fear that I may find myself “feeling” things that I do not really feel.