I tell them I’m fine

They say I look sad. They ask if I’m okay.

I tell them I’m fine. I tell them I’m just tired.

I can’t tell them the truth. I can’t tell them I’m not okay. I can’t explain that I’m tired of living.

So I lie. I lie to push them away. I lie so they don’t have to share the burden of my pain. I lie to protect them. I lie to protect me.

I don’t even understand what’s going on inside my own head. My thoughts don’t make any sense. All I can hear is noise. Loud noise.

I can’t find my words. I try to write, but nothing comes out right. I can’t talk about what’s inside. So I suffer in silence.

I just want them to stop. The memories. The flashbacks. I just don’t know anymore. I can’t tell if I’m 30 or 3. I can’t tell if I’m home or if I’m free.

Because I’m both. I’m living in two worlds at the very same time.

She’ll tell me I’m safe there, but she just doesn’t understand. I know my body is there, but my mind is somewhere else. A different place. A different time. A different me.

I dance on the line. One foot in, one foot out. It’s a line that only I can dance on, because it’s a line that only I can see. No one else sees it. No one else understands it. Only me.

They see me sitting on the couch, safe and fully clothed. That is my present. That is what everyone sees. But they don’t see what I see in my mind. They don’t see me standing in the bathtub of my childhood home, naked and afraid, awaiting my punishment. They can’t see that. Only me.

They see me working hard. They hear me crack a joke and laugh. But they don’t see what I see in my mind. They don’t see me burning in the flames, with every last bit of evil inside of my soulless body turning into a pile of ashes to be stomped upon and smashed into the dirt. They can’t see that. Only me.

I’m dancing the line. The line between past and present. The line between life and death. And I’m dancing alone.

I tell them I’m fine. But I’m not really fine. I never was. I’m not now. And I’m not sure I ever will be.

She stole the night from me.

I wonder what it must be like to crawl into bed at night and just fall asleep.

I could never do that. Not as a child, and not now as an adult. I crawl into bed and lay there for hours, tired, exhausted, yet unable to sleep.

I check the closets. I lock the door. I wrap myself up in my layers and I crawl in bed and wait.

Some days, I wait for sleep. I try to quiet the increasingly loud noise in my head. I think about a million things I don’t even need to think about. After a few hours, I finally fall asleep.

On other, more difficult days, I wait my mother. I lay still in my bed and wait for her to come through my bedroom door, just like I waited for her when I was back home.

So many nights of my childhood were spent laying in bed and waiting. Not waiting for sleep. Not waiting for dreams. Not waiting for the tooth fairy. I was waiting for my mother. I was waiting for her to come in and tear me apart. I was waiting for the pain to be over so I could just go to sleep.

I learned to expect it. I stopped asking questions. I stopped fighting back. I stopped wondering why. I couldn’t do it any more. I knew it wasn’t going to change. So I gave up. And I gave in.

Sometimes, I would stare at the ceiling. I’d talk to Superman, hoping he would hear my thoughts, and asked him to come and save me. I waited for him to fly in through the window, but he never did find me.

Sometimes, I would think about being in a different family. I imagined being adopted. I dreamed I was sitting in a cage at the shelter, waiting for a new family to pick me up and love me, but no new family ever came.

Sometimes, I watched my spirit float away from me, and I followed her. We would sit on the big branch of the tree right outside my window, waiting for the hurt to end so I could come back to me.

It would always end.. If there was one thing I could count on, it was that the pain was only temporary. She’d leave, and I’d come back. I could finally go to sleep, because I knew she wasn’t going to hurt me again. I found solace in that, in knowing that when it was over, it was over.

I wanted a normal night. I wanted someone to read me a story. I wanted someone to check for monsters underneath my bed, and tell me everything was safe. I wanted someone to tuck me in and tell me they loved me. I got none of that. There were no bedtime stories. There was no love or safety. And there were never any monsters under my bed, because the monster was standing right beside it.

Anxiety. Fear. Dread. It all became my nighttime normal. And even though she stopped as I got older, the fear anxiety, fear, and dread never left. They continued to be my nighttime normal. I continued to spend every night waiting for my mother to come back. And I am still spending my nights waiting for her to come back.

I try to remember that she is not here. I know the doors are locked, I know we are miles and miles away from her. She is not coming for us. She can’t hurt us anymore.

But sometimes I forget all that. Sometimes I can’t remember. I am still anticipating something that hasn’t happened for 20 years, but my mind doesn’t always know that.Sometimes it feels like something is missing; I feel like I need her to come in and get it over with just so I can sleep.

I find comfort in familiarity, and all of those nights that my mother hurt me became my familiar. Any deviation from the pattern only creates more panic, and that was true in my childhood and still true in my adulthood.

I feel frustrated, because I don’t know how else to convince myself that my mother cannot hurt me any more. I don’t know how to believe that it doesn’t have to be this way.

I feel sad, because adult me knows that no child should have had to endure the things my mother did to me. Bed is supposed to calming and relaxing, not a place of panic.

I feel ashamed, because some nights, the only way I can fall asleep is to hurt myself in the very same way she hurt me. And then I feel disgusted.

I feel angry, because I want to be able to crawl in bed and night and go to sleep, and have good dreams. I don’t want the fear. I don’t want the panic and anxiety. I just want comfort and peace, and the ability to sleep without a struggle.

My mother stole the night from me. I want it back.

The Cost of Silence, Part 1

When I was in first grade, my teacher gave me a small plush bunny. She told me to hold on to it, that it would help me feel safe. And I did. I held on to it for years. I never thought anything of it.

While I was shopping in a store awhile back, I came across a small plush bunny. The bunny looked just like the one my teacher had given me. I remembered. I remembered everything. Then I immediately pushed it all away.

It was not the sweet childhood memory it should have been. It was much more complicated than that. And I didn’t want to bring it all up, so I pushed it back down and buried it and pretended like that memory didn’t exist.

Until the memory came up again. I was sitting in therapy, trying to think of childhood memories, and that memory popped through once again. I smiled at first because I felt the care I was given when my teacher gave 7 year-old me that bunny. Then my smile disappeared and I remembered things I didn’t want to remember. I had thoughts I didn’t want to think about.

I wanted to bury it all again. I didn’t want to think about what that memory meant. I didn’t want to feel the pain in my heart. But I did. And all I could do was cry.

Why did that teacher give me that bunny? Why did she tell me it would help me feel safe? Why did she think I needed to feel safe?

Those were the questions I thought of when that memory first came up, and I immediately pushed it all back down. In my adult mind, I knew the answers, and they were the answers that I did not want to hear. They were the answers I could not handle. And here they were, coming up again. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to face the reality of what it all meant. The possibility that my teacher knew the truth, that she knew I was being abused.

My child self may have thought that bunny helped, because my child self didn’t know any better. But my adult self knows that a bunny wasn’t going to help me. A bunny wasn’t what I needed to be safe. A bunny wasn’t going to stop my mother from hurting me. I needed someone to help me. I needed someone to be my voice. Instead all I got was a plush bunny.

That teacher wasn’t the only person to stay silent. There were others: teachers, family members, family friends. Some of them admitted that they knew something was going on but just didn’t want to get involved, they didn’t want to cross any lines. Then there were other people who had to have known, but just ignored the signs.

It hurts. Sometimes it hurts worse than what my mother and father did to me. I think that it’s hard for people to understand. It doesn’t make much logical sense. How could being ignored hurt worse than the actual abuse?

It’s a different type of pain. It’s not the sting from a cut or the ache from a bruise or shooting pain of a broken bone. It’s a deep pain in your heart. The pain of being invisible. The pain of being unworthy of anyone’s love or attention. The pain of being so worthless that no one would help you.

My parents always told me to stay silent. Did they tell all of those other people, too? Why did no one speak for me? Why didn’t they help? Why did they stay silent? How was I supposed to know I mattered if no one ever acted like I mattered?

I was a child who held out hope that someone would save me. I needed to matter to someone. I needed to be seen. But time and time again, people turned their backs on me. I wanted my parents to be wrong. Instead I grew up believing they must have been right.

Don’t shatter my fantasy

I’m juggling a lot of emotions right now. Anger. Sadness. Mostly anger, though. I’m not really sure I want to feel any of it, but I think I have to. I’ve buried enough anger throughout the years to know that burying it doesn’t make it go away.

Anger is not a dead body that stays forgotten beneath the surface once you bury it.  Anger is a seed that grows into weeds that grow and take over until you dig them up. The anger seeps into everything you do, until the day you dig it back out. But by then it takes so much effort to get rid of the anger, that you start to question why you buried it in the first place. It takes much more effort to bury and dig than to embrace and release.

So I am letting myself be angry. I’m not burying anything. But now my problem is directing my anger in the right place.

At first, I directed the anger towards my therapist. I left our therapy session on Thursday uncomfortably angry. I felt the walls of my life breaking down and she was the one doing the breaking.

I shared a part of my childhood with her, a part that I had never connected to anything other than childhood oddity. I’ve shared it with other people over the years, largely because it was one of the very few parts of my childhood that I didn’t associate with anything bad, so never felt any pain in sharing it. Some people thought it was funny, and some were grossed out. But no one ever thought it was sad. That is, until Thursday.

Don’t you think that’s sad?

What? Why does she think this is sad? It’s not. Please laugh. Please be grossed out. Please be something, anything, but please, don’t make this sad.

The thoughts started running through my mind. Why didn’t I realize this all before?  This wasn’t just a weird childhood behavior. Healthy children don’t save their poop and hide it. But I did. I held on to it because I didn’t want to lose any more pieces of myself than I already lost. It is sad.

But I couldn’t connect with the sadness right away. Instead I connected with anger.

I spent all these years believing in the innocence of something only to have it all turned upside down. Why? Why is this being taken away from me? I’ve already lost so much, and now I’m losing things I didn’t even realize I never had to begin with. I lost my good family. Now I’m losing my good childhood. This wasn’t just about the poop. This was about all of the snippets of my childhood that I held onto as being good and innocent. They’ve all been ripped away from me.

I believed in a fantasy, much like children believe in Santa Claus. But children don’t believe in Santa forever. Eventually someone comes along, tells them the truth, and shatters the fantasy.

And there my therapist was, telling me the truth and shattering the fantasy of my childhood. And I was mad. Mad at her for taking this good away from me. Why did she want me to see the truth? Why couldn’t she just let me believe in the magic a little longer? Doesn’t she know I’ve lost enough already?

I didn’t say anything. I swallowed my anger and let it burn, because part of me knew that this really wasn’t my therapist’s fault. It was mine.

I didn’t see the connection all this time. It all became so obvious when my therapist started talking about it, but it was everything I should have already known, that I did already know but chose to ignore. It was my fault. The truth was there and I avoided it the whole time. I rationalized what shouldn’t have been rationalized. I minimized something that wasn’t minimal at all. This was my fault. Now I am angry at me.

I have been putting so much time and energy into holding onto pebbles, holding onto the smallest bits of seemingly neutral life experiences, that I’ve been ignoring the giant mountain of trauma right behind me. I don’t want to acknowledge that those pebbles aren’t really just pebbles; they are actually pieces of the mountain that managed to break off and roll down without hurting me.

The realization that those parts of my childhood that I have been holding on to for so long are not what I thought they were is hard to accept. It’s another loss, in  my already overwhelming abyss of all I’ve lost already. It’s a deep sadness that I am not sure I can ever get out of.

I am angry. I am sad. Now make it all go away.

Compliments

I have a hard time accepting compliments.

When I say I have a hard time, I mean I have a really, really hard time.

The topic came up in therapy on Thursday. My therapist gave me a compliment and I just started deflecting it in any way I could. I had just done the same to a friend earlier that day. I told my therapist about it, and of course she wanted to delve deeper into why I had so much trouble with them.

It’s not that I’m not used to receiving compliments. I’ve received them all of my life, for varying reasons. It was something else entirely.

As my therapist started questioning, I started thinking back and connecting the dots. I started remembering things I thought I had pushed down deep and far away. Things I did not want to remember.

So much was going on in my mind, and it must have shown on the outside. My therapist asked what was going on; my whole demeanor had changed. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to say all of the shit that was going on in my head. I wanted to feel, but I didn’t even know what to feel.

“My mother gets mad when people say nice things about me. She yells a lot.”

It’s something I dealt with my whole life. If it was something she couldn’t take credit for, or if it was something that took the attention off of her, my mother would get angry and I would end up in trouble. When someone would compliment my hair or my looks, my mother did what she could to make me ugly. When someone pointed out how smart I was, I was accused of thinking I was smarter and better than her, and I’d get knocked back into place.

As I sat there, muddling through the shit going on in my head, I started to dig my nail into the skin between my thumb and forefinger. I didn’t even realize I was doing it at first. After a few minutes, my therapist noticed and asked me to stop. But I couldn’t. I had the strongest urge to hurt. I needed to feel pain.

Eventually I pried my hands apart and sat on them, hoping it would stop the urge. I told my therapist that I needed to hurt. It was almost instinctive.

I sat there, awkwardly sitting on my hands, half listening to my therapist and half talking to myself in my head. I couldn’t focus. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to hurt something.

I tried to listen as my therapist talked about why I could have been needing to hurt. But nothing she said was making sense. I didn’t need to hurt because I felt like I deserved it. I needed to hurt because that’s what I associated with compliments. I needed to hurt because that’s what my mother did to me.

I finally found the strength to mutter out the words “mom hurts.” My therapist asked if I meant what I meant, that my mother hurt me, and I told her yes. I told her some of what happened. And then I started to cry, because I realized just how much the shit my mother had done had affected me.

Of all the things my mother had already taken away from me as a child, she took away the good words people had offered me. She took away any opportunity I had to take in others’ positivity. She turned what should have been happiness into pain.

Pain became a conditioned response. I experienced my mother’s narcissistic rage so often that I just automatically associated compliments and positive comments with the pain and hurt that she inflicted on me. Even in her absence, I am continuing the same response I’ve always had. Except now I am the one inflicting the pain.

I tried to pull myself back together and stop crying. I felt ashamed for crying over something I should have known better about. But I wasn’t crying entirely because of that. I was crying out of grief. Just when I thought my mother couldn’t take any more from me than she already had, she struck again.

I was crying for the little girl who couldn’t feel good about anything. I was crying for the little girl who had to shy away and not be noticed for fear that she would be hurt.

I was crying for me.

Cake

I was going to bake a cake today, just to do something nice for myself and to detract from Father’s Day emotional turmoil.

I used to love baking. I could bake anything: brownies, cookies, pies, cupcakes. I was especially known for my pineapple upside-down cake. People would over me money just to bake things for them. I did it for free because I was more than satisfied just seeing other people happy. I was good at baking, and I was good at making people smile.

But as I started baking more, my mother became more angry. She’d yell at me for using up all of her electricity. She’d yell at me for using her oven (it wasn’t even hers – we rented). She’d yell at me for making the house hot. She’d yell at me for taking up space in the kitchen.

A task I once enjoyed now became another cause for punishment. I started baking less and less. People would ask me to bake them something and I would come up with excuses. I was afraid to anger my mother any more than my existence already had.

One day, against my what-should-have-been better judgment, I decided to bake a cake for a really good friend and coworker of mine. It was just one cake, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I wouldn’t take up much space or get in anyone’s way. This should be just fine.

Then, as I was sitting at my corner of the table, putting the finishing touches of icing on the cake, my mother came in and started questioning me. I reluctantly told her who it was for. Big mistake.

You never do anything for me. You treat your coworkers better than your own mother. They don’t do anything for you. I gave you life and I get nothing! Not even a cake! It’s always about everyone else, never about your own family. I deserve better and I can’t even get a cake.

The cake ended up on the floor and I retreated to my room, crying. I was so ashamed walking into work the next day without the cake I had been so excited about making.

Just to please my mother, I started baking things for her, thinking it would earn me some sort of respect or a shred of kindness. But it didn’t. Baking wasn’t fun anymore. It didn’t give me any pleasure. My mother sucked all of the positive out of it, just as she had done with everything else in my life.

Today, as I stood in the baking aisle of the grocery store, staring at the baking supplies, I remembered that night my cake was ruined. I remembered the anger and rage my mother had. I remembered how scared I had become whenever I’d bake something. And I walked away from the aisle empty-handed.

She won today.

They were wrong

“I want to hate him, but I can’t.”

Those words I spoke during my therapy session yesterday have continued to stick out in my mind.

I told my therapist what I had been struggling with in relating to my memory, in a very general way because I wanted to avoid a flashback. I don’t understand how someone could do that. I don’t understand how you can reject your own child.

I tried so hard to hold my feelings inside. Anger, hurt, and sadness were swirling around inside of my heart. I tried to hold in the tears, but that wasn’t working as well as I had liked. Even my therapist could tell I was trying to hold back, and told me it was okay to let it out.

My therapist asked what I would say to my father if I could talk to him right then. My mind started going into overdrive. So many questions and statements started running through my head, and without really thinking, the first thing I said was not even a question or a statement to my father. I said “I want to hate him, but I can’t.”

Despite all of the things he has done to me, and now the rejection I am very much aware of, I still have trouble hating him. I want to hate him. I think he more than deserves it. But somehow, despite being raised by two heartless people, I have a kind and compassionate heart. It’s what allowed me to bury my feelings and take care of my father when he got sick so many years ago. He didn’t deserve my care, to be honest. But he got it.

My therapist asked me again. I ran through a list of questions in my mind, quickly playing out what his responses would be. Then I realized that, it wouldn’t even matter what I asked him or what I said to him. “It doesn’t even matter, he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.”

I thought I was right. Neither my mother nor my father would ever admit fault. I always just assumed that it was because they believed they never did anything wrong. That is how they (especially my mother) played it off.

But then my therapist asked what my father would say if I told him what he did to me. She asked, “Would he say there was nothing wrong with it, or would he say that it never happened?”

I didn’t even have to think for more than a second before I had my answer. “He’d say that it never happened.”

I grew up being told that people on the outside just wouldn’t understand, that’s why we couldn’t tell. But if that were really true, and nothing was wrong with what my parents did, then why would they deny it? If they really believed that they were right, they would say there was nothing wrong with it. They deny it because they know they were wrong.

All of a sudden, it started to make sense to me. I never thought of how contradictory their line of thinking was.

For so many years, I’ve been blaming myself for what happened. I have been carrying that guilt within my heart. Something must have been wrong with me, a child rejected by her own parents. The only reason that made sense to me was that something was inherently wrong with me. I was the wrong one.

Part of me still believes that. That is why it’s so difficult to work through shit in therapy. I hold a lot of shame because I still believe it was my fault. I need to stop carrying the guilt and the blame. I need to keep telling myself that they were wrong.

My father was wrong. My mother was wrong. They were wrong.

I was just a child, born to parents who didn’t deserve me. I was not wrong.