“The real violence, the violence I realized that is unforgivable, is the violence we do to ourselves when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.” Unknown
While a friend and I talked about depression, she asked about my past and said, “What happened that was so bad?”
Although whining and blaming are unattractive, I didn’t mind a chance to tell my sad story. I launched about details I had never told her. Fortunately for you, I won’t share all of it here.
Emotional, religious, and sexual abuse contributed to what happened that was so bad. I knew better than to talk about my abuse with my parents because it wasn’t as bad as what Mom had been through, so I tried to help fix hers. The more I encouraged her to let go of her past and live happily ever after, the more strained our relationship became. She wanted sympathy, not solutions, but I needed her fixed.
My parents being unavailable and unpredictable contributed to what happened that was so bad. Dad spent nine months out of the year at the beach, running the family business. Mom either numbed out at home or couldn’t handle her emotions. I lived under threats like this one when I didn’t act like she wanted me to, “You’re lucky I didn’t do anything to hurt myself.”
Living around mental illness contributed to what happened that was so bad. Before Dad left for Vietnam, he moved Mom, my younger brother, and me in with my great aunt who raised Mom and her siblings. After Dad returned home and retired from the Air Force, we stayed put. It wasn’t long before my mom’s brother moved in with us. He walked around in stained t-shirts and with his pants unzipped, burned carpet and furniture with his cigarettes, and made sexual overtures that Mom ignored until he’d get so out of hand she’d temporarily commit him to mental institutions around the state.
I thought a sympathetic ear about my past would be comforting, but the more woes I shared, the worse I felt. What happened that was so bad was not about what someone else had done to me, but what I was still doing to myself. My family was long gone, but I still lived and talked about their crazy legacy.
Vivi, the alcoholic mother in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, describes it best in a conversation with her daughter’s fiancé. She said, “I know she blames me. Of course she does, just like I blame my mother. I didn’t screw up her life any more than my mother screwed up mine. She almost did. But all the real long-term damage … I did to myself.”
So, what really happened that was so bad?
- I repeated my past by setting out to fix my husband and my children just like I tried to fix Mom. Even when a friend said, “Your family will get better when you get better,” I kept focusing on them. I felt overwhelmed (and still do sometimes) by focusing on/fixing myself and living my own life.
- I doubted my decisions and myself all along. Self-doubt makes it hard to stand behind my commitments, as well as hard to enforce boundaries I’ve tried to set. Self-doubt makes taking care of myself almost impossible. I give in and give up instead of standing up for what I want.
- I self-destructed because whining, being lazy, and blaming others come easier than practicing a healthy routine. I eat too much chocolate, stay up too late, and overlook opportunities to live a sensible and happy life. I defer to fear if things get hard. I’d rather wallow around with a problem than research a manuscript. It takes a lot of work to get well. It means #GettingYourOwnLife.
I acknowledge the power of messy pasts and the power of destructive family patterns. I also acknowledge how powerful it is to take responsibility for what we’re doing to ourselves and to make a decision to do something different. I hope you’ll join the Conversation and the Change.
In This Together,
Thank you for the swamp photo, Joel Carter. It looks as desolate as my life felt for a while.
Thank you, Rhonda Hensley @ Inspiration Images and Media, for the photo of balloons. They represent change.