Do you remember the day that I asked you if you would just write a list of all the rules down for me? Did I ask you to post it inside the coat closet in the dining room, or wasn’t I brave enough to open the door and ask? I honestly can’t remember what really happened on that day. It makes me a bit sad, truth be told, but what can I do? It’s not like I’m guaranteed perfect memories of each day of my life. Oh well. Let’s move on.
Whether I did or not, I wanted to ask you to just finally write down everything that I could get in trouble for doing and post that list somewhere where I could find it. Somewhere that I could check. Somewhere that I could go and study it so that I could learn how to be good. So that you wouldn’t hit me any more. So that you wouldn’t yell at me any more.
I knew that you weren’t ok. Honestly, I don’t even know if you knew it yet, or if you thought that I was too young to understand or remember, but I knew. I could see how fragile you were, and I knew that you could be crushed by anything that came along, anything unexpected, anything difficult. I knew that the world was a very dangerous place for you, that you couldn’t handle living in it, and that you needed someone to protect you from the bad things in the world.
I tried. I promise that I did.
I was like… three? Five? There wasn’t much that I could do, but I really did my best to protect you. I wish that you hadn’t hit me so often. I wish that you hadn’t screamed at me.
You laughed one day, when you saw me sobbing, making my way back the hall to my room as punishment, before you had even found what I had done wrong. To your credit, you didn’t punish me for whatever it was, which was good, since my self punishment was already enough. But you know, you didn’t come and comfort me either. Didn’t you realize that something was wrong? That there was a reason I was so terrified of your wrath that I just braced for it and tried to minimize the damage?
I guess not. Maybe you weren’t healthy enough for that yet.
Did you understand the terror that I lived in, not knowing what things I could do without getting in trouble? Did you know how it felt, not knowing what choices were safe to make? Do you know now? Do you understand that this is why I still can’t make decisions for myself more than 20 years later? Do you know that this is why I’m so scared of the unknown, why I measure my performance in everything I do, why I can’t relax? Do you see?
I don’t know. I’m not going to ask you. You still get defensive about it, even with your anxiety medication and your years of counseling. You still attack me instinctively, rather than admitting that you did anything wrong. It is possible to be injured enough that you can’t avoid hurting people AND to acknowledge that your actions and words had consequences.
I’m not your enemy. I know that you didn’t even know that you had mental illness yet. I know that you were willing to put in the effort to grow and heal; I’ve seen you do it in the decades since then. I am even starting to understand why you developed those defenses.
It’s ok. You’re safe now.
So please, some day, listen to me talk about the pain you caused me. Please apologize for it. I already know that you never intended to hurt me, that you were already overwhelmed, and money was tight, and your young family was struggling, and you had baggage from bad relationships before you married dad, and there were issues left over from when grandpa was an alcoholic and you weren’t safe at home either, and more and more and more. It’s ok. I don’t hate you, but I do need to hear you say that you’re sorry. I do need to hear you tell me that you love me. I need to know that there is a way forward, and that you’re willing to help me heal and grow as well.
I’ve been processing my pain for a while. I’ve revised my treatment plan many times, and you know that Dora is just the latest addition to the mix. You know that she’s helping me, and I hope you can see the progress that I’ve made over the last year. But now, I’ve reached a point where things are getting a bit hard.
I’m reading a book, mom. It’s in the other room, and I don’t want to lose my momentum by getting up and bringing it here, so you’ll have to forgive me for not telling you the title. It’s about childhood trauma, fractured minds, and the healing process for people who experience more pain than they are equipped to handle. I don’t think I have multiple personalities, but I do know that there are memories that I’m afraid to think about, even today. I know that I have a defense mechanism that provides me with a safe world to live in, where I can be beautiful and smart, powerful and necessary. I know that I go there whenever I can’t stand living as myself. I know that it’s not normal, and that it could be unhealthy, and that it’s quite sad on some level that there have been years when I have spent more time living as a fantasy version of myself than as me.
I want to be whole. I want to be able to look at the darkest times and the brightest times in my life and feel the emotions that go with them. And to look away afterwards! But I’m not there yet.
I’m scared, mom. What am I going to find? How hard will it be? My body is crying, but my face is neutral. I can feel the disconnect even now. What am I mourning? Do you know?
Well, I just wanted to talk to you for a bit. I hope your day is going well, and that you make progress in becoming less defensive. I believed you when you admitted that it was a flaw of yours and that you’re working on it. That was…. 3 weeks ago, I think. I still believe you, and I hope that it works.
Maybe one day, I’ll have you read this for real. And I’ll try to keep breathing, and Dora will probably have to perform at least one of her tasks, because I can’t imagine showing this to you without having a panic attack.
Today is January 14th, 2018.