I don’t want you getting the wrong idea–I wasn’t beaten as a child. The spankings I got, I earned (helping your buddy try to burn down his grandmother’s garage, anyone?). I wasn’t a battered child, but I’ve got come to the conclusion that abuse is never just physical.
There are psychological, and emotional, abuses, too. And if I was abused, it was in this way:
I was ignored. One of my earliest memories is being told to go away, relax, unwind, watch T.V. And then later, when she checked on me, my mother was aghast to find me drinking a beer in front of Sesame Street. Why? “Because it wat daddy do.”
When I fell, got hurt, got a boo-boo, there was precious little soothing; instead, I was indoctrinated with the mantra “I’m alright.” Even though I most decidedly was not alright. They say the lessons learned earliest go the deepest.
And are hardest to overcome. I’ve been alright far too many times when I shouldn’t have been. Been okay in places I never should have been…
If my mother’s chiefest failing was practiced indifference–emotional diffidence, my dad’s was indifference followed by the bitter wash of sarcastic chasers. I would go from being ignored to verbally masticated, spit out, left to put myself back together…
And I had to be alright.
After their inevitable divorce, the neglect only deepened. My mom, of course, didn’t share her pain; instead, losing herself in work, she hoped (I think) to give others something she couldn’t give herself: an intact family.
And my dad? Our relationship was as defined in the divorce decree: I saw him twice a year. His second wife hated my brother and I…
Divorce touches millions of families. And my life, seen from the outside, may have appeared to be, while perhaps less than ideal, a privileged one. I was white, lived in Scottsdale, had a roof, clothes food. In short, the basics.
It has taken me years to pin down just exactly what I didn’t have:
A sense of love.
Part and parcel with growing up latchkey was, I guess, a sense of parental guilt. There were precious few boundaries, and even fewer consequences. I was left to my own devices, to indulge in whatever I wanted.
It’s a wonder I just got into smoking, and not drugs. My interest in porn was labelled “healthy curiosity.” If my childhood was defined by anything, it was these three things:
And Stephen King
I turned inward because there was nowhere else to go, no one to go to. My mom eventually had a live-in boyfriend, who’s example, and idea of culture, consisted of pizza, cigarettes, and “martoonis” in front of the T.V. This was my exemplar of manhood.
I wanted to escape, but had nowhere else to go. My dad didn’t want me, my mom was too busy, and this is “white privilege?”
None of this was talked about. I had to navigate a broken family, adolescence, on my own.
Habits developed then have not always been conducive now to building healthy attachments. I’m almost 45 years old, and still bitter about what I didn’t have. Why couldn’t I have a normal, loving family? Why don’t I have meaningful relationships with my parents, brother, etc?
For years, as a growing Christian, I thought it was my job to put up, shut up, keep the peace. I allowed so many unhealthy things to happen, so many hurts to go unaddressed. I want to let my parents off the hook, say they did the best they could…
But I don’t believe it.
That’s why I want so much to be done with them. I can’t seem to get past the things which they’ve done, or I’ve done in relation to them. I want to say there’s too much water under the bridge. I don’t feel listened to.
I want to be done, but can’t. Because…
He’s the God of second, third, thirty-third, and seventy-times-time chances.
Because He’s given me chance after chance, though I’ve blown it time and time again, I can do no less. I have to try.
If there’s a lesson I’ve learned in life, it’s this: the things we like least in others are usually the things which dislike about ourselves. That hurts to admit.
I’m not perfect (far from it), and neither are they. They dealt with their own demons, as I’ve dealt with mine.
God help me, I’m willing to try.
That’s the best I can do.