Finding My Feelings.
I am listening to an NPR interview, on people who have lived with traumatic experiences and it adds to a growing unease I have had all week, a compelling need to write. But I have had no computer. I’ve borrowed one now. It is one of those times when I write to unearth what’s inside me. To recover some bit of story that up until now was lost.
When My Father Died I Was Reborn. This Is A Fact.
To be quite honest I didn’t know it, but I was numb and deadened inside for most of my life. I do remember brief moments as a child when I was conscious; happy and aware of it. It was a beautiful time in Papua New Guinea running barefoot in the jungle, blithely unaware. Even being thrown into the ocean at a young age, in order to learn to swim, was scary but for the most part an innocent lesson. But I remain fearful of the ocean to this day. I do not take any pleasure in swimming.
It Hurts Me Now, To Know How Much Memory Is Simply Gone.
I am a human being who lived more than forty years of life and yet today I cannot recall a good deal of it; I have very little memory of childhood. And the memories I do have are full of the trauma we experienced. I don’t want to only remember the dread and fear. I do not choose to remember the ugliness; the ruthless cruel anger that we experienced. I don’t want to focus on that, but you see it isn’t a selective focus at all – it is all I have left.
I am hopeful though that if I spend the time to remember what little is there, perhaps somehow, some day I will find more of the good memories. I know those experiences must be there . I would think that I and my sisters would not be as “normal” as we are able to be. Would we not have become monsters — like — him?
I am gratified that today I recognize goodness when I see it and so I must have experienced this at some time. I see the tenderness and sweetness of casual, physical affection between a mother and her teenage children and I think “that is normal. That is good.” But I never experienced it. By the time I was a teen, I loathed my father’s controlling touch, a hug or kiss at the beginning or end of the day was a salutation to him. For me, it was a reminder of cage we lived in. And my mother never had a physical connection or bond with anyone — at least not with her children.
Often Today, Unless I Force Myself To Allow It, I Cannot Feel.
My dear mother, aged 73, called yesterday asking if she could pay for my children to attend the Messiah show that I will be in this December since we were choosing to “not afford it.” After years of missing concerts and other things that were important to me due to their travel, she was remembering that this had hurt me as a teenager. I was actively involved in orchestra and chorus. She offered to pay the $30 per child so that my children can attend the concert. She felt this was important to me. I promised her I would think about whether I felt that way. I have learned that if I am not careful, I just feel what she tells me I’m feeling. She wants to help. She’s aware of old pain. She attempts to remake life now, for the adult child. It’s complicated. I have no idea what I feel about this situation.
Feeling things — for me, it takes peeling back the layers of the moment to find – my – feelings. Crushing them was how I survived. Now it takes such hard work to feel. And to trust the feelings.
Remembering what it was like growing up is hard for me. Whether I was conscious or not, it was important to hide or be invisible. I spent lots of time in my room escaping into a book; the fantasy of a romance or historical novel or a Ludlum mystery. I hid in the music, playing the piano or the bass clarinet. In the concerts that my parents received free tickets to over the years. Music has always been an escape.
And I found myself when I was welcomed at church by my youth pastor and in his grizzly hugs. There I found an acceptance of “ME” that I had never experienced in my life. I had a budding faith. I recall lying in my bed late at night, after church, praying out loud the prayer that I could not make myself utter out loud at church; too afraid of not getting it just right. The need to be perfect was true for all of my sisters and for me if I couldn’t be perfect then I would not try.
I do not recall much conversation with my parents as a child and teen. I remember no talks with parents, except being forced to speak about certain things by my father. What does Easter mean to you, tell me! What are you thankful for? Everyone must participate. I recall being yelled at for grades that were below my “potential.” I was dragged, not physically but emotionally, down to the counselor at school so that the person could tell me what a high IQ I had and why I could (i.e. should) do better at school.
I recall gazing at my bitten & bleeding fingernails in the microscope in Biology, wondering if I would ever feel good about myself. Somehow, my hands came to symbolize my brokenness, pain and the ugliness I saw in myself. They represented the self-loathing and to this day, they remain so; if there is anguish inside it always manifests itself on my fingernails and indicates nervousness I can’t control.
I recalled recently, being spaced out started young, a pattern of feeling just slightly crazy or numb. Constantly tuned out started as a way to cope with the unpredictable nature of my father’s anger which could be triggered by anything; A slip of the tongue, a comment coming out a too sarcastically or being considered disrespectful, not remembering an instruction and doing something else, and of course having ideas other than his. That made him the most furious. Enraged. He was never physically punishing to us, but verbally hounding, over and over again; “At you” continuously until you admitted your offense – whatever it was — random things that bothered him.
I began to shut down. Concede not fight. Give in. Confess. Not rebel. Slowly, I gave up and forfeited living for peace.
Even some of my last memories of my father, when they came to visit in October before he got sick, were of making concessions to his disapproval. I had been suffering from five months of deep depression that had slowly been eroding my confidence and energy. When they came to visit “to help, to support” I was very sick. I didn’t have it in me to cook for them, so we took my parents out to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant. It was admittedly expensive. It was delicious. It was challenging with young kids. He disapproved of the extravagance and made it known. He went on about it as I slowly shut down. There’s no productive discussion when he is convinced of something. No reminder of the symptoms of depression being an inability to make decisions shopping for groceries or to focus for a long time on cooking or overcoming the fear of messing it all up. I would rather have climbed back into bed, but because they were there I was up, dressed and attempting to function.
That is one of my last memories of my father before his tumors began to grow and his personality and ability to speak became impaired. He came to help, to be of assistance, but he spent his visit on the phone and laptop and but he only criticized when he engaged me. That’s a fact. That’s what happened.
As I remember, sometimes I wish I could sugar coat the memories or even just deny them. But what would that accomplish?
Today, I choose feelings.
And, I move toward memory.
And living, well that comes slowly. But it comes.
2 thoughts on “Slowly, I Gave Up And Forfeited Living For Peace”
Melody: I find it extraordinarily difficult to share past pains and hurts with others so I appreciate it when someone has the courage to name and own the wounds in their life, past or present. Thank you for being brave enough to share these memories and challenges from your past. It has both helped me to reflect on my own largely dysfunctional relationship with my own parents, as well as to think about my own parenting in the present, and how I could be making choices in my ever-present desire for control that can ultimately be damaging to my kids. Especially having them home with me all the time, sometimes I feel like they hear “nagging mom” more than they do anything else–and I don’t want them to remember me like that primarily! All this is to say, thanks so much for your willingness to share your heart and your life with us. I’m deeply grateful.