I always feel I am bad and difficult because that was what I was raised to believe. Although I am an adult now and I have had my own family for over twenty years, I can’t abandon that childhood identity. Logic and reason didn’t figure into it back then, and they don’t make a difference now, either. I can tell myself all I want that children aren’t bad or that, in my adult life, no one says I am mean or troublesome, but none of that will change how I feel.
It’s in my blood. And when I try to let it go, it hurts more than keeping it inside.
I can remain composed and talk calmly about many traumatic events from my childhood; doing so helps me to better understand some of the ways in which my identity became ingrained. I could tell you stories about what happened as if we were discussing the way you fold laundry. I could even joke about the craziness, and sometimes I might laugh. Probably most of the stories wouldn’t be very funny to you. Yet, my ability to interpret painful memories without feeling is an adaptive skill that has often proved quite useful.
However, I am not so good at protecting against the small moments or the quick flashes from the past that seem to disarm and overwhelm me. I cannot predict when those memories will crop up. But when they do, I go to my panic place feeling ashamed that I allowed such a silly incident to affect me so deeply.
With one unexpected trigger, a glimpse of something from deep down and way back appears before I can stop it. Recently, a very small, seemingly insignificant flashback brought me to tears. I wasn’t exactly recalling an event. It was more like I was remembering a feeling, and tacked onto that memory there was an image.
I saw myself crouching in the way back of my mother’s station wagon, not in a seat, but riding along kind of like a dog. My sisters are in the regular seats in front of me, and my mother is asking us to behave (to stop fighting, or yelling, or being…bad). She begins to lecture me about how I don’t know when to stop, but my sisters do.
I remember wanting something then and knowing that I couldn’t have it. I am not even sure that I knew what it was. It was just something missing, something I couldn’t find. I was alone needing help—needing to feel safe, good, and loved enough to ask for that help. Instead, I felt like I would always be without this thing that I was missing. I would always be on the outside (in the way back)—alone.
That was the image. It was nothing, but remembering it made me cry. As soon as I felt the sadness trying to take me back, I began to criticize myself for grieving over such a childish thing. Simultaneously, though, I had this crushing desire to scream. I wanted to yell out so that someone could hear me. I wanted someone to know that I had this profound sorrow. I was wishing for someone who could understand what it felt like back then, when the only identity I had was “the bad child.” But I couldn’t say anything out loud, and it didn’t matter because I knew it wouldn’t make the feeling go away.
The other day, someone asked me if I ever freaked out when I considered that at some point my life would just be over and that would be that. I knew the answer right away. No, never. Dying means that the struggling and thinking about all that never was and never will be ends forever. No more feeling sad, ashamed, or hurt.
I don’t want to continue on as an unwanted passenger being carted along in the back of that car, but I don’t know how to get out. I cannot escape simply by opening the door and walking away. Everything I was taught about myself is in that car, and without that I have no idea who I am.