Friday, September 9, 2016

Looking back to move forward...this is just the beginning.

I have been on a journey of healing for the last 2 years.  Trying to undo a lot of the damage that has happened to me over a lifetime.  Damage I've done to myself and damage inflicted upon me by others.  It has been a painfully slow process at times; yet sometimes happens so fast that I fear I'm going to get whiplash.  I've had to learn to be vulnerable and ask for help and that means I had to learn to trust.  For someone like me, that is nearly impossible, but when you are tired of being able to feel your body and soul die a little more each day, you'll find that sometimes you can pull off the near-impossible after all.

My latest endeavor was to write my younger self a letter; to pick any point in my life that made an impact on me, and write THAT me a letter.   From the get-go I was apprehensive.  I don't like to think about the past much.  Too much has happened.  I'm 40 so there's a LOT of past to weed through. Thanks to some lovely "quirks" my brain has, once I start down the path of remembering, I can't always stop it and that's never good.  For me, remembering the bad stuff is like an alcoholic taking that first drink.  I never know how long the bender is going to last, how badly it's going to hurt, if there's going to be collateral damage, or how long it will take me to recover afterward.  My body remembers trauma VIVIDLY and when triggered, it feels like I'm right back in the original situation.  Not only does my mind remember what happened, but my body FEELS it.  The sights, the smells, the physical sensations...all of it.  You can probably imagine why I avoid going there if possible.

That being said, I'm at a point in my life where the fear of NOT getting better, far outweighs the fear of staying the same, so with tentative steps, I moved forward.  I clarified the assignment, figured out the parameters I was working with, and went back as far as I could go...to the first impactful memory that always stands out.  Back to when I was 5.
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Dear 5yr-old me,

I see you sitting in the back seat of Betsy’s dad’s car chattering away on the way back to their house after another outing with their family.  You were so happy and excited and when you got that way, you talked.  Bill was driving and I’m assuming Sandy was in the front seat and Betsy was most likely in the back with you, but you don’t notice because you are too busy going on about whatever it is that has your mind and mouth going a mile-a-minute.  I wish I could stop the clock for you right here for just a few minutes.  Just a few minutes to let you talk and talk until you wear yourself out.  Things are going to start to happen to you and it’s going to change you and steal this bubbly innocence away from you and I just want to let you hang on to it for a few more minutes.

“You talk too much.  Can you shut up for awhile?  We’ll like you a lot more if you just don’t talk.”

I see your face drop as Betsy’s dad, Bill, says that to you.  Bill, who was always kind and joking and fun to be around, just changed the rules.  He made it not ok to be you.  As you slump back into the seat in silence, I wish I could tell you not to take it quite so personally.  I wish I could make you understand that sometimes grownups get short-tempered just like kids do and say mean things just like kids do too.  He wasn’t trying to be hurtful.  He just wanted a little break from the conversation.

Thirty-five years later, I still don’t know why this affected you as deeply as it did, but hang on, because here’s how it’s going to affect you.  “YOU TALK TOO MUCH.”  You start trying to talk less.  It’s a struggle, but you start to learn to fight what feels right. “WE’LL LIKE YOU MORE IF YOU JUST DON’T TALK.”  Every kid wants to be liked more; I was no different.  Go against what feels right for you, and you’ll be rewarded.  That’s the lesson I was learning.

And over the next month, when you are sexually assaulted by the teenage boy at the park while Betsy and her mom are just on the other side of the building, you will tell no one because “YOU TALK TOO MUCH” and “WE’LL LIKE YOU MORE IF YOU JUST DON’T TALK.”   And the next day when you BEG to not have to go to the park again, but can’t talk your way out of it without telling them what happened, you’ll finally just stop talking and go, and he’ll be there again, and he’ll hurt you again, but worse this time, and you’ll keep your mouth shut for 10 years because the boy said if you don’t, he’ll do the same thing to Betsy and you’d rather die than let him do that to your best friend.

Take a deep breath, dry your eyes.  Finish the car ride in silence.  Have dinner with their family tonight and enjoy your time playing with your best friend.  Things are about to get very dark for awhile and you need to hang onto whatever moments of joy you can right now.


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After I finished it, I shared it with my most trusted friend M.  He read it and said, "What if the lesson you learned from Bill's comment was untrue?"  I thought about it and told him that had it been an isolated incident, I could perhaps concede, but it was something that has been reinforced throughout most of my life.  It's a pattern.  I am fairly quiet until I get to know you and am comfortable around you.  Once that happens, I am more open and talk more.  As we get closer, I feel free to talk/share at will and eventually the comment will arise in some form, "Man, you talk a lot."  So I stop talking and eventually the relationship falls apart because I know I have to censor myself in order to be accepted.  I know it is not ok to be me.

I have spent the last 3-4 years quite isolated other than the necessary conversations at work and at home.  Almost all other communication has been done online. Online, people have the option of not reading what I say.  I have the option of observing and not speaking at all.  Hanging out in the shadows is my comfort zone, but has its drawbacks.  I think I'd like to dip my toes in the pool of human interaction again one day, but first I have to finish looking back so I can move forward.