And I fully realize that that is a strange way to start a blog post.
But stay with me here. If the little voice in your head is the one that was the loudest and/or most prominent during your formative years, then mine was one that sought out, loudly proclaimed, and ruthlessly exploited every real or perceived flaw while largely ignoring anything even remotely positive. Such was the substance of my young life: an almost daily litany of what I was not, interspersed with rare, positive commentary on the off chance I accidentally exceeded expectations. If the negative receives the most attention in a young life, the negative is what they will remember most. These are the things that inform all of their early decisions, and the first quarter of their lives are spent working it all out, for better or for worse. At least the only thing a poor self image earned me was a kid out of wedlock, fairly consistent employment, and subsequently housing, issues, and a curious inability to stay out of the fire for always falling back into it. I know there are people who went through less than I did, but their lives turned out far worse.
I was 32 when I found out there was a name for what I had experienced growing up.
I will be the first to say that "abuse" is an overused term in today's society. But I will also say that words can hit harder and hurt longer that even the most brutal fist. Especially words stated repeatedly, and forcefully, and combined with a heaping dose of gas-lighting during any confrontation. And Dog-forbid ANY attempt to put a stop to it. But the very nature of abuse, is that it thrives in silence and denial. Physical and Sexual abuse, obviously, but those cannot survive without their first cousins, Verbal, Psychological, and Emotional abuse. Like most families, it is the cousins that first made my acquaintance as a child, although, as I stated earlier, I did not know their names back then. I knew Shame. I knew constant, subtle ridicule disguised as jokes. Fear of being noticed for the smallest mistake was the shadow that followed me into every interaction, driving me to a kind of perfectionism that can only end up in the inertia of a fear of failure so paralyzing that you end up doing the bare minimum to get by. Or alternately, overdoing every task to make sure that you miss NOTHING. Failure is seen right away, and remarked about into infinity. And even if you do eventually fly, no one is going to notice or care anyway. Or only notice grudgingly. While you are encouraged to accept this unquestioningly, under the guise of being the bigger person.
It was also around this time, around the birth and early years of my daughter, that I decided that this meek defeated version of me was not the person I wanted my daughter to see growing up. I was going to have to decide exactly how I wanted to deal with all of the residual damage of my own early life in order to avoid passing it on to my own children.
I was 35 when I finally began to make some sort of peace with my past.
I will always remember a speculative conversation I had with a former pastor. I asked him if he believed in generational curses. To paraphrase and shorten his very thoughtful answer, he stated that while it was possible, it didn't always have to be probable. I was always free to take steps to circumvent what I saw as the mistakes and errors of past generations.
It is important for me to pause here, and tell you that I do not blame anyone for most of what happened during my early years. If the axiom that hurt people, hurt people is true, then in reality damaged people often don't know how to do anything but damage others. Or at the very least, operate in damage control mode. For me, the more I explored my early influences, the more I realized the issues were less with the who (in most cases), than the what: What was said (or not said); What was done, and/or not done; and What action taken, or lack thereof, meant to my life at the time all of these things were going on.
It was only after I started to put these issues, and the involved personalities, into some sort of perspective that I decided that I was going to be okay. I was going to deal with, and move past, the lies that were drilled into me about who I was, and realize that my life was about more than just doing what I needed to do to get by. Yes, there was always going to be some element of that, but my dreams meant something too, and finally getting some sense of self worth would go a long way towards making me brave enough to pursue the life I WANTED.
I can put together the kind of life that will be an example to my children of celebrating even minor successes, and not falling apart during failures. Because unbeknownst to me, I was actually capable of dealing with far more than even I knew.
Because the only way to create emotionally healthy children is to be emotionally healthy. And neglecting serious self care is about as far from healthy as you can possibly get.
Because prayer, faith and willingness to put in a lot of work: physically, spiritually, and emotionally, count for a lot more than I ever realized.
I will live.