A Robbed Childhood
This post will serve as part one in a series of steps I’m taking to put my monster to rest. That may sound strange to those of you who don’t know me intimately, but it will all become clear if you choose to follow along.
In order to accomplish what I’m setting out to do here, I need to first acknowledge the childhood I never had. So often, we hear the term “robbed childhood,” and even more often, we use this expression loosely, as a way to stress pain we commonly blame on our upbringing. Due to this kind of overuse, I tend to shy away from saying that “my childhood was robbed,” but in this blog post, I won’t. Because my childhood really was robbed. To spare you the grotesqueness of the original sin committed against me as a child, I’ll simply hi-light other, rather insidious ways that my childhood was stolen. Bear with me, please; while this post may read as self-pity, it is not. I promise things will lighten up significantly throughout this process!
~ As far back as I recall, I was never allowed to fully express my feelings in my childhood home, if at all. I was taught that unless they were compatible with my parents’ swinging mood shifts, they were not valid, and were, in fact, a nuisance or an outright affront. If I dared to express a feeling that opposed my parents, I was penalised – sometimes physically, but always emotionally. This training turned me into a person who could never fully relax. To this day, I experience anxiety each and every time I know I have to leave the house. To this day, I need to know exactly what lies ahead of me in any new situation. To this day, I suffer from a dire need to control my surroundings. To this day, my body shakes all over, and I feel as if I’m leaving it if I have to confront someone. To this day, I need to know everyone’s astrological signs upon first meeting them, in order to better assess how to respond to whom in what way. (And interestingly enough, I, with my otherwise shoddy memory, am quite capable of remembering their replies after being told only once.) The list goes on…
~ I was hardly ever touched lovingly as a child (and later on, not at all). I recall needing so badly to stay perfectly still one day when I was about 5 or 6 while mom stroked the hair behind my ear over and over; I was convinced that if I moved or shifted in the slightest, she’d realise what she was actually doing and stop. I assumed she was unaware of her tenderness – how else could she have been so? I only recall my father making contact with me physically to beat me. This went on into my teens – his beatings. This turned me into someone who suspected every person who was kind to me – what was his/her real motive? How long would it last? If they knew how bad I really was, they wouldn’t be nice to me. To this day, I assume that if people really knew me, they’d be horrified and not want anything to do with me. It took me years, well into my twenties, to be truly comfortable with physical contact. And it wasn’t until my forties that I was able to enjoy sex with a man sober…
~ I wasn’t allowed to question anything. The word “why” was a forbidden utterance from the mouths of us children. I was not allowed to disagree with anything, either. I couldn’t even express my opinion by way of certain sounds, like sighing or clicking my tongue (which was quite common with teens, especially, back then – not sure if it still is?). If I did any of the above, I was severely punished, often physically so. This turned out a person who was easily swayed by her peers growing up and even beyond, never fully confident of her own opinions, never self-possessing…I stayed small in public. I didn’t speak out. I didn’t disagree with people outwardly. I did far too many things against my will. I was a follower. I struggled with Anorexia for decades. It took me many years to move away from that and free the Fire Horse in me to kick up her hind legs in fury, and for those of you who know me, well, need I say more? 😉 But prior to the me I am now, which is still relatively new, I was timid, scared, and always anxious. Yes, I still feel those things, and yes, it’s a battle, at times, but thankfully, I have the support around me I need to fight that battle and win – – most of the time…
~ I was told I was dumb on a very often basis. My father told me this literally, and both parents told me this in other ways. “You don’t need to worry about getting high marks – as long as you have C’s and D’s, that’s good enough.” “You don’t need to worry about college. Just get married.” “I don’t care if you’re 17 when you’re married, just make me a grandma!” These are not made up quotes, by the bye. My brothers were encouraged otherwise, but I was discouraged. The primary focus was on my appearance, and even that was conflicting. I was expected to look pretty and be “the cute one,” but I was simultaneously told by my father that my mother was jealous of me (which creeped me out to no end.); it was made exceedingly clear how proud they were whenever people paid attention to my appearance, but I was simultaneously given the message that it was what was on the inside that mattered most and that I needed to be more pure, more like the sweet little Christian girl they always wanted and not to be so vain. I later learned that I could never live up to this type of “pure” girl, and they made that abundantly clear in a number of ways throughout the years. This (accompanied by their incessant control and the sexual abuse) turned out not only my long struggle with Anorexia, but also an obsessive sense of vanity and a belief that my appearance was all I had. I still struggle with this belief, from time to time. I doubted every person that ever claimed to love me – why did they love me? I doubted myself. I struggled to believe that I was smart and worthy of being heard for many years into my adulthood. I’ve never made it past a high school degree, really, and I doubt myself to make the kind of money it would take to support myself on my own. I have learned to depend on men, just like my mom wanted. This is one of my most shameful secrets, but there you have it. No sense in hiding it now.
~ I was forced, not taught, to believe in God, but one who was was punitive, terrifying, merciless, and cruel. I was told of this God sometimes before, but always after a beating – either through scripture that my dad would yell at me or how he’d tell me he beat me like that because God told him to in the Bible, and that he did it because he loved me. This went on until I left the home – (well, until I was, essentially, kicked out from my home, but that’s another paragraph). There are not enough words to describe what this has done to me. It’s still a huge battle. I cannot feel God’s grace, and I cannot wrap my mind around this mercy and love people speak about. This kind of confusion has transferred into my relationships with men, too. I have only given you the tip of the iceberg as to how I was spiritually abused, but suffice to say, my quest to know God is a constant struggle.
~ I was not cared for medically. Twice, I desperately needed to be seen and treated by a physician, and twice, I was not. The first time, my father crashed the car when I was 6 years old, sending me flying, head first, from behind the driver’s seat to the floor of the front passenger’s seat, hitting my head on the dashboard along the way. I developed what I suspect must have been a concussion, which later manifested itself into seizures, and then, full-blown epilepsy. At the time of the accident, my father told me to stop crying, I was fine, and by the time we got home, they assumed all was well, and I was sent to bed. Two years later, I began having petite mal seizures, which made me spill things and break dishes. My mother would rage at me when this happened. My eyes would roll back in my head when they were angry at me, and they assumed I was mimicking my teacher, who had a habit of fluttering her eyelids. So they’d yell at me more to stop that. By the time I was 12, I couldn’t take it any longer, and decided I needed to let them know that there was something wrong with me. I was terrified to even speak to them about it, because I didn’t know if they’d believe me, or if they’d get really angry with me – for what, I’d no idea, but this was the nature of my existence on a daily basis. The second time was when the school nurse and psychologist in high school told my parents that I needed to be hospitalised for Anorexia, and they were advised to take me to the hospital for evaluation to be admitted. They were angry about having to do this, but they did it anyway, and I could sense it was only to shut up the school officials. We were told to come in as a family, and first, my family was interviewed without me, and then, I was interviewed alone. After this, the doctor told my parents he wanted me to be checked into the Eating Disorders Unit. My parents led the doctor to believe they’d go home and discuss it as a family, and we left. But I knew. I knew they were angry. And as I expected, after dropping the boys off to a local pizza parlour, they brought me home and proceeded to scream and yell at me about how dishonouring I was, how shameful, how they should not be asked to put out money for my rebellion, and so forth and so on. I guess it was considered “rebellious”to them that I was sick and needed help. I dared myself, at that moment, to quietly utter the following, thinking they wouldn’t hear above all the yelling: “You don’t care.” Well, they heard, and after asking me to repeat it, my mom threw an ice-cold glass of water at me. All I was wearing was my night tee. I’ll never forget that. This lack of care turned me into a person who is always afraid I won’t be believed if I’m sick, that I’m a nuisance to my husband if he has to take care of me, that unless I’m diagnosed with something horrible, I don’t have a right to be cared for by him – yet at the same time, I’m dying to be cared for, so when someone who I think should care for me doesn’t show it the way I need, I get hurt and angry…And then, I don’t feel worthy. It’s a conflicting cycle. I also still have epilepsy, and as a result, I cannot drive a car, which limits where I work. I suffer panic attacks that required me to get my dog registered as a service animal. He goes everywhere with me, but this is not conducive to getting work. But all that just feeds into my lack of self-confidence to support myself anyway, so there it is…
~ I couldn’t confide in my parents. I had no knowledge of an “open door” policy with either of them. In fact, their door was, quite literally, often closed off to us kids. They were so wrapped up in their own relationship and world, they didn’t have room for us. We were simply their kids, to be controlled, to use for errands and chores, to make them look a certain way. We were, for the most part, on separate islands. Me and David on one, Glenn on another, and my parents on another. Sometimes, my parents were on separate islands from each other. And before my teens, I was on an island all alone – often with my dog or whatever pet we had at the time. At any rate, if something horrible happened to me, at any point, I couldn’t tell anyone. There was nobody to tell. I had to keep it to myself, tightly packed away somewhere in my body. I was given the message that I was a nuisance, that I was in the way, and that I didn’t matter. This turned me into a person with secrets. So many secrets. So many horrible things happening all around me, and nobody to share them with. Over the years, after leaving my home, and for over a decade, I just kept storing more and more horrible memories, that now (and I only just learned that this is normal for traumatised people in therapy today) I have difficulty focusing and remembering things. I have the sense that I am split into 3 parts – and these three parts of me are not yet integrated. They all feel like a separate person, although it’s not the same as split personality. It’s different. I don’t know who to trust, and too often, I have trusted the wrong people, and I keep wondering why that still happens. When will I ever learn? Part of me so longs to confide and trust in someone, but I don’t have the sense of who that worthy person is all the time. It’s bizarre, because I’m otherwise a very good judge of character. This conflicting sense of who I am is a byproduct of my robbed childhood, I’m learning.
~ My privacy was violated. I had none. My parents read my diary over a period of about a week, and then, quizzed me on things to which they already knew the answer to see if I’d lie, and then, they told me to either repent of my ways, or I was no longer welcome in the home. Up until this point, I’d been dying to get out of that house, so needless to say, I didn’t “repent.” I went to live with friends in my senior year of high school, never to return, except for the week it took me to pack my belongings after graduation and take a one way flight to California. I had no real destination. I just knew I wanted to be in Los Angeles, so I made my way from northern California down….And got married and pregnant at 19. Two years too late for mom, I guess.
I have only touched on some of the ways my childhood was robbed. And here’s the best part: the only way I was able to recognise the above was to keep checking in, as I would begin each paragraph, and asking myself what I did for my own children, how I raised them…And only by answering this, was I continually able to figure out how my childhood was robbed. Because, you see, even with all the abuse going on around me, even through all that trauma, I knew from my early youth that when I became a mom, I would simply do the opposite with my kids, and this would ensure them a real childhood, one that I never had. And I did just that.
And that is the perfect segue to step two. Stay tuned…!