Thursday, January 26, 2006

when I was a child

When I was a child, my mother was, quite simply, out of control. Verbally, emotionally, physically. My brothers and I learned very young that no matter what we said or did, or didn't say or do, it would be our fault if mom 'lost it.' If we hadn't said/done what we did, or had said/done what she wanted us to (not that she would tell us what she wanted -- no, we were just supposed to know), then she wouldn't have had to say/do whatever she said/did to us. She also had a penchant for picking men with the same philosophy -- the it's not my fault philosophy.

Bruised body, bruised heart...that angelic face to the right didn't deserve it. And you'd never know, by looking in her eyes, that she'd already endured, by the age of six, more than many do in a lifetime. She shouldn't have had to.

Many children growing up take the accusation to heart. They truly believe that somehow, they were at fault. That if they hadn't said/done whatever, then the adult wouldn't have had to hurt them, physically or emotionally. They internalize that, and as they grow, they continue to believe they are wrong, unworthy.

I, however, reacted differently. Somehow, I instinctively knew that it was wrong, even at a very young age. That nothing I had said or done was reason enough for the abuse I was receiving, whether verbal or physical. That it was an unjust attack, that provocation was irrelevant. And that sense of injustice burned within, and kept me whole. The one thought that went through my mind the most when I was growing up was I will never ever do that to my kids when I'm a mommie. And I never did.

Flash forward 39 years, to me at 45. Yes, I'm still 45 -- for another whole 17 days!

We are who we are in large part through our life experiences. What we live shapes who we become as adults. It defines what we believe, what we value in life. So I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone that when I hear an adult tell someone, adult or child, it's not my fault, you made me do it, I get angry. That old sense of injustice fills me to overflowing. I feel so strongly about it that I would go so far as to say that if it is said to a child, or to someone with whom they have an intimate relationship, it is tantamount to emotional abuse. Yes, I've had considerable difficulty in the intervening years with respecting people who can't/won't take responsibility for their own loss of control in any given situation.

I believe that ultimately, the only thing in life that we truly have total control over is ourself. Our own reaction, our own response, our own actions, our own words. We each must own our own words. And take full responsibility for them. I myself recently wrote something that perhaps I shouldn't have. As true as it was, I recognize now that sometimes the truth need not be spoken. To know it in one's heart may be enough.

We may think we have control over other things or people in our life -- our jobs, our kids, our homes, etc -- but if you've ever experienced a sudden turn of events, you'll see that that kind of control is an illusion we allow ourselves to believe. It helps keep us sane to think we have control over things. And of course, individuals with physical or mental conditions that require medications to maintain self-control have extenuating circumstances.

But I truly only have control, permanently and unto death, over me, myself and I. That's all I can control. And that then, becomes my main responsibility in life. To control myself. I can choose not to accept that responsibility. I can choose to blame others for my loss of self-control, should I lose control. But, in doing so, I lie to myself. And I bruise the heart or body of some individual who doesn't deserve to be bruised.


Cassandra said...

Beautiful post! It touched me deeply. And I, too, believe strongly in personal responsibility.

My father was a physical abuser. When I got old enough to understand I discussed the matter with my mother. She withdrew to prayer. When I got older I resorted to force, and beat my father into submission.

It wasn't until 20 years later, just before he died, that we made peace.

Today I say my spouse in court. She claimed that she was the victim of domestic violence. She received a free lawyer for it. But she was the emotional abuser, and to some, physical.

Her attorney today, admitted to me that she had committed professional misconduct. I thanked her for her honesty, which I respect, and will never tell the story she told me. We are approaching the point that we will settle the case and move on.

I IM'd with my daughter this evening, and I mentioned that I saw her mother today. Out of curiousity I asked her if she thought that her mother would ever speak with me again. She asked me why would I even want that.

It displayed the wisdom of my 11 year old, and the old saying that love is blind. I do still love my spouse--even if I don't trust her, and but for her I would not have this wonderful and wise child.

I know. I guess I am still a child.

dyercotomy said...

dont forget that personal responsibility means that you alone are must take credit for all the good you have done.

if we are to be judged, and judge ourselves, never neglect the case for the defense.

Frank said...

I have 2 brothers, both drug abusers, both graduates of the 12 step programs that, in my opinion, preach personal responsibilty and then attempt to shift the blame to others. Both are still users. Dependency of any sort implies weakness, I would imagine in an effort to feel an inkling of self esteem this type of person HAS to shift blame off themselves. One brother bemoans our terrible upbringing. (which was mild compared to both yours and Cassandras) The other, oddly enough, says he simply did drugs because he liked to get high. They're my brothers, I love them and want the best for them. I have lived with dependent personalities all my life and I can't bring myself to call dependency a disease. Of course I don't like the path either has taken, but I still have some respect for the brother that can look inside and blame only himself for what his life has become.

Curious_2b_sub said...

Spring ~ Thank you for this post. Sometimes I get impatient with my kids, and although I'm sure I've never sunk to the level that your mother did... it's just good to be reminded that our own loss of control, just isn't their fault.

Thanks and *hugs* to the little one inside of you.

Spring said...

dyercotomy, thanks for that reminder! :)

Spring said...

Thanks so much, everyone, for sharing such personal thoughts here. I very much appreciate that you all felt comfortable sharing here.

Cala Lily said...

I spent my childhood walking on eggshells around my father, trying to do something, anything, to not set him off, to hold the monster at bay, to not loose the blood dimmed tide.

I've seen my sister grow up into a walking time-bomb. Exploding at cashiers, mechanical service personnel, her daughters, her husbands, my parents, me.

What I always wonder is what happens inside of a person which allows them to believe that this sort of behavior is okay? Are they blind to the consequences to everyone else? What do they tell themselves so they can sleep at night?

To me, it's not so much a choice of self control, as it is a moral line I will not cross, a standard of behavior I will not lower, a belief that people, that all people, have an inherent dignity which I am morally bound to respect. Perhaps not so different from self control after all. Perhaps the same thing, framed differently, articulated differently.

That you were able to extract yourself from the push-pull blame dynamics as a child is amazing. My father is a sick old man now. Fragile. Frail. And still I walk on egg shells around him, and the merest hint of his wrath still causes my hands to shake, blurs my mind, sends me tumbling into a madness where anything is possible.

I am lost in time. Each moment of my life stretched into a vast and endless now.

Mi3 said...

What a sweet photo of that innocent little girl who is still alive and well needing you to be the parent she didn't have. It isn't only your kids you can mother better than you got it. She needs you too.

fellahere said...

"We may think we have control over other things or people in our life -- our jobs, our kids, our homes, etc -- but if you've ever experienced a sudden turn of events, you'll see that that kind of control is an illusion we allow ourselves to believe."

Excellent post. This is the part I've resonated with. Heart-pumping, pale-as-a-ghost, panic. That hidden trap door under one's feet. Suddenly the clarity sees only the rest of the day you're in, rather than seeing "down the road a piece".

Spring, that's the story when you look at your picture? That's a LOT, and that's only the surface.


Deepblue said...

I'm glad you were aware enough to realize it wasn't about you...

You were a beautiful child then, and you are a beautiful woman now...

It's hard to break the cycle... I'm glad you did... :*

Spring said...

Thank you SO much for all the beautiful words and shared stories. It means so much to me.