Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I Want to Be Free

Photo Credit: apdk
My daughter is one of the sweetest, most beautiful little girls in the world (yes, I can say that because I'm her mom ;) ). In the past few months, she's started walking. She jabbers and talks almost non-stop. She's always up for adventure, never shy or unwilling to try something new. People stop us all the time to compliment her or say hi to her.

Half a dozen times a day I just have to look at her to find my heart hurts with this insane love I never knew existed. I have been given this amazing, joyful gift...

...and it makes me very, very bitter.

Over the past few months, I find myself thinking over and over again about my own childhood. I look at my daughter, and I wonder how any parent could treat their kid the way our dad treated us. In spite of all the years of trying to forgive, I find myself feeling active hatred for him once again.

I don't like it. I don't like thinking about those days. I don't like feeling this way. I want to be free of this. I'm just not sure I know how.

In many ways, it would be easier if I could just say, "My dad was a very bad man." Of course, I can't. I do have good memories of him. I know he has regrets. I think if he had it to do over again, he would do things differently.

I can give him credit for all those things - knowing too that I am far from perfect. But I find I can't keep myself from coming back to the bad. That seems to be always where my focus lies.

I can easily justify my attitude. We grew up in a house defined by anger, violence, and uncertainty. We never knew if good dad or bad dad would be home - he was two different people really. I think in many ways that made it all the worse - that not knowing what to expect; always trying to prepare for the worst.

A few weeks ago I found myself in a flood of tears, telling my husband stories from my childhood, none of them good. By the end of my outpouring, he was in tears himself. I knew he was imagining someone doing those things to our daughter...the same as I have been.

It would take a book really to detail everything my siblings and I went through, but the ultimate result is that in our different ways, I think all three of us feel worthless.

My dad was not happy with his life. In that unhappiness, he punished his wife and children over and over and over again. We were spanked, in anger, many times. When the age came for spankings to end, the emotional abuse escalated. We were told, multiple times, that having children so young had ruined our dad's life. He put it in terms of a warning - wait until you're older to have children! But in case there was any doubt, he made sure we knew he was referring to our situation.

I know he felt worthless himself - dead end job, 3 kids, no money, angry all the time. He had his own bad childhood - divorced parents, raising his 3 brothers, a dad who did beat them. He passed that legacy on when he lectured me for hours on the ways I fell short...whether it was a constantly messy room, being overweight, or even believing in God.

There were the lectures, and the yelling. The breaking of dishes and holes punched in the walls. He even frequently wrote us letters filled with vitriol - it was like he saw it as a way of controlling his temper when he could calmly write something about whatever shortfall it was he felt the need to address. Those letters are some of my very worst memories even now...

There was much more than that. And there was the good, too of course. Over the years I've pushed it away and gone along with the current family story that nothing was ever that bad. We don't see each other more than once or twice a year and it's always been fairly easy to be civil and even enjoy his company.

But lately, I can't get it out of my mind. The past few visits home have stressed me out so much it's taken months to feel normal again. And they haven't even been bad ones. Any criticism I get or perceive from the people around me now just destroys me. It's like I'm right back in that place of feeling constantly powerless and distressed - the same place I was as a kid and teenager and thought I'd left several years ago.

The thing is...I used to be the same as my daughter. I was full of laughter and joy - completely fearless. I actually remember my very young years more than most of the years intervening, when I had the same beautiful spirit as my daughter.

I think what I can't get over right now is the powerful, suddenly in my face realization that it was my own parent who destroyed that in me. I turned into a shy, introverted, frightened, overweight girl with no confidence and little self worth - because the constant message I grew up with was, "You are not good enough."

In many ways, I've been reborn. I still struggle with my weight. I still feel like I don't measure up. But in my logical mind, I know I am an amazing person. I know I am a good wife and a good mother and intelligent and even pretty.

I think maybe I'm scared. I have the power to do what was done to me to my daughter. I have a legacy that goes back generations in my family and I think I'm scared to death that I could continue it. In spite of doing everything differently so far (than my parents did) and seeing amazing results from it, I continue to feel trapped in this cycle.

There's a saying that I've liked for a long time - it says: "Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

For many years, I've wanted to forgive my dad. He's not going to ask me for forgiveness - I know that. I don't think I need that. I don't really feel like I need anything from him at this point. I don't think I need to forget about it all either - good or bad, those things shaped me to be the person I am today.

But still, I'm bitter. And until I cannot be, I won't be free. I want to be free of this. I'm just not sure I know how...

I know this was really, really rambling. Thank you for listening, whoever you are.


  1. I know exactly how you feel. Fortunately for my mental health, my father died before I became a parent and I was forced to deal with a lot of the pain prior. I'm not sure if I could see him twice a year. I now have custody of my 4yo nephew since we lost my brother to his drug use, no doubt caused by the pain of our childhoods. I look at my nephew and see the amazing person my brother was and what he could have been if he was encouraged and secure. It tears me apart to remember the happy kids my brother and I were until our spirits were broken. I constantly wonder how much happier I might be today. I know that my pain has made me a better person. I have a deeper understanding of humanity than most people who haven't lived through tragedy, but what I wouldn't give to be ignorant of it all. I have a cousin who had a great childhood and is one of those constantly happy people. I wish I could be that, too.

    I know I will never treat my kids the way I was treated, but I overthink every wrong step. I have enormous guilt that yelling at them one time in anger will forever shape their childhood. I know my pain was caused by the whole of my childhood, not one instance, but it is scary to think you have that much power over a child's life. I feel like I only have one chance and I better not screw it up.

    I wish I had some great advice for you, but I can only commiserate. And hope the future is better than the past.

  2. Love to you both - writer and commenter - I understand so much about the guilt about shouting and not wanting to repeat cycles of suffering. Know that you are being conscious, so it is unlikely that you will, and you are humans doing the tough job of parenting - you are allowed to get angry and frustrated without feeling guilty or worrying that you are turning into your abusive parent xx

  3. Oh this makes me feel so much love and compassion for you. I am seding you so much love across the ether. Motherhood is such a hard thing to go through, it's like climbing into a mangle and being...well....mangled. It can feel like we have become mashed and melted and boiled down into an unrecognisable mush. And this is precisely what happens to precious metals right before they are re-cast. Except we are endlessly melted and re-cast all the time.
    I can so relate to you. I too had a whole bunch of childhood that was ok. I too, have some sweet memories, but it is hard sometimes to separate them out from the painful stuff. In my own case, I was belted by my dad on a few occasions. We feared him but adored him somehow too. (As all kids do with their own parents - there's no choice)...I was given the silent treatment once by my mother for a solid two week stretch. Just for telling her the truth about something. My mum would sulk about a range of things that weren't to her liking, and used constant emotional blackmail to manipulate us. We were always poor. One week of every month we'd be flush and eating M&S food, then by the last week before pay day we'd be living off crap white bread and really shit food. Always enough money for cigarettes though! Literally every month my parents would spend all their money by week 3 and have £5 or something ridiculous to live on till we crawled to pay day. My mum acted like our suffering was a noble thing, she took it stoically, since her dad had been in a concentration camp and so this kind of suffering was small fry. My dad was out of work for a while and he lost his driving license for a year for drink driving - we all suffered that miserable year. nowadays I still have such mixed feelings when I am in the family home... mostly I feel pain and sadness which eats me up for days afterwards, even though I try so so hard not to let it get under my skin like that. I had low self esteem for so many years because my parents kept telling me how much of a pain I was, and in my teenage years I was counting down the months, weeks, days till I could leave home. There was so much animosity. My adult life has been an endless battle between forgiving them and feeling so hurt. Just when i forgive them they do something insensitive or hurtful and it rakes it all up again. One Christmas my mum started caressing my husbands thigh after everyone had had too much to drink. Totally fucked up catholic repression! Ugghh! It just hurts my head trying to figure these people out, but I try really hard to love them inspite of their flaws. In spite of the fact that they are not really parents in the sense of older and wiser, protecting nurturing souls guiding - other parent figures now get the priviledge of that role in my life nowadays. I see them as humans full of frailty to be pitied, but stopped seeking guidance or support or approval from them a long time ago. I'd write much more but my shoulder is killing me. I am just sending you lots of love and healing thoughts, you need to just surround yourself with good people, share and offload as much as you can, have a good support network around you and try to live as positively and joyfully as you can - you cannot re-write your past but you can write a happier now and a happier tommorow with lots of help, love, cuddles, tears and support. Much love to you dear one xxxxx

  4. Not quite in the same vein, but felt moved to share (as I often do)...

    When I was young I had a great uncle that tried to molest me. We were at a big family gathering and felt unable to make a scene by announcing the situation.

    But I remember telling my mom. Years later I thought I must have imagined that memory. And I told her about it all, again. She confessed that I had, in fact, told her about it before.

    I am so very shocked (now with little girls of my own) that she could take that information and do... NOTHING with it.

    If someone laid an inappropriate hand on a child of mine, I'd be hard pressed to not land myself in prison! How could she do... nothing??

    I hope you find the peace you seek.

  5. I was adopted, my adoptive mother isnt the most intelligent person on the planet but tries her best. My adoptive father died in a car crash when I was three with no life insurance. We went to bed early to conserve heat. I wished I had the fancy food that the others(classmates) had in their lunch boxes and potions were strictly rationed. I always had chilblains on my feet because of the cold. When at the age of 12 I was roughly grabbed by a male visitor and pulled into his bed and molested (luckily I was strong enough to get a away before he could do real damage) I told my mother. She didnt believe me at first but rang him to check..he admitted it! Nothing was done (he was a priest). Now that I have children of my own I can see how making an issue public can often make things worse. So far in life I have only ever witnessed the bullies getting away with it and the vicitms have to hide away, move schools etc. because of victimisation and stigmatisation. A male uncle of mine had 'a feel/massage" of my developing breasts too despite my pleas to be released. I again told my mother and nothing was done. The fact is is that my father was dead so these men had nothing to fear. They are predatory, opportunistic cowards and bullies and entirely responsible for their own behaviour. Also so self-centered that they were unable to see past their own immediate gratification and power. All men sadly got the blame for these cowards' behaviour and I was unable to enjoy any sexual contact as a young married woman. I was suicidal and luckily the person in the Samaritins knew the name of a a very good therapist. In treatment these men were never really discussed. The focus was on Now, my relationship, my sexual enjoyment. Me became the focus, not the bad parenting, the pervy old men, my sexual problems....just wonderful old me.
    I also re-connected with my birth mother...after an emotional re-union the interest petered out. I barely hear from her now and have never been invited to a family event. This used to hurt but I've come to terms with the fact that my birth mother has the problem/problems. I often wonder about my birth father whom I have never met....but really, what is another flawed, broken, self-centered adult going to add to my life. What is a parent at the end of the day? They are all heavily loaded words..."mother", "father" etc, but they are just kids, who got wrinckly and havn't got a clue. I have a wonderful relationship with my own kids, I get it wrong so often but I try really hard to get it right. Awareness really is key. I am aware that my adoptive mother let me down, I am aware that adults can be so self centered that they put their own needs ahead of their kids and see children as an extension of themselves rather than as individual, important, wonderful people.
    I find it hard to summon up bitterness and resentment anymore for all these so called adults short-comings, but I had a great therapist..(and a wonderful, patient,loving husband). and it only took 4 or 5 sessions to help. It was as if I was physically lifted out of the past and firmly planted into my own and my children's present and future. It took time but I had to be kind to myself and trust in the absolute wonderfulness of myself. We are all worthy souls. Just because adults in our lives went desperately wrong doesn't mean we are stained in any way shape or form. In fact, our awareness is increased, our focus sharpened...we, unlike our chirpy, unfettered cousins are fully AWAKE. Love and strength and peace to you dear, beloved one.

  6. feeling the pain and standing there in the midst of it as one who holds back the ancient energy of abuse is no small task and not an easy thing to do. I write that sentence only from the experience of my own past "shit", for lack of more PC term. But ultimately, that's what it is, the excretion of countless centuries of madness brought down to bear upon us, the ones who are making another choice.

    You must give yourself credit for the choice you have made. Recognize the fact that although you feel the effects of abuse to this very day, you are the one to hold your daughter in a state of grace. Let yourself feel this, focus on this space of grace that you are holding for your daughter.

    I say this as if I'm offering advice, but really I'm saying it as a reminder for myself and for you as an inroads into a space of love that will begin to change the way you see your father, and ultimately begin to break up the discordant energy that still remains in you from your past.

    As hard as it may seem, the challenge that you must invite is to see yourself and your father in this same state of grace that you hold for you daughter. It may help to put yourself in his shoes and go back to when he was a child, in that same innocence experiencing the same abusive corrosion that has existed on this planet for eons. You will no doubt quickly see that this same thing can be done for everyone who has ever been abused.

    As they say, it is a cycle. YOU however, are the one to stand in the middle of that cycle and say, "nope, not on my child." This takes a courage that is without measure. You are a Warrior in the truest sense of the word. And yes, this can get very tiresome, which is why its all the more important to make diligent effort to see your father in a state of grace so that your heart will open to him.

    If you can come to the place where you are freely, *not forcing*, giving love to him, you will feel the bitterness dissolve.

    I invite you to consider your situation as an opportunity to surrender more fully into the love that you feel for your daughter and let it overcome everything else in your life.

    This is no small task, this is tantamount to loving your enemies, and forgiving all... a truly divine journey.

    Peace Be With You As You Go,

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