reprinted from October 19, 2009
copyright 2009-2010 Casey at the Sprightly Writer
It’s sunny for the first time in about a week today. I’m sitting outside on the grass, soaking in the sunshine with my notebook, contemplating the past, the present and the future. The days like today are getting fewer and fewer. I really hate living in the midwest, near-ish to the Windy City. October starts the dismal march into winter, and the days become thick with charcoal gray clouds, the temperature chills to the bone, and the rain is always threatening. My mood becomes slightly gloomy and I become less resistant to illness. I’m usually sick every few weeks from October to March.
I need to be out here in the sunshine…where the birds gather at the feeder, the few remaining crickets chirp, and the sun warms my face.
I can’t “stop thinking”, but I can mute the clamor of my inner voice out here. The inner voice that prods me along into contemplating too many things…my mother’s hidden mental illness, the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse I suffered at my family’s hands, where sensitivity and intelligence were pathologized, the dreams I had of being an esteemed professor in the scientific field were broken – destroyed into a million little pieces.
I was a high achiever in high school, but when it became evident my dreams to go away to university were rejected, I was crushed. I experimented with failure – deliberately failing my college algebra class, partly to see what it was like, and partly because I stopped caring. Often I skipped English Literature to talk to the guidance counselor, who saw potential in me but couldn’t fathom why my mother refused to. I remember telling him, “I just don’t understand how she could do this to me”. She told me she figured I would find some guy and drop out to marry him. No, that was not at all on the agenda.
In speaking with my step-mother yesterday on the phone, I realized a few things I didn’t know about my mother, things that confirmed to me that my mother wasn’t simply a bad “mom”. She was a bad “human”. She had a long history using and abusing people for her own devices. She wasn’t just a pathological liar, she was not unlike a sociopath. She came from an “upstanding” home – upper middle class roots, traditional family values, good home cooking.
I would love to tell you I’m making this up, but I’m not. I would love to tell you that this was all in the past, but it wouldn’t stay buried and it hurt my kids for a while.
I felt oddly comforted by the movie Girl, Interrupted. Maybe because that was the first time I saw a mirror image of myself, or rather the self my family tried to convince me I was.
I’m not, and never was, card-carrying crazy. But that’s what they tried to convince me I was. There were a few times, though, when I gave them what they thought crazy should look like. After all, if I’m going to be accused of it, I might as well act like it, right? Screaming, swearing at them, calling myself the “devil’s spawn” and recklessly getting between my parents when they fought. I knew moments of barely repressed rage and some where I physically did some damage around the house.
In all my reveries over the course of the day yesterday, I did unearth a memory I’d long forgotten about. The memory of experimenting with cutting myself. I would take a hobby knife and slowly cut along the inside of my arm lengthwise. Just enough to break the surface of the skin and feel pain, but not enough to bleed. I was hurting, but not stupid. I knew I could accidentally cut a vein and bleed to death. I did it both because the physical pain muted the mental anguish I felt, and because I desperately hoped someone would notice what I was doing so they would realize how much they hurt me.
After about a dozen times of doing it, I stopped, but I’m not sure why. There is one person who remembers the details some of my stories even better than I do, and if he knew about this, he might help me piece together that memory.
Some people have asked me how I survived to go on to a moderately successful life. I really don’t know. Sheer determination coupled with the grace of God (or some higher being in the universe) that placed people in my path to help lift me up out of my personal hell.
And I sit here, at 39 years old, trying to figure out where I go from here. A stay at home mother of a trio of beautiful, gifted girls, a clinical laboratory science career (not that professorship, but a decent consolation prize anyway) interrupted by motherhood, and so many desires to pursue but unable to commit.
I feel tears inside…not for the girl I used to be…but for the powerful woman I know is inside me but I cannot access. I fear if I become her, it will inevitably shift something in my marriage. I’ve already felt the growing pains with my husband, as he tries to understand what I’m going through. He told me recently, “While I’m glad on the one hand you are finding a renewed sense of purpose, I’m just afraid I’m not going to be in it”. I reassure him that he has to be in it, because he’s my safe harbor in life’s storms. He’s always been that to me. I really can’t do this with out him being in my life.