abusive memories

I started writing a different post, and it triggered a memory. It’s really important that I write this first.

I just heard a voice from the distant past saying, “don’t get too big for your pants.” That was always a code phrase for whenever this person was telling me I was too arrogant or full of myself; in other words, she was trying to tear me down anytime I felt a little bit of confidence.

Another one of her greatest hits was, “you’re breeding a scab on your nose,” which to me meant that I was setting myself up for embarrassment and failure. When I heard that code phrase, I would stop what I was doing because I was afraid to be seen as a failure. If she saw me as a failure, everyone else would too. This also made me want to succeed at things to spite her, and I’ve been told that spite is an ugly emotion.

I repeat those phrases in my head, and all I feel is negative emotions from the memory: anger at her for pulling a child into her bitter negativity; sadness for myself, who never learned to shake off the power her words had over me; and frustration at how badly this damaged my psyche to the point I would rarely have confidence in anything I do.

I can’t stress enough the effect this has had on me as a child, as a teen, and as an adult. My entire life has been filled with instances where I could have tried something new, but I didn’t have the fearlessness to try whatever it was because I thought it was predetermined that I would fail. I can’t count the times I might have been really good at something, but I was afraid to give it a shot for fear of embarrassment or ridicule.

I was a really smart kid, but I had no answer for the verbal abuse that was inflicted on me every day. I was book smart, but I had no emotional intelligence. I say that as if I’m blaming myself, but how could I lean and grow emotionally when I was stifled by the pressure-cooker environment I lived in? I knew my life was messed up, but not once did it occur to me that I wasn’t at fault somehow. A lifetime of emotional depression was caused by one mentally ill person constantly abusing a child, passing that mental illness down as if it were genetic, and morphing it to fit my specific weaknesses.

Failure, shame, embarrassment, sadness, anger. It has taken me many, many years to attempt to put these thoughts behind me and move on with life. I haven’t succeeded yet.

cheerleader

All parents are cheerleaders for their kids to a certain extent, but my adoptive mom was the whole squad. As I got older it became embarrassing when she would tell people how smart I was, how good a singer or musician I was, or how skilled at baseball I was. Even when I was proven to not be the best in those endeavors, she would stubbornly hold on to the belief that I was better than anyone else. She would complain to the coach when I didn’t get enough playing time, and she would tell the choir director that I deserved a solo when I really didn’t. I was her precious genius with superpowers, and she mollycoddled me to the point of smothering.

Despite A-mom being a cheerleader for me to the rest of the world, she never seemed to encourage me very much at home. She never sat me down and said “you can make it through college, you’re smart enough.” I felt like my motivation to succeed came from myself, partly to escape poverty and partly to prove wrong the people who told me I wouldn’t amount to anything.

I wonder if she didn’t feel like she could help me anymore once we escaped the abuse in Treetown. Maybe she felt like I was grown up at that point, which was far from the truth. I wish I had someone to help me through the transition from high school to college, but the reality is I did it all by myself. I don’t think she wanted me to leave home, and I think she was quietly happy when my first attempt at freedom failed and I moved back home.

I don’t want to be unfair to her. We were poor, and we didn’t the financial opportunity to take advantage of special tutoring or coaching or music lessons. In addition, we were both recovering from years of abuse, and we were still in a raw emotional state, trying to figure out how to live a normal life. We needed therapy more than we needed music lessons, but we had the mistaken belief that Jesus would help us more than psychiatrists.