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.

high inquisitor

I have questioned my memory of the person I was in the past. I think I was a decent person, but at the same time broken, awkward, and angry due to the years of abuse. I tend to remember the worst of who I was and how I treated people, and I remember the stupid things I did because of early-onset bipolar. These feelings happen during my depressive moods, and I have a difficult time escaping the darkness that envelops my thought processes.

I have this irrational desire to question my old friends to find out what I was like from their perspective and see how terrible a person I really was. I found something I wrote here during a depressive spiral in 2011:

I keep going back to my memory to try to find the answers on my own, but I need [old friends’] testimony as evidence to build the case against myself. I want to know if they remember everything the way I do, if their story checks out with the alleged facts in my mind. I have to know what they were thinking or feeling at the time, why they did what they did, why they cared about me in the first place, what I did to drive them away, … and why they decided they could no longer trust me. I need them to tell me how badly I hurt them, and if those scars remain, and if they think about those times with sadness or anger. I want them to confirm that I was really the monster I think I was.

I’ve had people from the past tell me they remember me as a basically good person and a good friend who seemed to have things figured out. Maybe I really fooled them, which makes me a disingenuous fraud, or they aren’t being truthful; either way, I don’t believe them. I think they are trying to protect my feelings, trying to be supportive and kind rather than honest. That’s not what I want from them; I want the unvarnished facts, don’t pull your punches, give it to me straight … I can handle the truth.

I want to know … but I don’t know if I have the right to ask these questions. I want to put people I’ve loved through this insane line of questioning even though it might hurt them now more than I ever did before. Sometimes I’m prepared to torture my friends and family to get the truth, and fuck the consequences. … I know I shouldn’t do this, to myself or my loved ones, but I’m still obsessed. I still want to know, even if I have to hurt them to get the answers.

 

I have had to accept that people from my past grew up and let go; they’ve moved on, lived their life, and made their choices … while leaving me in their past. They have forgotten the exact details of that afternoon in 1986, or that weekend in 1989, or that evening in 1993. They don’t remember what song was playing, or what cookies we shared, or where we sat in the grass. They have done what adults do, leaving the details to fade into the background, just remembering the highlights, maybe feeling a little nostalgia when looking at an old yearbook, but then closing the yearbook and coming back to the present.

Sometimes I don’t know how to do that. Sometimes I want to punish myself by examining everything in painful detail, repeatedly analyzing what went wrong and what I could have done to fix it, wishing I could go back and just make a small revision or two, and wanting to find out how the story could have ended.