In anticipation of writing my upcoming memoir (working title: “Show My Ugly”) I decided that I needed to read my old teenaged diaries which I kept from age 12 to 17, and included 7th through 12th grade. I’ve written two pieces of poetry about the torture of this endeavor, (See “The Diaries” and “The Diaries-Part Deux”, previously published) and, full disclosure, I have not yet finished this most unsettling project but I am going to – I must pace myself, honestly; it’s that awful. I’m doing this because I need the context of people and timing, and most of all I need the proof of my memoir title, “Show My Ugly”. When writing a memoir, one must be reminded that although they are the hero of their own story, one must also be brutally honest and own up to one’s part in the misery of it all. I’m sure not everyone has torturous childhoods recorded in diaries; some have written about lovely childhoods, but who wants to read about that? The bottom line is, when you wait forty-plus years to read them, they are at the very least cringe worthy and at the most, will spiral you into a never ending PTSD episode. Mine was definitely on the latter end of the scale, thus the reading breaks I’ve had to take, and reading in very small doses. I have 26 volumes and as of this writing I am only on volume 12 at the age of 14.
Even in that seemingly short amount of time (ages 12-14, seventh through ninth grade) I must share my most constant thought throughout this reading and that is, Adolescence Should Be Outlawed. I mean c’mon, let’s face it: there are absolutely no redeeming qualities to living through something like that – not for the adolescent OR for their long-suffering parents.
I knew that I had a tumultuous childhood with more than a few sprinkles of true trauma thrown in, and living through it again has been very painful, if I’m being honest. There isn’t much that I’ve forgotten, but reliving it through my own adolescent eyes has brought some necessary clarity to what I remember, and more importantly, why these things happened. There was definitely some questionable parenting going on, but I now know that they were just people with their own problems saddled with a posse of unruly kids. That doesn’t alleviate the trauma by any means, because let’s face it, they were the parents and we really were just kids. I have an ongoing reflection in my head that I just can’t shake, and as a parent myself, really don’t want to. This mantra is, “As a parent, you have one job: to keep your children safe. One job”.
That wasn’t the childhood that I lived. There was a lot of ugly going on back then and while I recognize my part in it, I need to stop carrying the entire weight of it on my own shoulders. I was just a kid. I needed taken care of. I needed boundaries. I needed stability. I needed my siblings. I needed to be heard. I needed to hear that I was loved, (and not, “I love you, but I don’t like you at all”). Sure, I was fed and clothed, but there was so much more that I needed. Childhood trauma can be defined in a number of ways, from basic neglect to overt physical, mental or sexual abuse. I fell somewhere in the middle of that, but my adult emotional needs are greater than most, and I frankly resent it. I resent that I live in fear of rejection, that I’m so intense that some people just can’t cope with me. (They are uncoping, my new favorite, personally coined word, which really should be in the dictionary, which it is not). I’m sad that my own children have had to see and experience the negative affects of what I’ve been through. My own husband had a self-described idyllic childhood, and he lovingly aches for me because sometimes he just doesn’t understand me and I can’t blame him. Thank God for him because our children are well past their way of coping rather than uncoping with that horrific time of adolescence. They seem to have made it through relatively unscathed. I hope.
Meanwhile, I remain tormented on many levels due to the circumstances of my adolescence. It was a horrific period in my life and if I were forced to come up with one single good outcome from it, it is that I am very independent and self-sufficient. Shit gets done, because who else is going to do it, right? But I have suffered immensely, which some of you many have already inferred from many of my previous essays and poetry. My best writing comes from my pain, and I am in a hell of a lot of pain. It’s definitely the rule, not the exception.
You may wonder why I’m tasking myself with writing a memoir and I can honestly tell you that I need to get this flotsam and detritus out of my brain and onto paper because I’m running out of space in my brain for happy thoughts. I’ve simply got to try and heal myself since my attempts at hiring professionals (25 years of talk therapy – I’m so sick of myself!), taking medication for the depression, anxiety and PTSD that I continue to suffer from, haven’t seemed to reveal any permanent healing, only temporary bandaids.
As I have been reading these tomes of torment, I have a few other observations: life is full of missed opportunities, some good, some bad. I’ve always relied on my own personal belief that I only regret the things I don’t do, but I’ve now realized that very often I wasn’t given a choice. I wasn’t given a voice. I feel a lot of sadness in what could have been had different choices been made for me, or if I hadn’t been afraid to speak up for myself, and I think the saddest thing of all is realizing that I never knew any different. See, that’s one of the fatal flaws of childhood versus maturity into adulthood: as a child, everything you learn you inherently know to be true. You trust the adults in your life because it’s all you know. It isn’t until much later that you can look back and say, “Oh, hell no! That ain’t right!”. And generally, by the time you reach that realization, it’s likely too late and you’ve suffered the consequences on a long term, macro scale. This is how I would define myself at this point. Fortunately for me, I was able to make some good choices in picking my spouse and parenting my children (though one never knows for sure, does one?), but I live with a great deal of anguish which is clearly hindering my success at the goal of acceptance and happiness, and for that I do remain resentful and even unforgiving, which I happen to know intellectually, is just self-torment.
I stand by my earlier statement: Adolescence Should Be Outlawed. It was the worst of times and the worst of times for me. I’m not yet convinced that I will ever get over it. But I’m trying, I’m doing the best I can with the very few tools I was given along the way. In that regard, my parents failed me. They did not keep me safe and I am paying the price. Nobody wins, and that’s probably the saddest denouement of all.
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having to attend three funerals in the last week and a half. While none of them were unexpected, it’s always sad for the grieving families. But in an odd juxtaposition, I can’t help but think about how to grieve for the living, the Ghosts.
I’ve suffered many losses. Not by death, but by abandonment, also sometimes known as Ghosting in today’s vernacular. I feel like I’ve spent my entire life grieving on some level. It began with my biological father, who left when I was six months old, followed by my mother, who abandoned me when I was 11 years old, and then my adoptive father, who abandoned me when I was 15 years old. So even though those people are still living, I’ve had to grieve for those losses. At this juncture, they’ve come back into my life, somewhat hovering around as if they don’t quite know what to do with me, given the actions of their pasts. I know that I can say, on some level, I never got over those losses. And I certainly didn’t have the tools to properly grieve for them, then or now.
Meanwhile, due to so many upheavals during my past, I’ve lost many friends. And that has been the most difficult of all in my grieving process. I missed out on long term friendships because I was always moving away. In seventh grade, twice in eighth grade, and again in 10th grade. Anyone who’s ever been a teenager, especially between the ages of 11 to 15, can appreciate how painful it must be to say goodbye forever to your closest friends, your allies, your first loves, your lifelines.
As an adult, I have suffered additional losses by those I call the living ghosts. Those who have decided to leave me and not let me know why. And while I suspect I know what their reasons are, and feel I have no choice but to respect them, I just feel tremendous grief and loss, all the time.
As I reflect on these funerals that I’ve attended recently, I observed that the survivors are understood and nurtured in their grief. While painful for them, it is a finality of sorts which usually allows them to begin the process of learning to live without their loved one for the rest of their lives. However, when dealing with abandonment and ghosting, I am not afforded the same comfort. The person lives on, sometimes in my midst, and I am left wondering what could have been. I will always wonder what could have been done differently or what I could have done differently to avoid the pain of so much loss. It is simply a variant, unvalidated form of grieving that never seems to abate or heal. I can’t help but wonder how I’ll feel when the loss is final, once they’ve reached the end of their lives. Will I then finally be able to grieve and accept the loss and heal?