To the outside world, that is, the world outside my head, I appear to have accomplished much in my life. I have overcome overwhelming odds and am doing quite well, thank you. I was born to poverty. My father was an ex-con who fixed mufflers and worked under the table until his death. He was a very intelligent man who was crushed under the weight of his internal demons and his past. He was nomadic by nature, leaving home and family whenever it became rough. His legacy is having five kids by four different woman. He only raised one, my 1/2 sister (the only female to wrap him around her finger). He did as well as he could by her. To that, I give him the respect he deserves. At the end of his life, as I watched him being eaten away by bone cancer, I had a chance to hear his thoughts on life and his own death. At the end, he had gained some perspective. He explained the death process to me, as he was going through it. He likened it to Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” What muffler man has that kind of perspective? He was a profoundly flawed yet ultimately decent guy. He had done many wrongs in his life, but saw his kids as something right in the world.
My mother worked hard to provide for the family. She was woefully ill equipped to handle the burden of being a single mother with two growing boys. As a young girl, her world was ripped apart. Her entire being was centered on the life she knew in rural Michigan. When she was six, my grandparents decided to move to Los Angeles. This event rocked her world so much, that she was never able to recover. At 70 years old, she still is that six-year-old girl in Michigan.
Her mother was a narcissistic manipulative woman. She emasculated my grandfather and ruled the house with iron will. She did not use reason in her decisions. She did not have the family’s best interest in mind. In fact, she worked very hard to set the four siblings against each other and sat back and reveled in the fireworks. To this day, the siblings do not speak.
My mother took on many of these characteristics. She was physically and emotionally abusive. My brother and I were raised to serve her and always knew we were there to “fix mom.” As a child, I felt no safety. I was beaten regularly and often had no idea what I had done. Most of the time it was because mom had a bad day, and came home to let off steam.
As children, we were belittled on all the struggles kids go through. This was especially strong when it came to our masculinity. She had grown up watching her father emasculated on a daily basis, and turned that force upon us. We were often told, beginning at the age of 7 that we walked like a fag. Since I didn’t know what that meant, I didn’t have any idea how to correct it. Life was like that at home; you never knew how to correct the problem so you could avoid it next time.
So, as an adult, the inside world of my mind still functions as that little kid. He has not been able to grow up. In that way, I am very much like my mother—except I am aware of the problem. I am still trying to fix everyone’s problems, and avoiding pain and confrontation. This is how I learned to deal with the world. You see, when you are raised to cope with a crazy person, and this is all you know. When you go out into the world, your coping strategies fail you and you don’t know why. I have lived my life in a continual state of confusion since I was a child. It was about 10 years ago that I began sifting through the mess of my mind and realizing that I had it wrong. I have been living in a fog my entire life. I was swimming in a soup of obsession and depression and all the while the scared little kid in my head needed help.
I recently relayed a story to my counselor that really put into perspective how my inner child feels most of the time. I was an extremely hyperactive boy. It really came to a head in 4th and 5th grade. I couldn’t control my mind or my body. In the 70’s Ritalin was still fairly new as a treatment for hyperactivity (the terms ADD and ADHD did not exist yet). I do not remember 2nd or 3rd grade because I was drugged out of my skull. By 5th grade, the drug’s hold on my brain was weakening, and I was again losing control. The advent of these events prompted the school have a parent/teacher/principle meeting with my mother.
As I stood outside, peering through the window of room 5, I remember seeing my mother become enraged, begin to cry, and then break down to a state of all-out sobbing. I thought I was in real trouble but couldn’t remember what I had done wrong. I knew I was going to get beat. I was so scared. When we got out to the car, I told her I was sorry for whatever I did wrong at school and that I would never do it again. She told me that they thought I was retarded and that I should be put in a special school. I knew what that meant. I didn’t feel retarded. She started talking really tough. She said, “You are not retarded and you are not going to a special school.” I asked her what I did to make them think I was retarded. She said, “You can’t sit still and are mixing up your printing and handwriting.”
I decided right then I would never use handwriting again. I never wanted to see my mother cry again (fixing mom was my motivation). So I went on with my life. I struggled in school all the way through. In high school, I was a 2.3 GPA student year after year. I didn’t try. I didn’t do homework very often. I didn’t care. I didn’t know how to apply myself. I was a retard after all, so who cares? Right?
My mother rarely helped me with my schoolwork. She never talked about college, jobs, careers, or the future. It was as if she gave up on me that day in North Hollywood while I stood outside the window of room 5. My therapist asked if I could see the little boy who was looking in the window. “Like it was yesterday,” I said. “If you could talk to him, what would you say?” I started to cry. What would I tell him? She saw the pain and stopped the session. I had overloaded before, and she didn’t want to see me go that way again. What would I tell him? You are smart and valuable. You are special and beautiful. You are loved and safe.
That is the boy that lives inside. Until I make him feel strong, I will continue to become him when life gets tough. He needs to feel safe so that I can feel safe. This is new territory for me, dealing with the inner child that needs to grow up. It opens up a new dimension in my cognitive processes. It’s a revelation. It is also frightening. Now that I have identified the problem, I can WORK towards a solution. This WORK is what I fear. Work hurts. It has been easy to pawn off my failed ventures on my problems. What happens when the problems are not there anymore? I have no more excuses!