A catastrophic breakdown of my inner world brought me back to therapy. I had gone through a year of therapy before, seven years prior. It was helpful to an extent. We spent the year finding the edges of the disease in my head, but never got to the work of coping. In fact, I never felt my counselor believed how bad it really was for me growing up. He always had this, “oh, come on, that doesn’t happen” mentality. It is certainly different this time. My new therapist believes me, is compassionate, and helpful: a wonderful trifecta to find in a therapist.
The breakdown happened at work when one of my bosses “punished me” in a way that I felt was demeaning and hurtful. She is a large woman, like my mother. This incident triggered a full-on PTSD episode. I had never had one so strong before, and thus had never been able to give it a name. The result was 48 hours huddled in my home office away from everything and everybody. I was in such a deep depression that I could hardly breath. After 48 hours, it was as if it were a really humid and oppressive day, one where you can’t go outside without becoming drenched in sweat. Living in the south, you see a lot of these days. Then the rain comes. A torrential downpour ensues. The creaks rise. The trees sway. Everyone runs for cover. Then the rain passes on through, and you are left with a cleanness and crispness in the air. You breath deeply, lean back, and enjoy. After 48 hours, my storm had passed.
The next day, I called my employee assistance line and set up counseling sessions. I was astonished to find a therapist that understood. I was always afraid that they would put me on 72 hour involuntary hold if I ever divulged what was really going on in my head. To my amazement, this did not happen. I guess something good can come from something bad, if you are willing to accept it. I seem to be at a place where I can appreciate someone trying to help me. I wasn’t always there. Since I went out on my own at 18 years old, it always seems like there has been a “Kick Me” sign on my back. You know, the sharks smell blood in the water analogy. The runt gets beat up by the litter. The weak link gets eliminated. That was me. I was weak. I was unsure. I was self-hating. I got kicked.
I quickly began developing a hatred for humanity. I would often lose all faith that there were good and decent people out there. The evil of the world is so primal and prevalent. I had no way to fend off the carnivores looking for a meal. I attempted to treat people with respect and dignity. I wanted to be the opposite of my mother, and never wanted to make another person feel the way she made me feel. I thought that most people wanted to be good. I was wrong. Most people are selfish arrogant pricks who will kill you before giving you an inch. This was my opinion of the world. It still is, some days, although I think it’s more complicated than that. But I believe that for most of the human race, getting better, doing good, and being upright is not a concern. It’s a dog eat dog world and they will come out on top no matter what.
I let myself fall into the pits of evil here and there because it seem useless to be the only one trying to do good. The only one trying to be nice. Most of the time I would let people walk all over me, especially “friends” because having a bad friend was better than being alone. This is what happens when you have no self-respect and self-deprecation is your pastime. I had found that these friends would walk away from me if I stood up for myself. They would often say, “you are the nicest person I know. I wish I could be like you.” Bullshit. The moment I would call them on something they did to me of which I didn’t approve, they would leave my life forever. With no grounding in self-respect, I would think that I did something wrong, for it had to be my problem.
The truth is, most people do not want to be called on their bullshit. They want to move through the world in a consequence free environment. This is evidenced in all the frivolous lawsuits that we hear about (a burglar trips during a burglary, sues the store owner and wins). People who cannot look in the mirror need a friend like me who lets them get away with murder. I was a human punching bag for friends, family, employers, girlfriends, and strangers. I could not stick up for myself.
Where did all this come from? From that 5th grader looking in the window. I needed my mother to tell me I was smart, talented, and special. I needed her to show me how to be strong and stand up for myself. Instead, I was taught how to endure unimaginable suffering and wear a smile at the same time. Many times, we would be on the way to an event, church, school, a birthday party, or a family gathering. The entire way, mom would be shrieking at us (she had a level above yelling where she lost all sense of reality and blacked out. Her mouth would become triangle shaped and her voice would lose inflection and become shill and monotone. This happened several times a week. When it did, we knew we were in serious danger), and hitting us. She had a remarkable backswing that could land on target anywhere in the car, even the backseat. We would arrive at the venue. As she parked the car, she would threaten us. She would say, “Put on a good face, or so help me, you two are going to get it!” So we did. We were the masters of having bleeding lips from mom hitting us in the face, yet smiling. Everyone thought we had the perfect family. My brother and I were so well behaved and polite. What a great mother she must be. Of course, this fed into her narcissism. We were never rewarded for these compliments. Our entire lives were about the avoidance of pain.
And so, we became experts in masking our pain and emotions. I became a master of making everyone think I was healthy and happy. To an extent, I guess I believed it. I didn’t have the perspective to realize HOW bad it was. My therapist stated that my case is one of the worst she has ever encountered. This horrifies me. The worse it is, the harder it is going to be to heal.
I took the punches of those around me. I took them for years. I did not stand up for myself. I feared rejection. I feared being wrong. Most of all, I feared appearing stupid. The little boy thinks he is retarded…thinks the world views him as retarded.
When I was accepted into UC Berkeley, my adult relationship with my mother change drastically. She finally realized that I wasn’t retarded and that I remembered things she had done. Once I called her on a bit of the past that she had revised (in her favor). She said to me, “I thought you didn’t remember anything!” She was banking on my Ritalin memory loss. I let her know that I remembered a great deal. From that point on, she treated me differently. She acted as though I was a threat, and began openly attacking me and belittling me. I have since distanced myself from her emotionally, but not physically. I can’t bring myself to cut that chord. Somehow the little boy that lives in my inside world needs her near. I can’t explain it. You would think I would have dropped her like a bad habit. She is a bad habit. I was programmed to take care of her, and still feel that obligation. Someday maybe I won’t feel that way. That would be a great story to write. Someday, the little boy standing outside room 5 will grow up. What a day that will be!