Everyone has bad things happen to them when they are kids. Most of us are lucky enough for these childhood traumas to be fairly minor, but it’s pretty disturbing what bad people do to children. I was one of the lucky ones. I had a fairly normal childhood, at least for about 10 years. I was overly imaginative, got to be a kid, played outdoors, climbed trees, caught fireflies in jars, pestered the family dog, and all that normal wholesome kid stuff.
The three most painful episodes of my childhood are hardly worth mentioning in comparison to some of the horrors that people inflict on their kids. In fact, they are so trivial that I’m embarrassed to recount them. Nonetheless, it was really hard to write this post. I wrote it months ago and have put off posting it because it makes me squirm to even think about these events, much less talk about them. They are not trivial to me. They still hurt.
Retrospectively, I realize that these incidents were all events that I considered betrayals of trust perpetrated by the people I trusted most. As an adult, I now have difficulty confiding in others, particularly about my emotions and mental health. Hmmmm, I wonder why? Unfortunately, this has been reinforced over and over. This is normal, I assume, but still a painful lesson.
Episode 1: Fear Is Funny
I used to worry a lot about my parents dying, even when I was only 5 or so. I mean, a lot. Frequently. I lost sleep over it regularly. One night when I was probably around 7, well after bedtime, I managed to get particularly worked up about what would happen if my parents died. Who would take care of us? Well, obviously, God (I grew up Catholic.) Alone in the dark, I prayed to God to take care of my family. Aloud. Sort of crying. I begged God not to let my parents die and leave me and my brothers orphaned. Eventually I exhausted myself with worrying and fell asleep.
Some time later, my dad was saying for some reason I can no longer recall that we should pray about something. He said we could pray like me – and then he imitated my worried, crying prayers in a deprecating fashion. I was horrified, mortified, and angry. Dad had eavesdropped and then betrayed me. To a grownup, it must have been funny. But to me, it was having my honest, heartfelt terror at the idea of losing my parents completely trivialized.
Lesson learned: Anything you say is subject to mockery by anyone.
Episode 2: Privacy Is Illusory
Sometime around age 12 or 13, Mom got suspicious about my moody behavior. I was just starting my long relationship with major depression. I was self-harming and I remember writing in my diary that I had over 100 cuts around my waist where they wouldn’t be seen. They were very shallow cuts, almost scratches, but nonetheless, I was getting more self-destructive over time. What’s a mother to do? She read my diary. She confronted me directly with it, did a body check, verified that I had indeed been slicing myself up, and I was booted into therapy.
I felt completely betrayed that my privacy was invaded and my diary (my emotions) broken into for scrutiny. I had been open about my feelings in the one place I felt it was safe, and that pathetic, delusional sense of safety had been violated. It was many years before I kept any sort of journal again, which is a sad thing because writing has always been the best of my very few emotional outlets. I went through years and years of depression silently. As an adult, I completely understand why Mom did this. It was the right thing to do. But as a kid, it was a violation of my privacy that took years to forgive.
Lesson learned: Nothing you write is private, and everything can be used against you.
Episode 3: Just Between Us
The worst incident happened after my parents were separated, while I was newly in therapy, probably around age 13. Dad was returning us from one of his visitations, and he was standing behind the door of his car having a “conversation” with Mom. Pick-up and drop-off times were a horribly uncomfortable thing every week, since my parents might talk politely or get into a huge public confrontation.
This time, I was physically trapped between them. There was no escape. My parents then proceeded to have a shouting match. I distinctly remember my Mom hollering, “Who’s going to pay for her therapy?” I don’t remember the rest of it now, which is for the best, but I had one of those I’m-in-huge-trouble shock reactions where my scalp prickled, heart rate skyrocketed, and I started shaking. Here, in broad daylight, on the street, my parents were arguing about my mental illness and who was going to pay for a psychiatrist, of all the trivial things! I was already horribly ashamed to be in therapy and thoroughly resented it. After that, I felt I could trust no one with my emotions, and should expect to have my dirty laundry not only shown in public, but practically flaunted.
They probably couldn’t have done much more to make me feel worse – physically trapped between my shouting, divorcing parents as they argued publicly and loudly over my insanity. That incident still bothers me a lot.
Lesson learned: Don’t be crazy. If you can’t help it and you’re still crazy, don’t tell anyone.
The Moral of the Story
The roots of insecurity, mistrust, and emotional reservedness run deep. I trust a lot of people, to a point, but not many people are allowed to get close. Perhaps this is for the best. My heart tells me to be open and trusting, but my brain always replays snippets of experiences that remind me to tread with care.