Shame was my oldest companion. For as long as I can remember, every moment, every memory was laced with shame. Even now, Shame tries to tag along with me, but I’m really not inclined to invite her anymore. I’ve had enough of her company.
Looking back, I can see how all this shame came about, you know what they say, hindsight is 20/20. But growing up under it, in the moment, feels inescapable. And, it makes writing this part of the story difficult because I don’t want to accuse or blame anyone, namely my parents; I believe they did the best they could with what they had at the time. But sometimes…. sometimes I wish they’d done better. And yet, I am who I am today because of my path and the experiences that helped shape me along the way.
Looking at my dad through a conventional lense, I think it’d be pretty safe to say that there were probably some mental health issues that ran in the family. Perhaps some personal or familial traumas that were never processed or talked about. He would often accuse me and my sister of things that just made no sense to our young minds. I remember one time when my sister was about 3 or 4, (I would have been about 5) she drew a caterpillar and his initial reaction was that it “looked like something else” like we had any idea what that looked like at that point. Another time my sister and I were playing hide-n-seek in the house. I thought she’d gone to hide in the bathroom so I swung the door open shouting “aha!” only to have my dad there instead accusing me of “trying to see” him. When we’d be sitting with him on his lap or on the couch near him and tried to adjust our seating we were often accused of trying to “accidentally touch him”. None of these thoughts naturally occured to me, it would literally have been the last thing on my mind had I not been constantly reminded of it. While I had no interest or even knowledge of what he was talking about, I knew it made me feel like I was a horrible disgusting person who was inherently corrupt.
When I was old enough to be in school, my dad would often be asking me which boy I liked, or who I had a crush on, while also simultaneously giving me the message that girls should not chase boys or try to see or touch them. I remember one time, I was probably about 7-8 years old, I was happily playing at home and he stopped me to ask about who was my “latest crush”. I was the kind of girl who would “beat up” the boys, or out run them at tag, etc; I was not interested in having crushes on them. “Come on,” he cajoled me, trying to make it a fun game––there’s a good chance he was genuinely trying to connect with me on my level, but my initial claims of not having a single crush or boy interest were not enough for him to let me get back to whatever fun I had been having moments earlier. “Fine, I guess D,” (for privacy sake I’m just going to use his initial because this kid plays a bigger role next year, when I’m 8-9); I just wanted to go play, I gave him a name so I could get out of this game.
To this day, I still hate it when people superimpose their motives and reasons on me. It really irritates me when people, who don’t take the time to actually know or listen to me, act like they know me. As a kid I couldn’t articulate all this I just knew it felt very inauthentic. But, as I was just a kid who didn’t know anything, I must have been wrong and he, who had lived 30 years more than I, had to be right. What did I know? I learned young that I couldn’t trust my knowing, and this affected me for most of my life.
These things are also difficult to write, because I don’t want to make anyone hate my dad; I don’t hate him. His tactics, his ways, his constant guilt trips made my life very difficult, yes; they filled me with shame and taught me to hate and distrust myself for much of my life. I was angry a lot of the time, hard not to be when you believe you are inherently bad and icky. But now that I’ve worked through a lot of my trauma I can see all that for what it is––his own stuff he hadn’t yet worked through, projected onto me, coupled with my soul’s lesson for what it came here to learn. And I can do this.