Weeks ago, I wrote a phrase that said something like “Sometimes some of the nicest people can also be the most terrible.”
But what happens when the person you’re talking about is yourself?
If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve known I’ve gone through ups and downs the past couple of months. I haven’t exactly been shy about my struggles and my internalizations of the world around me. Writing through it helps me process and digest. But it can be a double-edged sword in certain situations. It can build up but also destroy. Words can create a picture within the mind and sometimes that picture isn’t good. Sometimes it destroys.
When you think the way I do, when you see the world as I tend to, it’s easy to get lost within your own thoughts. It’s easy to jump to extremes. It’s far too easy to let the shadows of the mind twist and turn your perception into weapons that hurt others. You have all these anxieties and fears of isolation and abandonment and can’t quite see how harboring those emotions and feelings can often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.
When you struggle with depression and anxiety and couple that with a childhood where manipulation and conditional love was made normal, it can twist situations in your mind into something it’s not. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but maybe there’s somebody out there who can resonate with what I’m saying–who understands exactly what I’m putting out there.
I grew up with a mother who was always around. She was the one who would tell me and my siblings how much she loved us. She’d take us shopping, out to eat, to the movies, and would actively spend time with us. Growing up, and for a solid portion of my adult life, my mom has always been a foundation. Well, at least until she found out I was gay but that’s another story.
On the flip side, my father was a man who was distant. He’d linger in the shadows quite literally. He worked night shifts. He’d sleep all day, locked in the darkness of his room until late evening. If we were to accidentally wake him up when he was resting for work, there’d be hell to pay. Hell came in many forms, but the worst was the belt. I can still feel the sting of leather on my bare skin.
We would constantly be walking on eggshells around him because if we did or said the wrong thing at the wrong time, he’d get angry and freak out. He was the type who would slam doors and throw things when he’d get angry. He’d ground us for getting Cs on report cards, calling us dumb.He’d freak out if he tried to help us with homework and we were confused. He taught me to hate the subject I struggled with the most: Math.
We learned to survive it best we could. He’d treat my mom like SHIT when he was in his moods, often going weeks without speaking to her. The tension was suffocating and traumatic. It broke us and my mom. Then one day he’d act as if everything was normal. There was no consistency with him. It was bizarre and confusing. We feared him and his wrath growing up. He’d get this wild look in his eyes and he’d be downright nasty during his freak-out sessions. When I became a teenager, I’d yell back at him. I’d argue. I was a rebellious teenager, deciding to go against authority–his authority. I know now that it was because I didn’t respect him–not after all he’d put us through. But, even still, I’d be slapped with the belt. Exiled to my room. One day, in my frustration, I said, “I hate you!” while washing my hands in the bathroom. He tilted his head, eyes wild. I knew it wasn’t good, but I repeated it. He shoved me into the wall so hard that the impact of my body knocked the towel rack off the wall. To this day, I’ve never received an apology about that. Nor would I expect it. Hell, he never told me “I love you” as a kid or teenager. He just didn’t. No, he was more interested in tearing me down with his words. When I got my ears pierced when I was 18 his first words were, “Now you look like a faggot.” I’m sure you can imagine how my closeted ass felt when hearing that. He was conditional in his parenting approach. As long as you stayed out of his way and did as you were told, you’d be fine. My younger sister was good at that. I never was.
So what happens when you have a parent who is mostly consistent with their emotions and one who is far removed and unpredictable? Lots of anxiety and fear of saying/doing the wrong things in your daily life. Always questioning your actions, always analyzing what is said or done to you–you become paranoid and friendships and relationships you make are haunted by this sense of paranoia. You fear that you’re always one wrong word or action from blowing everything up. You suffer through a minefield of questions in your head.
What if I’m not a good friend? Do they really care? Am I too much? Can I take people at their word? Are they saying one thing but mean the other? What if people feel obligated to be friends? What if what if what if what if WHAT IFWHATIFWHATIF—it’s a chorus in my head, day and night. I observe the world around me. I analyze. I try to decipher what’s safe and what’s not. But I do this to a mother-fucking fault! Analyzing and questioning everything everywhere all the time turns me into a terrible person because I assume the worst in what is said or done to me. I weaponize words and scenarios against those who consistently support me and love me. I internalize situations and things get twisted in my head. I should know better, right? I should be able to trust others and not jump to paranoid conclusions which leads me to do stupid shit that blows things up and makes them worse in the end.
I become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s my superpower.
The good thing is that I’m starting to realize this better. I’ve been working with my therapist on this. We seem to be unlocking quite a bit about myself and it seems to tie directly to my childhood. I’m recognizing a lot of moments of conditional love and emotional manipulation and gaslighting I endured growing up. We won’t talk about how the evangelical church setting I was raised in only compounded this. I’ve been able to think about some of my past actions and words as an adult and see how such an environment shaped me. Some of the behaviors I watched growing up? Some of the toxic aspects? I’ve mirrored those in my own life. It’s what I say, what I learned. My entire family operates like that. Toxic. Manipulative. Never owning up to mistakes. Going for the jugular with angry words. NO MERCY. Avoidance. Clamming up and not talking. You want to talk about embracing the dark side? That’s how my family handles conflict. Darkness and brutality and nastiness.
Did it start with my parents? Or did they learn it from theirs? How far back does this go? I’ll never know. Here’s what I do know. I’ve fallen down some of those exact some traps and paths over the course of the past couple of months. I was made vulnerable. I struggled. I didn’t think clearly. I didn’t process actions. And it hurt people. It hurt me. It betrayed trust. It smothered reasoning. Now what am I supposed to do with that? What do you do when you realize you’ve become the terrible person? When you weren’t strong enough to handle your emotions? When you processed them the wrong way? When you don’t consider the consequences of words spoken? When you hurt the people you love?
There is no simple answer for that, this I know. That might be the only thing I know right now. The path ahead is long and full of potholes. It’s not like a light switch that you can flip on and off to erase what’s been done. But perhaps the difference this time is that I’m starting to see those potholes before I stumble in them. I’m recognizing what they look like, and I’m trying to change course. I’m trying to break the lingering imprint of my experiences growing up. I’m trying to rinse off the lens with which I see the world and the relationships I have in my life. I’m not perfect. I never will be. But I am aware. I own that much. I own my mistakes and shortcomings despite the pain they’ve caused. I own them and step out onto the battlefield of the mind.
And when you’re in a battlefield… when shit is flying in every direction… when fear and paranoia can be the very thing that kills you–doesn’t it pay off to slow down and become intentionally aware of what you do and say? Isn’t that the key to survival? To become better?
My mind is a battlefield. That cannot be denied.
I am who I am. That cannot be denied.
But I can be better. I will be better. I will rise. I will grow.
And I will develop a new legacy to be known by.
I will not fall into the traps of my past. I will not let the mistakes of my family define me. I will not let my OWN mistakes dictate who I really am deep within. But when mistakes are made, I will take ownership.
I will strive to be the best version of myself I can be. And when I fall, I will get back up.
That cannot be denied.