When I was an infant, my mother left me. As a child, my father beat me for any reason he could come up with, including the fact that I was not a boy. As a teenager, I woke up one Sunday morning to find that the only person who ever showed me unconditional love, my beloved Grandfather, had left this world in his sleep.
This has been my “story” for most of my life and with it came all kinds of strange ideas, thoughts, feelings, wants, needs and desires. For many years, I lived my life with a Scarlet “A” for “Apology”. I was sorry that I was not good enough to make my parents love me, sorry I was not a boy, sorry I could not protect my grandfather from my father’s rage, sorry that I didn’t make my bed properly, sorry that I was in the way or didn’t look as pretty as the model in the magazine. There were many people who found my apologies (both spoken and unspoken) awkward and strange but children who grow up ”unwanted” by those who are supposed to want them most (mom and dad) do not think and feel like other children. To be rejected by the very people who made you introduces a burden of insecurity so heavy that it crushes you and even those who meet and begin to love you. Even worse, it makes you perfect prey for those who are looking for someone to crush. Of course, one does not have to be physically abandoned to suffer similar consequences. Often times, it’s worse when the emotional abusers stick around.
For many years, my “story” was that of the unwanted and unworthy child. I was the girl in the torn dress, the child with nowhere to go on Christmas, the young woman who stayed too long with the wrong man in order to have the family she’d had hoped they could build if only he’d see how worthy/loving/supportive she was and treat her accordingly. When he refused to, she wouldn’t write him off as unworthy of her, she’d simply try harder, just like she did with mom and dad (sound familiar?)
I’d long wondered why I would do the things I would do or say the things I would say about myself. I was always polite and kind to others but brutal to Brenda. If I was complimented on something, I would brush it off. If someone mistreated me, I would forgive easily, assuming that I didn’t matter enough to stand up for myself (a way of doing this is playing the “they didn’t mean it” game). Finally, after one particularly difficult experience with someone, my very dear friend asked me, “What does it say about the way you feel about you if you tolerate this?” Her mother chimed in, “What would you say to your friend if you saw her tolerate this?” I admitted I would be appalled. “Then why should you deal with it, my dear?”
She was right.
I started to think about my “story” and how it was destroying my chances at a happy ending. When one spends a couple of decades reading the same text day in and day out, one gets brainwashed into believing it is true. The lessons I learned in childhood taught me that my life was going to be hard, that I was not worthy of something more, that I could not have unconditional love or play with the other children without being made fun of or shamed back into the house. I took these lessons in and repeated them to myself daily. “You are not worthy” became my mantra and it ruined many beautiful moments. Not only was I unable to create proper boundaries or enjoy achievements, I wasted too much time trying to convince the ghosts of my childhood that my life was worth something, that I belonged on this earth, too.
This was my life, painful and bleak, though full of the love of friends and achievements any healthy person would recognize and be grateful for. That’s important to mention. The more pain we choose to live in, the less able we are to be grateful and gratitude is the seed from which happiness grows. It was not easy to recognize the ways in which I was destroying my own life, but fortunately, I have amazing people in it who won’t mince words and who have enough patience, love and respect for me to help me move down my path. I wanted to give this gift to you–the gift of honesty and reflection. Your “story” is ongoing and one chapter should lead to another. In your story, you choose whether or not you will grow and blossom. You choose the characters you will introduce and how long they will stay. You choose how many dragons you will slay. But most of all, you choose whether or not you will allow yourself the space, time and freedom to be happy. Just know that the execution of such a choice won’t be an easy one. You’ll likely have to let go of some things that you enjoy clinging onto. You’ll have to let go of some relationships that are comfortable but destructive. You’ll have to look into the mirror and into the eyes of the person you have allowed yourself to become. You’ll have to take ownership of your choices. You might have to start completely over and feel lonely, scared and isolated awhile. But, as my friend told me once, “The key to success is knowing the pain or discomfort you feel won’t last; Nothing feels awful forever.”
-Brenda Della Casa