The Past Pt 1: The Cigarette Burn

When I was a little kid my mom burnt my arm with a cigarette. Not on purpose, she was just being her usual careless self, but the burn was pretty bad – a deep circle that went through several layers of skin.

My aunt was there when it happened. It hurt like hell, of course, but I automatically shrugged and said it didn’t hurt. Without even thinking about it. I was probably only five at the time and the instinct to hide my feelings was already ingrained.

I still remember how incredulous my aunt was when I said it didn’t hurt. It has to hurt, she insisted. She was clearly puzzled as to why I would say it didn’t. Why would someone do that? Especially, why would a little kid do that, when little kids are by nature less reserved and more easily overwhelmed by the perception of pain?

Mom casually said she was sorry, but she was obviously not too concerned. She didn’t ask why I pretended it didn’t hurt. She was either unaware of the obvious fact that I was hurt, or was content to leave that fact unacknowledged. It was normal behavior that I was used to at the time, but today it seems unfathomable. I can’t imagine burning my daughter and then shrugging it off. I also can’t imagine not being really disturbed if my daughter reacted to a burn the way I did that day.

Why am I thinking about this incident now? I think that it serves as a good illustration of how I was taught to act as a child. Of how warped it all was from the get go. The lessons I learned early on impact me to this day. Unlearning those lessons is a long, complicated, difficult process, and I’m wondering if it’s a process I’ll be going through in some way for the rest of my life.

The main thing that I was taught was that my feelings were unimportant, and that I was a burden to others.

I learned that if I selfishly brought mom down with my feelings that there were consequences. Such as, violent, evil mood spells where hate would radiate from her very pores. Sometimes it would go on for days. During that time I was motherless. I knew not to expect any basic needs to be met – if there was no food in the house I would go without until she snapped out of it. I also knew that she was capable of any number of horrible things at any minute. Such as the time she locked me out of the house in winter and wouldn’t let me back in until I had gone to all the neighbors and pretended to be selling cookies for my elementary school. She didn’t open the door until I came back with some money, which she angrily yanked from my frozen hands as I was finally let back into the warmth. She sped off in her car without a word and I didn’t see her for days.

Is it really any surprise that I continue to have problems with taking responsibility for other people’s feelings? I learned at a young age that my very safety and security depended on me being able to please other people. When I couldn’t please my mom, she made it clear that her resulting behavior was my fault.

 

Why Revisit Past Nightmares?

Isn’t it better to live in the present moment than to dwell in the past? Why talk about the past when there’s nothing I can do change it? Shouldn’t I just get over it?

Sometimes, yes.

Right now I’m feeling a need to revisit the past in order to better understand the present. I have been through hell and back multiple times, and these experiences are at the core of my very being. I recognize that all people experience pain in their lives, but I honestly haven’t met too many people that could really fathom the nightmarish childhood that I had to endure. It was that bad. (I don’t mean that in a one-upping kind of way. I always wondered why someone would want to win a game of “who had it the worst” anyway,  what a stupid game to try to win. Ugh.)

I truly did go through hell though, and am going to talk about it in this blog.

This blog is going to cover a lot of my experiences, past and present. Childhood abuse and neglect, homelessness, poverty, desperation and rape will all probably be covered at some point. But I’d also like to cover the positive. How I managed to endure it all, how drastically I was able to change my life and myself, over time. The positive people I met along the way. What I learned and what I’m still learning.

It is my ultimate hope that if I bring the most shameful, painful moments of my life to light, it may ease the shame and the pain of it, and help me to understand and appreciate my current state of mind a little better. And, maybe someone else reading this will feel less along as a result of these words. Who knows?

Shame is stronger when it’s kept hidden in the dark. I’m going to drag it out into the light. I hope that it’s true that the truth shall set you free.