Big honking ass trigger warning: child abuse.
“All these cold and rude
Things that you do
I suppose you do
Because he belongs to you
And instead of love
And the feel of warmth
You’ve given him these cuts
And sores that don’t heal with time or his age”
— Natalie Merchant/10,000 Maniacs
My appointment with my new psychologist was over and I was still shaking.
After 30 or so mental health professionals, this was the first time I really talked about my father and the way he was and the way my mother was and the way our family was and how it affected me so deeply.
It was 12:30 and I was driving with a dead head – that is, I was on automatic pilot, driving safely enough but with the fog of all we had talked about circling my head. I was a zombie driver.
I was supposed to go work out. I knew I should work out and I debated it with myself the entire way down route 8 until I came to the turn off by my house.
It was almost 1 p.m. My wife would come home at around 5 p.m. I had four more precious hours to spend before the reality of going back to work would sink in and I desperately needed those four hours of quiet.
And I desperately needed to write about this.
And so here I am at 1:08 with my fingers hammering staccato-like on the keyboard – very uncharacteristic of someone who taught himself how to type with four fingers.
What did my dad do? How was it like to live in my house.
So I told her. She had to hear it for therapy to do any good. So many therapists did not want me to dwell on childhood but what happened back there directly affected what I became.
So, I told her about my dad’s backhand and his meaty hand coming at my face. I realized this was a memory I had long suppressed. But it happened – this I know for sure. I remember the contact; I remember the pain and humiliation. I remember him yelling at me as I recoiled from the blow. Just the vision of that arm coming at my face.
But that was OK, I told Joy (my therapist). He only had to do that a couple of times and then all he had to do was raise his voice and that was enough to send me cringing upstairs to my room. Now my sister – she would goad him into hitting her.
The dinner table – my sister, upset at the sounds my mother was making while eating – would say things like “mom, would you just stop breathing you’re annoying.” I was, say 13, my sister was 12. I could see my dad rouse himself. “Don’t talk to your mother like that,” he would growl.
But a few minutes later she would do it again. I would sit horrified – why are you doing this? Don’t you know he’s going to hit you?
When the hit would come it would sent her flying against the wall between the dining room and the kitchen. I would leap from my chair and rush up the stair on all fours for better speed. Downstairs, I could hear my sister screaming . . . screaming and my dad yelling, and I would think this is the day he kills her.
I would bury my head in the pillows trying to make it all go away.
After it was all over, my mother would call up the stairs that it was OK to come back down and finish dinner. After all, it was a sin to let food go to waste. Imagine how you would feel having to walk back down the stairs into that charged atmosphere? Imagine doing it several times in your childhood.
My mother once said to my father, in a futile attempt to get him to curb his temper, “Ed, when you yell and go off like that the kid goes up the stairs like a beat dog.”
It didn’t help. My mother was helpless to stop my father’s volcanic temper.
Of course, there was more to tell, and I told it – the ‘tickling game’ under the covers at night, my father, when I was older, standing right outside the door of the bathroom while I was using it.
And more. And more.
Fifty minutes of me getting, frankly hysterical, gesticulating all over the room, voice rising and falling and near tears. Joy was more than supportive and thanked me for going over all of this.
But when I left I was shaking. And as I write these words, I am still shaking.
My dad died when I was 20 – 35 years ago. But as Shakespeare wrote “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
And that evil that is done to children reverberates throughout the decades. If you have bpd, or are a sensitive person with any other related mental illness, you just can’t forget. Kids like me are human tape recorders – we can quote chapter and verse from what was said to us back when we were six and we remember the angry faces, the words, the fists. Our wounded brain will not allow us the luxury of forgetting. And like many with this illness, instead of forgetting the bad things, I’ve forgotten the good.
As Faulkner wrote “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” For those of us whose BPD got its start in the abuse of the home in the school, it is always with us like a shadow, making its presence known when we experience just the right trigger – a word, a look, a slight – or any authority figure that becomes my father. Like hitting keys on a piano, we can be played without our even being aware of the trigger.
This is my last chance to bury the dead. I can’t spend the rest of my life being affected by these incidents. I have no idea how Joy and I are going to work together to turn the images and the triggers down where I can deal with them without getting in trouble. But first, I must re-live, as I did on the couch, all the harsh words and deeds that a sensitive child could not handle and pushed them down deep, deep inside him where they haunt him.
And I am still shaking.