Book Learning
January 26, 2007
The beginning of this series started yesterday with Louder than Words, which you should read before continuing with today's post. :)
This will not be an easy post for some people to read. Please be careful reading.

Imagine for just a moment, that you are with the people you love and trust most in the world. You are young. Maybe three. Maybe four. You are enjoying a shared time and hobby and things are wonderful. Then the person turns on you, does something horrific and tells you that it's not horrific. That you should be happy when you are sad, joyful when you are scared, content when you are angry.

If this happens once, it's likely stored in the brain as a traumatic memory and it probably works like any other memory.

But if this happens repeatedly, and particularly if the trusted person begins to add threats and fear and pain to the mix, how can this be a tolerable situation for a child?

For just a few minutes, put yourself in that situation. You can't tell or X bad thing will happen. You can't escape the situation. But how can you live with a monster? Not the monster under the bed who seemingly goes away some nights and comes back others ... but the parent you love and you live with who suddenly changes into this monster and you can't ever tell when that person will be your parent ... or when the monster will come out. There are no warnings. No signs to clue you in.

You can't leave and you can't live with the constant intense fear.

So you forget. Sort of. Those traumatic memories do get stored, but they get split apart. The neural pathways which connect the event with the narrative with the emotion with the feeling shatter. So you're left with a memory of the emotion, a memory of the feeling, and the memories of the narrative and the event (the movie, or pictures, if you will - and if you're a visual thinker) are all there ... scattered and disconnected.

You become, in some odd ways, two people. One who deals with the monster and one who deals with everyday life. And you wear a mask most of the time, and much earlier than most people (because let's face it, most adults wear various masks at various times). And I'm not talking about multiple personalities here, although I do believe that kind of personality split can happen given the exact wrong circumstances and the right child. Far more common, however, is something even more subtle.

By the third grade, I was one child at home, another "in public."

The public self who handled all the day-to-day living suspected that something was wrong and went to go look at child abuse books. The home-self knew what was wrong and tried to keep it further hidden.

It was a war that continued until long after I had moved out of my parent's house.

And while my father was sometimes a monster, and someone that, by the age of eight, I tried to avoid spending time with (you see how the public-self and the home-self gave each other ideas ... just no "concrete evidence" behind the shared ideas), there were other issues at home as well.

Not too surprisingly, my father was also cruel to our mother as well. And the battered spouse syndrome (regardless of whether there are physical beatings or not) is remarkably similar to that of the child. We never saw him violent with her. But whatever he did before we came along ... and whatever he did when we were not around, she was scared of him. And since most people cannot cope with this dichotomy of constant fear ... and yet love and trust of your chosen partner ... denial set in for her just as firmly as it had for me.

But it came out in subtle ways with Mom just as it did with me. She pushed my sister and I to excel in some area so that we would not be trapped. So that we would be independent when we were adults. For me, that meant pushing school so hard to the point that I was not really allowed to have hobbies. They distracted from schoolwork. In the course of a year, I was forced to quit one recreational activity after another: first my D&D group, then the magic club, then guitar lessons, last and hardest was basketball.

There was a constant and very subtle tension between her intellectually knowing that she should encourage us to do whatever we wanted ... and her very real fear that we could not do "this" or "that" for fear that we would not become independent in our own right.

Today I can see that her many fears of simpler things (the opossum in the trash can, for example) was simply a manifestation of her fear of my father ... and her feeling trapped with him. As a child, with the simplicity of thought in children, I simply thought she was stupid, and I dismissed her.

But there was another dimension to that dismissal as well. It was also self-preservation.

Despite Mom's occasional protestations that she loved us very much and didn't I know that ... I really didn't feel that from her. As I said yesterday, I felt the sting of being told I didn't do things right far more than I ever felt the comfort of a hug.

I dismissed her largely because I felt that I had been dismissed by her. And why keep going back to someone for love and comfort when that rarely seems to be forthcoming? When a request for comfort instead results in more pain, doubled pain because it was unexpected and came from the person was was "supposed to" love you unconditionally?

And so, I turned to books. I got what nurturing I could out of reading stories about families who did love each other instead of simply saying they did. I learned about human interactions more from books than I did from my parents or even socialization with my peers. That saved me. It gave me some semblance of normality whilst I grew up, and thank goodness for that.

Again, what the heck does all of this have to do with gay adoption?
I'll get into that in the next post. :)
(Which will be the last in this little series.)

Posted by Red Monkey at January 26, 2007 7:26 PM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Ma Titwonky said:

You're right; neither this post nor the one before was easy for me to read. I admire your courage in writing it.

January 26, 2007 11:01 PM


jackie said:

hard to read, but well worth it..

January 27, 2007 9:47 AM
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