Sunday, February 11, 2007


I think of my blog posts as essays. I plan them and write them as essays, with some kind of unifying theme, usually hinted at in the title, and somehow compatible with the picture I chose. This one is about identity. See, here's a picture of me on my way to Pullman to visit my brother's grave. I'm from Pullman and my brother committed suicide. I like to drive around by myself and stop at rest stops. I've taken pictures of myself since I was young. Then I search the pictures for some clue as to how I was feeling. Shouldn't I know how I was feeling? I usually don't. That connection between my feelings and my conscious mind was blocked off long ago.
I love music. "Scattered" is the name of a Green Day song. It starts like this: "I've got some scattered pictures lying on my bedroom floor. Reminds me of the times we shared. Makes me wish that you were here. Now it seems I've forgotten my purpose in this life."
The loss of identity I suffered, or purpose, when I lost my brother has been a huge problem for me, but identity was a struggle long before that happened. You'd think growing up having to be independent and self-sufficient would cause you to really know who you are and what your strengths are, which is true to a certain extent. Life requires interactions with other people, though, and I never developed a strong sense of who I was in relation to other people.
I was the sacrificial lamb in childhood, a role I haven't escaped. I think that love requires sacrifice. That probably sounds like the inspiration for some goth song, but I don't say it for dramatic effect. I don't know how to be in a relationship with someone without giving up my identity to them, I have no idea what I want or need from other people, and I don't perceive that I have any choice when people make demands or take advantage of me. This is why my psychologist is having me do daily affirmations. I feel stupid doing them. They're so Stuart Smally. That's exactly why I need them, though. I have an appalling lack of self-esteem, glaringly obvious when I say something like this and try to believe it:

I am a valuable and important person, and I'm worthy of the respect of others.
I have pride in my past performance and a positive expectancy of the future.
I am kind, compassionate, and gentle with myself.

Probably people with high self-esteem don't have to force themselves to say positive affirmations, but I'm sure they're not saying:

I am a big loser.
I'll never do as well as other people.
I am damaged goods.

I couldn't even type that without my eyes filling up with tears, because that's what I believe about myself. It is getting better, though. The affirmations help, working with my psychologist helps, and what has especially helped is to read about the defense mechanisms abused children develop to survive, and how they turn dysfunctional for adults. I feel a lot more understanding and compassion towards myself as a child, my adult self, and my brother when I realize how normal our responses were to the circumstances. I was beating myself up for not talking to Jeff more about the abuse, and not doing more to get him away from our dad. I was also really hard on myself for accepting my parents' sudden attention and interest in me after he died, thinking I should have immediately blamed them and told them to go to hell.

The truth is that I grew up in a family that enforced unquestioned loyalty, silence, and obedience through threats, coercion, and punishment. Leaving the family home was not enough to free me from that system, and years of savage violence have kept me afraid to this day. Shame and repression of terrible emotional pain keeps many abused children and adults silent. Depression, self-hatred, and suicide are not abnormal for adults victimized as children, and it is not abnormal to want your parents’ love and support, regardless of how they've treated you. The truth is that I had dropped 2 quarters of college because of the severity of my own depression, and was hanging on by a thread when Jeff took his life. Instead of having sympathy for my own struggles, I just took it as proof of my own ineffectualness.

To blame myself for Jeff's death because I thought I should have made some heroic, monumental sacrifice to save him is really just a testament to how little I valued my own existence. I rejected myself because I didn't prevent Jeff's death, was unable to win my parent's approval, and not worth protection myself. The police dropped (or whoever is responsible for that) child abuse charges against my dad, despite mountains of physical evidence, and did nothing about my great-uncle. Adults at my high school actively encouraged me to drop out. I still to this day think of myself as a bad, rebellious child, the black sheep, always struggling, always overcoming obstacles but never quite there. Disadvantaged. Different. Weird. Who gave me this identity? My family. It's not really me.

How do I figure out who I really am, and how do I overcome the roles I learned as a child? I have no idea. I'm hoping I'll just figure it out eventually. I think it has something to do with getting "in touch" with my feelings and discovering what I want from my life. One of the things I am trying to do with my poetry is develop my voice, as they say. The narrators in my poems tend to be very passive, and I use a lot of metaphors of snow, ice, and cold. I'm working on 2 poems in my poetry class right now. One is set in a bus on Snoqualmie Pass right after a huge snowstorm. The other is in a hot summer setting, but is about loneliness, isolation, and boredom. I'm trying to draw these characters out; similar to how I'm trying to draw out my own feelings. They are largely a mystery- I'm so good at repressing and turning off my feelings. I feel frozen inside.

I'm also trying to get into group therapy for sexual abuse. I found a program that meets for 2 hours once a week for 5 months (longer, actually. 21 weeks.) Sexual abuse is very destructive to one's identity. It teaches you that you don't matter, that all you're good for is sex, and you should feel ashamed of yourself. It taught me to disassociate and numb myself out. When I told my dad and he forced me to keep going to my great-uncle's house or he'd "beat me senseless", I learned that I belong to my dad, my perception that it was wrong and disgusting didn't matter, and if his uncle wanted to use and abuse me too I had no power to protect myself. When your own mom does nothing to protect you (she told me last year that she believed me at the time but thought I could handle it myself, and she watched dad beat me, did nothing, and yelled at me for breaking up the family when I called her from the foster home I was finally put it), how could you possibly feel more worthless?
I was still thinking of myself as that child, helpless and unable to protect myself or get what I needed. Until recently, I hated that child, hated that she was so powerless but was unable to stop identifying with her. Ironically, when I started understanding and feeling compassion for that child that I was, I started feeling more adult. I thought that if I didn't think about my childhood or acknowledge how painful it was, and pretended my family was "normal", it was my best chance for a "normal" adult life, or at the very least, it wouldn't be obvious to everyone that I was a pathetic loser from a screwed-up family. I think a lot of people who grew up with dysfunctional families think that way. Obviously, it doesn't work; it just traps you in the past and with a disparaging sense of yourself.

It also takes a lot to overcome feelings of embarrassment that I'm in my thirties and whining about my parents and my childhood, unsure of who I am, and talking about my inner child and poor self-esteem. I feel childish and I really don't want to post this blog, although I'm sure that I will. I have this desire to document my recovery, without censoring the unpleasant details. My parents are responsible for what they did to me, but I have the ability to recover from that. I think it will help me and maybe help other people to come out and say that doing this kind of emotional work sucks and it's hard, but it's worth doing to save yourself and get the kind of life that you want, even if you don't know what that is yet. It's worth doing no matter how old you are.
It's perfectly understandable when people avoid dealing with that kind of pain or don't know that they don't have to keep feeling that way about themselves. Even people from "normal" families struggle with their perception of themselves- is there anyone on the planet with perfect self-esteem? Does anyone have a perfect family? Obviously not. My situation may be extreme, but it's not totally out of the ordinary. Regardless of the identity that was thrust on me, I am an individual with a unique perspective, and maybe that makes me different, but not abnormal.


teacher dude said...

I've been trying for a long time to think of something to say that doesn't sound trite or patronising.
I think that there are a lot of people who take strength from your example.

I hope that you continue with your journey and that your poems work out.

Tealrat said...

Thank you! I'm glad you are still visiting my blog. You are one of the first people I didn't already know to comment on my blog. I really appreciate the support you've given me :)


Anonymous said...


I know where you are at. I have felt this rage you have going on inside of you. It is no fun. I was sexually abused for years by two of my uncles. Being sexually abused is hell to pay. Only the one paying seems to be the person who has been abused. There is so much I would wish to say to you, but I will tell you this for now. I did finally find a way to crawl away from all the misery and I am now living a happy, joy filled life. I know who I am and where I belong. It can be achieved, but it takes hard work. I had to let go of a lot, I had to forgive my uncles and my parents for not saving me from all the hurt and pain. I do have a relationship with my parents, but I don't see them every day. It is just better that way because when I see their flaws things tend to come back. Forgiveness is a choice, and I have had to choose to forgive over and over again. I was suicidal and it is just amazing that I still live. I encourage you to find a way to forgive your perpetrator, you will find if you do forgive that he will no longer have a hold on your life and you will one day be able to live life normally.



Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog. Which by the way is one of the most moving reads and your words make me want to be a better person. how you write is very special. it was inspirational and i wish i had the courage to do what your doing and what you have done. thank you for sharing.

Tealrat said...

Thank you both. I'm glad you found my blog and commented. The feedback I've gotten is very encouraging.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Thank you for having the courage to say out loud what I secretly think almost every day.

Peace & love to you.

Tealrat said...

Thank you. Peace and love to you as well :)