I can, oddly, see exactly when it began. Age six is when I became an adult.
A couple of years ago, when Alex was a wee babe, I decided that it was high time to take pictures of Baby Aunt Becky and put them into an album. Dutifully, I gathered them up from my parents and threw them into a large Rubbermaid tote where I began the arduous task of sorting them into some semblance of order. When I was born, you see, my father, brother and grandfather were into photography.
For most people, that might mean a couple of snapshots on an old Instamatic, but we had a darkroom worthy of any college photography class in my basement. The photography hobby bordered on compulsion (see also: my orchids) and I was a perfect rolly-polly subject. My younger years are painstakingly documented.
There I am in the greenhouse with my grandfather, looking at his orchids and roses with wonder in my eyes, age one, there I am at Ravina at ages newborn through sixteen, there I am running around in my big fat cloth diaper, curls bouncing, looking every bit the nudist my own children are.
But age six is when it all changes.
Instead of the well-groomed child I had been for those first six years, I take on a new look. My hair isn’t brushed. My normally darkish skin is unusually pale and shiny. My clothes, once the nicer brands, now bear the signs of being cheaply made and too-small for my growing frame. Colorblind since birth, it’s clear that I have had no help picking out what I am wearing. Nothing matches.
I look neglected.
I look neglected because I am.
I don’t know what precipitated the change. I’d had a loving mother; one who brushed my hair, took me shopping and made me food. At age six, she stopped loving me. I stopped existing.
I’ve never recovered from that abandonment. That feeling of not mattering. Of not being enough. As a child, I was certain it was my fault, the reason my mother stopped loving me was my fault and occurred because I did something wrong. Magic Thinking at it’s finest. Certainly there are horrifying things I’ve seen and taken care of while I was the child of an alcoholic, but the feelings of being unworthy of love; of not mattering, those are what I grapple with most. I don’t know, and I’m not sure if a clinical psychologist agree, that feelings carved so deeply into your psyche can ever be completely erased.
I’ve thought a lot about my feelings this week. Normally, I’d rather carve out my eardrums with a steak knife while teaching the refrigerator to dance the foxtrot than discuss my feelings (probably in part why I have so many issues with emotions).
You probably didn’t know this, but there is no class for feelings. There’s no “IF this happens THEN you should do this” master book of emotions for those of us who didn’t learn it as kids. Someone should write one.
For years now, I’ve been shrugging things off. Telling myself this or that, well, it didn’t matter. Minor infractions. Nothing I couldn’t handle. Why bother really saying how I feel when it’s probably wrong? It was easier to rationalize the wrongs that people were doing to me than to stand up for myself.
In doing that, I took something fundamental away from myself. My feelings.
Slap a gag over my mouth and throw me in the corner. How dare I actually be offended when someone is being a crotch to me? How dare I call someone out on their bullshit? What if someone says something mean to me? HOW WILL I HANDLE IT? OH NOES!
I’ve already dealt with the worst kind of abandonment. How could I possibly give a shit when some Internet Mole Person or even a former friend of mine who stalks me for the express purpose of feeling smugly superior doesn’t like me? I don’t. Or I might. It might hurt. Words do hurt. Even if they’re flung by anonymous internet trolls or people I like. But this is not the end of the world. And I need to stop behaving like it might be. Why are their feelings any less valid than mine?
This is my blog. These are my words. I do own them. And my feelings do matter. My feelings are as valid as yours.
I am enough.
I owe it to six-year old Aunt Becky to stand up for myself. I need to show her that she is enough. That I am enough.
I am enough.