I grew up in a family that wasn’t particularly expressive. There weren’t that many hugs or deep discussions about our feelings, nor were there moments where we sat and talked about our dreams for the future. It wasn’t a space where we were encouraged to be creative or whimsical. My memories of growing up are coated with a thick layer of seriousness. That’s how it feels to look back into my childhood – distant, unemotional, grey, lonely and frustrating. We weren’t allowed to experience a range of emotions as children and I remember, more often than not, being told that if I was going to cry, I’d be given something to cry about.
This was a tough thing to hear a a kid who was particularly sensitive and emotional. I would hide in my room to cry and I internalized almost everything, because sharing never felt safe. Being vulnerable and open was never allowed in our family because we always harbored some pretty dark secrets. Family fights that lasted years, childhood abuse passed from generation to generation. Don’t talk about it. Pretend it didn’t exist. Always put on a good face and appear to be happy and healthy instead of the sick and broken group of people we really were and sometimes still are.
Our family secrets could be uglier – I have friends and acquaintances who have histories and stories far worse than my own – but my truth is all I have and what that truth has left me with is a lifetime of self-doubt, deep sadness, loneliness and frustration. I’m an outsider in this group of people I call my family – more emotional, more subversive, less stable, living with a mental illness, feeling my way through every moment of every day. Misunderstood – that’s probably the easiest word to describe how I’ve felt the last 38+ years.
My family, and particularly my mother, gets angry when I speak of feeling like the odd one out. She feels like it’s some sort of judgment on her as a parent or as a sign of some failing. The reality is that it’s just another piece of my own life’s puzzle. The reality is that in most places I feel like an outsider – always struggling to fit in and be accepted. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been called weird. Even now when someone says that to me, my walls grow high and my shame is heightened, as if I have some reason to feel ashamed of who I am.
Somewhere along the line a sense of deep shame settled into my skin. I don’t ever remember not being shy. I’ve worked tirelessly over the years to overcome this debilitating feeling inside of me – the constant notion that I’m not enough of anything and to share any part of myself opened me up for judgment and ridicule. I feel like I was born with that idea inside of me, that somehow I entered this world with a weight on my shoulders that followed me from some other lifetime.
I once had a reiki session where the practitioner said I had a sadness inside of me that had been there since before I was born. I heaved and sobbed hearing that – because it felt so true. I feel sometimes like the sadness is as much a part of me as my own flesh – and maybe a part of me doubts that there is any way to rid myself of it. Not that I don’t experience significant moments of happiness and beauty – I have had so many. But there is this sadness that sometimes feels so embedded in me that I don’t know if I would know how to live without it.
But I want to.