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First Encounter

April 14, 2010

I was born to very deeply emotionally wounded parents, who appear to have been children to the same, who are rumored to have been children to the same, though that’s going beyond living memory or verifiable specifics. I can only speak with confidence of the impact on my parents, but there are many signifiers that the lives of most of their siblings have been shaped by the same kinds of injury. (There are some who do not talk to the rest of the family, but I think that’s symptom enough to include them in the count.)

For the most part they’re the walking wounded – able to hold a decent job, keep roofs overhead, clothes on their backs, and food on the table; able to see their children through respectable college educations and into careers. They’re able to pull themselves together enough to manifest a semblance of the middle-class American dream, enough that they call no significant attention to themselves, because there are just so many people in our society more broken and helpless than they are. They live lives of quiet desperation and so are left to suffer in isolation. A generation or two ago the community might have noticed, might have cared, might have taken action, but that kind of community has been splintered and displaced over the last several decades, and now is barely able to act in support of those struggling desperately to keep it alive.  Those whose pain is hidden behind closed doors are generally left to themselves.

If that woundedness had been all of the family trauma, I might have made it through childhood more or less psychically intact; nurture is better than partial neglect, but it’s possible for some to find the internal resources to flourish whatever the environment. My paternal grandmother, however, was emotionally abusive to all around her, and abuse plus isolation is a really toxic combination. I don’t know why she made the choices she did, and it’s not my job to absolve or condemn her. What must be faced is that her behavior has had a profound negative effect on at least three generations, and not all of it has played out yet despite the fact that she herself has died.

My parents brought me to a counselor when I was in my early teens because I wasn’t doing well in school. (It was the typical story of a bright, self-directed kid totally not interested in engaging with the lowest common denominator spoonfeeding that too many US schools have devolved into in the past few decades.) Whatever discussions we had on that front led me to begin to buckle down and play the academic reindeer games as required, so the therapy ended.

The resolution of the school issue was for me a tangent, an accident, not bearing on the key impact of the therapy.

I became aware that I was not forever doomed to failure because of a lack of intrinsic worth as a person. I became aware that adults can be flawed and so should not be automatically trusted and presumed correct. I became aware that sometimes you can never do enough to prove that you’re worthy of respect to someone convinced that you’re not good enough. I became aware that it wasn’t that I was broken, it was that my family was.

Those sound like good things, and in the broader perspective, they are; they can be absolutely terrifying for a thirteen-year-old to face by herself, though. My mother has since told me that she asked me if I wanted to continue seeing the counselor, and I said no, and so it ended. The truth of the matter was that of course I didn’t want to talk to the counselor any more when this was what I would have to face, but that I desperately needed to do so. I wasn’t in a fit place to make that decision on my own, but it was left to me, and I chose wrong.

So, I was incredibly socially isolated, just becoming aware of how wounded I actually was, and painfully confronted by the fact that the people who were in charge of my life had really big problems of their own and couldn’t be trusted to parent competently.

The stress triggers for my latent genetic depression were hit, and I plunged into the darkness.

I did not have friends. This has little to do with me and much to do with the fact my parents didn’t have friends and couldn’t model for me how to do it, and that our house wasn’t fit to inhabit, never mind host guests. These things made me different, and the other kids could tell;  as sentimental as some people can be about children, the truth is that in a situation like this they can act like sharks when there’s blood in the water.

My parents were lapsed Christians of different denominations, so there was no church connection to use. My scouting group had disbanded the previous year.

I tried to let my older sister who was away at college know what was happening, but opportunities to communicate without my parents were few and far between, and anyway, what could she do?

It just occurs to me today that I could have reached out to teachers. There were some that I had a bond with, who probably would have listened. The only reasons I can imagine I didn’t are hopelessness and shame.

If this happened today, the internet might serve as a refuge; at the time in question, the general public only had access to BBS systems, and while I was dimly aware of their existence I had no modem to access them.

I was in an immense amount of pain, and desperately trying to conceal it, for years. I became suicidal. I did not feel any hope for a different solution. Eventually all I wanted was to make the pain end, even if that meant the end of me.

But one day I had a spiritual experience that changed everything.

On a wet, cold, gray late autumn afternoon, I suddenly felt surrounded by warm golden light. There was a distinct multiplicity of presences, though I couldn’t sense details of any single one in particular. I felt swept up and embraced by an incredibly deep sense of love and of joy.

There were some insights I got “from” the encounter; I am not sure if they were something I became aware of at the time, or if they precipitated out into my awareness over the next day or so.

<<Suicide doesn’t solve anything; we’re both witnesses and proof that death is not an ending. Although the family you know are unhealthy, they aren’t the only family you have. You are also ours, and we love you.>>

As a postscript, a day or so later I also became aware, <<Not all the pain you’re carrying is yours.>>

The experience seemed like it could have lasted ten minutes, though it could well have been five that simply felt longer. Eventually the light and warmth gently faded, receding from the everyday world that they had overlaid. The sense of actively expressed affection diminished in intensity as well, but a thread of new connection stayed.

I’ve never again felt quite so alone as I had before that experience.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2010 7:35 PM

    That is a wrenching and powerful story. Thank you for your courage in sharing it and hail to those ancestors that protected you!

    i was particularly struck, btw, by your commend that ‘you didn’t have friends because your parents didn’t have friends and couldn’t model how to do it for you.” that…omg…that so describes my own biological parents. that struck me with the force of a hammer blow.

    would you consider allow me to quote this in a book on ancestor veneration that I’m editing for a colleague (with her ok as well of course).

  2. June 18, 2010 1:04 PM

    Thank you for reading! I’d be honored if things worked out and you chose to quote this.

    It’s a hard story to tell, but it’s important. The Ancestors gave me life, they saved it, and they give it meaning. They are the foundation of all that I am.

  3. June 21, 2010 9:00 AM

    Thank you so much. Could you possibly send the account to me in a Word file, under the name you wish it to be published?

    the ancestors are so important. I often think that one of the most grievous of offenses is trying to block a person from their dead!

    many thanks!

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