You are all the things that are wrong with you. It's not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the shitty things that happened to you in your career, or when you were a kid. It's you. All right? It's you. Fuck, man. What else is there to say? "It's You". Bojack Horseman. Writ. Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Tornante Television, 2016. Netflix.
While this is on my mind… Who am I kidding? This has been on my mind for a long time.
My childhood was less than perfect. In 2014, I wound up in the hospital, because I made an attempt on my life. I’ll get into that another time. During group therapy, there was a question about what our childhoods had been like. We were on a locked unit and that specific unit was for people who were either a danger to themselves or others, mainly themselves. They took our shoelaces, ties, belts, combs, razors, even hair ties. In fact, we only had one change of clothes, the one we had on and the rest of our things were in little lockers behind the nurses station which was secured from the patients as well.
Anyway, when it came my turn to answer, the therapist made a comment when I finished. “That sounds like it was a battlefield”. My mind was blown. In fact I mulled over it for a few days. I had never thought of it that way. My parents fought a lot. There was a lot of yelling, banging, crying. I don’t even know what they fought about most of the time. I tried not to listen, tried to go someplace where I couldn’t hear it. But my dad when angry is like thunder. You can’t escape it, even if you’re deaf. You’ll hear it or feel it either way.
But this isn’t about bashing my parents. Despite the turmoil between them when I was growing up, they have remained strong. They will be celebrating twenty-seven years married next week. Part of the contributor to the constant discord between them was the fact that they themselves were still trying to work through their own traumas. One parent grew up in an emotionally abusive and negligent household, the other in an emotionally, physically and mentally abusive household. For a long time, after I left home at nineteen, I was bitter and angry at them. But in the past few years, after a lot of reflection and also therapy, I’ve grown to develop compassion and understanding for my parents.
I have had a lot of in depth conversations with my mother since leaving home and she sometimes apologizes for the ways she failed me when I was growing up. I should clarify that there are some things that I think could have been better but I don’t like to think of it as ways I was failed. I often describe it to my mom as them building a house. Their parents told them, here, build a house, here’s a hammer and a ruler, you’ll need to find the rest of the tools yourself. Whereas, my parents tried their hardest, despite the difficulties and now, I’m being told, here, build a house, here’s a toolbox, wood, cement and a backhoe. Sure, maybe all the required tools aren’t here. I just like to think I’m starting out with more tools than my parents did. No generation is perfect. This is the world, ugly, not perfect, frustrating, but among that there’s still beauty, still joy, still goodness.
Don’t think I’m overly positive about this. I’m not. I’m a realist. I understand there’s negativity but there’s also positivity. There are things that happened to me as a kid that were not okay. When my mother talks about some of the things she’s aware of and apologizes for it, I don’t say it’s okay, because it wasn’t. But I do try to be understanding and show compassion because there’s nothing to be gained from anger and bitterness.
Which leads me to my next point. I spent a long time being bitter and angry about my childhood. I used the traumas I endured, the things that happened that I didn’t enjoy as an excuse to act poorly, in general and sometimes to people in my life. I used my childhood as an excuse to be unkind. As Beatrice Horseman said, “No one’s ever nice to me, why should I be nice?” That might as well have been my motto. I used my childhood to explain away my bad behavior, like abusing alcohol, not getting help for my depression and bipolar, not trying at improving my life. A former boyfriend even told me one day, you can’t use your past as an excuse to act badly in the now. I was furious when he told me that. For a long time, I thought, he doesn’t know, he has no idea what I’ve been through, he just doesn’t understand. Years later, I look back and realize, he was right.
This doesn’t mean I should just forget about everything or pretend it was all okay or that I’m not sad about some of the things that went on. But it doesn’t mean that because I suffered that others should suffer from how I treat them. I’ve become a strong proponent of this: NO ONE DESERVES TO BE MISTREATED BY ME, NO MATTER WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH. And I live by that. I don’t bring my problems to work. I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder. I don’t act like a victim. That’s not to say I’ve arrived. I used to be like that. I used to walk around, little woe is me! But that wasn’t right. And despite how I tried to convince myself that my bad attitude vindicated me, I was miserable. I quickly realized that it wasn’t fair to mistreat others just because I felt I had been mistreated. Those people weren’t responsible for my childhood.
I’m a very matter of fact person. I do sometimes share with people I trust the bad things that have happened to me. But I’ve learned to do so without acting like a victim or couching it in such a way that attempts to elicit sympathy. The simple reason is that I don’t want sympathy. I’m not a poor, little person who deserves kid glove treatment just because of what I’ve experienced. There are people out there who had worst childhoods than me. I can be thankful for the things that didn’t happen to me.
Now, I want to emphasize one fact. This is not to say that a person should feel that because others had it worst that their experiences are therefore less valid. This is simply not true. Speaking of validation, one of the worst things a person can say to another person about their traumas or struggles is, hey, someone else has it worse. Sure, that sometimes works when a person isn’t being grateful for what they have. Such as a friend who complains about their car all the time even though there’s people who don’t have cars. But I don’t think telling a little child, there’s starving people in Africa, when they won’t eat something on their plate is very effective depending on their age mostly because they may not be able to appreciate the fact in general simply because they just may not have the life experience to grasp it.
I digress. When it comes to trauma and mental health, a person should think of it in the context of themselves. They shouldn’t compare themselves to others. Everyone’s struggle is different. We should all try to support each while not losing sight of ourselves. We can’t blame our bad behavior or self destructive behaviors on our past. Of course, our pasts affect us. But hopefully, the negative experiences we have in life don’t cripple us, instead hopefully they give us deeper insight into ourselves and we come back stronger than ever. I will end with this. Someone on a true crime episode once said, in response to a defendant who had raped and murdered a woman and then explained his behavior by referencing his messed up childhood (it was messed up, a lot of sexual and physical abuse from his father), that he didn’t deserve the childhood he had but that there were plenty of people with messed up childhoods who didn’t grow up to rape and murder people. And to me, that’s powerfully true. I may have had a difficult childhood but as an adult, at the end of the day, I’m responsible for me, my actions and my words. I can’t blame alcohol, my childhood or even my mental health struggles. It’s me. It’s all me.