As I grow and test the waters during this 25th year of my life on this earth, I’m coming to more realizations about my childhood and my present state of being. Typically, these are not pleasant realizations. They often involve some comment made by a person that hits me below the belt, and I have to ask myself why I’m so hurt and offended. Or perhaps I’ll explain a little about my childhood to someone and they look at me with full eyes, open their mouths to speak, and a sympathetic voice rushes out, pressing upon me their deepest sympathies for what I suffered.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t know that I was suffering anything different from anyone else. For a while, I thought that my home life was standard and that everyone had a father and mother like mine. It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that I learned how fathers could be gentle and loving. It wasn’t until I was 23 years old that I realized that sometimes mothers can be too close with their children, and actually prevent them from being fully free to live their lives as children. When your mother has no friends of her own and no therapist, and you are the child she deems “able to handle it”, you are exposed to an onslaught of information you had rather not known.
This was a part of my childhood. Throughout my life I have been included in conversations I wanted no part of, told secrets best kept hidden, and forced to carry the burden of being “the strong one.” I was considered the strong child, the stable child, the one that is most reliable and able to carry weighty information, whether that’s about the family’s financial situation or about affairs and divorce talks. I heard them all. My brother was not exposed to such information. My parents needed someone to vent to and I was chosen. At the time it almost seemed like an honor. ‘Wow. Mom and Dad think I’m strong and capable. I must be. That’s why they’re telling me all of this. I can handle this. I can.”
I couldn’t handle it. Because I was given this information, much more was expected of my behavior and my personality, which was being shaped by the inappropriate confidence between my parents and myself, ironically enough. I had to be stable, for the sake of my family. My grades needed to be excellent. My friendships had to be healthy. I needed to be happy and well-behaved, giving no lip. I had to make sure to remind myself that I wasn’t allowed to tell my brother the secrets I was forced to carry inside.
I had no one to talk to about what was told to me.
Is it any surprise that at 14 I became irritable and angry with my mother? That at 15 I became depressed? That at 16 I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks? That at 17 I became depressed again and almost suicidal? I wasn’t allowed to be broken. So all of that pressure erupted inside and completely broke me.
Of course this one childhood issue didn’t cause all of the aforementioned mental and emotional distress, as I was a child of an abusive home and well-acquainted with darkness, but it definitely contributed to my suffering.
I didn’t realize any of this until I was 23, sat in front of my therapist and she called my mother a word I’d never expected to hear: manipulative. I immediately rejected that term. My mother? No. We were friends. We’d always been friends. That’s why she told me everything she told me throughout my childhood and young adulthood. I tasted the word for a bit and decided that it didn’t apply to my mother.
Two years later, at 25, during my second therapy session with a new therapist, she asked about my childhood. I threw everything at her, letting my words spill over and fall onto each other. At the end of it all, I said, “So, they would tell me these things because my brother needed to be protected.”
“But what about Gabby?”
Tears rushed to my eyes and I blinked them away. She was right. What about Gabby? What about Gabby’s childhood? Why couldn’t Gabby be protected from the things her older brother was protected from?
I feel the repercussions of this childhood trauma to this day and am just now beginning to work through it all.
I wish I had some words of wisdom to close this post with, but I don’t. I’m left only with the question that haunts me when I think about my childhood.
What about Gabby?