Last night I had some trouble sleeping since I was sleeping in a different bed than my own. But the time alone allowed me to think about what it really means for me to be happy, and I have finally seen the pattern that has ruled my behavior for years.
Let me explain. I've talked about this a few times on my old blog, but I think it bears reexamination. My childhood was tumultuous at best. My earliest memory is of me not being able to sleep, hearing my mom on the phone in the kitchen, and going in to ask for a bowl of cereal. Not only did she yell at me for interrupting her, but she shook the cereal out of the box so hard that it went all over the table. Not much made it into my bowl, and when I asked for a little more she yelled again, threw an extra handful of cereal into my bowl and said "Is that enough for you? Huh? Is it?" and then threw the box on the table and stormed out of the room. I sat in my chair and cried, picked Lucky Charm marshmallows off my lap, and wondered what I had done wrong. I was only three years old, but I remember it liked it happened to me this morning.
Now that I'm twenty-two, I know that my mom has battled depression and feelings of inadequacy her entire life. I understand that she tried her best, but she unconsciously transferred her own problems to me. At least once a week during my childhood we would have a massive argument where we screamed at each other and I was sent to my room to cry alone. Every day I asked myself what I had done wrong. Why did I deserve to be treated like that?
I tried hard to make up for what I had been convinced were inherent inadequacies. My mom, disabled due to muscular dystrophy, had one major surgery on her legs a year, if not two. Even though I was only a child, I did my best to take care of her (my parents were divorced by this time), to show her that I had worth, to make her proud of me. But still she shut me down. Frustrated by her own inability to live the life she wanted, she took it out on me. Finally, I gave up hope. I stopped caring about anything at all. By the time I was a teenager, normal teenage angst had been amplified by our nonstop fighting so much that I was constantly seething with anger, feeling like I could never do anything right, feeling like I would never be good enough for anyone. There was nothing I could do to get back at her, a disabled woman who relied on me to even take a bath, so I lashed out at my little sister.
Although I don't know how my sister felt during this time, I understood even then that she craved my attention (probably because my mom was too busy yelling at me to pay much attention to her), so I took advantage of it. I forced her to do things for me, promising I would play with her later and then never following through. I hit her and then lied about it. I made fun of her for everything, spoke to her with nothing but condescension. It was the only way I could make myself feel better. She was the only thing I could control. I didn't know what else to do. I knew that if I told somebody how I felt, my family would be ripped apart. I had already lost my father, my mother betrayed my trust at every turn, and even though it was a painful environment it was the only thing I knew.
My sister finally grew old enough to get back at me, and when that happened I lost all control. I withdrew inside myself. I stopped eating regularly, causing bizarre hormone shifts that made acne show up in strange places and throwing my menstrual cycles so off balance that I had to be put on high-hormone birth control at sixteen. I was depressed, angry, confused, and scared all the time.
To put it simply, I never knew what it was to be happy. Even in my most joyous moments when I had the chance to get out of the house and spend time with friends from school I was always second-guessing myself. I felt pressured to say the right thing to make people like me, to act in a certain way so that people wouldn't look at me the way my mom looked at me. I tried to keep people from being angry with me, avoided all confrontation, and kept my mouth shut when friends or family hurt my feelings. Showers became an opportunity to cry without anybody hearing me.
Eventually, my life got better. I met my boyfriend, whose love for me has taught me how to love myself. I went to college and found a true friend who embraced me without hesitation for who I am (and whose dining table I'm still sitting at right now). But still, always, there is a faint negativity underlying my every thought and action. I am always expecting to hear someone I love tell me that I'm a selfish brat in the way my mom used to, to tell me that I'm not wanted in the way my mom did when she kicked me out of the house at seventeen. I am never truly at peace with myself or trusting of my relationships. I don't even trust myself to make the right choices in life. A part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to realize that all the good things that have happened to me in the past few years have been a mirage, a lie, another incident of proof that I am worthless and deserve nothing.
And yet, by some strange miracle, I still have faith in the general goodness of people. There is an optimism in me that can't be eradicated. Perhaps because I have dealt with so much injustice, I have a very clear opinion of what is right, how the world should work, how people should be treated. Although I know happiness means nothing if you have never experienced sadness, all that I want is to keep others from experiencing the negative side of life, to keep them from feeling as low as I have felt. I understand that the key to my own happiness or contentedness is to nurture this side of myself that unconditionally loves others, and to let go of the negative, cynical, and hurt girl that I have been. I will never be physically healthy if I am not mentally healthy first, and I know that's true for a lot of us.
So with all that being said, I encourage you today to look at the world in a better light, to see the beauty in life. To see the beauty in yourself. Let go of all that holds you down and open yourself to happiness. No matter what we have gone through, we can rise above. We can try it together. We never have to be alone. : )