Occasionally, in the Blogosphere, a spate of posts will crop up across the place – letters to my former self – and my heart jumps into my mouth as I begin to panic that someone might tag me to write one. But things seem to be falling into disconcerting place, and I feel I may soon need to.
I was challenged, very recently by my friend Kristi Campbell, of Finding Ninee, to forgive the child-me.
Her challenge came just as the topic of forgiveness was impending for 1000Speak, and just as I’d had some difficult flashbacks to my childhood, which reminded me why I am so glad to be getting older, and just as I had some incredible feedback about my actions a couple of years ago, and just as WonderAunty quoted a wonderful TED talk to me, which made me think.
Just…I’m not keen on the idea, because I HATE HER.
Pre-seven, things were well and good, but one fateful day in my seventh year, something triggered, and the father I knew, changed. My formative years were irrevocably altered from then, as a result of his unrelenting depression and other considerations, and how his ‘dealing’ with it led to the systematic and daily attacks on our psyches. We all lived on eggshells.
I changed, and became weird. I’m not sure entirely how, but it wasn’t in a good way – it was in a way which made me very obviously a victim, and left me open to bullying at school. A group of noisy teenage boys in close proximity, coupled with a smell reminiscent of school dinners, recently left me panicking, paralysed, because of the flashbacks they induced.
As soon as I was in a safe space, I fell apart. I remembered being told off by a teacher for crying too noisily when one of my bullies had slapped me. I remembered hiding under piles of bags and coats to avoid going out to the playground at lunchtime, because I had no-one to play with. I remembered it being successful because nobody missed me. I remembered being turned away from the nurse’s station, dismissed as a hypochondriac after turning up with another imaginary illness, hoping for a kind word or some positive interaction. I remembered hiding in my father’s wardrobe with the door shut, hoping not to be found, because while I was hidden, I was safe.
I remember comfort eating, because food was about the only good thing. I remember one day at the doctor’s (for something entirely different) being poked by his severe finger in the middle of my soft belly, and his sneering voice informing me “You’re getting a bit fat.”
It was the first time I knew to be ashamed of my body, but the bullies at school quickly capitalized on my weight. It doesn’t take much for a child to be different enough to be a target, and I was fat, bad at sports, lonely, from a Christian household without a television, had glasses, and had hit every branch on my fall from the ugly tree. I was unwantable, unloveable, unforgivable, and deserving of every jibe and rejection. I even remember someone I’d thought was a friend telling me that she’d told other people she hung out with me sometimes because she felt sorry for me, afraid of exposing herself to bullying if she said that she liked me. I conceded her point.
Things didn’t begin to change until I met my first true friend at 16. Last year we celebrated half our lives as friends. That the messy, ugly, vile child I had been, was somehow worthy of a friend, was astonishing to me. That anyone would accept, appreciate, or want me, who wasn’t tied to me by blood and obligation, was ASTOUNDING.
I remain astounded.
I struggle, most days, to feel worthwhile, and anything less than a burden. Things are improving, and the amount of time I spend not dwelling on those thoughts is increasing. It increased enormously when I visited America last year, and SO MANY PEOPLE WELCOMED ME!
They wanted me, they appreciated me, they enjoyed my company and loved me for who I am, and none of them was forced or coerced, or said it without meaning it, or with fingers crossed behind their backs, to hurt me…they meant it, and they chose me. I spent three weeks on cloud nine, dazzled. I was told by several people they’d never seen me look so happy – and they were right: I had never been so happy.
Yet once I was home, the rot set back in. I was desperately low, having left my Muricans behind and returned to the complexities and challenges of my day-to-day world. I was grieving, and spent a lacklustre month hiding in my room, eating, putting on weight, resigned to the way my reflection was looking more and more like that hideous being I’d been before – the unwantable one.
I can’t stand looking like her, and much of that mindset forms the manner in which I see myself physically. Character-wise, I do my utmost to behave in ways which are as far-removed from her as possible. The way I view myself (I am told) is not how others do, but is vastly distorted into something quite horrific.
It is clear I need to unhook.
I need to find a way to stop accepting the authority which was established over me, and the destructive opinions which were enforced upon my young mind. I need to empty my pockets of the rocks of their rejection; to float to the surface, and breathe.
The way to do this might be forgiveness. Certainly compassion for my younger self, who could no more have prevented the abuse and the impression it made on her, than have stopped the tide from coming in. Canute-like, in either scenario, her feet would have disappeared beneath the waves, but that doesn’t mean I need to go through the rest of life with the after-effects of wet feet.
WonderAunty quoted the speaker of the TED talk she’d enjoyed in which the topic was old wrongs, and how to heal from them. He talked about the trials of life, how by enduring them and striving to rebuild our lives and ourselves in their aftermath, we can find meaning in them, render them somehow redeemable.
“Forging meaning and building identity does not make what was wrong, right – it only makes what was wrong, precious.” – Andrew Solomon
He spoke at length about the bullying he had been subject to, and how he recognized that without those awful, humiliating, debasing experiences, he wouldn’t be the person he is today. This is a rhetoric with which I’m very familiar – it is the language of Silver Linings, and Seeking Good. It is the language of Thankfulness and compassion, and knowing that in the end, #LoveWins.
It is the knowledge that without having undergone each and every painful stepping stone of my past, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. By all accounts except my own, that person is something rather special. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard “I wish you could see yourself through my eyes…” accompanied by the wistful sigh of someone I love, acknowledging that again the spectre of my old self has risen and blinded me to the person I’ve become.
Becoming. My word for the rest of my life.
Who I want to become is ‘the furthest possible thing from what I was’, to buffer against the possibility of future rejection and reviling on such a wholesale scale. Who I want to become is someone warm, caring, kind and lovely – someone people are drawn to, and whose presence is delightful to be in. Who I want to become is someone who strives to let people know they matter (having known what it feels like to not), who reaches out (having felt so, so alone), and who includes (having spent years going from one circle of closed backs, to another).
Who I want to become is…and even as I type, I look at all those characteristics I ‘want’ to embody, and realise those are (to some extent) behavioural choices I’m already making. I reach out. I include. I act with kindness and caring to the extent of my ability to do so. I try to give the benefit of the doubt, and my patience and forbearance have both been called into question for being too excessive in the face of challenging people.
Last week a Facebook blogging group I’m a member of, had started a thread encouraging us to celebrate something wonderful about a fellow blogger. I didn’t expect to be tagged, and certainly never anticipated the following comment from Cathy, who blogs at An Empowered Spirit.
“Lizzi hardly knew me and always reached a kind hand to me in her thoughts. I was the ‘old bag’ in the youngster group but she made me feel welcome. A few years back, it made a difference to me, Lizzi, and I wanted you to know…I remember you vividly because you so stood out in the crowd. Filled with compassion and kindness. Those are your gifts.” – Cathy Chester
I was astonished. I felt, for a moment, as though all the things I was striving to Become, had became already! As though I’d succeeded, even back then, at taking my hurts and turning them into helps. It felt amazing. It’s something I’ve consistently tried to do, knowing how painful my own existence was, and wanting to ensure that no-one else has to endure the same, if I can help it.
I try to spread thankfulness, happiness, glitter, and *twinklysparklygoodness*.
I try to keep up with people, and try to surround myself with as many friends as possible, so that I feel less like the worthless, unwantable person I accepted myself as being, for so many years. I try desperately to let none of my behavior (or looks) slip into ways which hearken back to her, lest my now-people catch on, and realise that I am her, and we both are unloveable.
‘Becoming’ gets difficult when I’m faced with a transition which cannot be a transition, because it must be an acceptance, rather than a jettisoning. Whilst I would much rather cut ties with past-me and set her adrift, I am resigned to the idea that at least my anxiety about turning back into her is a powerful motivator for good.
But letting go of my fear and hatred of her? Finally making peace with the horror I (and then-people) perceived her as? Finding a way to see those dark, destroying threads of my life’s tapestry as the very reasons I so determinedly seek the light for myself and those around me, and to be glad for them – for her? I must, in order to move on. I must accept her wrongness, and the wrongness of the abusive situations she was exposed to, and make her precious.
I must forgive her.
Imagine the freedom, the difference which could be felt if I was no longer hooked into anger, fear, and self-hate. Imagine what I could do if I were purely focused on the good I can do, as catalyzed by the person I used to be.
I see it elsewhere, like my friend Byron (one of the best men I know), who writes at Trauma Dad. He’s using the aftermath of his own abusive childhood as motivation not only to be a great dad to his girls, but to seek out and celebrate those who are actively involved in preventing child abuse, or standing as advocates for abused and bullied children.
It strikes me that even the 1000 Voices Speak is here, in part, because my desire to include and create community, inspired the post which inspired Yvonne to create the movement. Astonishing!
Imagine the freedom and the difference which could be made if we, The Village, were able to unhook, forgive, acknowledge the awful things which have happened to us, and make them precious – using them as catalysts for good.
You never know – we might just change the world!
This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward a better world with a focus on FORGIVENESS.
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Watch Andrew Solomon’s full, amazing TED talk here: