I was wrong.
God wasn’t the deepest source of the mountains of shit of dysfunction that have scarred over my psychological and emotional being, that have destroyed all examples of healthy relationships and healthy boundaries in my life. There is one deeper.
My husband and I are starting from scratch in so many ways in our lives right now, and I always just assumed that the extreme, irrational emotions during our periodic fighting was the result of having both come from such dysfunctionally religiously fundamentally extreme backgrounds.
But something wasn’t quite fitting.
Something was happening in conflict. Something that didn’t quite make sense. It hasn’t made sense for 5 years since we’ve been married.
At the hint of any beginning of frustration on his end, I would change. Immediately becoming defensive and sharp. Like… IMMEDIATELY. Can you imagine what resolving conflict looks like with someone that can’t handle it before it even begins?
We had no idea that there was even an identifiable cause, let alone identifying the problem itself. Not until this week. We were talking through a fight we had had, trying to piece together what happened. I told him I literally Could. Not. Hear. Him. if he raised his voice half a decibel. I couldn’t hear. And not only that, but when we were trying to go back, I couldn’t even remember what he had first said. “All I said is that we should put the tape back when we were done with it,” he said. Shocked, I replied, “You didn’t say that it was my fault the box wasn’t ready yet??” No, he hadn’t even mentioned the box. Not one word. I had no memory of this.
My husband went to therapy with me this week and after explaining what happened during these fights and piecing together everything else my therapist knows from past sessions, he pinpointed what was going on. “You are dissociating, triggered by even just the smallest hint of his frustration, and after which you are no longer really present during the conversation. You are somewhere else.” He explained that triggering comes from deep trauma and can be minutely set off.
What hadn’t made sense, until now, was the trauma.
There were three main problems of conflict in my life that I’ve been blaming for my deeper issues ever since I’ve started being aware of my emotional health. Certainly not limited to this, but sort of a general context for processing:
- God: the effects of the evangelical Christianity in which I was raised from my earliest memories and for which I lived until 3 years ago.
- Abusive past relationship with a leader in my church (explained in this blog post if you want a refresher).
- The performance-based love from my parents.
Let’s talk about #3 for a second. My understanding of the biggest failure from my parents was in their pressure for me to perform perfectly in all aspects of my life. From needing straight A’s from the first test score in elementary school to needing to be valedictorian in both high school and college, to needing to be captain of the varsity tennis team, to needing to win first place in every competitive piano and dance competition I entered from when my fingers were long enough to play. I needed to have enough friends, and a lot of them. I needed to be popular. And stylish. And beautiful. And skinny, my god, I was never skinny enough for my mother. The body shaming and food shaming she put me through gave eating disorders a clear road in my life starting from when I was very young.
I was involved in extra-curriculars from as early as I can remember. Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration. I have a select few memories of an involved, active life as a 3-year-old. And I was in kindergarten and I remember talking to my friend and saying that I couldn’t play after school any day that week because I had something going on each day. By the time I was in junior high, I remember consistently getting 4 hours of sleep a night, never discouraged by my parents, so that I could perfect school projects and homework after getting home so late from practices, etc.
Anyway, “performance-based love” was the legacy my parents left me, and I had always left it at that. I completely missed the “how.”
Then, this week, all of a sudden it dawned on me. Trauma.
For most of my life, I’ve only been able to cry out of my right eye. Still, to this day. Why?
My mother and I spent a great deal of our relationship during my childhood in the car, because she was always driving me to my next event or practice. And this is when she would release her wrath, and in a way from which I had no escape. I was strapped into the passenger seat and couldn’t close my ears to her yelling at me, tearing me down, raising her voice and never stopping. Trauma. Her words were painful, incessant, penetrating, but I couldn’t let her see me cry so I turned my head and trained myself to only let the tears fall on the window side. And in these moments, I remember visually creating an egg shell that protected me. I visualized sinking into this shell and not letting her words affect me. Much of my memory of what she said is lost now, but the memory of the egg shell is vivid. Dissociation.
It didn’t end there, though. She yelled at me, all the time, unless we were in public or in front of other people. There’s so much I don’t remember. I know she woke me up early everyday before school because she had stayed up all night correcting my homework and made me redo it. She would often erase what I did, even if correct, because my handwriting wasn’t perfect and made me rewrite it so my letters and numbers were straight and on the line. These mornings, there was always a lot of yelling. The how, the trauma.
I would often forget something important, like my bag of dance shoes before rehearsal or my book in my locker at school the night before a test. Or even, god forbid, that I was supposed to ride with Casey’s mom to practice after school and accidentally took the bus home instead. These moments, the names she would call me and her level of volume of anger and absolute disgust with me…. I can’t bring myself to think through the memories. The trauma.
Her wrath and control escaped no part of my life. Everything I did, I did for her, even if subconsciously. I remember feeling utter shock when I was 13 and my mom asked me if I wanted to be in dance that year. I had a choice!?! But I didn’t even have enough empowerment to ask that question, even if just in my mind. I did not know that word, “choice.” I just had the emotion, that feeling — disbelief that I could CHOOSE ——-????….. was COMPLETELY new to me.
I’m still processing a lot of this. The catalyst happened last night after stumbling across a youtube video of a young girl at a World of Dance competition. (This is the video). I was fine when I sat down, then as I watched her I felt myself begin to identify with her and I totally lost it and started sobbing.
Then the sobbing released a wave of thought about everything my mother took from me and did to me. And then rage came. the RAGE. I was physically unable to contain it. Writhing, pacing, clinging to any surface in my living room to ground myself. The tears, hot, hatred, hell. How could I not know?!?!??!?! How did I not see this for THREE DECADES?!?!
But, it seems so obvious now. A young child has no concept of god. God doesn’t exist in the earliest moments and memories of a baby into their first several years of life during the times they are most impressionable. Who then has full control over a person’s most formative years?? Not god.
Who is the face a baby first sees, clings to? A child looks to for comfort, reassurance, and identity? Not god.
So look, Christians, there is undeniably someone more powerful than your god for every human on this planet, past and present. And her name is mother.