I have been in recovery for a while now. Most days, I feel pretty good. Most days, I can keep my anxiety from paralyzing me. Most days, I function well.
However, I don’t have to look far to see my pain. All I have to do is think about my parents.
Last night, I was watching a TV show, and a woman was grieving the loss of her mother to cancer. It had been about nine months since her death, but since the woman was planning her wedding, she was particularly upset. I could feel the intolerance building up inside of me. I may have even rolled my eyes.
I thought to myself, “at least you had a mother.” This doesn’t happen every time. My compassion has come a long way. But last night, the feelings were there.
I have several primary emotions associated with my parents. First, there is the anger. Several years ago, it was rage. In therapy, I could scream at the top of my lungs. I could plot their deaths. I could beat a couch cushion with a bat until my arms wouldn’t work anymore. It was the first major emotion I reconnected with. There was a lot of it, and I was fairly comfortable expressing it. I can even say it was easy. I don’t have an issue with anger because to me, it isn’t vulnerable. It feels powerful.
Unfortunately, there was some intense grief behind the anger. I am not OK with expressing that. I don’t “do” sadness. Sadness is vulnerable. To me, vulnerability was the same as death when I was a child. In my family, you didn’t show weakness. It was always used against you. I didn’t cry… ever.
It took a while to get to the point where I could grieve as an adult. Honestly, I have only grieved substantively in the past two years. I hate it. It still feels weak to me (and clearly I still judge others who do it). There’s one problem… it’s the only way for me to heal. It is critical to my recovery.
Grieving is different for me than for those who have lost parents through death. My parents are still alive. I grieve the fact that they were never “real” parents. I grieve what I always wanted them to be. Like Little Orphan Annie, I grieve the little house hidden by a hill with the piano-playing and bill-paying parents.
That never happened for me. As a child, I remember looking at houses in my neighborhood and wondering if they had a real, loving family. I wondered if I could go live with them. I wondered if I could get someone else to adopt me. Obviously, these were not the most realistic musings on my part, but I was a child.
I also grieve their reaction to me in recovery. Some part of me still wants them to apologize. I want to hear them acknowledge that they were wrong. Of course, I know this won’t happen. If they acknowledge it, they are admitting to a federal crime, and they won’t do that. They just tell people I am lying. They continue to weave their web of deception and hope they can hold it all together. So I grieve for that acknowledgment that won’t happen.
Grief is bad, but fear is the worst.
Fear was the primary motivator in my family. “Do everything right or else.” There were plenty of nasty consequences. My parents were willing to use any form of abuse. Nothing was consistent, either. One day, something small could spark a rage-filled attack by a parent. The next day, I could burn down the house and they wouldn’t notice.
Today, the fear is bad because it feels the most justified. It is the hardest emotion to attribute solely to my childhood experiences. As I speak out about my abuse, which was considered the worst offense in my childhood home, some consequences still seem realistic today. If someone is capable of the atrocities that my parents committed in my childhood, who is going to stop them from committing a crime now? There are some days that I am sure my father is standing outside of my house with a gun. Logically, I know that people who abuse children are cowards, but I still know what they did 30 years ago, and that is hard to ignore.
It may sound like I spend my days inundated with anger, sadness and fear, but that is not true. In the past few years, I have recovered enough to experience true happiness and even joy at times. I know that the worst part of my journey is behind me. I know that I can build that family that I longed for as a child. I know that it is up to me now… that I have the power to make my dreams come true. I know that I am no longer reliant on others to do the right thing. I am back in the driver’s seat — and that is something I can be happy about.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Jul 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Corey, E. (2013). Grieving My Lost Childhood. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 2, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/07/29/grieving-my-lost-childhood/