Have you ever been surprised by watching a movie or television show a decade after you first watched it and saw it in a whole new light? You’re older, you’re in a different place and so the experience of watching that film or show again is different. Different emotions come up, you identify with different characters and notice brand new things in the narrative making it a truly novel experience. It’s like you’re seeing the movie or show for the first time.
If you’re the victim of abuse, seeing an old movie or show can actually be a trigger to those old emotions, and all that emotional pain can come flooding back. But once you begin healing those wounds, the trigger disappears and you begin to see things with new eyes.
It’s an interesting discovery of mine since starting trauma therapy. I only recently began to pick up the pieces after 30 years of living in denial. I never would have guessed, but during the painful healing process a veil lifted. I now see everything more clearly, and not just the years of abuse. I’m now excited to talk to old friends and to reread books and rewatch movies.
I was doing some light cleaning the other day and for some reason I thought of Meadow Soprano — the intellectual, rebellious daughter from The Sopranos who, during the course of the show, grows up from roughly 16 to 22. For the first time I thought to myself, “Wow, what a terrible position to be in: To love your parents, although you know they’re criminals, and you’re pretty sure your father is a murderer. It’s the ultimate cognitive dissonance.”
Meadow is highly intelligent. A great student, probably because it was important to her parents that she excel where they did not. And what’s the price? The smarter she became the harder it was for her to associate with her family. She tries to keep family separate from the rest of her personal life, although that could never truly work. She wants to get as far away from their lifestyle as she can, but she also loves them too much to cut them off entirely, which eventually spells her doom.
It may not be the most mind-blowing exposition of Meadow’s character, but for me this realization inspired me. I put on an episode of The Sopranos and instead of seeing that whiny, spoiled teenager I once believed her to be, I saw her as the most sympathetic character on the entire show.
Now crime boss Tony Soprano lacks all mystery. He reveals so much about himself just through small talk. His therapy sessions seem to expose him as a sociopath right away, and the fact that his psychiatrist continued to see him probably speaks to the lure of his glib, superficial charm.
Tony’s wife Carmella is in such denial that it’s grotesque. She considers herself an average housewife and mother, a good Catholic who spends an abundance of time with her priest, and yet she’s capable of distracting her mother-in-law, so that Tony can hide guns and cash from the Feds in the his mother’s retirement home. Through it all, Carmella barely acknowledges the fact that there’s nothing good or normal about their lifestyle.
It seems like in the last few months someone replaced a few circuit boards in my mind and gave me some brand new ones. I have more sympathy and more confidence in spotting menace, even in movies and television shows.
The blinders are off now. Perhaps I always took for granted that there was an even playing field. Life’s easier when you don’t consider the fact that we’ve all had different experiences that brought us to where we are today. That’s the black and white thinking in trauma — anything is all or nothing.
Now I know my experience was extraordinary. Menace isn’t a normal part of childhood. It’s not surprising I’d relate to a crime family, where the same people who cry at your funeral are just as likely to be your killer.
Other characters and situations seem different now too. The general social dysfunction is more obvious. Sure, people fly off the handle and beat people up in these mafia shows. But even when they’re not acting out, the things they say are very telling. They reorient conversations, fail to listen to each other, and fail to hide their true feelings and insecurities.
It’s hard to look back on my childhood and not wonder, “Why didn’t anyone see the signs? Why didn’t anyone notice something was amiss?” Nobody noticed the same way I didn’t notice these things about The Sopranos. Not everything is so obvious or so terrible.