and other bad words
"There is a born-in class happening with Janja," she said, "are you going?"
I knew my best friend was born into some culty religion before she knew. It was so apparent to me. Growing up, she only wore dresses and knew the Bible inside and out. Her entire family read scripture for hours before, during and after dinner every day! She used to hide her secret stash of music she recorded off the radio onto cassette tapes. Her sweet little girl dream to become a beautiful figure skater, but her dad said the outfits were too revealing. Her father was a leader of a strange church, and the rules that governed their home were whacked. I often felt sad for her, listening to the stories of her lost childhood.
It was bizarre she asked if I was going to the class.
"Do you think I was born into a cult?" I asked, really confused.
We were Anglican. We went to church every week but dropped the lengthy sermon "do unto others" as soon as we packed in the station wagon and burned out of the church parking lot. Our church didn't demand anything from us, but we took the good Christian image and everything forgiving trespasses offered. Church delivered us unto the illusion we were good citizens at least once a week.
"you were born into something," she replied and brushed off my dazed look.
I have a double vision of the past, consisting of blurred lines of two identical or similar parts. Boundaries were a bad word. I get lost and have always been quick to parse my problems. The trip wire here, my childhood, the childhood of my children- if I am born-in, what were they born into? It might sound like a deranged question to you, but when I allow space to consider myself born into generations of abusers, it is all so dubious that it is hard to know where the cycle begins and ends.
I enveloped my children in my fears. The past was not theirs to carry, but I only knew to cocoon my story onto them. I thought it would protect my daughters to always be wary.
They had no choice; I was a terrified mother.
I made up rules because it seemed like I had had none. In my childhood, nothing was consistent; anything could become a problem. With my jaw tight, I pushed discipline through clenched teeth and a tense spine.
They protested, and I persisted. I thought I was saving my children from a life that I wanted to be protected from.
Every move was meant to teach a type of curated caution that only I knew. I was the only one with the script playing out the scenes; I made them the main characters. It didn't make sense with no context. My daughters had no clue what I feared because of what I was born into.
Gabor Maté says: "I hope this touches parents in their personal lives. I hope to understand themselves, their background, their struggles, and their capacity to heal on an individual and a social level. That's my greatest, fondest hope for this book."The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture
It was never my plan to confront these issues, but as they began to unravel within my system, I wanted to be outraged by the discomfort of not knowing. Sharing mistakes, well intended or not, has been a way of confronting a pattern that promotes truth. It rocks my guts while challenging my soul. The other thing I'm really grateful for is collaborating with amazing organizations doing meaningful work and putting some words behind it to help amplify why generational trauma needs to be conversations we are having with our children and community. And I am remembering to forgive myself.
I hope this touches lives. Please share with someone you think may appreciate knowing they are not alone.
hugs and drugs,
It is not the survivors' fault or their responsibility to forgive.
“Pain and dysfunction get passed down from generation to generation. A mixture of genetic inheritance and environmental circumstance ensures that our lives unfold according to a complex web of conditions infinitely larger than ourselves. The only way to stop the vicious cycle of reacting to pain by causing more pain is to step out of the system.” ― Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
Trauma and abuse have severe, long-term psychological and neurological effects. “The internal system of an abuse victim differs from the non-abuse system with regard to the consistent absence of effective leadership, the extreme rules under which the parts function, and the absence of any consistent balance or harmony. Typically, the parts operate around outdated assumptions and beliefs derived from the childhood abuse, believing, for example, that it is still extremely dangerous to reveal secrets about childhood experiences which were endured.” ― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”—ELISABETH KÜBLER-ROSS, psychiatrist and author