Saturday, June 30, 2018

Echoes in Time

They come back to haunt me at the most inopportune times. The words I heard in childhood sabotage my present, insidiously creeping in and making me believe that I am "unworthy of love and belonging", as BrenĂ© Brown describes shame. 

Shame was an almost constant companion for me when I was growing up. Almost everyone chimed in. My brothers, my teachers, my peers, and my mother - especially my mother - used shame as a teaching tool. 

It worked. It worked to make me ashamed of who I was. It worked to make me feel bad for existing. It made me doubt my abilities, change who I was to make someone - anyone - like me, and lowered my standards on who I hung around with. I didn't feel as though I was worth anything more than to be with people who would use me. So that's who I attracted. 

I found this pic on
for free!
The echoes haunt me in my dreams - usually in my mother's voice.  

"Come over here, stand up and show us all the height of laziness."  (She usually said this when we had company.)
"What in the world were you thinking? don't you know ANYTHING?"  
"Don't you DARE say that - they'll think we're poor!" (We WERE poor). 
"How do you expect to clean those dishes in cold water?" (The water was as hot as my tender child hands could stand). 
(After I cleaned the dishes and wiped and put them away) "You didn't wash off the table."
"No you may NOT climb that tree! Nice girls don't do that!"
"What are you doing still eating? You should have been done five minutes ago! Get over here RIGHT NOW and help me with the dishes!"
"Take that red shirt off and go put something decent on you! You look like a streetwalker!" 
"Don't wear black like that - it makes you look like a witch!" 
"What do you have on your face? Powder and paint make you look what you ain't..."
"Just wait until I get my hands on you! I'll beat you within an inch of your life!"

As a child, my dreams were filled with images of monsters lurking in the dark, coming to devour me; I could not escape them. I woke in panic often, and the familiar shapes of clothing hanging up in my room - in the dark - seemed transformed into horrific faces ready to jump at me if I approached. It took all my courage to walk the twenty feet to my parents' room and stand there in the doorway waiting for permission to enter. When she acknowledged my presence and I said, "Bad dreams" ... she always wanted me to climb over behind my father. "You kick the stars off the moon."  Pinned between my father and the wall, in spite of his snoring, I felt safe and I was able to sleep until morning.

It wasn't until many years later that I realized where the dreams came from, and that I had actually awakened from the monsters in my dreams and walked to their source in the waking world to ask her for help. I was one messed-up adult. Clearly I needed someone to mother me. I had spent nearly thirty years of my adult life looking for such a person. I would "overshare" constantly, looking for validation, acceptance, acknowledgement that I was worthy.  So many people turned away from me during those years. It was too much for them, and rightly so. Still others took advantage of that dependence and tried to control my life. They did not care about me, but only wanted to feel powerful. I wondered if I would ever be free of those echoes - the ones that told me that I would never amount to anything, the ones full of self-doubt and self-condemnation. I thought that I could find someone eventually who would love me the way a mother should love her daughter. Unconditionally.

I also found this pic on - for free!
Little did I know that the person I had been seeking this whole time was - to my great surprise - myself. When I was ready to face the monsters (and believe me, THAT took decades!), and got some help from a counsellor, I discovered that I could tell myself the words I needed to hear echoing in my mind instead of the ones that had followed me since childhood. 

I needed to hear those good words, those kind words, spoken gently to the small frightened child still within me. 
"You are worthy."  
"People can like you for exactly who you are; you don't have to change for them."  
"You can do this. You can do anything you set your mind to doing. You are smart, and loyal, and caring, and you are worth getting to know."  
"What happened all those years ago was not your fault."  
"What matters is that you try. You don't have to be perfect at everything."
"I believe in you."
"Here, let me hold you close - no reason - just that I love you."
"It's okay to take your time and eat. The dishes can wait. They are not going to sprout legs and walk away."  
"It's okay to ask for help if you need it. People who love you won't mind helping you if you get stuck." 

Occasionally, I still have to remind myself of those new words, and let them echo in my heart and mind to drown out the voices of the monsters. Fortunately, I have the tools I need to do that, and the support of my best friend in life and love, and the encouragement of the lady who made me a mom. I also have some pretty amazing friends, more than I ever thought possible.  

I am so blessed.  I am so loved.  And I have learned - as difficult as it's been - to start to love me too.

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