Innocently developing brains absorb multifarious influences that pour into id and ego’s foundations. As we grow our sub-conscience clings to these diverse exposures, sorting the positive and negative to shape our identities, emulating the good and shedding the bad. Truth becomes at risk.
Nature intends parents as ideal caretakers and role models; lucky little ones enjoy remarkably loving and nurturing mommy’s and daddy’s while average kids get average, well-intended but oh-so-very-human, mothers and fathers. Unfortunate children suffer abusive and detached monsters.
Beyond family, children experience infinite impressions, from helpful neighbors to harmful priests. Media injects confusion in character, from sinister dog-napping Cruela and enterprising but pigeon-holed housewife Wilma to rapacious Olive Oyl-groping Bluto. Clashing messages overwhelm with circus clown daydreams and boogeymen nightmares, instructions to be kind to strangers but fear strangers with candy. Truth becomes ambiguous.
How are innocent minds to discriminate such incongruities, especially when parenting fails? These duplicitous influences converge upon our young impressionable minds, simultaneously intimidating and accommodating our growth, pushing and prodding, antagonizing and extorting, until one day we look at our reflection and realize we’re full-fledged adults. Whether we’ve sorted truth from lies and whether we like ourselves or not, we admit we are who we are.
But what happens if a developmental rift sets us on a preternatural course? What occurs when a single event—or multiple ones—large or small, shift the paradigm and alter our development to fragmented results? Where then is the truth, and the true self?
Just as it is important to tell the truth to others—for integrity’s sake and positive self-esteem, leading to sound decisions, strong relationships, and a comfortable existence — it is more important we tell the truth to ourselves, acknowledging and integrating truth’s totality. Accepting, and wholly embracing, truth’s reality is the only key to otherwise elusive contentment.
Devastating lies abound where truth possesses most value, in the family. Compounding degradation traps the lied-to victim in prolonged and vicious cycles. Spiteful siblings routinely blame cookie jar pilfering—the innocent is repeatedly spanked; reprobate parents cajole emergency room lies—the wounded develops shame and low self-esteem; degenerate great-uncles force heinous harm—the abused becomes an abuser.
We don’t share parallel experiences and exposures in the sea of life; nor do we arrive at adulthood in the same lifeboat of truth. It takes some of us longer, particularly as waves of conflicting input and splintered personas capsize distorted perspectives. I know. I watched it happen.
It took a very long time for me, several decades after my children were grown and living independent lives. While truth crawled toward my reluctant acceptance I inadvertently hurt people I loved. I cannot repair those wounds. Living through repressed memories and subsequent fragmented personalities taught me I must own my behavior and live with the consequences. I’m not one to lob clichés but time does heal; with patience, fortitude, and excellent therapy, time healed well-enough to find my contented self.
Years ago I wrote Frances, a condensed story about my fictional nemesis; it’s posted on my biographical memoir blog as it appeared in 2003 in the Frederick News Post. I wrote with the idea, and the dream, that I would scribe my entire life and association with Frances as a fictional novel because I couldn’t bear to acknowledge, let alone accept, the totality of our lives—my life. At that time, fiction presented the safest route.
Yet after Frances, my writing became plagued with confusion. No matter what voice I used—or angles I considered—I couldn’t sustain a straight story line. The mental wrestling match with truth pinned me to the floor every writing round.
I stopped trying. I stopped one of the few things I’d been consistently passionate about for years, writing. I turned on myself and my faith in destiny, veering from writing dreams—to get the story out once and for all—and believed such dreams were an insane mind’s seduction.
I hid from the truth for another decade, plodding along with only semi-awareness that I was fooling myself. It worked well enough until my known world shattered.
The doctors repeated for weeks he’d get better before he got worse. He didn’t get better and each day as he got worse the delusional security of my self-imposed bubbled existence dissolved like his organs. The omnipotent force of my father vanished with his last breath.
After infidelities, failed marriages, borderline nervous breakdowns, alcohol abuse, self-mutilation, bulimia and anorexia, and a 10-day voluntary mental hospital commitment, I’d thought I’d known low places. I thought at 50 years of age the worst was surely behind me and I was doing okay. Until he died.
I was wrong. Oh so very wrong.
Past bouts with depression were gravy compared to the gut-wrenching wallop I felt when the white sheet covered his face. It was a cold snowy February day, gray skies acknowledging the pallor of pain. My step-mother, stoic and unable to comprehend the finality, thrust a “talk-to-the-hand” when I approached crumpled in tears. Instead of loving human consolation I walked dad’s dog on their favorite wooded path and bled my soul to a standard poodle.
Weeks and months passed with empty, pointless vagaries. Grief engulfed me. I didn’t have the energy to wonder or worry if things could get any worse—but they did. Shockingly, my step-mother met an equally cancerous fate, diagnosed and dead 14-weeks after my father. If there is a rock-bottom to my emotional well, I surely hit it. I more than hit bottom; I clung to, and clawed at, the bottom’s cold stone, amplifying its’ desuetude with stark suffering wails.
It wasn’t that my parents were physically dead, though substantial and untimely loss brings the brink perilously close to the sanest of persons. It’s that I lost what they were to the child in me, the child who needed to speak of the forbidden, the child who ached for forgiveness and avenging, the child who desperately needed, and deserved the truth.
I stopped living among the living and begged in sobbing prayer every night—to a god I didn’t otherwise believe in—to please make me die. And I drank. Daily. Hourly. The day I returned to their home to collect their urns for burial and found them sitting side-by-side on the kitchen counter, the kitchen where so many holidays were spent cooking, laughing, and teasing as only a family can, I drank so much I threw up the entire next day until nothing but bile remained, and then I threw that up for several hours. With every heave, alcohol poisoning pounded my head like a blunt axe.
I drank to unseemly extreme, until the room spun and I vomited in my bed and passed out and slept in my vomit. I peed my bed and slept in that too because I didn’t’ have the wherewithal to get up.
Cherished memories of our father-daughter camping trip swirled in my drunken head, echoing his tender campfire comment, “Ya know if you weren’t my daughter, I’d want you as a friend. You’re a pretty damned special person and ya better always take good care of yourself.”
Wherever he went after death, my father’s memory wrestled through the ether and saved me. His voice summoned me to press the help numbers on my phone, got me on my feet long enough to pack a suitcase, answer the doorbell and get into the passenger side of the vehicle to ride to the place where I committed myself to 30-days of serious rehab work.
I saw my his apparition twice during rehab’s dozens of meditative therapies. Not a visual apparition seen in movies or a delusional wishful thinking; I experienced his tangible presence while deep in psychotherapy meditation, as alive as his pre-cancer days. We reminisced and laughed while his spirit reassured me, “Everything’s gonna be okay sweet girl.”
Relieving tears streamed down my cheeks, puddling into and spilling out of my prone ears. After the visits I found renewed strength and zeal to grapple demons and embrace wholeness, including the bits of awful truth tied to my father. Whatever truth he’d withheld about my past was forever gone. I didn’t need to cling to his wrongs anymore, waiting and hoping he’d become the father I needed and fantasized. Instead, I could release myself from the past and become the best and most capable parent for myself.
I was able to let my father go. Not only did it save my future from certain further drunken spiral, it inspired me to write again. Two and a half years after he died I can say with conviction I’m finding peace. I am who I am, with trauma past and contentment present. I like more days than loathe. It’s not always a pretty picture; scorn bathed in lies still rears its hostile head. But it inspires me to rekindle my search for truth, and write again.
I sort through old journals for writing research, pausing to occasionally read entries. Reactions abound. Disdain frequently glares. Sometimes blinding blazes engulf and condemn, provoking harsh judgment,
Who is this awful person?
I cower in disgust. I want to reach into the page and grab my old self by the throat and violently shake me. She—me I was, the me I called Frances—must stop what she’s doing, she’s ruining my life, she’s damaging my children… she’s …. she’s simply awful! …… I was awful.
Amidst impulsive mental lashings my father whispers, Give it a rest . . . let her go, would ya? You’re not her anymore. And then I remember what I went through, what I survived. I remind myself if I hadn’t created places and personalities to endure, I wouldn’t be who I am today; I did the best I could—through Fran—for myself. Our memories inspire me to write again.
I have indeed found a path to truth—hers, mine, ours. To keep it safe, I must share. Through the untarnished eyes of a healed child, I write anew.
A secret loses shame when shed into the light. Illuminating truth returns us to childhood’s innocence, keeper of our truest self.