I remember my father attacking my mom, as she was seated in a chair. He grabbed her by the throat. I screamed, shouted and tried to stop him. I couldn’t protect her. What made this incident worse is that she was disabled, crippled by polio as a teenager. As the oldest, I was supposed to do something. I couldn’t, because I was just a kid. but that moment was frozen in my subconscious and affected the rest of my life.It would affect the relationship with my own son. There were other memories of him coming home drunk and I (or we) would hide. Evenings, when I would be in my bed and pretend to be asleep.
Telling my story
It’s taken a long time to get to this place in my life where I feel comfortable sharing my story. Telling my story is therapeutic; it helps me relinquish the control my past has had over me. This lets me self-evaluate and find a sense of normalcy in these memories. Remember though, this is my story; based on my own memories, perceptions and a child-adults response to growing up in a volatile home.
I want to say an abusive home, but I cant; so volatile it is. Dysfunctional, alcohol induced, rage-filled volatility.That works for me. There were many times I remember where I loved and held my dad in high esteem; my hero. Memories of laughter, caring, supporting even but those are the ones I remember and want to remember. The memories I shut out are the ones of violence and anger and aggression.
I’m sharing this story because I’m beginning to recognize how its affecting my life today. I see now how my behaviour, actions, words, responses and ambitious drive find their roots in my volatile childhood.
Unfortunately, I’ve been able to recognize glimpses of my father in me. The good, the bad and the ugly (excuse the cliché)
Looking back at today
Moments of anxiety would bring out the worst in me. Triggers that grab hold of me. Tentacles reaching deep within and dragging out that 6 year old, 8, 10 and 12 year old boy…or at worse changing me into my dad!
Triggers bought on by my own son. “Why didn’t you clean your room” I would ask, a question preceded by the thoughts that my son is not being responsible or strong enough. Not realising I’ve wandered back into that moment in our living room, I’d tell myself : “I cant stop him”… “I must stop him” or “why am I so weak and irresponsible” and then project those dame feelings onto my son.
I would look at myself, 35 years ago, and judge myself for doing nothing as my dad grabbed my moms throat. As he shouts in a rage, I shout at myself. Angry. Enraged.
I would shout and try to intervene, but couldn’t. What type of a son was I? What type of an older brother was I for not ever stopping him? I blamed myself, and became self-critical. Worse still, I developed a habit of always saying sorry; no matter the situation.
She was helpless. I mentioned earlier that she was disabled after contracting polio as a teenager. Polio rewarded her with a “gammy” leg. A leg she swept the floor with as she walked. I wanted to help the helpless.I wanted to help her. Her helplessness didn’t stop the rage, or the anger or anything else.
I realise today, that I was also helpless. My helplessness would lead to withdrawal. I’d withdraw from reality, disconnected and reconnect to an imaginative world. Perhaps that’s why my dad told me many years later after sharing my life dream with him, that I had “Illusions of Grandeur” I probably believed him and the lie, and deep within would sabotage my life so that he would be right, as always.
That moment of volatility in our living room, changed me and the way I saw myself.
Looking through the bathroom (cupboard) door
A child can hide away quite nicely under a bathroom basin..with the louvered doors closed. One can view the world through the slats…just the bathroom of course, but for a child, that’s his world. I have viewed my world through those louvered bathroom cupboard doors.
Moments, residing deep within the recesses of my soul, have been remembered and viewed through the slats of our bathroom cupboard doors under our bathroom basin. I am sure that many children have crawled into and underneath the dark bathroom sink. Its a great hiding place. An cavern explored by a childhood pioneer. A cavernous adventure. For me it was my safe place; cupboards, became my safe place. A place to hide and to seek solace and protection from the wrath. Perceived wrath or not, I never knew. As I look back, I realise I was never certain.
Looking back and examining these memories against the backdrop of my life today helps me recognize my three persona’s. Three different aspects to who I am. That boy 35 years ago ( yes, in my mind it is someone else.); my dad; a skewed caricature of him, and who I think I am supposed to be today.
Confusing isn’t it and a challenge. Quite a challenge not knowing “who” to be or how to act in different contexts.I would watch others, uncertain, and try to work out how to act or live life normally; trying to discern a normal way of ‘being’ I
s this because of those moments of fear, helplessness and uncertainty? Growing up being uncertain of what word, action, behaviour, comment or omission would spark off a rage-filled episode? Being scared to do or say anything will definitely lead to a lifetime of confusion. On an even deeper level, that way of thinking and processing of life can become exhausting. It would prevent me from recognizing important and meaningful social signals. The confusion, or clouding of thoughts, would also help me hone the skill of reading a persons face and words spoken. I would watch and observe him closely…
To protect myself, I would ask: “Is he in a good mood?” or “What should I do to prevent him getting angry?”
Recognizing this tendency helps me understand some of the choices I’ve made over the years. Good decisions and bad decisions. Decisions that have not been safe ones, decisions that ensured I became a victim again perhaps…
Recognizing that these choices made over the years were as result of my volatile childhood is helping me. My childhood trauma experiences defined my adulthood decision making. Decisions or omissions that created an environment of addictions and bad decision-making. Procrastination and time wasting. Being too sensitive or aggressive posturing. Who I was tended to attract further moments and situations of helplessness, fear and uncertainty. I would sabotage myself and my life.
My inner thoughts would be filled with a sense of dread that something bad will or could happen. I would believe I’m not good enough and remain uncertain of how to act or what to say around people. Socially, I’d either joke or be too serious but still uncertain. Always evaluating what to say, and when someone responds I’d say “sorry, not what I meant to say” I’d be scared of what people thought of me or what they’d say about or to me, and would always run from conflict; disconnecting from reality and life.
Perhaps its time to crawl out from under that dark space under the basin and to stop viewing the world through louvered doors. To view the world as it really is, as an adult certain of who he is.
Yes, I was a child victim, but today, I am more than a survivor because I choose to thrive*.
– Philip Stoneman
* My story doesn’t end here, this is just the beginning. If my story resonated with you or if you have faced similar challenges and have found hope or courage to come out from that dark place under the bathroom basin, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com