Sunday, March 7, 2010

The me inside me

The eldest of seven kids; the first girl; the influence; the one to rely on; the one to blame...

The oldest of seven.  For anyone out there who is the oldest child in a family, they can understand how simple and how very complex that classification is.  If you are the oldest in a big family, you can understand the complexities of this dynamic even better.  I want to tell you what it has been like for me.  I am going to explain my perspective and my feelings and how I viewed what happened around me and my position in my family from my point of view.  I am sharing as my experience and may not necessarily accurately reflect my position in the large dynamic of my family as well as it would if you were to read abut the experiences of my siblings, my parents, or my friends growing up.

I will tell the bones of the story as fast as I can, then I will add the meat after.

When I was born my mom was 18.  She was not married.  My biological father was not in the picture.  I was the single most important person in my mom's life.  Everything she did was done for me.  This concept was one of the very first impressions I ever fully understood about my life when I began to be able to identify what was going on around me.  I was a novelty, and this is something that still strikes me to this day.  I knew even from a young age that I was a point of pride for my mom.  I had to be.  I had to be polite and smile and like to have my picture taken. I had to like meeting new people and I had to stay well behaved.  I was the center of attention in my mom's life, and while I couldn't understand the depth of the meaning behind what it meant then, I understood in my own way that I was a reflection of my mom.  This was very important.

My first sister was born when I was three years old, after my mom married Ben (who quickly became my life's prominent Father Figure).  She was my Dad's second child, and first daughter.  When she was born, my identity changed and my place in my family changed.  I was not the baby anymore.  I was an older sister.  This was the first step in many that would take place over the next 21 years.  Steps that would further and further me from a position of who I was, and instead thrust me into the role of who I was supposed to be.

When I was five years old, my Dad's son came to live with us.  He was one month older than me.  And that was where the similarities ended.  Every part of him was the complete opposite of who I was.  We had different ways of expressing our emotions; he got in trouble in school where I excelled.  He had few friends and picked fights while I had many friends and rarely drew teachers' attention unless it was from socializing.

When I was seven, my second sister was born.  She was the pride and joy of our parents.

When I was eight our world took a fateful hit to its foundation that we would never really recover from.  My dad was diagnosed with Melanoma. At the same time, my brother's problems in school and at home were getting worse, and we moved the family to California one last time so that my dad could say goodbye to his family there.

Sparing you the grisly details of the next four years, we moved back to Washington to resume medical treatment for my dad and many things changed. My brother became too much for the family to handle, so as per my dad's suggestion, my mom sent him to live with his grandmother back in California. My family fully adopted religion as a life-raft during my dad's battle with cancer; a battle in which he ultimately lost when I was twelve years old.

This is the point where I have to step back and try to explain what happened at this age for me.  There was the Caryn that existed in my family while my dad was alive.  And there was the Caryn that was borne into creation after my dad died.  The me that I was before my dad died was innocent and confident in my belief that bad things didn't happen to good people.

This me shriveled to a shell of herself in the months before my dad lost his battle.  Nothing was certain.  My mom sent my brother away because my dad knew that my mom wouldn't be able to handle his disciplinary problems on her own without my dad, and I lived in constant fear that she would do the same to me someday; that if I didn't live up to some kind of standard, that actually being sent away was something real and tangible that could happen to me.

My entire happy, carefree, innocent world was flipped upside-down and what was underneath was murky and hard to understand.  The morning I found out my dad was gone, that me left for good.  The me that I became was no longer a child.  I couldn't find joy in the simplicity of sitting under the shade of a tree hatching plans for a fort or deciding where I would ride my bike that summer.  It felt as though the warmth of the sun had been replaced by a sickening false representation of what sun was supposed to feel like.

My family did not talk about what had happened.  We went to church for solace and I imagine to maintain a grasp on the world outside of our eerily quiet house.  My mom wasn't the same either.  She retreated into her own world.  She withdrew into her computer and her life on the internet and she quickly became linked to her computer with a deathgrip none of us could penetrate.  With one parent gone and one escaping into a different world, I was left picking up the pieces that used to be my life the best I could on my own.

The me that came from that experience was borne out of confusion and what I thought was necessity.  I became angry at the unfairness of it all.  This anger was stoked by abandonment and being ignored deep inside me and simmered constantly for the next twelve years.  It would boil over often and I would explode with a rage so pure and so toxic that it would scorch anyone around me.  And each time my rage would explode I became more and more of a stranger to my family. The me that once was became a stranger to even myself and was replaced with a black hole of silent loss.

When I was fifteen my mom decided to remarry a man she had known for some years online.  He was a man from Canada.  We packed up our lives in Washington, we said goodbye to everything we'd ever known, and started new lives in another country.  And for a while things only got worse for me.

The stranger to my family that I had become grew to be a monster in our new life.  I never understood how to express my emotions about what had happened in our family.  I was confused, lost, angry and distraught at the lack of communication and expression in our family.  These emotions overwhelmed me, as I couldn't identify what they were at the time.  All I felt was confusing, mixed emotions that made me sick when trying to burrow out from under. 

Fury was the easiest way to release the pressure that would build up inside me.  I had gone from the polite, well-behaved, well-mannered girl that I was supposed to be as a child, to a confused, alienated, angry teenager because I wanted to be something that wasn't assigned to me.  With no way to decipher my own emotions, I stewed in them.  I angered my family, I caused fights with my sisters which would come to cause irreparable damage in the years to follow, and I became a stranger to myself.

When I was sixteen I began to make plans to get out of my family's house as soon as I was legally able.  I felt suffocated and stifled living where no one knew who I was; where my own family saw someone in me that I hated and wanted to get away from.  I felt they aggravated the worst parts of my personality and I saw no choice but to get out.  As my senior year of high school was coming to an end, my mom and her husband broke the news that they would be moving out of town and if I wanted to stay I'd have to move out or I'd have to say goodbye to all my friends (again) and move with them.  It wasn't a choice for me.  I packed up everything I owned and I moved out.  This was the beginning of the healing for me.

At this point in my life I began to deconstruct everything I had known about myself; all the walls I had built up; all the misconceptions were torn down, and I began to reintroduce me to myself.  It was the hardest undertaking I have ever tackled.  And almost ten years later I am still not in what I would consider a completely 'healthy' state of mind.  It required me to evaluate my entire life; my belief system, my identity, my feelings and my relationships.  I am only now beginning to mend the relationships that those years of anger and bitterness damaged.  I will still find myself dipping into that pit of anger at the core of me, but as the years pass and as I come to terms with who I am and become more and more okay with who that me is, that pit of anger gets quieter and colder and harder to reach.

What makes this process harder for me is that some members of my family have never quite forgiven me for those years of who I was.  To some I am still that angry teenager who packed her things and left with no regrets.  There is a perception that I am still that person who was more comfortable with a scowl than a smile.  The pain I feel is almost indescribable when I know that some people still see the person they remember all those years ago when we all lived together.  It is equally hard for me to describe the growth that has gone on in my life to bring me to where I am today.

Internally, I am content knowing that I have done as well as I could have done, under the circumstances, and with the help I have had.  I have had a strong support system of friends, and have enlisted the help of counselors and professionals to help me where I knew I didn't have the resources to help myself.  I have identified why I have felt the things I have felt.

I have also learned that I am prone to attracting people into my life who see my weaknesses and exploit them.  People who will, without abandon, pull me back toward that person I used to be.  It takes a lot of effort to cut those people out of my life so that I am not tempted to fall back into my old, destructive habits.  These things and so much more are who I really am and it kills me knowing that some of my family has actively decided to not recognize the person I actually am today.

I hope someday I can stop outrunning a reputation burned on the minds of those who are supposed to know me the best.  I hope someday I can stop allowing my family to sidestep the uncomfortable, ugly, dark underbelly I know us to have and that we can all walk together in honesty and truthfulness.  For now all I can do is work on me and be an example to those around me.  I know I am who I am supposed to be, and I am okay with that me.

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