She is like that now but wasn’t before. . .

They say never look back, but sometimes memories from the past are resurfaced with just a phrase. It was something mentioned in passing that felt like the digging up of mistakes from the past. We all know our past has cultivated the present self but we try to negate it, as if we currently don’t need the old memories to keep us in check. When I think about the person I was, I remember having felt that it wasn’t right, that I needed to change just to be a better person for people. Yet, no forcing or stipulation could have made me change unless I wanted to, and I desperately did. However hindsight, there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I just handled my emotions, or my lack of understanding for them, in a different way than most.

There is no better phrase to compare the panic and instant blockade that occurred in me any time my feelings surfaced than, “a frog in my throat.” Whoever came up with that was both genius and profoundly hurting. I can’t remember the exact moment that made me emotionally inept growing up but I imagine it was in those times when binging my own emotions was the safest option that impacted me the most.

So last night I was getting to know a friend of a friend whilst standing in a line at Howl O Scream and I made a comment that led to him asking me, “so you must be very empathetic?” I proceeded to agree while disagreeing with uncertainty because again in that moment I began to doubt myself and think of how I can be more empathetic than I already am. . .but I digress. My childhood friend was there and that’s when she says, “She is like that now but wasn’t before.” This led to a two minute conversation on how I used to emotionally shut people out. The conversation was brief and not ill intended, we continued talking about other things and went on with the night unscathed.

However, this brought me back to who I tried to become and how I am not much different from that girl now. My brain was on emotional over drive and I couldn’t sleep anymore last night because I remembered how much I disliked myself then.

The only true exception, is my son. From the day he was born, he gave me that feeling of home I always needed. There is no insecurity or frog with him. He knows the good bad and ugly of me. Maybe it’s because some deep rooted part of me is sure I’ll never lose him. I don’t worry about him finding some terrible something about me that he can run away from. I raised him to accept people for who they are and in teaching him that. . .he accepts me for me but not everyone gets my full spectrum like he does.

I don’t even know why I’m making my defenses so clear and exposing myself but for some reason I have to let it out. For many years and to this day, I use humor as my weapon and shield. Truthfully I love to make people laugh, there isn’t anything more rewarding than being the reason someone smiles. However the old me, made jokes at everyone’s expense and buried emotions like a time capsule. I used to walk around stoic and didn’t show an ounce of emotion for people, unless it was anger. Some people called this tough, I say emotionally crippled. My feelings were there but my eyes said more than my lips ever could. If I cared about someone, no matter the level of emotion, they never knew. I hated this but verbally articulating my emotions has never been my strong suit. There were days when I would pep talk myself and convince myself, “this will be the day they know, I am speaking up today about how I feel.” Then when I found myself sitting face to face with them suddenly that frog would consume my throat again and the emotions and feelings flooding my mind were stuck at a damn in my throat. I went through this cycle time after time, and although I shouldn’t say so, it still happens sometimes now. I hated myself for it then and I still dwell on it. It feels like being defeated, like you’re a coward and you can’t make any sense of it because the monster keeping you stagnant in fear is you.

For me anger has always been the only emotion I have no difficulty expressing. In the drop of a dime I would say things so hurtful to people and walk away just to make sure they knew I didn’t care, yet I did. Unbeknownst to them, I was hurting. I was called cold, I was reminded day in and day out that I had no heart, and the word bitch became a common way to define me. You’d think this was from people who disliked me, but those comments came from friends that laughed at my jokes and shared school lunches with me. They didn’t know better, they had no idea I mentally beat myself up about it every day. They thought they were at some disadvantage for being sensitive to other people’s feelings and for being able to express themselves. I however realized very early on that it was I that was defunct, not them. Hearing myself called so many names hurt deeply, but I came up with generic responses and ways to accept what I was being told. My go to, “proud of it.” . . .but I wasn’t proud. I was hurting because I wasn’t some cold hearted bitch, I did feel everything they felt, I could make connections with people and have feeling. I just didn’t know how to express them, and because of it I became a bitch to everyone.

It is so crazy how this minuscule conversation reminded me of who I truly am inside when I’m not being brave. See, somewhere along the way things changed enough to where I am not shutting out my emotions altogether. Do I still find ways to protect myself and mitigate the pain. . .yes. . .but it’s ok, I’ve accepted myself. This may come as a surprise to some because I know I can be very outspoken, but I’m not outspoken about everything. I found in writing I can let the feelings flow rather than have them bottled up inside. Sometimes I blog privately just to get things out of my head. Some people who know me well enough don’t make me feel bad about telling them I love them in writing because they understand saying I love you out loud can feel a little weird at times. That’s with some people not all, and at some moments not all. As I have gotten older I have found moments to just take the plunge, send the message, blurt it out or whatever it takes to keep from bottling in emotions. It’s a constant trial and error but it’s a better process than that of before. Sharing my feelings comes with a scared shitless kind of territory to me, but if I remind myself enough of the instant relief I will feel after (perhaps followed by anxiety. . .but that’s a whole other story) I’ll gain enough courage to say what I’ve been meaning to say.

This constant self introspection has given me an unusual kind of depth with people. I can connect and feel deeply without saying much. I am really good at gauging emotions and I hate when people feel displaced. I hate when people look sad and a topic being discussed is the cause of it. I can look at someone in the eyes and see the pain they hide and I don’t have to force a word out of them. In those moments I opt for a change of conversation or subject because I realize other people can be unintentionally insensitive to people like us. I take other peoples comfort as my own personal responsibility. I don’t need to question why people are who they are, I get it. Admittedly I am curious about people, I love having long winded conversations about everything and nothing all at once. I guess because I can relate and find reminders of myself in them. We are our worst enemies but when I’m looking at myself through the eyes of others I find the self appreciation for myself that I depreciated early on. 

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It’s never too late

I think that there are times when we underestimate ourselves. I don’t mean this in the sense that we could try harder, or do better but in the fact that some of us make light of what we’ve been through.

We are so often afraid of being weak or perceived as less than. More often than not we make a mention that other people have been through worse. All the while we dismiss the opportunity to realize we too have been through some hard times.

I was watching a video on Upworthy a few weeks back about a woman talking about coming out of the closet. She said that we all come out of the closet at some point in our lives. I couldn’t agree with her more! She said, hard is hard, there is no clear distinction and definition of what life events are harder than the other. . .the bottom line is that we all go through hard stuff, we all have hard conversations to have, we all have to come out of our comfort zoned ie closets and face those hards topics.

For many years there have been things I’ve battled with internally. However I found that because I was resilient that I was not allowed to classify them as hard. I told myself all the time, “others have been through worse!” I was okay with that until one day a few years ago, and again today after a motivational speaker came and spoke at a training/meeting I was attending.

Growing up I was raised by my mother and grandfather. My father went to jail when I was approximately five years old and after that, my mothers foundation and backbone went missing. I can’t say that I remember my mom before, I don’t know my mom in any other capacity than the woman who was emotionally fragile.

I was a vivacious child, always seeking attention and always hoping to finally shine the spotlight on me in the chance that my mom might once take a glance at me. My mother was preoccupied putting hot meals on the table and clothing us. I am absolutely grateful for that but while she spent hours upon hours providing for me and my siblings, she rarely spent a moment consoling my heart that eroded over time.

I took a liking to my grandfather. I ran to him every time I hurt myself. I sat on his lap as he played guitar. I danced and played in his room while he watched his tv shows. I was very much present in his life, while I was barely a glimmer of light in my mothers.

When my grandfather passed away, any semblance of love was gone. My one parent, support system and symbol of love was gone. I can count the few times in my life that my mother even mumbled the words I love you. I make allowances for her because she was raised by my grandmother, whom in my experience was frigid and cold. I felt bad for mom and for some reason made it okay for her to not have loved me enough. It was hard to feel invisible but because I knew it was hard for my mother, I let her slide again and again.

All I ever wanted was effort. I was an excellent student and I wanted her to come and hear it from my teachers but it never happened. I needed hugs and warm embraces and instead I was treated with snacks and cakes to comfort me instead of the one thing I truly desired.

My mother was institutionalized several times in my life. My mother was at times suicidal and even once tried to kill herself and us all while trying to drive against traffic in one of the busiest intersections in Tampa. Fortunately my sister was there to yank the steering wheel.

I went to 8 different elementary schools and somehow I kept up. I don’t have true childhood friends because it was impossible to keep up. I never went to one school more than a year before we moved on to the next apartment lease.

I thank my mother because I was raised to face adversity but I don’t appreciate the fact that she raised me emotionally incapacitated. I was so broken for years.

I’m sorry comes so easy to me, I hate being wrong, especially on my own. I love to clear the air and I try my best to make my love for people known.

This afternoon while the speaker gave her message I began to tear up. She confirmed something that I thought was silly because my hard situation may not be as bad as someone else’s.

A few years ago I got into an argument with my mother. I was angry like never before. The dynamic had changed and I no longer was the only one she disappointed. My son had been playing soccer for five seasons in what is quite literally her back yard. Not once did she show up. He had practices and games and on more than one occasion he had championships. My son began to ask me, why his grandmother didn’t love him. I had no real explanation other than, this is just the way grandma is.

I finally had enough!

The last time I’d seen my father was when I was 11 years old. My father is a criminal, a registered sex offender, and as such could not have contact with us. I was not his victim but I was related to the victim. On this particular day after I argued with my mother, I was devastated. I had never even raise my voice at my mother but I was so angry because after years of making excuses for her, nothing had changed. So I looked up my father. Unfortunately and fortunately there is a website for people like him, so I obtained his address. (This is clearly complicated and understandable if people don’t comprehend but I know where my intentions were.)

I mapped his address, which was barely 15 minutes from me and I went to see him. I don’t know what I wanted. I could take care of myself, and I didn’t want answers. I think parts of me wanted to see him before it was too late. He wasn’t home when I arrived so I started to leave. Just as I was leaving he pulled in. I have to admit that I was initially relieved when he wasn’t home and now that he was, I began to wonder what I was actually there for. I got nervous.

For years I resented him for the life I lived because of his poor choices. This man was the former illicit drug user, alcoholic and sexual offender, but somewhere in the trenches of that lost soul was the few and only memories I had of whom I affectionately called, “Papi.” There was the man who called me Junji, the man who took me to get vanilla icecream cones with rainbow sprinkles every day to the Carvel in our backyard. To this very day, that is my favorite treat. I love the ocean because he loved fishing and I can play dominoes just like he did. I also happen to share his face and a birthmark over the side of my nose that he also has.

This man with the good and bad memories was now standing before me wondering who I was. I recognized him immediately because he wore a thick gold chain around his neck, just as he did when I was a child. I stepped in closer and I said, “hi, I’m your daughter Johanna.” He hugged me and immediately my emotions got the best of me. I stood there a 26 year old woman but in his arms I was a sobbing child. I didn’t speak a word and he hugged me and said repeatedly, “I’m so sorry, it’s not your fault!”

I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I heard something foreign and felt parented in the first time in ages. There it was, finally, an apology. Admittance that everything I went through as a child wasn’t handed to me because I’d earned it. It. Was. Not. My. Fault.

In the 29 years I’ve been living, that was the first and last time any one of my parents have ever apologized for anything. That is what I needed more than anything. I needed permission to say my life was hard, but it wasn’t my fault! I needed someone to say, it sucked but it’s going to get better. My dad stood there and apologized until the words could no longer catch up to his tears.

I haven’t seen my dad since, and I don’t know that I ever will, but on that day in his arms I was able to let go, forgive and fix a little part of my broken heart.